Monsanto's Permit to Poison Us

07/16/2010 04:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dan Quayle couldn't spell potato, but he made sure they'd be genetically engineered. Here's how Monsanto got their permit to poison us:

On May 26, 1992, George Bush's Vice-President, Dan Quayle, proclaimed the Bush administration's new policy on bioengineered food.

"The reforms we announce today will speed up and simplify the process of bringing better agricultural products, developed through biotech, to consumers, food processors and farmers," Mr. Quayle told a crowd of executives and reporters in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. "We will ensure that biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary regulation."

"We will not compromise safety one bit." Mr. Quayle told his audience.

In the F.D.A.'s nearby offices, not everyone was so sure. Among them was Dr. Louis J. Pribyl, one of 17 government scientists working on a policy for genetically engineered food. Dr. Pribyl knew from studies that toxins could be unintentionally created when new genes were introduced into a plant's cells. But under the new edict, the government was dismissing that risk and any other possible risk as no different from those of conventionally derived food. That meant biotechnology companies would not need government approval to sell the foods they were developing.

Dr. Pribyl, a microbiologist, was not alone at the agency. Dr. Gerald Guest, director of the center of veterinary medicine, wrote that he and other scientists at the center had concluded there was "ample scientific justification" to require tests and a government review of each genetically engineered food before it was sold.

The scientists were displaying precisely the concerns that Monsanto executives from the 1980's had anticipated - and indeed had considered reasonable. But now, rather than trying to address those concerns, Monsanto, the industry and official Washington were dismissing them as the insignificant worries of the uninformed. Under the final F.D.A. policy that the White House helped usher in, the new foods would be tested only if companies did it. Labeling was ruled out as potentially misleading to the consumer, since it might suggest that there was reason for concern.

-Excerpt from "Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle," by Kurt Eichenwald, New York Times, January 25, 2001

Eighteen years later, genetically engineered foods are everywhere, but nobody knows that they're eating them or what effect they're having on our health. Study after study indicating serious damage to animals fed genetically engineered food have been downplayed or ignored. Links to human hazards, such as the genetically engineered L-tryptophan disaster of 1989, which killed scores of Americans and permanently injured thousands more, or experiments in 1999 in the UK by renowned scientist Arpad Pusztai, have been literally suppressed.

It's only now that we're beginning to learn what government regulators should have told us all along. Recently, independent scientists reviewed animal feeding studies conducted by Monsanto in 2000 and 2001. They found that Monsanto's own data revealed the dangers of three of their commonly used genetically engineered corn varieties. One scientist explained:

For the first time in the world, we have proven that genetically engineered foods are neither sufficiently healthy or proper to be commercialized. Each time, for all three genetically modified organisms, the kidneys and liver which are the main organs that react to a chemical food poisoning, had problems.

Given this evidence, it is unconscionable to continue to promote the fallacy that genetically engineered food is the same as normal food. It's different. Consumers have a right to know what they're eating.

The Organic Consumers Association supports Congressman Kucinich's Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, but an act of Congress isn't necessary to label genetically engineered foods.

The Truth in Labeling Coalition is asking the Food and Drug Administration to fix what Dan Quayle got wrong. TLC has submitted a Citizen Petition making the case that the FDA can reverse the Monsanto Mandate forced on us by Bush-Quayle, and put an end to the idea that genetically engineered foods and crops are trustworthy and don't need to be labeled, as they are in the European Union.

We have a chance now to make the change. The Food & Drug Administration needs to admit that, in the Bush-Quayle era of deregulation, they took the wrong approach to genetically engineered foods. On the campaign trail, President Obama professed support for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Now is the time for him to fulfill his promise to support consumers' right to know.