Pamm Larry, aka “grandma from Chico,” arrived in Mount Shasta Jan. 26 to recruit volunteers to gather signatures for a November 2012 California proposition initiative that would require labels on food that are genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients. Such materials are also known as Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs.

Larry spoke at the Seed of Life Cafe, spending the majority of the evening instructing the dozen attendees on the legal and logistical procedures needed to garner signatures for the “California Genetically Engineered Food Act” initiative. All the attendees volunteered to circulate the initiative.

To join the initiative effort, call Mary Thomas at 938-4073. For more information about the initiative effort, visit the website at www.labelgmos.org.

Larry pointed out that the initiative is carefully worded to only include genetically engineered materials.

“We are not talking about hybrid or cross breeding that has been done for thousands of years,” Larry said. “We’re talking about something created in a laboratory.”

According to materials handed out at the talk, the initiative allows exemptions for foods prepared for immediate use such as restaurants, bake sales, etc., nor does it cover animals that have been injected with growth hormones, fed genetically engineered feed or cloned, as long as those animals have not themselves been genetically engineered.

Larry acknowledged that there have been no long term studies on the health effects of GMOs, but defended the consumer’s right to choose what is in their food. She claimed that recent short term studies have shown medical problems associated with GMOs such as allergies and toxins in breast milk.

“This is not about banning,”?she said. “This is about our right to choose.”

She said there are now more than 150 groups gathering signatures in the state.

Among the claimed benefits of genetically modified crops are resistance to pests, insects and frost, higher nutritional values and faster growth for higher yields. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, approximately 80 percent of all corn, soybean and cotton are GMOs. Animals that have been altered by GMOs are claimed to grow faster and larger.
GMOs are reviewed by a variety of government agencies including the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA does not recommend labeling for GMO foods.

In its GMO policy statement, the FDA says, “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

Larry claims that the studies used by government agencies are done primarily by the companies that produce GMOs and that the government is remiss in delving deeper into the issue. “They aren’t looking hard enough,” she said. “If GMOs are so wonderful, why are the companies opposed to labeling?”

The GMO industry claims that labeling would be prohibitively expensive and, by its very nature, would impart a negative connotation on GMO products.

Monsanto, one of several companies that produce GMO products, cites the FDA’s policy statement and adds that “Requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence. Ensuring that such labeling is accurate would also put a huge burden on regulatory agencies.”

European Union policy, however, requires all products containing GMOs to be labeled “in order to respond to consumers' concerns and enable them to make an informed choice; and to avoid misleading consumers.”

The American Academy of Environmental Science claims that studies are beginning to show the detrimental effects of GMO foods.

“Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system,” the Academy says.

The World Health Organization disagrees with the Academy. “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health,” WHO says. “In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

WHO?does, however, warn of potential environmental problems with GMOs, saying “Issues of concern include: the capability of the GMO to escape and potentially introduce the engineered genes into wild populations; the persistence of the gene after the GMO has been harvested; the susceptibility of non-target organisms, e.g. insects which are not pests, to the gene product; the stability of the gene; the reduction in the spectrum of other plants including loss of biodiversity; and increased use of chemicals in agriculture.”

Although several dozen countries have banned GMOs, including Austria and Ireland, many others, including the United States and China, rely on GMOs for a substantial portion of their agricultural products.

Sources:

•?www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en

•?www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/Biotechnology/ucm096095.htm

•?www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

•?www.monsanto.com