Pages tagged "Center for Food Safety"
Long-Awaited Final Regulations for GMO Food Labeling Leave Millions of Americans in the Dark
Today, the Trump Administration's Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the long-awaited final regulations for the mandatory disclosure of foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO), which it calls "bioengineered foods." The final regulations include provisions which will leave the majority of GMO derived foods unlabeled; discriminate against more than 100 million Americans; and prohibit the use of the widely known terms "GMO" and "GE."
"The USDA has betrayed the public trust by denying Americans the right to know how their food is produce," stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. "Instead of providing clarity and transparency, they have created large scale confusion and uncertainty for consumers, food producers, and retailers."
The majority of GE foods would not be labeled as a result of provisions that exempt highly-refined products of GMOs, and set a high 5% threshold for unintended presence of GE ingredients. Highly refined products made from GE crops, such as cooking oils, candies, and sodas, would be exempted if current testing methods are unable to detect their GE content, even though rapidly evolving test methods detect GE content in products once thought to be free of it. The 5% threshold for the unintended presence of GE ingredients in processed food is far too high – over five times higher than the European Union's 0.9% standard.
In addition, instead of requiring clear, on-package labeling in the form of text or a symbol, the final regulation allow manufacturers to use "QR codes," which are encoded images on a package that must be scanned. Real-time access to the information behind the QR code image requires a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, technologies that are often lacking in rural areas. As a result, this labeling option discriminates against more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to this technology.
Last fall, CFS forced the public disclosure of USDA's study on the efficacy of this labeling method, which showed that it would not provide adequate disclosure to millions of Americans. Similar objections apply to USDA's text messaging option, which will involve messaging fees for some consumers. Both disclosure methods, as well as 800 numbers, are unwieldy, time-consuming, and clearly designed to inhibit rather than facilitate access to GE content information.
"USDA's own study found that QR codes are inherently discriminatory against the one third of Americans who do not own smartphones or those without access to the internet. These are predominantly rural, low income, and elderly populations," added Kimbrell. "On-package text or symbol labeling is the only fair and effective means of disclosure for GE foods."
When it comes to on-package text or symbols, the final regulations prohibit the terms best known to the public – GMO and genetically engineered – and instead only permit the unfamiliar term "bioengineered," which most consumers associate with biomedical technology. Genetic engineering and GMO have been the terms used by consumers, companies, and regulators for over 30 years. Many food companies have long used the terms genetic engineered, GE, or GMO, and thousands of products are currently labeled as such (e.g., Non-GMO).
"USDA's prohibition of the well-established terms, GE and GMO, on food labels will confuse and mislead consumers," added Kimbrell.
"Right now, organic and certified Non-GMO Project labels remain the only dependable way to avoid GMOs," stated Rebecca Spector, West Coast director at Center for Food Safety. "We applaud food companies like Campbell's, Mars, and Danone for committing to on-package labeling and we urge companies such as Kellogg's, Coca Cola, and General Mills to follow suit or they will face consumer anger, frustration, and corporate campaigns."
The regulations come out of a 2016 law signed by President Obama prohibiting state GE labeling laws and creating a federal "disclosure" program. The regulations are effective beginning January 2020. The labeling is required to be implemented by food manufacturers in January 2022.
"Unfortunately instead of putting this issue behind us, these regulations will almost certainly lead to litigation, more state legislation, and efforts to amend the federal law," stated George Kimbrell, CFS legal director. "We will explore all legal avenues to ensure meaningful labeling and protect the public's right to know."
Oregon would have the toughest dairy laws in the nation if two bills up for Legislative consideration next year are adopted
Oregon would have the toughest dairy laws in the nation if two bills up for Legislative consideration next year are adopted.
The legislation was proposed in response to a regulatory disaster at Lost Valley Farm, a mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon that was allowed to open before completing construction, and was subsequently cited and fined for more than 200 environmental violations.
Critics say that situation showed the state’s permitting process, environmental oversight and enforcement powers are inadequate.
“Lost Valley showed us how horribly wrong things can go given our current laws,” said Amy van Saun, staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety in Portland.
Tami Kerr, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, said she could not comment until she had more time to examine the bills. But she said that the situation at Lost Valley was not representative of dairies across Oregon.
The proposals would apply to large dairies, defined as those with at least 2,500 cows, or those with at least 700 mature cows that do not get seasonal access to pasture.
Lost Valley is permitted to have 30,000 cows. It’s close to Threemile Canyon Farms'three dairies, which together have 70,000 cows. All supply the nearby Tillamook Cheese factory.
Both bills declare large dairies to be industrial, rather than agricultural or farming operations. Under such a scenario, those farms wouldn’t qualify for regulatory exemptions available to farmers under the state’s right-to-farm and other laws.
That would allow local communities to have input into siting decisions and enact health and safety ordinances restricting or prohibiting air and water emissions.
“In terms of the size and impact of these facilities, it just makes sense that they be treated accordingly, with the amount of pollution they create and the liabilities they create,” van Saun said. “We need to rethink what we consider farming and whether we want to have this loophole.”
Photo from Pixabay.
Organic Advocates and Farmers Sue over Trump Withdrawal of Widely-Supported Organic Livestock Welfare Rule
"Organic consumers and producers believe that Organic means providing animals with sufficient space, meaningful outdoor access, proper lighting, appropriate diets, and clean conditions. If not reversed, the new Trump decision will shatter confidence in the standard's integrity and trust that all products carrying the organic seal were produced with care for animals and the environment. It will allow honest and well-intended organic farmers that have always raised their livestock under a high standard of care to be undercut by fake organic production that is little more than animal factories." - Cameron Harsh, CFS senior manager for organic and animal policy.
