Where does the Buck Stop?
I gasped loudly when learning that in the United States of America, the very agency that was put into place to protect consumers – the FDA actually relies on the manufacturers of these items to provide evidence that foods and drugs are safe for consumers. They take money of course to allow these ‘stuffs’ to come to market; talk about the Fox being in charge of the hen-house!
Why you might ask am I so concerned about such things? Well let me tell you it has come to a head recently for me with the MEGA NEWS about GMO crops, in particular the GMO Corn debacle that recently hit the International News:
Rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn or exposed to its top-selling weed killer Roundup suffered tumours and multiple organ damage, according to a French study published on Wednesday.
No one Country as far as I can tell has until now called for their own accurate and independent testing of Genetically Modified Foods. In the USA, the FDA’s policy seems to be:
The US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is one of three governing bodies that regulate genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified (GM) foods. The current regulations are largely the result of a 1986 agreement called the “Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology.” For the most part, the FDA treats foods that have been genetically modified as ordinary foods.
In a 1992 decision, the FDA stated that GM foods are to be treated as ordinary foods and not considered as food additives; they are “generally regarded as safe” or GRAS. Unless the GM food looks remarkably different from its whole counterpart, the FDA requires no testing or safety measures before the food is sent to the consumer or to be further processed.
The 1992 policy also created a process in which the manufacturer may voluntarily bring a GM food to the FDA for consultation regarding safety and regulatory issues. Again, this process is separate from the food additive process, wherein safety testing is mandatory and not voluntary. The voluntary policy for GM food is intended to help resolve safety issues without such a process. Ultimate responsibility regarding the safety of food products rests in the hands of the manufacturer.
So what I saw with all of this is that foods, drugs, animals are being chemically and biologically altered and allowed into the food chain with no testing, with no certainty that they are safe for consumers or the environment. The FDA takes the word of the company that manufactures them that they are to be considered perfectly safe.
It is not even considered essential that these Genetically Modified items be listed on food labels, so that consumers may decide for themselves if they would prefer to choose another item that is not genetically modified. Currently there is a large move afoot to have foods marked GMO where appropriate. California seems to be leading the way:
With California set to vote in November on labelling of food made from genetically modified crops, pressure is mounting on the US federal government to tighten regulation of these crops and the foods they become.
The “Right to Know” measure on California’s ballot Nov. 6 would require labelling of any food sold in the state containing ingredients made from genetically modified crops (GMOs). If the measure passes, it would be the first such US labelling law, and so far polls have shown strong support for the measure.
Notably, a national labelling campaign is also underway. Both efforts come at a time when more scientists are calling for mandatory US safety testing of GM crops before they go to market. And internationally, alarm bells are sounding over a range of GMO-related impacts. These include super weeds that have developed resistance to heavy use of herbicides and studies indicating tumors in GMO-fed rats and other health problems.
I had thought that Australia was ahead in this race, and that GMO’s were tested etc before being force fed to the citizens. I was WRONG. As in many other things it seems Australia will follow like Blind Freddie anything the FDA says is OK!
The organisation Down Under, which is akin to the FDA, is the Food Standards (of) Australian & New Zealand FSANZ.
On their own website we find the following information for interested consumers:
Does FSANZ commission its own scientific studies?
No. It is the responsibility of companies that have developed GM foods to demonstrate the safety of that food and to supply FSANZ with the raw data from scientific studies to prove this. The data must be obtained using sound scientific methods and be collected according to strict quality control criteria. This procedure is no different to that used for new chemicals and drugs and is standard practice for standards-setting agencies like FSANZ internationally. FSANZ experts review the scientific information and form their own conclusions from the results of the studies. We can, and do, request companies to undertake additional studies, where necessary.
One thing it seems we are ahead in is the labelling of Genetically Modified foods, with a ‘minor’ exception as stated below. Personally ‘minor’ is not a word I would care to use because no matter what the percentage (ingredient) that is GMO – it still contains altered DNA or proteins.
Labelling of GM Foods – Do GM foods have to be labelled?
Yes, GM foods, ingredients, additives, or processing aids which contain novel DNA or protein that has come from an approved GM food must be labelled with the words ‘genetically modified’. See Standard 1.5.2 in the Food Standards Code
Labelling is also required when genetic modification has resulted in an altered characteristic in the GM food, such as a change in the nutritional components in the food, compared with the non-GM form. For example, high oleic acid soy beans.
GM foods are labelled to help consumers make an informed choice about the food they buy. They are not labelled for safety reasons, as only those GM foods assessed by FSANZ as safe are approved for sale.
Where will I find GM on the label?
You will find the statement ‘genetically modified’ on the label either next to the name of the food, for example Genetically modified soy beans, or in association with the specific ingredient in the ingredient list, for example: flour, soy (genetically modified). If the food is unpackaged, then the information must be displayed on or in connection with the display of the food at the point of sale, for example Genetically modified soy beans on the container of loose dried soy beans.
Are some foods excluded from GM labelling?
There are some exemptions to the GM food labelling requirements. Foods that do not need to be labelled as genetically modified include highly refined foods, such as sugars and oils, where the process has removed DNA and protein from the food, including novel DNA and novel protein.
