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Thanks to the FDA, You Really Have No Idea What's In Your Food

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of processed foods contains genetically modified organisms, but unlike 50 other countries, the US doesn't require labeling.

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Bovine growth hormone, like every GMO crop, has failed to provide the consumer anything besides risk, says Kimbrell. "If you're a consumer, why would you buy a product that offers no benefits and potential harm? A product that only helps biotech corporations and industrial farmers, not consumers. If they came out with a product with less cholesterol, or more nutrition, greater yield, or lower cost, that would be one thing. But the whole "we're going to feed the world and the blind shall see and the lame shall walk isn't panning out."

Initial fears of GMO in food were based on the possibility of "what if?" And for the last 20 years we've all been guinea pigs in an experiment to find out. Meanwhile, the FDA's own scientists have been ignored, much like the vast majority of consumers, by the agency's higher-ups. In GMO-related litigation with the FDA in the late 1990s, the Center for Food Safety obtained some 80,000 pages of discovery, where its lawyers found that the FDA's own scientists had raised numerous, serious concerns about the possibility of toxicity, allergenicity, and other health risks posed by GMO in foods. And with good reason, says Kimbrell.

"We know that if certain peanut genes are spliced into foods like soy, it can trigger a peanut allergy in someone who eats it," he says. Allergic reactions are caused by proteins that confuse the body's immune system, Kimbrell says. "And the whole purpose of GM is to make new proteins."

The FDA, meanwhile, relies largely on an archaic, so-called organoleptic standard for determining if there are material differences among similar foods that would necessitate labels to distinguish among them. The organoleptic standard means, in essence, that if a food doesn't look, taste, smell, feel, or behave any different then they're for all intents and purposes the same and no labeling to distinguish them is required.

"Remember," says Kimbrell. "They've patented all these novel genes and proteins. You don't get to patent something unless it's new. So they're telling the patent office these things are new, and they're telling the FDA there's nothing new."

While definitive proof that GMO food can cause health problems has yet to be widely acknowledged, red flags and bits of circumstantial evidence are adding up.

Without labels, meanwhile, health officials are at a disadvantage when it comes to tracing potential GMO-related toxicity or allergic reactions. If GMO foods were labeled as such, public health workers would potentially have access to more data points with which to look for patterns and correlations. In the UK for example, where labeling is mandatory, soy allergy rates shot up after GMO soy was introduced there.

Products shouldn't have to be proven dangerous before they should be labeled, says Kimbrell, citing an industry position he often confronts. "That's not the criteria for labeling. If there's a novel product in the food it should be labeled. But we don't label things that are dangerous or potentially dangerous. We take them off the market."

Today, as protesters occupying Wall Street are demanding economic rights for the 99 percent of the population left to divide the table scraps of the rich, the 90 percent of Americans who want to know what's in their food are bringing the pressure as well. And if the perfect storm Kimbrell is predicting comes to fruition, those 90 percent will actually get their wish for public food policy that reflects the will of the general public. 

Ari LeVaux writes a syndicated weekly food column, Flash in the Pan.

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