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You may not want to eat genetically engineered foods. Chances are, you are eating them anyway.
Genetically modified plants grown from seeds  engineered in labs now provide much of the food we eat. Most corn,  soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States have been genetically modified to resist pesticides or insects, and corn and soy are common food ingredients.
The  Agriculture Department has approved three more genetically engineered  crops in the past month, and the Food and Drug Administration could  approve fast-growing genetically modified salmon for human consumption  this year.
Agribusiness and the seed companies  say their products help boost crop production, lower prices at the  grocery store and feed the world, particularly in developing countries.  The FDA and USDA say the engineered foods they’ve approved are safe — so safe, they  don’t even need to be labeled as such — and can’t be significantly  distinguished from conventional varieties.
Organic  food companies, chefs and consumer groups have stepped up their efforts  — so far, unsuccessfully — to get the government to exercise more  oversight of engineered foods, arguing the seeds are floating from field  to field and contaminating pure crops. The groups have been bolstered  by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified  foods.
Many of these opponents acknowledge  that there isn’t much solid evidence showing genetically modified foods  are somehow dangerous or unhealthy. It just doesn’t seem right, they  say. It’s an ethical issue.
"If you mess with  nature there’s a side effect somewhere," says George Siemon, CEO of  Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farming cooperative, which  had more than $600 million in sales last year. "There is a growing  awareness that our system makes us all guinea pigs of sorts."
The  U.S. government has insisted there’s not enough difference between the  genetically modified seeds its agencies have approved and natural seeds  to cause concern. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack,  more so than his predecessors in previous administrations, has  acknowledged the debate over the issue and a growing chorus of consumers  concerned about what they are eating.
"The  rapid adoption of GE crops has clashed with the rapid expansion of  demand for organic and other non-GE products," Vilsack said in December  as he considered whether to approve genetically modified alfalfa. "This  clash led to litigation and uncertainty. .. Surely, there is a better  way, a solution that acknowledges agriculture’s complexity, while  celebrating and promoting its diversity."
Vilsack  later approved the engineered alfalfa for use — along with sugar beets  and a type of corn used in ethanol — to the disappointment of the  organic industry, but he said the department would do additional  research on ways to prevent contamination of natural seeds and improve  detection of contamination.
Organic companies have praised Vilsack for even acknowledging the issue, as large seed companies like Monsanto and the substantial chunk of agribusiness that use their seeds have  long held sway at USDA. The organic industry fears contamination could  hurt sales of its products, especially in Europe, where consumers have  been extremely hesitant about biotech foods.
While  opponents of engineered foods haven’t found federal agencies overly  receptive to their concerns, they’ve been able to delay some USDA  approvals with lawsuits. The alfalfa decision followed a lengthy court  battle that was closely watched not only by the organic industry, but by  consumers — a development opponents believe will help their cause.
"We’re  seeing a level of reaction that is unprecedented," says Jeffrey Smith,  an activist who has fought the expansion of genetically engineered foods  since they were first introduced 15 years ago and written two books on  the subject. "I personally think we are going to hit the tipping point  of consumer rejection very soon."
Many  consumers also have followed the Food and Drug Administration’s consideration of an engineered salmon that grows twice as fast as the  conventional variety. If the FDA approves the fish for sale, it will be  the first time the government has allowed genetically modified animals  to be marketed for humans to eat.
Consumer  interest in the issue has magnified in the past five years, along with  interest in eating locally grown and organic foods, said Organic  Valley’s Siemon. Young, educated consumers who are driving much of the  organic market have no interest in eating crops derived from a  laboratory, he said.
Genetically modified  crops were introduced to the market in 1996. That year, engineered corn  accounted for less than 5% of the total crop. Last year, the USDA  estimated that 70% of the nation’s corn acreage was planted with  herbicide-tolerant corn and 63% had been planted with insect-resistant  seeds. Rates for soybeans and cotton are even higher.
The  federal government approves genetically modified plants and animals on a  case by case basis, with the FDA and USDA looking at the potential  effects on food safety, agriculture and the environment. Critics say the  process needs to be more thorough and more research should be done with  an eye on potential dangers. Agencies often rely on companies’ own data  to make their decisions.
The genetic  engineering industry says its products already receive far more scrutiny  than most of the food people put in their mouths. It also says 15 years  of consumption with no widely recognized health problems shows much of  the concern is overhyped.
David B. Schmidt,  who heads the International Food Information Council Foundation, a  food-industry funded group that has polled consumers on genetically  modified foods, said their responses depend on how the issue is framed.  When pollsters tell consumers that some foods can be engineered to have  health benefits — such as biotech soybeans designed to reduce trans fats  in soybean oil — they become more open to them. Most consumers are more  open to modifications in fruits and vegetables than in animals, he  added.
Still, many people don’t know what to  think. About half of the consumers the foundation has polled recently  have either been neutral on the subject or didn’t know enough to have an  opinion.
Dan Barber, a well-known New York chef who grows his own food and sits on President Barack Obama's  Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, said the growing  popularity of organic foods has given an “economic legitimacy” to the  criticism.
He believes messing with nature  will always have collateral damage. And, the more genetically modified  crops are used, he said, the more pure crops will become compromised.
"Once you head down that road you don’t turn back," Barber said.

