I’m always making a joke that our overblown government couldn’t even get together and make a noodle salad without finding some magical way to screw it up.
Apparently, and sadly so, that snarky bit of sarcasm isn’t all that far off the mark.
Food served at a Food Safety Summit held earlier this month between several of our federal agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Big Food industry giants the likes of Tyson, ConAgra and McDonald’s, actually gave some of the people who attended food poisoning.
At least four people called the Baltimore City Health Department this week to report that they developed diarrhea, nausea and other symptoms about 12 hours after eating a meal April 9 during the conference at the Baltimore Convention Center. (source)
That was halfway through the conference, which transpired April 8-10. More than 1,500 food safety professionals were in attendance. An investigation by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s outbreak response unit is ongoing, and officials have yet to determine how many of those 1,500 people became ill during the summit.
Several officials with the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attended the gathering and may have been affected.
“A couple of our folks indicated that they had experienced symptoms associated with food poisoning after the summit,” said Juli Putnam, an FDA spokeswoman. (source)
This situation just serves as the cherry on top of the total farce that is food safety in our country.
Yeah, I said it. Here are the first three reasons (of many) that come to mind.
1. Genetically modified crops are basically self-regulated.
I’m not going to get into a debate over the “science” here (because we all know who funds what, and how that funding determines what the science ultimately determines).
Just read these two quotes and let them sink in for a moment:
“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” – Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications (“Playing God in the Garden” by Michael Pollan, Published Oct. 25, 1998 in The New York Times)
“Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” – US Food and Drug Administration (FDA Federal Register Volume 57 – 1992, Published May 29, 1992)
So, again, who is actually making sure this stuff is safe?
Because, based on those two quotes, it sounds a lot like GMO food safety is just a can that got kicked down the road and forgotten about a long time ago.
There is no mandatory FDA GMO food safety assessment process. It simply does not exist. As Earth Open Source illustrates, the whole thing is based on a voluntary program involving claims of “substantial equivalence”:
The outcome of the FDA’s voluntary assessment is not a conclusion, underwritten by the FDA, that the GMO is safe. Instead, the FDA sends the company a letter to the effect that:
- The FDA acknowledges that the company has provided a summary of research that it has conducted assessing the GM crop’s safety
- The FDA states that, based on the results of the research done by the company, the company has concluded that the GMO is safe
- The FDA states that it has no further questions
- The FDA reminds the company that it is responsible for placing only safe foods in the market
- The FDA reminds the company that, if a product is found to be unsafe, the company may be held liable.15
Clearly, this process does not guarantee – or even attempt to investigate – the safety of GM foods. While it does not protect the public, it may protect the FDA from legal liability in the event that harm is caused by a GM food.
It’s not like we can easily avoid GMO if we want to anyway. The majority of two of the three top subsidized crops grown in this country, corn and soy, are genetically modified at around 90% each. Estimates also show that over 80% of our grocery stores are filled with GMO-tainted foods and Big Agra continues to spending millions to defeat every labeling law consumers try to get passed in this country.
If their food is so great, why don’t they even want us to know it’s in there anyway? We have the right to know what we’re eating, and I’ve never heard one single valid argument that makes any logical sense why we don’t.
Oh and it turns out that whole “substantial equivalence” deal is a bit of a sham as well:
When claims of substantial equivalence have been independently tested, they have been found to be untrue. Using the latest molecular analytical methods, GM crops have been shown to have a different composition to their non-GM counterparts. This is true even when the two crops are grown under the same conditions, at the same time and in the same location – meaning that the changes are not due to different environmental factors but to the genetic modification.
- GM soy had 12–14% lower amounts of cancer-fighting isoflavones than non-GM soy.22
- Canola (oilseed rape) engineered to contain vitamin A in its oil had much reduced vitamin E and an altered oil-fat composition, compared with non-GM canola.23
- Experimental GM rice varieties had unintended major nutritional disturbances compared with non-GM counterparts, although they were grown side-by-side in the same conditions. The structure and texture of the GM rice grain was affected and its nutritional content and value were dramatically altered. The authors said that their findings “provided alarming information with regard to the nutritional value of transgenic rice” and showed that the GM rice was not substantially equivalent to non-GM.24
- Experimental GM insecticidal rice was found to contain higher levels of certain components (notably sucrose, mannitol, and glutamic acid) than the non-GM counterpart. These differences were shown to have resulted from the genetic manipulation rather than environmental factors.25
- Commercialised MON810 GM maize had a markedly different profile in the types of proteins it contained compared with the non-GM counterpart when grown under the same conditions.21
- GM crops also have different effects from their non-GM counterparts when fed to animals (see 3.1.1).
