GM – Trouble in America

The Soil Association’s recent report ‘Land of the GM Free?’ is out now.

The report questions the truthfulness of the claims that GM foods are widely accepted in the USA, and examines the cases of several GM products for which Americans have clearly shown a growing distaste.

They applaud the launch of a new ‘Non GM’ label in the USA next year, and predict it will bring out the concerns of consumers nationwide. Backed by presidential candidate Barack Obama, over 400 food retailers and processors will use the label on about 28,000 products!

The SA report reveals a less-than-happy USA when it comes to GM:

  • *Almost none of the food containing GM is labelled to inform the consumer, despite 87% wishing they were informed by packaging, the Soil Association points out.
  • *They cite that over half of USA consumers (53%) would reject GM if they saw it on the label.
  • *Farmers fought in court to have GM Alfalfa crops banned – and won.
  • *Consumers are widely rejecting an inappropriate GM product, a hormone called rBGH

Here’s a little sample of the story behind rBGH as featured in the SA report.

“In 1994 Monsanto produced a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) that is injected into dairy cows to increase the yield of milk. This GM hormone has faced criticism internationally since its launch on the grounds of both human health risks and animal welfare concerns. While the EU and Canada rejected it, it was deemed safe by the US Food and Drug Administration and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and has been used widely in the US dairy industry, without any labelling of the milk as ‘GM‑produced’.

Monsanto worked very hard to ensure that consumers have no way to make a choice – getting some US states to ban dairies from selling their milk with ‘no artificial growth hormone’ labels.

But increasing consumer awareness of rBGH in the US has caused sales of the milk to plummet. Between 2002 and 2007 use of the hormone fell by 23% and the proportion of US cows being injected with rBGH fell from 25% to below 17%.”

Monsanto’s sensitivity to bad publicity about this was revealed when they pressurised Fox News about an investigative TV programme. (video here) It will be interesting to see how the biotechnology companies respond to the Soil Association document.

Health hazards and stealth marketing are not the only aspects of the GM industry adding momentum to the organic movement’s campaigns. Sustainable land management and food security are also high on the agenda for all those worldwide who voice concerns about GM foods and the long-term implications of their use.

Earlier this year, Peter Melchett wrote in The Independent;
“Confirming an earlier FAO conference’s conclusions, the IAASTD report acknowledged organic farming’s real potential to help feed the world in an era of rising oil prices and the urgent need to cut greenhouse gases, because organic systems use solar energy and clover to fix nitrogen in the soil, not oil and gas. The value of this approach was also confirmed in a report this year by the International Trade Centre, technical advisors to the WTO and UN. The new challenge we face is: how do we feed the world as oil and gas become costlier and scarcer, and as we cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050? No one suggests the answer to that is GM.”

Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association, draws attention to a fundamental point. If the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the IAASTD aren’t calling for GM to feed the world, why does the UK government tell us it’s a major reason why we must adopt it? These questions and more are at the heart of the Feeding The World Conference to be held in Westminster, 12th Nov 2008. More details here…

Jason Ball

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