In addition, labelling is not required where there is no more than 1% (per ingredient) of an approved GM food unintentionally present in a non-GM food. This means labelling is not required where a manufacturer genuinely orders non-GM ingredients but finds that up to 1% of an approved GM ingredient is accidentally mixed in non-GM ingredient. There is zero tolerance however for the presence of an unapproved GM food in the food supply, even if it is unintentional.
What about food I buy in restaurants?
Food intended for immediate consumption that is prepared and sold from food premises and vending vehicles (e.g. restaurants, takeaway food outlets, caterers) is also exempt from GM food labelling requirements. In these cases the food business must supply consumers with information about the product which is not misleading or untruthful.
What about ‘GM free’ and ‘non-GM’ claims?
GM free and non-GM claims are made voluntarily by food manufacturers and are subject to relevant fair trading laws in Australia and New Zealand which prohibit representations about food that are, or likely to be, false, misleading or deceptive. More information on fair trade legislation is available from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and New Zealand Commerce Commission websites.
But there are loopholes, and people are NOT happy: A poll published by Australia’s National University last week revealed that 96% of Australians want genetically modified (GM) foods labelled.
What’s labelled and what’s not?
In Australia, only a small portion of foods containing GM food is labelled.
The law does not require manufacturers to label the GM content in:
- Highly refined foods (cooking oils, margarines, sugars etc), which covers most processed foods
- Foods made at bakeries, restaurants and takeaway stores
- Animal products (meat, milk, eggs) that have been fed GM feed.
Take action: Email new Health Minister Tanya Plibersek and let her know that 96% of Australians want GM labelled –that includes closing the loopholes.
DOZENS of crops genetically engineered to survive herbicide spray are being used in Australian food without the knowledge of consumers. (Source)
Food Standards Australia New Zealand has approved 43 varieties of genetically modified canola, corn, potato, rice, soybean and sugarbeet for human consumption.
But food items do not have to be labelled as GM if the ingredients are highly processed into oils, starches or sugars.
Meat, milk or eggs produced from animals fed GM crops do not have to be labelled either.
Food Standards has given the green light to a new strain of GM canola and is considering a new application for GM soybeans to be used in Australian food.
The regulator has ruled that GM canola produced by global agribusiness Monsanto is “considered to be as safe for human consumption as food derived from conventional canola cultivars”.
“No public health and safety concerns were identified in this assessment,” Food Standards says in its assessment, released for public comment this week.
“For human consumption, seed from canola is mostly processed into oil, which, because of processing, contains negligible amounts of any protein or DNA.
“Oil from (the Monsanto canola) would therefore be unlikely to require labelling (although) seed used in bakery products would require labelling.”
The Food Standards assessment states that canola is used for stockfood and as an ingredient in cooking oils, margarine, shortening, mayonnaise, sandwich spreads and coffee whiteners.
Canola is the third-largest source of vegetable oil in the world after soybean and palm oil, and is the most common oilseed crop grown in Australia.
The Food Standards assessment says field trials found the herbicide residue in the Monsanto canola seed to be “low”. Its novel GM protein, derived from a soil bacterium, is “unlikely to be toxic or allergenic to humans”.
Gene Ethics executive director Bob Phelps yesterday called on federal and state health ministers to introduce mandatory labelling on all GM foods, including oils and sugars, and meat, milk or eggs from animals fed GM crops.
“All new and untried foods and food ingredients should be labelled so that shoppers can make an informed decision whether or not to purchase and eat them,” Mr. Phelps said.
Isn’t it time we demanded our politicians do the job we pay them to do? We – the people of Australia put (elect) politician into office, therefore we can elect them out again if they are unresponsive to our needs.
Is our health to become GMO – who’s to know?
When it comes to imported foods, Brent says the manufacturers are responsible for their own labeling to show whether a product contains GM ingredients. While in Australia labeling GM foods is a legal requirement, in the US it is not.
Determining whether a food contains GM content requires DNA testing. As this is expensive, there is currently no policing of GM food labeling laws for foods that are imported into the country.
Many of the foods we buy at the supermarket contain imported GM ingredients. They can be found in chocolate, cheese, chips, bread and salad dressing to name but a few.
The concern with GM foods, labeled or not, according to the Public Health Association of Australia, is that there are still remarkably few independent assessments of their effects.
This is what worries Judy Carman, associate professor at Flinders University and Director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research.
“I have, as a researcher, had trouble getting GM crops to test,” she says. “Farmers sign a contract saying they’re not allowed to do research on the crop or give the seeds to others to do research on either.”
She also believes that there are problems with the regulation of tests currently being done.
“FSANZ requires comparison of GM versus non-GM crop,” she says. “For allergy studies, the laboratory only looks at the new protein that the crop is designed to make and breaks it down into smaller bits of protein and compares those smaller bits to a database of known allergens.
“The problem is we don’t know about all the allergens that exist and of the ones we do know of, only a subset of those are on the database.”
Another issue is when an entirely new protein is created in the GM process. “We need repeated exposure [to know its effect],” Carman says.
Yet, many of the studies currently being done are too short to tell us this she says. Additionally, she is wary of the company–funded tests that are used to approve GM foods around the world.
“It seems to me that many of these studies are set up to not find a difference. Any independent studies that find a problem are industry-dismissed.
“The GM food industry tries to discredit them, but they have a vested interest. Billions of dollars of it. They’re not going to lie down and play dead if someone comes up with adverse effects.”