We are what we eat, so the saying goes, but we should also be able to know about the safety of what we eat, and make our choice.
Here recently to speak about the dangers to health and the environment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) foods was Jeffrey M. Smith, American author of the best-selling books “Seeds of Deception” and “Genetic Roulette.” Smith was going to China but he could not resist the Filipinos’ invitation, so he made a side trip that resulted in an enriching week for the No2GMO network composed of civil-society groups, academics and consumers. Smith also met with some lawmakers. He spoke at gatherings in Metro Manila, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac and South Cotabato.
GMOs continue to be in the local and international news. Because of questions about their safety, there is now a clamor from consumers for truthful labeling of food items. (Once in a while I do see grocery items labeled “GMO-free,” and I read the fine print to see where they came from.) While GMOs used to be the concern of food producers and environmentalists who worried about seed sources, the havoc on the environment and the possible extinction of old species, now consumers are also calling attention to the problem. Consumers, after all, are the ones at the receiving end of the food chain. They also have the power to demand to know what are being sold to them.
Among the groups that welcomed Smith were Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF), National Consumer Affairs Council, and Sarilaya, a women’s group committed to gender and development.
Smith told his audiences that 64 countries now require labeling of GE foods or ban these outright. He said that in the United States, the legislatures of Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws and more than two dozen other states have introduced similar legislation. Nine out of 10 Americans want GE foods labeled and 53 percent said they would avoid GMOs if these were thus labeled.
Now consumer groups led by CRSF are urging the Philippine government to require labeling for GMO crops and processed food with GMO ingredients. CRSF’s Grace Chua said GMO crops are being approved in the Philippines at an alarming pace and GMOs like the “Bt talong” (eggplant) and “Golden Rice” are currently being field-tested and developed. Soon, she warned, GMOs will be fed directly to humans in spite of growing scientific evidence of their ill effects on health. “Like other consumers all over the world, we are demanding our right to know if the food we are buying contains GMOs so we can avoid them,” Chua said.
Smith’s visit coincided with the recent Court of Appeals decision ordering the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to permanently stop the field trials of Bt eggplants. CA Associate Justice Isaias Dicdican stressed that the trials “could not be declared by this court as safe to human health and to our ecology with full scientific certainty, being an alteration of an otherwise natural state of affairs in our ecology.”
The Third World Network noted that the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry approved last February the entry of about 70 GMO products for food, feed and processing as well as for propagation into the local market without information to consumers that these have GMO contents. I have a thick list which includes the foreign biotech multinationals (“technology developers”) and the countries where each has been approved. And I wonder about the future of this planet.
Said Smith: “The Philippines’ FDA was being overly optimistic when they claimed that GMOs on the market meet the FAO/WHO assessment criteria. In fact, Bt corn, Roundup Ready soy, and GM papaya all fail their criteria. Furthermore, companies refuse to use the FAO/WHO safety testing guidelines, choosing instead research protocols that are far less capable of finding health problems.” Earlier, the Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory declaring GMO products safe.
Smith also revealed: “The US federal government has essentially been controlled by Monsanto and the biotech industry on the GMO issue. But consumers aren’t taking it anymore.
“Given the scientific studies demonstrating health impacts from genetically modified foods, the numerous reports by physicians and consumers that link GMO consumption to a variety of symptoms, and the significant religious opposition to these foods, labeling of GMOs is the minimum safeguard that a government should put into place to give people their right to avoid them.”
There is so much to know about how GMOs came into the Philippines starting in 1989, when the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños made experimental releases of a rice blast fungus that led to a congressional hearing. In 1990 President Cory Aquino signed Executive Order No. 430 creating the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines. So many things have happened since then. An NGO has drawn up a timeline on this.
GMOs have been promoted as the solution to the world crisis in food supply vis-à-vis the rising population.
Smith’s books aren’t available in Philippine bookstores but some groups are thinking of cheap local editions so that more people can read them. And Smith left a paper titled “Evidence implicates genetically engineered foods as harmful to health.”
In that paper he warns: “Genetically engineered foods and crops are highly controversial. While proponents claim that the technology is precise, safe, and needed to feed the world, critics point to evidence that shows just the opposite. Moreover, once released into the environment, the pollen and seed movement of GMOs contaminates the natural gene pool on a permanent basis.”
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