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"There is no federal labeling requirement for GMO foods in the US - after Congress succumbed to corporate lobbyists and removed the provision from the Farm Bill in late June."

Walmart is filling shelves with unlabeled Monsanto GMO corn. (photo: PepOmint/flickr)
Walmart is filling shelves with unlabeled Monsanto GMO corn. (photo: PepOmint/flickr)

GMO Food Headed for US Shelves

By Sustainable Business Staff

08 August 12


enetically engineered sweet corn from Monsanto is headed for Walmart store shelves, the first GMO product to travel from farms directly to consumer plates.

And you won't even know it, since there is no federal labeling requirement for GMO foods in the US -- after Congress succumbed to corporate lobbyists and removed the provision from the Farm Bill in late June.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) quietly approved the corn at the end of 2011. It is designed to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide and to produce a Bt toxin that kills insects that try to feed on the plants. The corn is being grown in the Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Texas.

Walmart confirmed that it has no objection to selling the corn in a statement given to The Chicago Tribune. "After closely looking at both sides of the debate and collaborating with a number of respected food safety experts, we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product," the company told the Tribune.

Other grocery chains including Whole Foods and Trader Joes have vowed not to sell the corn, and food company General Mills has likewise come out against it. But Walmart's capitulation means the corn could wind up in the mouths of hundreds of US consumers, without them knowing it.

Monsanto's corn has been touted as a safer and less toxic alternative to ones that use herbicides like 2,4-D (the key ingredient in Agent Orange). But scientists have cast doubt on those claims, reports Beyond Pesticides.

For one thing, there is growing concern over increasing rates of insect resistance to Bt crops. GE corn with Bt also negatively impacts soil life, reducing the presence of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi that are important for nutrient and water uptake.

GE crops also present cross-pollination risks for organic farms, the subject of an ongoing dispute over patents between Monsanto and local farmers. More than 300,000 people including farmers, seed growers and agricultural organizations participated in the suit against Monsanto. A federal judge dismissed the case in February, but the organics community has appealed (see more information below).

Federal GMO Labeling Measure Thwarted

Many feel GMO labeling should be required in the US; it already is mandated across the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China. But legislation within the $500 billion Farm Bill that would have allowed states to require mandatory labeling of foods or beverages was cut from the final draft.

The amendment, opposed by just about every major food company, was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who says he remains committed to getting it through.

Similar measures in Sander's home state of Vermont and in Connecticut have also failed to advance, but it will be on the November 2012 ballot in California after a petition drive gathered close to 1 million signatures guaranteeing its inclusion. Oregon is also taking up the issue.

Almost 50 countries already require GMO labels. Polls show nearly unanimous support (91%). The Just Label It! Campaign is encouraging people to contact the Food and Drug Administration to express their support for labeling. Click here to offer your support.

Scientists Sour on GMO Food

Aside from the rather rational policy of labeling, the case against using genetically engineered food for human or animal sustenance is building credibility in the scientific community.

A peer-reviewed report by Earth Open Source, "GMO Myths and Truths," concludes GMOs can create toxins and allergens in foods, and they will encourage new strains of herbicide-resistant superweeds as more farm and communities are exposed to these chemicals.

Epidemiological studies have also demonstrated a link between herbicide use, and birth defects and cancer, the report finds.

Taken together, the data offers more evidence why policymakers should be leery of using GMO for animal or human food, according to the report's authors.

"Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation," says one author, Dr. Michael Antoniou, an expert in genetic engineering from Kings College London School of Medicine. "They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer and more effective alternatives to meeting the world's food needs."

The "GMO Myths and Truths" report seeks to counter the "PR machine" used by biotech companies to discredit independent research into the effects of GMOs.

"The GM industry is trying to change our food supply in far-reaching and potentially dangerous ways," says Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source. "We all need to inform ourselves about what is going on and ensure that we -- not biotechnology companies -- keep control of our food system and crop seeds."

Farmers Renew Legal Offensive Against Monsanto

Speaking of control, The Organic Seeds Growers and Trade Association (OSGTA) filed a brief in early July asking a US Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., to reverse a decision that dismissed their 2011 lawsuit seeking to invalidate Monsanto's GMO seed patents and to prevent the company from suing farmers whose crops became genetically contaminated by air-borne seeds.

11 prominent law professors and 14 renowned organic food safety and consumer nonprofit organizations quickly came out in support of the farmers' appeal.

"Monsanto continues to claim that plaintiffs' concerns about being accused of patent infringement after being contaminated by Monsanto's transgenic seed are unsubstantiated and unjustified," says Dan Ravicher, attorney for the nonprofit Publlic Patent Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs in the suit. "But now two impeccable groups have joined with plaintiffs in explaining to the Court of Appeals how real and legitimate their concerns really are, especially since Monsanto continues to refuse to simply promise never to sue contaminated farmers for patent infringement."

Dozens of farmers have been driven into bankruptcy and many organic and non-GMO farmers are now afraid to plant seeds. Every year Monsanto investigates more than 500 farmers with “seed police,” says OGSTA. To date, the company has brought suits against 144 farmers; 700 farmers have been forced to settle out of court for undisclosed sums.

“We have a right to farm the way we choose,” says Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, president of OSGTA. “Yet Monsanto is unwilling to control their GMO pollution and they refuse to sign a binding covenant not-to-sue our family farmers for patent infringement should their seed contaminate our crops. Monsanto’s publicized ‘Commitment’ promising that they would not sue farmers was described by Monsanto’s own lawyers as being ‘vague.’ "

Download the "GMO Myths and Truths" report:

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