Senator Crapo, GMOs, and the realization that the food system has some gaping holes.

I am new to this forum so I hope I don't violate established etiquette. If I do, just let me know!I wrote this blog entry originally for my group GMO Free Idaho. But, because of the content, I thought it would be good to share here as well. Please bear with me in the length. Who knew Senator Crapo could be so long winded? LOL
I would appreciate feedback you might have!

In April of 2009, I learned about the presence of GMOs in our food supply. I had not heard of it and did not know what it was. As I learned more, I became infuriated and felt betrayed that our regulatory agencies would fundamentally change the food supply and didn’t even think we had a right to know about it. This led me to start researching why our regulatory agencies would do that. That’s when things got political.

I was naïve back then. I thought if enough consumers contacted food companies and elected representatives, they would bend to the will of the people. I set off on a personal goal of contacting one food manufacturer or one representative every day and there was a group of us coordinating our efforts (visit “Millions against Monsanto by Organic Consumers Organization” on Facebook) so that some food companies would wake up with thousands of emails in their inbox.

It wasn’t until I received a letter from Idaho’s Senator Mike Crapo’s office that I really started to understand how complex the problem is and how consumer’s voices were being drowned out by corporate money. I want to share the exchange with you.

I initially contacted Senator Crapo after looking at http://www.opensecrets.org/ and discovering that he had accepted $10,000 from Monsanto. I sent him a short and sweet email that basically asked him to support our right to know that GMOs were in our food supply and to stop accepting money from Monsanto. The following is his response to me:

Dear Jennifer:

Thank you for contacting me regarding genetically enhanced crops. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.

As you may know, since 1998, the European Union (EU) has maintained a de facto moratorium on approvals of new genetically enhanced crop varieties. In May 2003, the United States launched a formal challenge of the EU policy, contending that it both violates international trade agreements and causes unwarranted concerns about the safety of agricultural biotechnology throughout the world. In 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute panel ruled against the EU's de facto moratorium on approvals of new genetically enhanced crops from 1998 to 2004.

The EU and other important U.S. trading partners around the world have adopted widely divergent approaches to regulating biotechnology. The wide range of approaches to genetically produced product regulation is in part due to the fact that an international consensus on how to regulate agricultural biotechnology is still evolving. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is active globally to ensure that national and international standards for genetically enhanced crops are consistent, transparent, based on scientific principles, and compliant with international trade rules.

Genetically enhanced crops are regulated in the United States by three federal agencies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures that biotechnology-derived foods meet regulatory standards for safety. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regulates field-testing of crops prior to commercial release of newly developed plant strains. The Environmental Protection Agency registers pesticides used in U.S. commerce. Plants enhanced to produce pesticides are considered pesticides under this definition.

Because the FDA focuses on the final product, rather than on the process by which a product is made, and genetically enhanced foods do not differ significantly in substance from their traditional counterparts, it does not require foods to be labeled as genetically enhanced. In fact, all plant breeding involves some form of genetic manipulation. However, when gene-modifying techniques are used to significantly change the composition of a food, labeling is required.

I understand the concerns expressed by many who seek mandatory labeling. Nevertheless, I am also aware of the many benefits provided by biotechnically enhanced crops, including increased yields and nutrition and reduced pesticides and herbicides use in the environment. For these reasons, I agree with the establishment of the USDA's Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology. This committee provides advice on the many issues involving biotechnology, including labeling, and ensuring a federal policy that will continue to promote innovation while protecting consumer safety.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this and other matters of importance to you. For more information about the issues before the U.S. Senate as well as news releases, photos, and other items of interest, please visit my Senate website, http://crapo.senate.gov.

Sincerely,

Mike Crapo
United States Senator

Wow, his letter was long and in depth. Clearly he spent some time responding to me, right? Well, it turns out; this is the same exact letter that he sends out to everyone contacting him about GMOs. I didn’t know that until a year later when I met Leslie (she received this letter, too) and formed GMO Free Idaho. The fact that he has this long form letter ready to go tells me that he has had a fair amount of feedback from people opposed to or concerned about GMOs.

