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The Series: I Went to the Trans-Pacific Parnership Event and All I Got was this Lousy Pen!
As I mentioned in my earlier posts, most of the stakeholders I spoke with were concerned about the TPP and its effect on the environment and US jobs, but I did find one person is in favor of the TPP agreement because he said it will create more jobs and open new markets for export. He is a member of the American Soybean Association, but asked me to keep his name confidential since he never heard about my blog and didn’t know what I would write about him.So I jumped right in and asked him some questions (which are italics, below.)
What do you think about genetically modified soybeans (GMOs)?
He told me that 99% of soybeans grown in the U.S. are GMOs, and the first genetically grown soybean was planted in US in 1996. Most soy products are used for animal feed, like chicken, dairy and beef, which provides the animals with needed protein.
Why can’t they be fed non-GMO soy and corn?
He replied that GMOs help the cows and chickens grow bigger and faster, which will help feed more people. Soybeans will solve the world’s hunger problem and give people in poorer countries a chance to have a healthier diet that will include meat. They will be able to buy soybeans to feed their chickens and then they eat the chickens which will make them healthier because of the added protein in their diet. Since GM soybeans are cheap, someone earning $5 a day can even afford to buy them.
My reaction: that sounds nice, but: if GMOs are going to solve the world hunger problem then why do so many countries ban them? Right here in the United States: the California counties of Mendocino, Trinity and Marin have successfully banned GM crops. Southern Australia has a ban on GM crops, and Tasmania has a moratorium on them until November of 2014. New Zealand does not allow GM foods to be grown in their country; Germany bans the cultivation or sale of GMO maize; Ireland bans GM crops, and there is a voluntary labeling system for foods containing GM foods. Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Luxembourg all have bans on the cultivation and sale of GMOs. (This is just a partial list. You can go online to find more countries that ban GMOs.) What do these countries know that we don’t?
What do you think about the “Right to Know “referendum that will be voted on in California in November?
He said that the soy industry will be happy to label their products for Californians but they will pay a higher price for their food because they will have to have different labels made for California markets. They are not going to label outside California because none of the other states asked for it. Having two different labels requires more time and employees, which add to the cost of production, so naturally those costs would be passed on to the customer.
If you ask me, his argument about them having to stop production to change labels doesn’t make sense. Companies are already producing separate labels for countries outside the U.S. According to labelgmos.org “50 countries with over 40% of the world’s population already label genetically engineered foods; including the entire European Union. Even China labels genetically engineered foods.”
The soy group literature raised concerns about regulations about product standards like testing and labeling which could lead to technical barriers to trade (TBT). They were concerned that such measures could discriminate against US soy or meat exports. The major concern was “proliferation of labeling requirements that serve as technical barriers to trade,” meaning they don’t like rules that will interfere with their bottom line. In my opinion, if the biotech industry thinks their products are so great, why not label them as such?
He went on to say that GMOs are perfectly safe and that they have been thoroughly tested. He told me the American Medical Association agreed that GMOs are safe to eat and does not need to be labeled. I found an article in the Huffington Post that corroborates his claim, but the organization went on to recommend mandatory pre-market safety testing with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for any modified food. Currently, manufacturers are only encouraged to consult with the FDA in advance of bringing a GMO product to market.
If you Google “Are GMOs safe?” You will get tons of articles with different opinions, depending on who conducted the study. Most agree there hasn’t been enough independent testing done to say for sure, but I did find another article in the Huffington Post that I found interesting. “ In a study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences, analyzing the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers found that agricultural giant Monsanto’s GM corn is linked to organ damage in rats.”
I then found a more recent article written by Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology that claimed that a patient’s health improved by eating non-GMO foods. “Trial consultant LaDonna Carlton suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for years. She met a new doctor, internist Emily Lindner, MD. who took her off GMOs, including soy, corn, canola oil, and sugar. ‘Within two months,’ she said, ‘I didn’t need medication any longer.’ , it gave other examples of patients who health improved shortly after changing their diets as well.
I was only at the event for about four hours and there was, pardon the expression, a lot for me to digest. A lot of the literature was complicated to read; I am sure that it was written that way intentionally, especially those written by the companies who strongly favored this agreement. My major concern about all this was not the trade agreement, it was the fact they kept it hidden from the very people who will be affected by their final decisions. If this really was about free trade and getting people a better jobs then why keep it a secret?
[Editor's note: You'll be hearing a lot more about GMOs this year. Among the freshly numbered propositions to be on California's November ballot is Prop 37, which would require mandatory labeling of GMO foods sold in the state.]