Good GMO News

The headline might be misleading, because the three types of potatoes genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine contain only potato genes that are resistant to the blight and not are not actually GMOs. According to an article by Keith Ridler of the Associate Press, the potatoes come “…from an Argentine variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.” There is controversy despite the fact the potatoes aren’t GMO modified. “McDonald’s declines to use Simplot’s genetically engineered potatoes for its French fries.” This is despite the fact the U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that they “…have the same taste and texture and nutritional qualities as conventional potatoes” while containing no DNA from an unrelated organism.

There are several advantages to the potatoes, to include that they have reduced bruising and black spots. They also have improved storage capacity and “…a lower amount of a chemical that’s a potential carcinogen created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures.” They also require half the fungicides in their growth.

Those advantages would seem to be eagerly endorsed by almost everyone. Not so! The Non-GMO Project opposes the potatoes as “…claiming that new types of genetic engineering…are not actually genetic engineering.” There has been resistince to new technology throughout the ages, and that hasn’t ended despite the advantages provided by that technology.

GMO Labeling

There is a new bill establishing national requirements for labeling foods with GMO content that is expected to be signed by President Obama. A Denver Post editorial supports the bill, but the anti-GMO advocates aren’t happy. Perhaps all that would have made them happy would have been a complete ban on GMOs. That ban would have taken almost all of the corn, soybean, canola, and sugar beet products off the market. Those ardently opposed to GMOs would probably respond that reducing the amount of available food is preferable to allowing what they call “Franken foods” to be grown and sold. I assure you I would eagerly eat Franken foods if the choice was not eating.

The new law would allow companies to label their GMO products with an actual label or a QR code. The small QR codes that smart phones can read will tell consumers the GMO content of the food. There is a realistic alternative for small companies who can still be able to comply by providing a web address or phone number.

Many food producers and processors continue to resent the fact that labeling is going to be mandated. They point out that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMO foods are safe, which means there is no scientific basis for the need of labels. However, they will probably be mollified by the knowledge that a federal law, regardless of whether it provides any actual improvement to food safety, will stop individual states from passing laws such as the one approved by Vermont voters.

National Academy of Sciences Reports Genetically Modified Food is Safe

The report concludes that “Genetically engineered crops appear to be safe to eat and do not harm the environment…” However, it is certain the report does not end the controversies. An organization of companies selling genetically modified seeds observes the report demonstrates “…that agricultural biotechnology has demonstrated benefits to farmers, consumers, and the environment.” However, Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union “…pointed to the lack of a significant increase in yield.” Several carefully worded statements in the report leave the door open to critics of GMOs. For example, it says “…foods made from such crops do not appear to pose health risks, based on chemical analysis of the foods and on animal feeding studies…” Critics will focus on the “do not appear” part of the statement and will add that the report also “…says many animal studies are too small to provide firm conclusions.” Those kind of criticisms are certain to continue despite the fact that “…several other regulatory, scientific, and health organizations have previously also concluded the foods are safe.”

The report does address the myth that GMOs have harmed the environment, to include monarch butterflies. It says there is “…no conclusive evidence of a cause-and effect relationship between G.E. crops and environmental problems. It says it has not been proved that the increased planting of such crops is indirectly responsible for the decline of the monarch butterfly.” I’ll warn that no one will go back and delete Internet stories that GMOs are killing butterflies.

My favorite part of the article is a quote from a professor who is a proponent of biotechnology. “The inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is the G.E. crops are pretty much just crops. They are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”

Another Attack on GMOs

A Denver Post editorial describes how Boulder County, Colorado commissioners have bowed to “…a coalition of anti-GMO activists and representatives of the organic and natural food industries…” They voted to phase out GMO crops on county-owned farmland despite “…overwhelming consensus among scientists and prestigious scientific bodies that the foodstuffs are safe.” The president of a group representing the farmers points out an important advantage of GMO crops. “I haven’t sprayed insecticide on my corn in six years.” Crop yields have increased significantly, and, “…in the case of sugar beets, dramatically so.” However, to meet the demand of the activists, the Boulder commissioners ordered its staff to draft a plan to phase out GMO crops on county-owned farmland.

