Be Afraid of Your Food, Says Vermont House

by Kevin Joseph Ryan

It comes as no wonder that a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling bill (H.277), has become a hot button issue in the Vermont State House this year. In a year with the economy still damaged and taxes on the rise, Vermont Democrats and Leftists need some hope for November. Surveys do show most people still want safe food.

Genetically modified foods are defined by some as being those altered chemically versus created through traditional agricultural husbandry – in the lab instead of in the barn, so to speak. The introduction of GMO crops in North America has increased exponentially. Today, 85%-95% of soybean, cotton, canola and corn produced and consumed in the United States could be said to be GMO.

Consumers struggle to understand what is a genetically modified food and what is not. Confusion and an almost deliberate manipulation of the meaning of GMO has led to strong uncertainty in the eyes of the public as to the safety of such foods. The Federal Food and Drug Administration has found such foods to be “generally regarded as safe.” Others have referred to them as “Frankenfoods.” While this may sound frightening, effectively, genetic modification of plant and animal breeds and strains has been occurring for hundreds of years, even before the dawn of modern genetics.

Have you eaten an Angus steak? A genetically modified food that is the result of the breeding of Angus Cattle. A beefsteak tomato? Also, genetically modified to a particular size, shape and flavor. So why is there any controversy regarding this issue? Due to a difference in how some define GMO, they would discount any connection between traditional agriculture techniques and GMO’s. According to Steven Druker, president and executive director of the Alliance for Biointegrity, “The only reason you are assembled considering a bill on labeling is because these foods are allowed on the market illegally.” This statement was introduced in testimony to the Vermont House Agriculture Committee on Thursday.

Mr. Druker, an attorney, considers a food product which has been altered chemically to be a food additive, rather than a food itself. He uses the terms “food” and “additive” interchangeably when explaining this concept, but maintains the Federal law concerning allowing such foods is clear: if something is added to food it must be tested, and GMO’s weren’t. The FDA has a different opinion, defining an additive as “any substance the intended use of which results…in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristic of any food.”

Druker sued the FDA in Federal Court in 1998 to dispute the policy statement that GMO’s were “substantially similar” to traditional foods, and that they are “generally regarded as safe”. Druker failed to make his case, and lost that suit in 2000, but has developed a cottage industry supporting his claim ever since. “But they aren’t. They can’t be,” Druker said. “The legal definition of ‘generally recognized as safe’ is an overwhelming consensus, but there isn’t.” Druker cited nine scientists joining his lawsuit as evidence that there is scientific doubt regarding GMO’s.

Due to this seemingly deliberate confusion among the public regarding GMO’s, the issue over the labeling of such foods has become a political wedge issue. This is not the first time Vermont has been involved with a similar situation, as back in 1996, Vermont mandated the labeling of milk produced with a hormone known as BST, which was similarly stuck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, in that case, as an unconstitutional ban on free speech, created merely to satisfy “consumer curiosity”.

The Left’s political argument regarding labeling of foods creating controversy is typically framed in the following manner: If the experts, government or courts rule that the controversial foods are not safe, then the left-wing “consumer advocates” were right all along. If any of those entities disagree and find the foods safe, then it is clear they are in the thrall of big business. Heads, we win, tails, you lose. No, thank you.

Monsanto Foods is frequently cited as a boogeyman in many of these cases, with the Vermont GMO labeling bill being no exception. A recent article swept the internet this past week, authored by Will Allen of Thetford, entitled, “Monsanto Threatens to Sue Vermont.” Will Allen termed the bill “popular” and “overwhelmingly supported”, despite only slim 6-5 majority of the Ag Committee showing even preliminary support for the mandate. He claimed that in testimony to the House Ag Committee on March 15th, a “Monsanto representative recently threatened a public official.” In reality, nothing of the kind occurred. Margaret Laggis, a food industry lobbyist, stated that should the labeling bill pass, basic seeds for corn and bean crops would be unavailable in Vermont, and Monsanto would likely take the issue to court to prevent the State from violating their free speech and to keep the public from being unduly terrified of their food.

