On the heels of a petition from Food Democracy Now! –a national grassroots movement urging President Obama to veto HR. 933–, an animated but resolute group of activists, community organizers, students, farmers and concerned citizens gathered at the entrance of 5100 Paint Branch Parkway in College Park, Maryl., home of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. They were protesting against the short-term funding measure giving biotech companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical a blank check on new genetically engineered crops.
Activists and consumer advocates gathered to cook a “Stone Soup” in the fashion of the traditional folk tale that tells the story of hungry soldiers or travelers who convinced unwilling villagers to provide food and garnish for a delicious concoction that eventually fed the entire village.
These activists and advocates were not so lucky, though. They invited Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and her staff at the FDA to share the “GMO-free Stone Soup” cooked and eaten in protest for the agency’s refusal to label genetically modified organisms, genetically engineered food or as simply known, GMOs.
But neither Commissioner Hamburg nor her staff showed up at the site.
Commissioner since February 2009, Dr. Hamburg, M.D., a Harvard graduate with a stellar career in community health and bio-defense has also been the vice president for biological programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a foundation that gathers the who’s who in public safety from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; in itself, a paradox.
Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA, did not show up either.
Taylor started as a private practice lawyer at the Atlanta King & Spalding firm for Monsanto and ended as Monsanto’s Vice President for Public Policy between 1996 and 2000 but found the time to be the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Policy (1991) and the USDA Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service (1994).
In 2009, he went back to public service as Senior Advisor to the FDA Commissioner position –and promoted to his current position in 2010. In and out of both Monsanto and US food related agencies since 1976, Taylor has been qualified as Monsanto’s “revolving door” into the FDA.
Activists and community organizers have their saying
The colorful crowd did not lose its impetus, though. From a 14-year old organic farmer and activist from Tennessee to a sixty something community organizer from New Jersey, the speakers went up one by one in front of the group, stating their demands for safe food and the public’s right to know GMOs content in most manufactured food.
“In 2008, before he was elected, President Obama promised labeling GMOs but since then, he has furthered policies that protect Monsanto and the use of genetically engineered food such as appointing Michael Taylor to the FDA. Members of the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, even Hillary Clinton, they all have ties to Monsanto,” Lauren Stansbury, community organizer for occupy-monsanto.com, told VOXXI.
Numerous groups supported the day-long “eat-in” demonstration including Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association, GMO Inside and the Right to Know GMO –a grassroots Coalition of States for GMO Labeling–, and Buss for Progress. Activists from Virginia, Nebraska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Vermont, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware and New York were present at the event.
As more and more states pass legislation for labeling genetically engineered food, eventually it will become an issue to stand in front of the US Supreme Court, Stansbury affirmed. “We encourage consumers to become more conscious about the food they eat, read the labels, choose organically and locally grown groceries and get to know their local farmers,” she said.
Bodhi Williams, founder and director of GMO Free Maryland, has pushed legislation to require labeling of all manufactured food available in grocery stores in the state of Maryland. So far, the two bills presented in Annapolis died in committee but he promises they will be re-introduced next year and the year after.
“Bills have been crafted in 37 states with the same or similar language so once enacted every state will have a comparable GMO free labeling law. We are not asking to agribusiness or manufacturers to do anything different –for now. We are just demanding labeling for consumers to have options,” Williams explained to VOXXI.
It is hard to determine the amount of GMOs involved in food but activists estimate that 75 to 90 percent of all manufactured food contains at least one GMO ingredient. “For sure, products containing corn, soy, zucchini and papaya as well as canola have been proven to contain 85 to 90 percent of GMOs in independent studies, and the numbers keep going up,” Williams said. Sugar and its derivates –sucrose, saccharose, glucose, high fructose, and other commercially used names– are also produced from genetically modified beets and sugar cane.
Over 60 countries have banned, restricted or labeled GMOs
Countries in the European Union as well as Australia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt among others have banned GMOs, moved into labeling manufactured food or approved some restriction to the advancement of genetically engineered organisms.
In 2012, Mella Frewen, lobby chief at FoodDrinkEurope and former Monsanto employee was nominated to the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) management board. Negotiators for the member states later reported that Frewen’s nomination had been rejected.
But the Obama Administration and its FDA team does not seem to follow into their steps.
Last year, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) supported studies showing that infertility, accelerated aging, types of cancer, type-2 diabetes, changes to the gastrointestinal system such as “leaky gut” and reflux, and immune problems such as asthma and allergies are related to GMOs.
“Lab animals and rodents given GM food do not eat it until they get really hungry,” Dr. Robin Bernhoft, AAEM Past President told VOXXI. In 1996, he explained, when trans-soy was introduced, hardly anybody suffered allergies but in 1997, allergies became the ninth chronic disease physicians treated. One year later, they jumped to third place.
“GMOs are responsible for massive sickness and death,” consumers’ advocate Jeffrey M. Smith told VOXXI. “The FDA never applied the precautionary principle in GMOS, which calls for independent scientific evaluation, assessment of potential risks and participation of all interested parties in the study of possible consequences. On the contrary, the person responsible for the increase of food-related illness and death in our country was named the US food safety czar.”
Author of GMO bestsellers, Seeds of Deception, and Genetic Roulette, and the videos The World according to Monsanto and Genetic Roulette, Smith has been called the best science communicator alive today.