2. GRAS, or Generally Recognized as Safe, doesn’t really mean anything.
How many times have you heard someone say that all those crazy chemical substances you can’t even pronounce on our food labels are just fine because the FDA has determined that they are all GRAS? They’ve probably heard the phrase “generally recognized as safe” so many times, they generally believe it without actually knowing what it means or where it truly comes from.
I didn’t really…until I looked it up.
GRAS is another member of the FDA’s “honor system” family. When it comes to who designates safety, Food companies independently determine whether or not their own additives are GRAS — not the FDA. Once a company has made this determination using its own scientists that yes, it’s product is fine, the company then notifies the FDA… Not the other way around.
Here are a few tidbits straight from the FDA’s own GRAS webpage:
The GRAS notification program provides a voluntary mechanism whereby a person may inform FDA of a determination that the use of a substance is GRAS, rather than petition FDA to affirm that the use of a substance is GRAS. [emphasis added]
For a food additive, privately held data and information about the use of a substance are sent by the sponsor to FDA, which evaluates those data and information to determine whether they establish that the substance is safe under the conditions of its intended use (21 CFR 171.1).
I also like this sentence under the page’s “GRAS Affirmation” section:
By 1997 FDA had tentatively concluded that it could no longer devote substantial resources to the GRAS affirmation petition process.
Just the blasé attitude oozing out of that one line: “We can no longer devote substantial resources”…
The FDA’s FY2014 budget is a whopping $4,653,657,000 for crying out loud! So an agency with a multi-billion operation budget with the tagline “protecting and promoting your health” (their emphasis, not mine) is saying they can’t devote substantial resources to…ensuring our food ingredients are actually safe???
Further research into the continually degraded GRAS process and I came across more info on what went down in 1997 in “A Threat to Scientific Integrity,” by Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH:
In 1997, the FDA responded to the Clinton administration’s “Reinventing Food Regulation” initiative by announcing that it planned to streamline the GRAS process as an incentive for manufacturers to inform the FDA about new additives. The agency proposed to replace the petition system with a simple notification process. Food companies could—at their own discretion—notify the FDA that experts generally agreed that a new additive was safe. Color additives were an exception; manufacturers would still have to submit them to the FDA for premarket approval and provide evidence for safety. It is astonishing that these rules, proposed 16 years ago, have never been issued in final form and are still pending.
Sixteen years ago?! But no worries, right? An honor system between profit-hungry mega food industries and the government seems totally legit. First thing I think of is safe...
Oh, and these food companies aren’t even legally required to notify the FDA of anything unless they feel like it.
That means there is likely stuff floating around in the food supply right now and the FDA has never even heard of it:
The problems created by conflicts of interest for the FDA go well beyond those related to food additives and GRAS exemptions. A recent analysis of requests for waivers by people serving on FDA advisory committees views conflicts of interest as a severe threat to scientific integrity.8 As Neltner et al5 argue, the lack of independent review in GRAS determinations raises serious questions about the public health implications of unregulated additives in the food supply, particularly the additives that the FDA does not even know about. It also raises questions about conflicts of interest in other regulatory matters. [emphasis added]
Then again, if you think about what GRAS means on a literal level, we never should’ve put much stock in it in the first place. “Generally recognized?” Something is either safe or it isn’t. If I’m hanging off the side of a building by a rope, I want to know that rope is sturdy and going to hold me because it could mean the difference between life and death; what I don’t want is someone to say, “Well, I generally recognize that rope you’re hanging on by is safe.” What the hell?
Oh, and that’s the other thing…
3. If there was a Conflict of Interest Prom, our so-called “food safety agencies” and mega food industries/Big Ag would be crowned king and queen every year for decades now.
Click on this freakin’ ginormous Venn Diagram of the revolving door between Monsanto and our government to enlarge it:
No need to even vote, is there?
Don’t even get me started on how only 1-2% of food shipments from China are even ever inspected, or how the 1958 Delaney Clause, which had previously prohibited potentially carcinogenic chemicals from being added to processed foods, was altered to be interpreted in a de minimis fashion as argued by none other than Michael Taylor, our current FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods (who used to be Monsanto’s VP for Public Policy).
Every day millions of people walk into grocery stores putting all their faith and trust — plus their health and their families’ health — in a corrupt system that provides little more than the illusion of safety, nothing more.
So back to the food summit and the food poisoning. It’s not like I would ever wish anything horrible like food poisoning on anyone ever, but it’s just begging the question.
Is it really even irony? Or is karma more appropriate…