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GMO labeling is small part of a glaring global issue

In recent weeks national attention was briefly focused on the State of New Hampshire where our legislators were called upon to decide for or against the labeling of GMO products, an initiative favored by about 90 percent of voters, not only here in New Hampshire, but nationwide. The House said no; the Senate voted to study it further. The matter was addressed and discussed in a very limited way, as if the only issue involved was whether or not to put labels on food products being sold to and consumed by the public.

The decision was made to focus the legislative issue on people’s right to know what’s in the food we consume and serve to our family and friends. Other issues were set aside because the health factors of genetic engineering are unknown. There has been little if any reliable testing of bioengineered food products, though the manufacturers and the government seek to convince us that safety is not an issue. This assurance is given despite the fact that the FDA and the USDA are just taking the word of the manufacturers without performing what had previously been their customary comprehensive testing of new food products before marketing. In the meantime, we hear that 70 percent of the processed food already found on our supermarket shelves consists of such genetically engineered ingredients. Who knows if this food is healthy or not? This is unknown, an unsettled question.

It needs to be realized by citizens that the real issues related to GMOs are broader and deeper than just labeling. Because so much has been intentionally hidden from the public, it’s little wonder busy legislators and otherwise occupied citizens fail to grasp the magnitude of what’s really at stake in relation to GMO products and biotechnology in general.

The principal developer and marketer of genetic engineering and GMOs is the Monsanto Company, located in St. Louis, but manufacturing and marketing worldwide. In her book “The World According to Monsanto,” Marie-Monique Robin provides a comprehensive history of the chemical company which has been in business since 1901. It is the company that, since the 1960s, has produced, advertised, and profitably marketed PCBs, Dioxin, Agent Orange, Roundup and Bovine Growth Hormone — a remarkable series of toxic and illness-producing chemicals. In recent years this enormously rich company has purchased a vast number of seed companies, preferring to own these companies rather than working with them to promote the work of agriculture. They now call themselves an agricultural company, one with lofty-sounding goals, but questionable methods, honesty and social responsibility.

Monsanto, in the last 30 years particularly, has become enormously successful and influential, and it’s particularly interesting how the company came to gain such favor with the United Stated government and its agricultural agencies, a relationship that has served as a gateway for the company to the entire world.

During the Reagan administration, a significant goal was deregulation, a policy specifically designed to “liberate market forces” and to reduce what were understood by both business and White House hard-liners to be “bureaucratic obstacles.” This is how these parties viewed the previously enacted laws requiring health and environmental testing by federal agencies before new procedures or products could be set in place or marketed to the public. Three government agencies were involved: the FDA for food and drugs; the EPA for pesticides; and the Agriculture Department (USDA) for crops. The government was also committed to supporting this new biotechnology because it was being heralded as a way whereby the United States could attain and hopefully maintain world leadership in the stiff competition of the time with Europe and Japan.

In June 1986, the White House issued a policy document entitled “Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology,” designed to prevent Congress from introducing specific legislation for the regulation of GMOs. Addressed to the three federal regulatory agencies listed above, the directive provided that products derived from biotechnology would be regulated within the framework of already-existing federal laws, insofar as “recently developed methods are an extension of traditional manipulations” of plants and animals — in other words, the principle of substantial equivalence, which established that genetically-engineered products were no different from non-transgenic crops. This determination seems especially odd because these same genetically engineered products have been also judged to be different enough to warrant their being awarded patents, awarding these same manufacturers profitable monopolistic ownership rights.

Monsanto responded to this announced policy in a curious way. They told Vice-President George Bush they wanted to be regulated. What they really wanted was the appearance of regulation because, as I now quote from Robin’s book, “The company knew that after the PCB and Agent Orange scandals, when it had lied or concealed data, it would not be believed if all it did was say that GMO products posed no danger to health or the environment. It wanted federal agencies, primarily the FDA, to be the ones to say the products were safe.”

The decision to allow Monsanto to produce genetically engineered seed to be used in our food supply was a political decision, not a scientific one. There was no scientific consensus at the time, as has been alleged and generally believed.

The American public needs to know that it has been deceived and lied to for a long time about biotechnology and the safety and reliability of its products. Profitability, not public health, is the real and dedicated goal of Monsanto and its corporate colleagues. Also at issue is the matter of social control, which is beyond the scope of this article. The main point of this story is made clear in a final point made by Marie-Monique Robin: “Monsanto knew that PCBs presented a serious health risk as early as 1937. But the company carried on regardless until the products were finally banned in 1977.” The reason, in Monsanto’s own words at the time, “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.”

Those interested in knowing more about this matter of food safety and corporate control may contact Douglas Williams, a Peterborough resident, by email at douglaswilliams28@comcast.net.

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