Controversy Through Association: FDA Deputy Commissioner and His Monsanto History

By: Michael Engle

As widely seen during our national campaign time, often times, controversy can arise from previously held professional associations by certain candidates.  A similar debate is arising in Washington, D.C. in regard to food politics, as Stephanie Armour reports for Bloomberg.

Michael Taylor is employed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where he currently serves as the deputy commissioner for food safety.  Previously, Taylor served as the FDA's deputy commissioner for policy; however, for 16 months in between his FDA stints, he served as the vice-president of public policy at Monsanto.  Monsanto is a leading name in genetically-modified organism (GMO), or "Franken-food," production.  This plants Taylor as a lightning rod of controversy, due to the fact that GMO's are a polarizing subject in modern food politics.

Although GMO's result in edible food and are beloved by mass producers (Imagine a rice field that will not drown in a monsoon, and keep its yield!), they are criticized for homogenizing the crop gene pool, forcing small-scale farmers out of business, and proliferating auto-immune diseases among humans.  In fact, 1,000 acres of Monsanto-brand GMO corn was discovered and destroyed in Hungary, where GMO's are banned; Peru also recently voted to ban GMO's for the next ten years.

The million-dollar question will be answered with due diligence, but it can be worded succinctly: Can Michael Taylor perform his duties to the FDA, and, by proxy, to the American taxpayers, without exhibiting any biases in favor of Monsanto?  A recent development between the USA and the European Union is particularly alarming.  Shortly after the USA and the E.U. agreed on bilateral standards for organic labeling, the U.S. FDA announced that it would accelerate its approval of GMO's.  Whether you support GMO production, oppose it, or do not yet have an opinion on the subject, most people would agree that simply accelerating the process of consideration is a grave mistake.  Not only could such a measure invalidate efforts towards sustainable agriculture, but it would open a Pandora's box of other decisions that "should be accelerated."

In the name of health, nutrition, sustainability, and the agricultural economy, the case for or against GMO production should be more scrutinized, and not less.  If it could be proven that this accelerated review and approval is so that Taylor may "do his job" while benefiting Monsanto, as conspiracy theorists would like to believe, then it would be evident that Taylor is not impartial, and thereby abusing his position.  Failing this, it is imprudent to demand Taylor's resignation on account of a previous employer, despite his qualified expertise in the food industry.  Either way, President Obama could prove to be the final arbiter of Taylor's fate, as he may choose to eliminate the controversy surrounding Taylor by replacing him, and thereby reducing federal distractions from his own reelection campaign.

Photo: Daniel Lobo

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Basics of Avoiding Mutant Foods

By: Allana Mortell

Imagine yourself in a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon, strolling with your cart, aisle by aisle. First, you swivel your way towards the cereal, picking up your favorite healthy breakfast starter, along with that sugary stuff the little ones asked for. Not exactly the most balanced breakfast, but nevertheless, those sugar-filled morsels sure can be addictive. Though it is widely known that those little puffs of cereal masquerading in a sugar coating are probably one of the worst things you could be eat, you may or may not, be surprised to learn that 70% of all processed foods in supermarkets these days now contain genetically modified ingredients.

Genetically modified organisms or GMO's, are organisms whose genetic material has been altered thanks to genetic engineering techniques. Many countries, including Japan, Australia and the European Union ban all sorts of GMO's, yet the United States does not, which has created problems in terms of exporting particular products. Metroland reported that, "estimates place the presence of GMOs at 70 to 80 percent in packaged foods in America and Canada, as commercially grown canola, soy, corn and cotton are already using genetically modified seeds."

The upside of this unfortunate estimation is that many efforts, including legislation on banning particular GMO's have been put in place. However, there is something else we as a society should be concerned about and that would be the idea and terrifying revelation of mutant foods.

Mutant foods are, in the simplest terms, foods you should be avoiding yet can't seem to escape thanks to genetic modification and over-chemical production. Thirty or forty years ago, food was different. Meals were much more simple, food was basic in a common context. However, the pace of life has quickened, the emergence of fast-food has taken over America and a new era of processed food, hydrogenated oils, food coloring, you name it, is popping up everywhere, even in foods you never would have thought.

Though it is difficult to pinpoint every single food item you should or shouldn't be avoiding, there are a few basics that should be brought to your attention. Marshmallows, jello, and hot dogs are all staples of American society, but regardless, all contain chemical additives, modified syrups, gelatin or generally unrefined ingredients you shouldn't be ingesting. In reality, the best thing you can do for you and your family is read the labels and take that extra time to scan over the nutritional information that is sometimes hidden so well on the back of those favorite cereals of yours.

There's a reason why those sugary, sweet or even salty treats taste as good as they do - chemical production makes them tastes one way, the "better" way and a simple check of ingredient list may in the future, make all the difference in the world. If you don't know what an ingredient means, blue 2 or red 1, hydrogenated oils, transfat, etc - you're much better off throwing it back on the shelf where it belongs.

Photo: KayVee INC. 

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Department of Agriculture Will Speed Up Approval of Genetically Modified Crops

By: Justin Chan

Several days after the United States and Europe agreed on a pact that will recognize each other's certified organic products, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that it will speed up approval of genetically modified crops.