Related articles
GM Food Is Hard For Shoppers To Avoid (huffingtonpost.com)
Don’t want genetically engineered foods? You’re eating them anyway (capitolhillblue.com)
Shoppers wary of GM foods find they’re everywhere (seattletimes.nwsource.com)

You may not want to eat genetically engineered foods. Chances are, you are eating them anyway.

Genetically modified plants grown from seeds engineered in labs now provide much of the food we eat. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States have been genetically modified to resist pesticides or insects, and corn and soy are common food ingredients.

The Agriculture Department has approved three more genetically engineered crops in the past month, and the Food and Drug Administration could approve fast-growing genetically modified salmon for human consumption this year.

Agribusiness and the seed companies say their products help boost crop production, lower prices at the grocery store and feed the world, particularly in developing countries. The FDA and USDA say the engineered foods they’ve approved are safe — so safe, they don’t even need to be labeled as such — and can’t be significantly distinguished from conventional varieties.

Organic food companies, chefs and consumer groups have stepped up their efforts — so far, unsuccessfully — to get the government to exercise more oversight of engineered foods, arguing the seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating pure crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.

Many of these opponents acknowledge that there isn’t much solid evidence showing genetically modified foods are somehow dangerous or unhealthy. It just doesn’t seem right, they say. It’s an ethical issue.

"If you mess with nature there’s a side effect somewhere," says George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farming cooperative, which had more than $600 million in sales last year. "There is a growing awareness that our system makes us all guinea pigs of sorts."

The U.S. government has insisted there’s not enough difference between the genetically modified seeds its agencies have approved and natural seeds to cause concern. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, more so than his predecessors in previous administrations, has acknowledged the debate over the issue and a growing chorus of consumers concerned about what they are eating.

"The rapid adoption of GE crops has clashed with the rapid expansion of demand for organic and other non-GE products," Vilsack said in December as he considered whether to approve genetically modified alfalfa. "This clash led to litigation and uncertainty. .. Surely, there is a better way, a solution that acknowledges agriculture’s complexity, while celebrating and promoting its diversity."

Vilsack later approved the engineered alfalfa for use — along with sugar beets and a type of corn used in ethanol — to the disappointment of the organic industry, but he said the department would do additional research on ways to prevent contamination of natural seeds and improve detection of contamination.

Organic companies have praised Vilsack for even acknowledging the issue, as large seed companies like Monsanto and the substantial chunk of agribusiness that use their seeds have long held sway at USDA. The organic industry fears contamination could hurt sales of its products, especially in Europe, where consumers have been extremely hesitant about biotech foods.

While opponents of engineered foods haven’t found federal agencies overly receptive to their concerns, they’ve been able to delay some USDA approvals with lawsuits. The alfalfa decision followed a lengthy court battle that was closely watched not only by the organic industry, but by consumers — a development opponents believe will help their cause.

"We’re seeing a level of reaction that is unprecedented," says Jeffrey Smith, an activist who has fought the expansion of genetically engineered foods since they were first introduced 15 years ago and written two books on the subject. "I personally think we are going to hit the tipping point of consumer rejection very soon."

Many consumers also have followed the Food and Drug Administration’s consideration of an engineered salmon that grows twice as fast as the conventional variety. If the FDA approves the fish for sale, it will be the first time the government has allowed genetically modified animals to be marketed for humans to eat.

Consumer interest in the issue has magnified in the past five years, along with interest in eating locally grown and organic foods, said Organic Valley’s Siemon. Young, educated consumers who are driving much of the organic market have no interest in eating crops derived from a laboratory, he said.

Genetically modified crops were introduced to the market in 1996. That year, engineered corn accounted for less than 5% of the total crop. Last year, the USDA estimated that 70% of the nation’s corn acreage was planted with herbicide-tolerant corn and 63% had been planted with insect-resistant seeds. Rates for soybeans and cotton are even higher.

The federal government approves genetically modified plants and animals on a case by case basis, with the FDA and USDA looking at the potential effects on food safety, agriculture and the environment. Critics say the process needs to be more thorough and more research should be done with an eye on potential dangers. Agencies often rely on companies’ own data to make their decisions.

The genetic engineering industry says its products already receive far more scrutiny than most of the food people put in their mouths. It also says 15 years of consumption with no widely recognized health problems shows much of the concern is overhyped.

David B. Schmidt, who heads the International Food Information Council Foundation, a food-industry funded group that has polled consumers on genetically modified foods, said their responses depend on how the issue is framed. When pollsters tell consumers that some foods can be engineered to have health benefits — such as biotech soybeans designed to reduce trans fats in soybean oil — they become more open to them. Most consumers are more open to modifications in fruits and vegetables than in animals, he added.

Still, many people don’t know what to think. About half of the consumers the foundation has polled recently have either been neutral on the subject or didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

Dan Barber, a well-known New York chef who grows his own food and sits on President Barack Obama's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, said the growing popularity of organic foods has given an “economic legitimacy” to the criticism.

He believes messing with nature will always have collateral damage. And, the more genetically modified crops are used, he said, the more pure crops will become compromised.

"Once you head down that road you don’t turn back," Barber said.

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