Since it is unlikely that any GMO labeling law would survive court scrutiny, the only issue remaining for the House Ag Committee is whether GMO’s actually are a health threat, or not. Of course, if they are, Vermonters must be informed. However, this is not by any means clear. The proponents of GMO labeling, such as Druker and Michael Hanson of Consumer Union, disagree with the FDA as to whether GMO’s are an additive or an actual food. Former House AG chair David Zuckerman, makes the claim that even animals who are not a GMO product, are still GMOs, stating, “So unless those animals are eating GMO-free grain or organic grain, one is still consuming food that is produced primarily with GMO.”

Even if the labeling bill were to pass the Vermont Statehouse tomorrow and become law, it reveals numerous exceptions to labeling and disclosure. Animals fed on GMO crops would not be labeled as GMO’s, nor would one be required to label food GMO is the inclusion of such was unintentional. Restaurants would likewise be not required to label GMO served food. If GMO’s are in fact a health issue, would not the Vermont public best be served by requiring disclosure on all such foods?

The basis for any form of concern in consuming GMO’s remains speculative. Opponents basically say that unlike traditionally bred animals or plants, GMO’s as defined “raise concerns”, “may be found to pose health risks” or “may lead to cancer”. Most in favor of labeling simply say the risk lies in that “We just don’t know what the health risks are with GMO’s.”

While MSNBC found that 93% of adults want GMO food labeled, Pew research found that only a third of consumers were very concerned with GMO’s. If we don’t know what the health risks are, and most people don’t care that much, we are left with the question of why lawmakers would spend their time on a controversial, unconstitutional bill that would only serve to make Vermont’s consumers afraid of their own food? The answer seems to be familiar. Leftists never like to let a crisis go to waste.

The House Agriculture Committee will hold addtional hearings on this issue April 12th from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at the Statehouse.

5 thoughts on “Be Afraid of Your Food, Says Vermont House

  1. If GMO’s are not labeled then they cannot be tracked, if they cannot be tracked then it takes that much longer to pinpoint the issue if it turns out GMO’s are not safe. If they cannot be traced then there is no way to hold the creators accountable. It is similar to peanut allergies, people who are allergic to peanuts can now avoid them and products made where peanuts are processed because they are labeled. If these products are so similar to safe products then why do they need a patent? Why must they be licensed? If these companies were so proud of their product then why are they spending so much money to keep them from being labeled?

  2. Kevin, I like how you included your middle name in your byline–it lends a bit more gravitas, yes? And it’s so cute how people still blog.

    As for the content: typical right-wing, libertarian drivel. I actually support gentically modified everything and look forward to the (technological) Singularity but somehow your right-wing pedanticism turns me off. I’m a “progressive” and I argue with the close-minded liberals from time to time on these issues. But what’s wrong with labeling sh1t? Because it’s the government and the government is always bad? I have a bumper sticker on my car: “Ron Paul = STUPID.”

  3. Jessica,

    Let’s just take the suicide issue. According to your link, 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide due to farming with GMO seed.

    Since approximately one million people commit suicide each year, should we presume one in five did so over GMO, or should we presume that the article is playing into hysteria?

    This is indeed, a left/right issue.

  4. Kevin, I’m not sure how much time you have devoted to studying GMO’s, but this is not a left/right issue. I’m disappointed that you’ve chosen to portray it as such and thus obfuscate the issue. I generally do not look for government solutions to market problems and so this has been an issue that has conflicted me for some time. Here is a copy of testimony I submitted to the House Ag committee in early March.

    Dear committee members,

    Yesterday I sat in on testimony from Michael O’Grady concerning H367 and H 722. I’ve been concerned about GMO foods, food additives and truth in labeling since my pregnancy with my oldest son in 1996. Over the course of these 14 years (and 2 more sons) I’ve tried to feed my family the best food possible within my budget. Coupons stretched my food budget and with 3 growing boys I was happy to have the cupboards full so I overlooked some of the ingredients. We raise our own beef and swore off of supermarket meat years ago, have our own garden and participate in a CSA but nevertheless 4 out of 5 of us began gaining weight.