USDA/FDA Comment Period Closes on Proposed Changes to GE Oversight
Today marks the close of three U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) public comment periods on proposed changes to the oversight of genetically engineered (GE) crops and animals. Nearly 100,000 individuals, along with 65 leading environmental, food safety, consumer, and farm groups, are calling on USDA and FDA to substantially strengthen their proposed rules to better protect farmers, the general public and the environment from harmful GE plants and risky GE animals.
USDA is revising its three decade-old rules governing GE plants and other GE organisms. While USDA today has more authority to strengthen oversight, its proposed new rules would weaken it. Many GE organisms would be exempted from regulation altogether. Ongoing harms caused by pesticide-promoting GE crops would remain unaddressed. USDA would stop regulating risky GE plants engineered as “biofactories” to produce experimental pharmaceutical and industrial compounds. Definitional loopholes would permit many novel GE crops to escape all but superficial review. Overall, the USDA’s proposed new rules abandon sound science in favor of promoting the interests of the biotechnology industry.
"The haphazard and negligent regulation of agricultural biotechnology has been nothing short of a disaster for the public and the environment. While USDA should be protecting farmers and the environment, it has instead turned a blind eye to the harms that GE crops cause," said George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety (CFS). "Unfortunately, the proposed rules would make things worse, not better, with less oversight, not more. Today Americans are demanding that USDA reverse this dangerous proposal and enact responsible regulation, not continue doing Monsanto’s bidding."
USDA’s proposed rules would continue to permit large increases in the use of harmful chemicals with new herbicide-resistant GE crops, and do nothing to stop the epidemic of resistant superweeds or crop-damaging herbicide drift that plagues farmers. Transgenic contamination would continue unchecked, harming conventional and organic growers. Newer GE crops like grasses and trees will create even greater novel risks.
“USDA’s proposal discounts well-established scientific evidence showing that GE crops increase overall pesticide use, endangering public health and the environment,” added Bill Freese, CFS’s science policy analyst.
In addition to the USDA comment period, FDA has requested comments on how to regulate GE animals and GE plants developed with new genetic engineering techniques. Surprisingly, FDA has never issued rules for assessing genetically engineered animals. Instead, GE animals are reviewed under entirely inappropriate regulations designed for new animal drugs. Last year, the FDA approved genetically engineered salmon using its outdated animal drug rules—an approval Center for Food Safety is currently challenging in court.
“This approval could set a dangerous precedent for other genetically engineered animals in the pipeline, from genetically engineered fish, to cows, chickens, and pigs,” said Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S. “Some of these genetically engineered animals are being designed to better fit into and perpetuate the current broken factory farm model and are virtually unregulated and inadequately assessed.”
The groups contend that the lack of regulations specific to GE animals allows the FDA to overlook a host of serious risks posed by the genetic manipulation of animals. These concerns are shared by many scientists, and include environmental contamination, harm to endangered species, unpredictable genetic responses, and potential generation of surprise toxins and allergens in GE animal-derived foods, among other unintended consequences.
Read the groups’ comments to USDA here
Read the groups’ comments to FDA here
Read CFS's comments to FDA here
Signatures and organizational comments were collected and submitted to the docket by Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth U.S.
Lawsuit Challenges FDA's Approval of Genetically Engineered Salmon
A broad coalition of environmental, consumer, and commercial and recreational fishing organizations today sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approving the first-ever genetically engineered (GE) food animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow quickly. The man-made salmon was created by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from three fish: Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption.
The plaintiff coalition, jointly represented by legal counsel from Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, includes Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Golden Gate Salmon Association, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Ecology Action Centre, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Cascadia Wildlands, and Center for Food Safety.
In approving the GE salmon, FDA determined it would not require labeling of the GE fish to let consumers know what they are buying, which led Congress to call for labeling in the 2016 omnibus spending bill. FDA’s approval also ignored comments from nearly 2 million people opposed to the approval because the agency failed to analyze and prevent the risks to wild salmon and the environment, as well as fishing communities, including the risk that GE salmon could escape and threaten endangered wild salmon stocks.
AquaBounty’s GE salmon will undertake a 5,000-mile journey to reach U.S. supermarkets. The company plans to produce the GE salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The GE salmon will then be grown to market-size in a facility in Panama, processed into fillets, and shipped to the U.S. for sale. That complicated scheme is only for the initial approval, however. AquaBounty has publicly announced plans to ultimately grow its GE fish in the U.S. rather than Panama, and sell it around the world. Despite this, FDA’s approval only considered the current plans for the far-flung facilities in Canada and Panama, leaving the risk of escape and contamination of U.S. salmon runs unstudied.
The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and were not intended to address entirely new GE animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation. The approval of the GE salmon opens the door to other genetically engineered fish and shellfish, as well as chickens, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits and pigs that are reportedly in development.
The lawsuit also highlights FDA’s failure to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. U.S. Atlantic salmon, and many populations of Pacific salmon, are protected by the Endangered Species Act and in danger of extinction. Salmon is a keystone species and unique runs have been treasured by residents for thousands of years. Diverse salmon runs today sustain thousands of American fishing families, and are highly valued in domestic markets as a healthy, domestic, “green” food.
When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. Studies have shown that there is a high risk for GE organisms to escape into the natural environment, and that GE salmon can crossbreed with native fish. Transgenic contamination has become common in the GE plant context, where contamination episodes have cost U.S. farmers billions of dollars over the past decade. In wild organisms like fish, it could be even more damaging.
The world’s preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife heavily criticized the FDA decision for failing to evaluate these impacts. FDA ignored their concerns in the final approval.
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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.