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Environmental connections to public health >>

Monsanto, the FDA, and genetically modified seeds

Friday, March 20, 2009

Special to Enviroblog by Amy Rosenthal, EWG's Farm & Food Outreach Coordinator.

Here at EWG we spend a lot of time investigating the failure of the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to keep our food, water and consumer goods safe. We focus on toxic chemicals, but, as it turns out, the FDA works pretty much the same no matter what "innovation" is getting pushed onto the market without labeling or testing.

Take genetically modified (GM) foods. The new documentary The World According to Monsanto takes an in-depth look at the billion dollar, multi-national corporation Monsanto and its push to spread its bio-engineered seeds. Though Monsanto is the main villain of this story, the FDA, with its failure to regulate this new and controversial technology comes across as its unquestioning ally.

The beginning of GM seeds. In the mid 90's, when Monsanto wanted to start selling its genetically engineered seeds, the FDA decided to treat GM foods just like their conventional counterparts. If they look and taste and smell the same, they must be the same, right? In an on-camera interview, a former FDA official involved with the evaluation of genetic engineering recounts that the agency found no reason to be worried about any potential risks of the new technology.

Industry studies...again. The rationale? FDA staff had reviewed all of the studies provided by Monsanto! (Incidentally, the largest of these studies had been deemed flawed by several scientists.) FDA felt no need to consider, for example, a Scottish study showing potential complications from the use of bioengineering technology, or the case of L-tryptophan, a supplement made using genetic engineering that sickened thousands and killed two dozen in 1989.

Hard for consumers to avoid FDA has never officially approved genetically engineered foods as safe. But silence is assent. Today, genetically modified seed varieties make up over 80% of soybeans and over 40% of corn planted in the U.S. And even if you want to avoid them, you can't: there are absolutely no requirements for special labeling of products with genetically engineered ingredients.

It's the same game at FDA, no matter which industry: pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, toxic chemicals. Avoid independent testing, describe your products as identical to those already on the market, fight any attempts to label them. At least the FDA is consistent!

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