According to BusinessWeek, seed companies such as Monsanto Co. will get faster regulatory reviews of their crops under the new policy changes. Michael Gregoire, USDA's deputy administrator, said that the department plans to cut the time needed to approve biotech crops by half. Under the new guidelines, upgraded versions of current crop technologies will be reviewed for at least 13 months. New technologies will be reviewed for approximately 16 months. The changes are expected to take place this month, once they are published in the Federal Register.

"If you can reduce the approval time, you get sales that much faster,"  said Jeff Windau, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. "It could be significant for the companies like Monsanto and DuPont." The approvals used to take six months but have since lengthened because of legal challenges and increased public interest. Farmers have expressed uneasiness about the effects of a lengthened approval, which, they believe, could put them at a disadvantage against competitors abroad. Countries such as Brazil have been quicker to approve biotech products.

The USDA said it will invite the public to voice their opinion as companies, such as Monsanto, file a petition for the deregulation of a biotech crop. As Gregoire noted, this will allow the department to address any concerns while it conducts its risk assessment. "We can improve the quality of decisions by providing for this earlier public input in the process," he said. "We are not sacrificing quality at all."

Others, however, have claimed that the department's real motive is to ignore the criticism over its handling of regulating modified crops. "They are trying to work the system so they can dismiss public comments more quickly and easily in order to speed things up," said Bill Freese, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety. "It's a rubber-stamp system. A real regulatory system will occasionally reject something."

Photo: tillwe

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Monsanto Bites the Dust: Hungary and Peru Ban GMO Crops and Take Serious Actions

By: Michele Wolfson

Nations are starting to ban GMO crops around the world in display of health freedom. Hungary is getting international recognition for taking a bold stand against biotech mega Monsanto for destroying 1000 acres of Monsanto maize that was contaminated with genetically modified crops.  Genetically modified seeds are banned in Hungary, so when the government regulator discovered that this violation was broken- the result was an extreme environmental consequence. The concern is that this giant cooperation is threatening the overall genetic integrity of the environment as well as of human kind.

Genetically modified ingredients are so widespread among nations that it will be extremely difficult for Hungary and other countries to eliminate products containing GMOs. However, this no-nonsense act that Hungary's government took is a good place to start. There is an increasing consensus among consumers worldwide that they want safe, local, organic fresh food and that they want the environment and wildlife to be protected.

Hungary isn't the only one taking action. Peru has also taken a stand for healthy freedom by passing a 10-year ban on genetically modified foods. This act of defiance against Monsanto was made by Peru's Plenary Session of the Congress despite previous governmental pushes for GM legalization. While the production and consumption of crops created by bloated biotech companies like Monsanto continue to soar (77% of supermarket products in Peru tested contained GM contaminant), the known and unknown dangers of GMO crops seem to supersede even executive-level governmental directives.

The question that many of us Americans have is "When will our nation begin to take action on this serious matter?" Some feel that we will be the last country to discontinue funding GMO's. Uplifting news is that Colorado's Boulder County was the latest health freedom location to stand up against Monsanto and genetically modified produce, with Boulder County advisory committees announcing plans to phase out GMO crops on open space in pursuit of sustainable and ethical farming practices.

Scientific evidence has proven that feeding GMO crops to animals causes accelerated aging, auto-immune disorders, and other terrible diseases. Imagine what consumption of these products is doing to human beings, especially to those who are consuming animals. Many citizens believe that we need to stand up and boycott products and companies that continue to use GMOs in order to see any real changes take place.

It is crucial that one day our country will join the long list of other countries that have banned, condemned, and even uprooted GMO crops across the globe.

Do you think the US will ever ban GMO foods? We want to hear your thoughts! 

Photo:  Fellowship of the Rich 

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Outwitting Restaurants: How To Avoid GMOs While Eating Out

By: Saira Malhotra

Last week, WebMD posted their tips on avoiding GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) when dining out. While it is easier to follow through on your food philosophies when they come from your own kitchen, the challenge is posed when eating out in restaurants and cafes. WebMD has demystified some of this for us and demonstrated that by asking the right questions and reading between the menu lines, we can find the answer. Here are some their suggestions:

  1. Recognize the dishes that use genetically modified ingredients, such as, soy, corn and squash.
    • 94% of soybeans grown in the U.S has been genetically modified and is present in tofu, miso, and tempeh.
    • 88% of U.S. grown corn has been genetically modified and is present in corn tortillas, tamales, and polenta.
    • Many types of squash have been engineered to prevent viruses.
  2. Before making the reservation, enquire about what cooking oil they use. The True Food Network's Shopping Guide suggests that "unless labeled explicitly, corn, soybean, cottonseed, and canola oils probably contain genetically modified products". If the cuisine calls for olive oil, that becomes one less thing for you to worry about.
  3. Resist the soda urge or order seltzer water with freshly squeezed orange juice. Most sodas contain High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and their sugar free counterparts contain artificial sweeteners, both of which are subject to GMO.
  4. If the restaurant does not offer organic meats, stick with vegetarian options as animals that have been raised inorganically have been fed on a diet of antibiotics, bovine, and GMOs.
  5. Opt for wild salmon as farm-raised salmon has a gene that makes them grow twice as fast.
  6. Shun the large chain restaurants as there is a greater likelihood that they use a central supplier and the food is likely to be reinforced with additives. Smaller, local restaurants are more likely to avail of local suppliers.

Photo: tabula_electronica 

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