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G.E. foods: Some victories for consumers

Two developments in Washington are welcome news to beekeepers and butterfly lovers, gardeners and organic farmers and, overwhelmingly, U.S. consumers.
By far most Americans – 89 percent according to a national poll conducted in November – support the right to know if foods they feed their families are genetically modified. Under a voluntary system now in place, such food products can confusingly be marked as “natural.”
With strong public demand for explicit and mandatory labeling, laws to that effect were passed in three states recently. Seventeen additional U.S. states were considering similar laws by last year. Sixty-four countries have such laws.
Biotechnology, chemical and many major food companies oppose transparent labeling. After fierce congressional lobbying, to the tune of $75 million last year alone, legislation was passed in the House of Representatives in July which, added as a rider to the year-end funding bill for the federal government, would have repealed the existing state labeling laws and banned any such future laws.
Thanks to some Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate, including Bernie Sanders and others, the industry’s attempt at denial of citizens’ right to know about genetically engineered food, at purchasing time, was defeated.
Early in 2014, the Dow Company sought approval for new, genetically modified corn and soybean crops. The public-comment information packet supplied by the Department of Agriculture revealed the great extent to which these crops now dominate our commercial agriculture.
The area planted with corn and soybeans, for instance, reached 175 million acres in 2013; more than 90 percent were of the genetically engineered type.
Cotton and alfalfa, sugar beets and canola are among other crop varieties engineered to be “Round-up Ready.” When doused with this pesticide, broad-leaf weeds that come up in fields are killed while the crops survive.
Their use is responsible for the absence of milkweed plants over large areas of the U.S., endangering the monarch butterfly for whose larvae milkweed is the only food.
The many chemical poisons sprayed on the “herbicide resistant” crops are implicated as well in the decline of honeybees and other pollinators vital to the U.S. food supply. As reported in the journal Science in November, pollen carried to their hives by honeybees is heavily pesticide contaminated even if the bees forage only on wildflowers growing nearby, but not on treated fields.
The Department of Agriculture granted approval for the new, genetically-engineered crops, as did the Environmental Protection Agency for the yet more potent herbicide combination (Enlist Duo) to be used on them.
In November, responding to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency retracted its approval decision. Doing so, it cited potentially significant environmental risks from the pesticide mixture involved, due to synergistic effects about which the applicant company (Dow) had failed to submit relevant information during the application process.
Despite zero-health-risk claims by the industry, the World Health organization has classified the glyphosate chemical involved as a probable carcinogen.
Studies in peer reviewed biomedical journals suggest ample grounds, moreover, for proper labeling of genetically engineered food products.