Why is the Government Pushing GMOs?

The new government GMO program isn’t much different from the
USDA checkoff programs that promote meat and dairy to
consumers.

The new government GMO program isn't much different from the USDA checkoff programs that promote meat and dairy to consumers.

There seems to be no compromise in the debate about GMOs, with
people on both sides of the debate fervently pushing their
agenda. Both sides say that consumers are confused by GMO food
rules (many are still confused about
what is GMO
, anyway?) But it looks like GMO
supporters just got a big boost from a new source–
the US government.

The FDA Campaign to Promote GMOs

The Washington Post
reported
 earlier this month that the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) will use $3 million for ‘consumer outreach
and education regarding agricultural biotechnology’ with the
money being used to promote “the environmental, nutritional,
food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts” of biotech
crops and their derivative food products.

The Post explains that this funding is “little more
than a speck” of the $2.8billion FDA annual budget. But I would
argue that it is, actually, a big deal beyond the actual
dollar amount. This campaign to promote GMOs so clearly
indicates that the FDA is beholden to lobbyists,
instead of working for consumer good.

This deal, to be developed with the United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA), was part of a Senate funding vote to avoid
government shutdown last week and passed with a
large majority. But it did not go unchallenged.

As explained in the Post article, Rep. Nita M. Lowey
(D-N.Y.) worked to get the measure taken out of the bill,
saying that, “The FDA [is not], nor should they be, in the
pro-industry advertising business.”

Should the Government Push GMOs on Consumers?

Most of the conversations around GMO crops (or biotech crops)
revolve around whether or not it’s healthy to eat these foods.
Corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, and cotton are the most
prolific types of GM crops on the market. A huge percentage of
these are processed into the ingredients of highly processed
foods (think soybean oil, protein powders, ‘vegetable’ oils,
candy bars, etc.), but actually most is used as animal feed to
support our industrial animal agriculture business.

A
big study
came out last year saying that GMOs are safe to
eat, and while I agree with some of the points here, it
misses two big issues.

The first, the entire system that allows GMOs to even exist is
a
broken system
in the first place. The rise of GM crops
could only have happened with concurrent growth of industrial
agriculture: monocropped fields, consolidation of family farms,
dedication to just a handful of varieties of plants, a decrease
in crop variation, and, most importantly, a system that values
profit over protection of natural cycles.

But second, it’s so clear that this initiative is not focused
on health: it’s about making sure that the companies that run
the GM markets maintain their profit margins.

In a
letter
sent to Representatives on April 18 by ‘food and
agricultural organizations,’ it is written that there is a
‘tremendous amount of misinformation’ about biotech foods, and
this group encourages funding that can help present ‘fact-based
information about food.’

Despite ‘consumer-directed GMOs’ like the apple that doesn’t
brown and pink pineapple with the addition of lycopene,
the focus on health is truly an empty promise. Biotech
companies are not looking to make their money on pink
pineapple. Our collective overconsumption of processed
foods and dependence on industrially produced meat and dairy
farms is what keeps these companies in business.

Sure, it’s beautiful, but should be we eating it?
Image from Food Network UK

But more importantly, if you review the list of who signed the
letter, it’s pretty clear that these folks are less concerned
about the ‘fact-based information about food’ and more
concerned about ensuring that the public continues to
consume the overly processed items that GMOs are used to
create, thus ensuring a stable profit margin.

The
full list
includes:

  • The American Beverage Association (members include 7-Up and
    Coca-Cola)
  • American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists
  • Beet Sugar Development Foundation and American Sugarbeet
    Growers Association (when was the last time you ate an
    actual sugar beet? Sugar beets are only used in processed
    foods)
  • American Soybean Association (yes, we love tofu
    and soymilk
    here at EDB, but 94% of the soy grown in this country is GM and
    used for animal feed, so this is not a tofu think tank)
  • Corn Refiners Association (refining corn into corn syrup,
    corn oil, cornstarch, xanthan gum and a zillion other products)
  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association (Just
    Label It
    called this group ‘Big Food’s National Lobby
    Group’).

Business as Usual

This news is infuriating and frustrating, but really, should we
be surprised? The government has had a hand in marketing the
least healthy foods for decades. This pro-GMO program isn’t
much different from the USDA checkoff programs that promote
meat and dairy to consumers.  See our articles about the
how the
USDA supports dairy at every turn
 and gets funding to

push beef onto consumers
.

Soybeans are great, but skip GM soy and opt for organic!

At the core of this disconnect is the dual mandate of the USDA,
which is tasked with both supporting US farmers of all sorts
and overseeing the health of the population.

The biggest players in the agriculture industry are factory
farmed meat and dairy, and since these foods are repeatedly
shown to be bad for our health, you can see how this dual
mandate can get really complicated.

This seems to me another clear example of how the government is
willing to prioritize the needs (and profits) of industry
trade groups over what is actually healthy – in the long and
short-term– for its population. The solution is to become the

smartest consumer
you can be: learn what’s in your food,
get to know your limits and what you feel good about eating,
and don’t believe what the advertising is telling you.


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