The move apparently is designed to force organic farming, which is “…a risk-fraught option…” The county provides major financial incentives to would-be organic farmers, but “…19 of 24 organic farmers who took advantage of the country’s program have failed in the past five years.” The editorial closes with the comments, “It is one thing to incentivize organic farming to promote agricultural diversity. It is quite another to banish high-quality, high-yield crops because of anti-scientific fears. Boulder County struck the right balance years ago and shouldn’t reverse itself now.”

Opposing GMOs

This is our third successive commentary on GMOs, and we usually don’t obsess about any one subject. However, the Denver Post had an editorial that I just couldn’t pass it up. The editorial cleverly begins with the question, “If we could go back in time and avert the Irish potato famine, in which a million people died, who would possibly oppose it. The same blight remains destructive of potato crops today, but a GMO potato has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration that will resist it.

Perhaps even more interesting is that the Campbell Soup Company has announced three fourths of their products contain GMOs and that they will begin labeling their products as such in 12 to 18 months. “The company is betting on the good sense of consumers and their trust in scientific consensus. Let’s hope its faith is warranted.” Campbell supports a mandatory federal requirement for GMO labeling in order to avoid an impossible patchwork of state laws with different requirements. The Post is hopeful that the Campbell decision will “…demystify GMOs and lead to greater public understanding of their potential to battle malnutrition and reduce the use of pesticides.”

I can’t think of a better way to end this post other than to quote final sentences of the editorial. “The anti-GMO movement, fueled by the organic food industry and anti-corporate activists, has maintained for years that all it wants is to provide the public with more information. Campbell Soup is about to call their bluff.”

Okay, I can’t stop myself from adding a bit more. I’ve been a lifetime consumer of Campbell soups, but I now intend to look at their products first while food shopping. They deserve the first look for their approach to resolving a contentious issue. I’m certain they came to the announced approach after carefully considering impact on their bottom line. I intend to do my tiny bit to reward their decision.

GMO Labeling Update

The “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015” has been reintroduced by Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) that would prevent individual states from requiring GMO foods from being labeled. Pompeo explained, “GMOs are safe and have a number of important benefits for people and our planet.” “The bill would also tighten the standards companies must use to designate their food as GMO-free: Crops must not be planted with bioengineered seeds, and animals must not be fed bioengineered food.”

The evidence that GMO foods are safe continues to increase. The Journal of Animal Science describes a study that examined billions of animals fed with non-GMOs and compared the results to animals fed at least 90 percent GMOs. “The study found GMOs completely safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMOs.”

The safety of GMO foods is being reinforced by continuing studies, but some GMO advocates worry about unintended consequences of Pompeo’s bill. It would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to establish national standards and regulations for GMOs and give the Department of Agriculture full discretion over how to implement the law. That would give anti-GMO activists in the government the power to impose restrictions and unjustified regulatory hurdles.

GMO Salmon Approved

An editorial in the Denver Post announce that the Food and Drug Administration had “…finally conceded the unavoidable scientific reality: AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically engineered Atlantic salmon is safe for human consumption. The salmon has been genetically modified with genes from two other fish that allows it to grow more quickly. In a world needing food, it would seem that a fish that grows to larger sizes would be a good thing. But then there is the drumbeat of vilification of anything GMO to be considered. Should people be willing to eat “…the first GMO animal approved in the U.S.?”

“The answer depends on whether they believe the scientific consensus on GMO foods, which is that they are safe to eat. And it also depends on whether consumers think GMO foods have a role to play in feeding a world whose population is growing.” I think the answer to the second question is crucial. I’ll phrase it differently. Do we think it is better to let people to starve than to offer them genetically modified foods that provide food to more people?

There was a poll about the Post editorial that said sixty percent of those responding would not eat the GMO salmon. Apparently the Food and Drug Administration and the Post opinion that the salmon are completely safe hasn’t convinced the majority, or at least the majority of those who responded to the poll.