While Oregon,Colorado and several other states are racing to put GMO labeling initiatives on their state ballots, a very different sprint is occurring at the USDA. The two competitive dashes appear to be heading in opposite directions and could end up cycling back in a grand collision of values and money. One team seeks to bring as many new bio-engineered products to the farm and dining table as quickly as possible. The other tag team is speeding ahead with state labeling initiatives in over 30 states. What happens when we finally have national mandatory labeling and many of our crops are dominated by genetically modified species?
In 1992 the FDA ruled that they were “not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new (GMO) methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or material way.” They ruled that “as a class, foods developed by the new (GMO) techniques do not present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”
Soon after this ruling the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began reviewing and approving deregulation for GMO entities in our food supply. Companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta continue to request deregulation of certain new species of life that they exclusively own and patent. The USDA agency reviews the new products under the pretext that they do not differ from their non-genetically modified cousins. More often than not the new patented food entities get approved for planting in the US after a 30-day comment period.
So it wasn’t with much surprise that I received two very different emails vying for attention in my inbox. Side by side they nestled each banners for opposing foot races. The first headline read “The California bill to label genetically engineered (GE) food is headed for a vote in the State Senate this week….” The other started with: “Dear BRS Stakeholder….”
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is announcing today the availability of several biotechnology regulatory actions. It went on to explain that the J.R. Simplot Company is seeking non-regulated status for GMO potatoes engineered to reduce black spot bruise. Syngenta Seeds, Inc., and Bayer CropScience AG are seeking non-regulated status of soybeans genetically engineered for more herbicide resistance. Additionally, Monsanto and Forage Genetics International are seeking non-regulated status of GMO alfalfa.”
In all cases the agency made available preliminary findings of No Significant Impact. Essentially it plans to grant the requests to deregulate three new genetically engineered crops after a 30 day comment period once the findings are published in the Federal Register.
I live in a world of many ironic contradictions but these two emails represented two polar extreme marathons. The participants in these two races are diametrically opposed and both are passionately sprinting towards very different goals. In my mind it is difficult to determine a winner, although I see the biotech companies with an advantage of money and FDA rulings in their game.
I am left only with questions and certain hopeful ruminations. If products are labeled, will more consumers demand non GMO ingredients in their food? How would nationally mandatory labeling affect the advancement of new crop varieties? Would traditional breeding come into fashion again? Would the patent holders give up their rights to own our seed supply?
The final outcome will be evident once these races have been won or lost. Keep your eye on the game.