    In 2009 while homeschooling my middle son we were reading about GMO’s and happened upon an article from Organic Consumers Association. You can find all the anti-GMO information you need to know at their website. I’m choosing to share this 2009 article with you because I feel that it does an excellent job explaining the problem we’re facing right now. My son told me that he wanted to boycott Kellogg’s, too, because he cares about what he eats and he didn’t know Kellogg’s used GMO’s. At that point I decided that since we weren’t eating Kellogg’s because of GMO beets, why was I buying anything that included GMO’s. I made a concerted effort to stop buying anything with corn, soy, canola and any sugar that wasn’t specifically evaporated cane juice, maple or honey. In 4.5 months I personally lost 30 lbs on this near as possible GMO-free diet.

    Yesterday Will Stevens mentioned the Oklahoma professor who gave testimony on GMO (I believe it was alfalfa) issue last year. I was present for that hearing and I was shocked and dismayed at the professor’s assertion that there was no such thing as co-existence with GMO’s. This issue is so much larger than labeling our food, but that is exactly where it needs to start. I’ll be honest, I tend to look for free-market solutions to consumer issues but we have a federal government in collusion with the likes of Monsanto to deny Americans the right to know what is in their food.

    Here’s the supermarket reality– if we must assume that all corn and soy that are not organic are GMO then ALL of the non-organic meat you buy in the supermarket has been produced using GMO’s. All of the non-organic eggs, milk and cheese has been been produced using GMO’s because the feed these animals are eating is GMO. Anything in the center of the supermarket in a box that is not organic contains GMO ingredients and so the “production process” indicator that Mr. O’Grady continually referred to seems to my layman’s eye to be more than adequately proven. The economic development factor that Mr Stevens inquired about is a reality. The more people like myself are educated about the health implications to the environment and our own bodies due to GMO’s in our food, the more we look for that which is locally produced.

    In addition, the US has been actively engaged in pressuring nations around the world to accept GMO’s There is no free market in this arena in America. Most people are unaware of how deep and far this collusion goes.
    Did you know that Monsanto controls Iraqi agriculture now?
    Do you know that over 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide due to crop failure of GMO seed?
    Do you wonder why Monsanto has sponsored the Farm First program in VT?

    The arguments being given as to why H722 might not pass the Central Hudson or Zauderer tests are irrelevant. The legislature, your committee, has a responsibility to the people of this state, and through us, to the nation at large to position itself at the forefront of this battle. Perhaps the answer is not in a successful piece of labeling legislation. Perhaps it is in the failure of passing such legislation that we win the battle. I heard discussion about how the rBGH labeling battle was ultimately lost, yet at the same time, most milk sold in the supermarket now has a label about the hormone on it. Consumer pressure worked, by way of a law that was deemed unConstitutional. Another groundbreaking law that the VT legislature passed was to ban BPA’s. This has the same interstate commerce implications as does a GMO-labelling requirement. Am I honestly to believe that the plastic in every Dollar General and Wal-Mart, etc contains no BPA’s? Of course not. But the message was sent and the health implications of using BPA’s has had much needed light shed upon it.

    Here are some health implications related to GMO’s: Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality in Hamsters ,
    Bt toxin found in blood of pregnant women and fetuses,

    We have yet to see a generation of soy-formula fed babies grow to old age. These kids aren’t even old enough yet to have begun to start families. I’m 37. When I was a kid we had soda and cookies and junk food but it wasn’t made with GMO ingredients. Obesity was not an epidemic in those days. What does the future look like for teenagers who have been fed a steady diet of gmo’s since birth? We have NO idea. What are the costs going to be for public health? These are rhetorical questions, important to think about.

    For these reasons and more I implore your committee to take the time necessary to make sure that H722 doesn’t die on the vine.

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