New USDA rules go into effect that allow Big Food to hide their genetically modified ingredients.
Starting January 1 of this year, the new GMO labeling rules went into effect. Sorry, we mean “bioengineered” labeling, the term the government and industry chose to obfuscate the issue and confuse consumers. Obfuscation and confusion were the chief goal of these new rules, as they allow companies to “label” their foods with a QR code that consumers need to scan to see if a food contains genetically modified ingredients. The rule represents a major capitulation to industry and a loss for consumers. What’s even more unfortunate is that GMOs are exactly the wrong direction for our health and the environment.
ANH was staunchly opposed to the legislation approved by Congress, which was nicknamed the “DARK” Act by food advocates for keeping consumers in the dark about the contents of their food. The main purpose of the legislation was to serve industry interests. As states took the lead in passing GMO labeling laws (in fact, ANH helped draft the labeling laws that passed in Maine and Connecticut), industry became concerned about a “patchwork” of various state regulations. The GMO labeling law that passed pre-empted state efforts, nullifying the better, more transparent state laws to label genetically modified foods.
The legislation gives food companies a number of options for “labeling” their food as genetically modified. Outrageously, this information can be hidden in a QR code, which would require consumers to take out a smart phone, scan the code, and see if the food contains GMO ingredients. Make no mistake, this is an attempt to hide this information; one survey found that as few as 5 percent of consumers with smart phones actually use QR codes—which is likely what Big Food is counting on. This also discriminates against the 100 million consumers that don’t have a smartphone. Companies can also include a phone number you call to disclose the presence of GMO ingredients.
Companies can also include a label on their products, but the label doesn’t say “GMO” or “genetically modified,” terms that consumers are familiar with. Instead, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved labels say “bioengineered,” a term that many consumers will not be familiar with, which is the entire point. The labels also depict a nice green field and a sun. These are natural images used to communicate the presence of decidedly un-natural ingredients in a food. It’s as if the PR department at Bayer/Monsanto came up with it themselves!
There are more problems with these rules that we’ve detailed in previous coverage, but there are much deeper problems with GMOs that get to the heart of everything wrong with our food system and ultimately our health system. GMOs are increasingly prevalent, with 75 percent of processed foods containing GMO ingredients; more than 90 percent of the corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola grown in the US are GMO. This has profound implications for human health.
First, there are the health implications of eating GMO foods themselves. We’ve previously reviewed this in-depth, but here’s a sample of just some of the science on this:
- A 2009 study found that rats consuming Roundup Ready corn for ninety days developed deterioration of liver and kidney function.
- Another study found irregularities in the livers of rats fed a Roundup Ready soybean diet.
- Mice on a diet of Roundup Ready soybeans had impaired embryonic development.
- Another Egyptian study found that a GM diet caused the death of spermatogonial cells in rats, and a Brazilian study found that Roundup causes infertility in rats.
- GM potatoes were shown to damage the gastrointestinal tract in rats; GM peas were shown to cause allergic reactions in mice.
More GMO crops also mean more pesticide and herbicide use. This is because many crops are modified to withstand a particular chemical, such as Roundup ready corn. But just as bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, weeds develop resistance to herbicides, requiring even more chemicals to be dumped on to these crops. One study concluded, “The magnitude of increases in herbicide use on herbicide-resistant hectares has dwarfed the reduction in insecticide use on Bt crops over the past 16 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” [emphasis added].
This of course has implications for human health, as we are exposed to more and more chemicals in our food that add to the overall toxic burden we endure that we believe is at the heart of the chronic disease epidemic. Glyphosate, a “probable carcinogen” and the active ingredient in Roundup, is just one example we’ve covered in the past, including science showing that “inert” pesticide ingredients can be up to 1,000 times more toxic than the active ingredient.
These practices are antithetical to a regenerative health approach. The principles are simple: healthy soil creates healthy plants and animals, which creates healthy food. Pesticides are harmful to the organisms that are critical to maintaining healthy soils, like ground beetles, ground-nesting bees, and worms. Further, widespread planting of relatively few GMO crops in place of different types of crops decreases diversity. This is called monocropping, where the same crops are grown on the same plot of land, year after year. Monocropping depletes the soil of nutrients and can cause significant erosion, which reduces fertile land and worsens flooding.
Meanwhile, small organic farmers, who are true stewards of the land, are being driven out of business by sham organics from Big Food, all with the help of the US government. More on this to follow.
It is our exposure to chemical toxins and pollutants, in addition to poor diet and foods grown in nutrient depleted soil, that has helped create an epidemic of chronic disease. Our healthcare system is overburdened trying to address these chronic ailments with pharmaceutical drugs that are dangerous, expensive, and often don’t work. At the same time, our food system relies on dangerous chemicals that degrade human health and prioritizes subsidizing mono crops like corn and wheat with low nutritional value. We need to shift to a regenerative approach to human health as well as agriculture. This means reducing toxic inputs into our soil, water and air, and increasing the availability of nutrient-dense foods. Healthy food can support a regenerative approach to healthcare where diet, proper supplementation, and the avoidance of toxins and pollutants address key sources of our chronic disease epidemic. Until we make this transition, we will continue to pay more and more for healthcare that doesn’t optimize our health.