Freedom of Information in the Genetically Modified Age: Water, Food, Health and Environment
Dedication Issue #31
CALL for MY ACTION Project
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Panel Discussion:
Sponsored and Presented by The Light Millennium
CUNY Graduate Center - October 20, 2014

Biotechnology Underlines the Need for
Government Reform

Julie Mardin, CUNY-GA, Oct. 20, 2014

Written and Presented by Julie MARDIN

Thank you so much Professor Tancel, and to all the incredible people who have spoken before me. I am so privileged to be amongst such a distinguished panel of experts. I am really a civilian amongst them.

I thought that I would try to just insert a few words about how these foods entered the market in the first place. If one looks at the history of the biotech industry in the US it is the poster child for the need for deep and enduring government and electoral reform. Back in 1992, when the Flavr Savr tomato was being introduced, the FDA’s own scientists had raised many warning flags. There had been some worrying results with the rats showing stomach lesions, and a little footnote about early deaths of 7 of the rats, which were being dismissed by the outside lab as arbitrary. A sampling from internal memos released in the course of a lawsuit showed some distress among the FDA scientists. Some of my favorites, from an obviously flustered FDA compliance officer, Dr. Linda Kahl: “Are we generating the basis for this policy statement in the absence of any data?” or, “This document is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole....[It] is trying to force the conclusion that there is no difference between foods modified by genetic engineering and foods modified by traditional breeding...”

The White House responded to this pesky resistance by creating a new position with the directive for the FDA to ‘foster biotechnology.’ They installed Michael Taylor as Head of Policy, a lawyer who had been shuffling in and out of government and corporate positions and is now currently our ‘Food Safety’ Czar. It was under his watch that these foods were ushered into the marketplace under the figleaf of the “substantial equivalence” and the GRAS ‘generally considered as safe’ concept, which is a kind of fast track for food, that the GM food industry has been enjoying ever since.

What plaintiff Steven Druker and his alliance of independent scientists and religious leaders were asking for in court, 6 years after the introduction of Flavr Savr, was labeling and proper safety testing of these foods. In 2000 a US District Court ruled against their plea, citing that FDA officials had the authority to take into account, or to disregard, the advice of its scientists. At the same time, as Steven Druker points out, the FDA is mandated to ensure the safety of substances before it releases them onto the public. What the memos showed was a complete and utter failure to do so.

As Druker states, while the lawsuit demanded labeling, this is in a way secondary to the fact that these foods are now all on the market illegally.

My feeble mind does not understand why this case was not able to get to a higher court. Instead the industry has devised a legal system that allows it to take others to courts, such as at the WTO, where it sues countries for refusing to accept its illegal products. It has helped shape a system of patent laws that allowed it in two years in the 90s to sue 160 farmers, settling another 800 out of court, and create a virtual police state in rural communities. It wins even in cases where they or their licensing farmer should be held guilty for contaminating, as in the case of Percy Schmeiser, one of the few who have remained outside of a gag order.

As others have pointed out, the industry hides behind the cloak of proprietary information when it comes to revealing their studies, or allowing others to perform their own independent studies, or when taking a farmer to court, but claims it is substantially equivalent when it comes to regulation. All these years we are eating food that is not properly tested, and are regularly fed the mantra, “The general consensus is that these foods are considered safe.” While there was not even consensus among the FDA’s own scientists.

The other great safety blanket we are given is the idea that we could co-exist. That if you want to avoid these foods just eat organic. But as Percy Schmeiser says, who had to give up his year’s entire crop to Monsanto, as well as his entire seed bank that he had been developing for 50 years, he has said that the concept of co-existence is a myth. That within 6 years, there was no more organic canola in Canada, there is no more conventional. That is now considered a lost crop.

The industry spokespeople actually come right out and say it. Don Westfall, an important biotech consultant is quoted as saying, "The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with GMOs] that there's nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender"

Soon we will have no choice but to eat biotech crops, unless we start holding our politicians and our government agencies accountable. Otherwise what we are doing is not just experimenting on US citizens, and trampling on their rights in all sorts of ways, but forcing our corrupt and illegal products onto the rest of the world. It is the responsibility of the US public to try to reign in the corruption in our own government and regulatory systems.

So I just wanted to be the voice to interject the need for serious electoral reform here in this country. There are groups and there are movements working on these issues. Public financing of elections. A constitutional amendment stripping Corporations of personhood. Imposing waiting periods between government and industry jobs. Serious anti-trust legislation. Re-fund government R&D. These are just some ideas that are being worked on right now. I think an important task for anti-GM activists would be to team up with the electoral reform movement much more regularly, educate and cross-pollinate ideas and tactics.

Thank you so much for giving me this time.

PROGRAM with the Bios of the Speakers
CUNY Graduate Center, Oct. 20, 2014

Photo Album
Speakers and co-organizers of the event from left to right:
Julie Mardin, Dr. Michael Hansen, Bircan Unver,
Prof. Abdullah Tansel, Amb. Carlos Garcia, Amb. Palitha Kohona

Photos by: Ali SARIKAYA - NY Ataturk Cultural Center

CUNY-GC INVITE FOR Oct. 20, 2014
More by Julie Mardin on the
Freedom Of information in the Genetically Modified Age

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