Speaking of Bullies, Case In Point

Posted by By at 27 April, at 07 : 47 AM Print

Vermont residents would like to know what the heck is in their food. Particularly, they would like to know whether they are buying genetically engineered produce, or the naturally occurring kind.

So they went to their legislature to ask for a law, and it looked for a time that their request would be honored. The state House Agriculture Committee approved the “VT Right to Know Genetically Modified Food Act (H.722)” April 20, by a 9–1 vote.

Unfortunately, Monsanto – the poster child for Genetically Modified groceries – informed the state that should it have the effrontery to pass such a law, the agricultural mega-corp would sue.

Monsanto claims there is no reason to fear genetically engineered food, and consumers would only be misled by such labeling.

The question has come up numerous times over the years. In 1992, a California-based company, Calgene, developed a tomato they called Flavor Savr. Tomatoes, and other fruit, typically are harvested while they are green, then ripened artificially while they are transported to grocers’ shelves across the nation. The result, any farm kid can attest, is a product that looks like a tomato, but has no flavor.

Calgene took about a decade to develop a tomato that would make the cross-country trip. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled there was no health risk, and since the Flavor Savr looked like a tomato, smelled like a tomato, tasted like a tomato, there was no necessity to draw attention to it with labels saying it had been engineered instead of merely grown.

The problem is not limited to tomatoes. I visited my grandkids in Ohio a couple years ago, and went to the local food chain store for, among other things, some “fresh” apples. No wonder the kids didn’t care for them; they chewed and tasted like wood.

Granddaughter sat at the breakfast table one morning consuming pancakes with great relish. I offered her some genuine maple syrup. She turned it down.

“I like the real stuff,” she said, pointing to the plastic bottle of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, water, flavor, salt, coloring and some preservatives. Real maple syrup is the boiled sap of Sugar Maple trees. The clear sap has the taste of very slightly sweetened water when drunk straight from the tree. Boiled, it turns brown, a little thick, and very tasty. No added flavoring required. And no sorbic acid or sodium benzoate (preservatives) are needed.

Calgene did not last long, however. Their GM tomato tasted pretty much like the tasteless tomato consumers were used to not liking – and the company became involved in legal problems with – wait for it! – Monsanto. Calgene eventually stopped producing Flavor Savr tomatoes, and Monsanto absorbed Calgene and went on about its work to create foods many people, including scientists, believe to be risky.

For instance, Monsanto produces a system of GM seed and herbicide it markets as “Roundup Ready.” The company sells the seed and herbicide to farmers, who plant the seeds, apply the Roundup to kill weeds, and raise the crop for market.

Mother Nature has been in the genetic engineering business longer than Monsanto, and the weeds become resistant to Roundup. The weed-killer’s recipe must be modified each year to kill the new crop of so-called superweeds. That puts the seeds at risk of being identified and killed as weeks by Roundup, which means the new supply of seed must be reengineered to resist the Roundup attack.

Meanwhile, there is growing evidence the herbicide’s active ingredient, glyphosate, may be finding its way into humans and other creatures. Glyphosate has a half-life of up to 150 days, meaning in that time half of the stuff put on the ground is gone. Another 150 days and half of what was left disappears, and so on. The stuff never totally disappears, however, and plants drawing nutrients from the ground suck in some glyphosate, and people eat the plants …

The Environmental Protection Agency says “drinking water levels are considered ‘safe’ for short-term exposures. Too much of the stuff, though, can cause kidney damage and ‘reproductive effects.’”

People in Vermont – and reportedly about 20 other states – are concerned about kidney damage and “reproductive effects.” They also are concerned about companies which try to use their huge size and armies of lawyers to bully mere citizens and lawmakers into submission.

Some people take being bullied very seriously.

Unfortunately, Vermont lawmakers appear loath to make their state the first in the nation to require GM labeling – and also the first in the nation to face a protracted court battle it could well lose.

Which begs the question: Why would a company object to telling consumers what it has done to the food if what has been done is not dangerous?

Could it be Monsanto knows or suspects something the rest of us will be unhappy to learn in, say, 20–30 years?

Photo by rachelandrew


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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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