Page - February 8, 2010
With companies concocting new foods to the tune of billions per year, surely there must be some oversight of this industry? Mom can't be the only one making sure that the food on your dinner plate is safe. The good news – and the bad – is that there are three major federal agencies regulating genetically engineered foods.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - The FDA is responsible for, among other things, making sure that food, feed and food additives are safe to eat.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - The USDA is responsible for, among other things, making sure plants are safe to grow.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - The EPA is responsible for, among other things, making sure pesticides are safe for human health and the environment.

While some may feel assured knowing that three separate entities are tasked with making sure genetic engineering is safe, the truth is that this setup allows for miscommunication, bureaucratic failures, and a propensity to "pass the buck."  Essentially, there are too many cooks in the laboratory.

What's worse is that these agencies are inundated with former industry executives and lobbyists from the major GMO companies: Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta and BASF.  The most egregious examples come from two recent Obama appointments.

  • Islam Siddiqui -- current VP of science and regulatory affairs at CropLife, (which represents all the major GMO players) and a former lobbyist -- has been nominated to the critical post of U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator. This position will enable him to keep pushing chemical pesticides, inappropriate biotechnologies, and unfair trade arrangements on nations that do not want and can least afford them.
  • Roger Beachy -- long-time head of Monsanto's defacto nonprofit research arm -- has been installed as director of the USDA's newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This office comes with a $500 million budget, and therein control over the U.S. ag research agenda for years to come.

With former industry big wigs at the reigns there can be no guarantee that these agencies are adhering to their missions of protecting our health.

To Label, or not to Label

In 2008, the FDA announced that labeling of GE foods would remain voluntary, citing that the methods used in the development of bioengineered foods, including GE animals, was not "material" information.  This decision came despite 29,000 public comments, most of which urged the agency to require mandatory labeling of food products from GE animals.  Meanwhile, the FDA seems poised to make it as difficult as possible for companies who have eliminated GE ingredients to add "NON-GE" labels. These responsible companies will face burdensome regulations, while the FDA lets other companies continue to use GE ingredients in secret.

Many nations have opted to ban GMOs based on the precautionary principle. Unfortunately, the United States is not one of them.  The United States may soon be the only country in the world that does not require labeling of genetically engineered food.  Greenpeace is calling for immediate interim measures such as labeling of GE ingredients, and the segregation of genetically engineered crops and seeds from conventional ones.