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April 29, 2000


More on Labeling


- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Dear All of Agbio group:

Below is the kind of nonsense published recently in our local paper in
Sonoma County purporting to be one half of a "balanced" argument for
subscribers to think about. Look up Mark Lappe's credentials. As with the
Green Peace "peer reviewers" I think you will find few publications of
worth -- a failed academic gone on to the lecture and publishing tour. Read
his "Against the Grain" if you can stomach it. Too bad a respected
biochemist from Berkeley, Joe Neilands, didn't read it more thoroughly and
critically. And Tom Hayden...well, you've heard of him and his ultra left
maunderings. Actually he's a downright dangerous leftist. Here's the screed:



Corporate giants like Monsanto - which just announced that it has completed
a draft of the genetic code of the rice plant - are quick to claim that
genetically engineered food will contribute to ending world hunger. Why,
then, is there so much industry resistance to labeling their products as
genetically modified? Everyone, whether optimist or paranoid, has a right to
know whether their food has been genetically engineered.

McDonald's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken already are eliminating
genetically engineered soy and corn ingredients from their menus in Britain,
while Americans keep ordering these foods without a clue to their genetic

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reviews and comments on
hundreds of corporate applications for genetically modified organisms
(foods), or GMOs, without even having a single full-time expert working on
the issue.

A new report by the National Academy of Sciences claims that genetically
modified food is safe, while in the same breath urging research on the
effects on human allergies and whether GMO corn poisons monarch butterflies.
This is not a reassuring spin, especially since the leader of the study left
midway to go work for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and four
researchers received funding from Monsanto, which has a direct economic
interest in crops becoming "Roundup ready," i.e., tailored for its

No one can dispute that genetically engineered food differs from its
conventional counterparts. So why not label them to provide consumers with
information and choice? They are detectable. Virtually every gene-engineered
product carries a signature that gives away its ersatz nature. A simple $5
test can pick out genetically engineered, soy-based products from their
natural peers.

We don't let manufacturers of other products dupe consumers. An unlabeled,
knockoff copy of a CD is a fraud. Even atomically identical, man-made and
natural diamonds are allowed to be labeled so the consumer can make the
choice between the engineered version and the real McCoy. People value the
"real thing." The FDA's bottom-line argument for not labeling is that
engineered and conventional foods are "equivalent." In fact, no one knows if
any food remains identical after it is genetically tampered with. No
scientific group, much less the FDA, has thoroughly examined the nutritional
makeup of any genetically engineered foodstuff.

What data we do have is hardly reassuring: The new GMO corn has a toxoid in
every kernel. We can only hope it has no deleterious health effects on human
consumers. As a result of our Freedom of Information Act requests, we know
the FDA, our gatekeeper for food safety, keeps no studies in its files on
this corn. There also is evidence of allergic reactions from novel proteins.
When the sleep-inducing L-tryptophan was boosted a few years ago, several
deaths resulted among unaware consumers.

The fact that no one has noticed their catsup has been adulterated with
genetically engineered tomatoes some years back does not give a federal
agency the green light to continue this deception. The FDA already endorses
the labeling of irradiated food, organic produce and processed foods. It
allows a kosher symbol on properly prepared items. None of these foods
differs nutritionally in consistent ways from their conventional
counterparts. Nor does the label say they do.

Would a label lead to the destruction of the biotechnology industry? We
don't see why. The biotech industry need not worry about consumer preference
if its products are actually as good as they say they are. Consumers are
savvy, smart and ultimately fair. They have won the hard-earned right to
choose what they want to eat. Many now choose organic or low-fat foods.
Others don't want genetically engineered food. A simple label, now
universally recognized in the European Union, that says "contains GMO"
should not scare anyone.

Mexico's Senate recently has supported an analogous label. Should not
shoppers in California and Mexico have the right to fill their baskets with
products they can trust are accurately labeled? Tell the mom or dad looking
for baby food that a label is unneeded.

Even Gerber has agreed GMOs have no place in its baby foods. Before other
manufacturers are forced to eliminate all genetically engineered products,
why not give them the option to label?

Marc Lappe is author of "Against the Grain." Tom Hayden is a Democratic
state senator in California. From the Los Angeles Times.