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Eat-In at the FDA

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On Monday I attended a picnic outside of the Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety, to educate consumers about healthy eating. Don't worry -- it was not paid for in tax dollars. Quite the opposite -- it was a protest rally in support of labeling Genetically Modified foods (GMOs). In a picnic setting, activists and organic farmers from DC to Asheville to the midwest brought homegrown vegetables to add to a GMO free potluck "Stone Soup. " Adams Morgan chef Jonny Moto poured gallons of something that was both "delicious" and meaningful.

Over 60 countries, including Europe and China, require GMO labeling, and some countries even ban GMO foods altogether. In the U.S., however, there are no GMO labeling laws whatsoever. Nearly 90 percent of all corn and soy grown in the U.S. is GMO, and much of this makes its way into our bodies through conventional processed food. This issue was brought to the forefront in the film Food, Inc., which highlights Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that owns most GMO patents used today. Nevertheless, following the release of this film and related literature (i.e., Michael Pollan) the FDA has still failed to address valid concerns of the public.

The concept of genetic modification at first seems appealing -- imagine adding health benefits to fruits or making a crop drought resistant. But by and large, most GMO crops are nothing more than "Round-Up Ready," which means that they are immune to a single, pesticide, Round-Up. Consequently, this pesticide is sprayed profusely over very large fields. These 'monocrops' have a cascade of ill effects on the environment, as they are dependent on growing quantities of petroleum based chemicals (also sold by Monsanto). Further, these massive factory farms are putting smaller, sustainable, family farms out of business. For our environment and our economy, this is far from appealing, in fact, it's appalling. So what is the FDA doing to help?

From my research, the FDA has yet conduct a comprehensive study on the long term health effects of GMO products on human health. The FDA generally defers to industry studies, many of which are paid for by Monsanto, and are at the least subject to bias if they even meet academic standards. Independent studies are inconclusive, with some studies even finding common GMOs to be carcinogenic.

What's worse, the FDA shows no signs of conducting any further studies or addressing concerns. Last month, President Obama signed into law the "Monsanto Protection Act," (Monsanto spent big dollars on lobbying). And now the FDA is set to tackle a new frontier -- genetically engineered Salmon.

By taking genes from an eel-like fish, a company has created a type of superfish that activists have dubbed the "Franken-Fish." In 2010, over 400,000 comments from the public were submitted to the FDA, calling for more vigorous study on the effects to the environment and human health. Now, this GMO Salmon is back up for approval by the FDA, but technically the fish was called a veterinary drug rather than a food, and this 'drug' would not be labeled any differently from wild, Alaska Salmon. No one has ever tasted the fish, not to mention studied long term health effects.

Patty Lovera from Food and Water watch said "The FDA consistently asks the wrong questions." leaving many important questions unanswered. Until April 26th, the FDA is accepting public comments about GMO Salmon. Whatever your thoughts on GMO foods or GMO fish, whether you eat them or avoid them, please take action and submit a comment or question. If you don't, the FDA will continue to spend American tax dollars asking the wrong questions.

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