Mind you, I had only started to learn about GMOs when I got this letter. Also, I had never contacted a representative for anything before! There would be some temptation to leave it to the “experts” and Senator Crapo’s in depth response to me was intimidating with lots of technical information and history about agencies that I knew very little about. But, I began researching his claims in this letter and quickly discovered that it was nothing short of an attempt to get me (and others lucky enough to receive this letter) to be overwhelmed by the information and believe what he says. After crafting my response to Senator Crapo I am of the opinion that he is either severely uninformed (unlikely) or he deliberately tried to spread misinformation to keep his corporate buddies happy. Here is my response to him:

Dear Senator Crapo,

I appreciate your response to my concerns about genetically modified foods. However, I have some additional points and questions for you.

The World Trade Organization’s role is to negotiate trade agreements. It is not qualified to determine the safety or effectiveness of bioengineered crops. The EU still widely rejects genetically modified foods and maintains strict labeling requirements in spite of the pressure and bullying tactics of the United States and large corporations such as Monsanto. The vast majority of EU supermarkets will not carry GMO products because the people will not purchase them.

The FDA does not test the safety of genetically modified foods. The FDA requires that the developer submit to the FDA, a report of the safety, nutritional and other regulatory issues that pertain to the new product. In short, the bioengineering company is responsible for its own testing and only has to consult with the FDA. The USDA has several different agencies that work with different aspects of genetically modified foods. None of those agencies have the task of looking at short term or long term effects of human consumption of genetically modified foods specifically.

You indicate that the FDA only focuses on the final product and therefore genetically modified foods do not differ significantly from their conventional counterparts. Then you indicate that some genetically modified foods are modified to the extent that they (the crop itself) become a pesticide and thus require EPA regulation. You say that when a product is significantly altered labeling is required. This is only true for seeds. There is not one product on the store shelves containing pesticide enhanced crops that is labeled GMO.

Please explain how the FDA can state that there is no significant difference and yet the EPA will register seeds/crops as pesticides. Also, US patent law allows these seeds to be patented. Doesn’t that require that the product is completely unique? It seems there is some lack of consistency as to whether or not genetic modification significantly changes the crop.

I would appreciate it if you could point to independent research showing that there has been any increase in yield and nutrition or a decrease in pesticide and herbicide use. There are several documented instances where scientists have warned the FDA about potential or realized unintended consequences and the FDA has approved these products in spite of those warnings. There is evidence that the pesticide and herbicide resistant crops have created “super weeds and insects”. There is evidence that genetically engineered crops such as soy are responsible for reproductive illnesses, diabetes and cancer. There have been studies that link the corn consumption (in all of its forms) with the current obesity epidemic. There is research showing that there is a possible link between GMO’s and the significant decline in bee population. With so much at stake, doesn’t it make sense to re-evaluate and research instead of just provide oversight to an industry?

There is a direct conflict of interest for the American people when there is a revolving door between the bodies of government responsible for regulating the food and environmental safety of genetically modified crops and the genetic engineering industry itself. I am sure you are aware that Michael Taylor (FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods) has spent his career alternating between the FDA, USDA and Monsanto. Linda Fisher has alternated between the EPA and Monsanto. Mr. Crapo, even you accepted $10,000 in campaign contributions from Monsanto.

Senator, if the USDA, FDA, EPA and the bioengineering industry is strong in their belief that these products are safe, then why not label them? If there is true “transparency” as you claim, then Americans would surely have the right to know what we are putting into our own bodies. Our elected officials are supposed to represent the interests of the people. You acknowledged that “many” people want GMO food labeling. Thanks to very informative documentaries such as Food, Inc., The Truth about Food and King Corn people are becoming aware. Those people will want their voices heard and their food labeled. Please consider the rights and desires of the people who elected you.

Thank You,
Jennifer Easley

Senator Crapo never responded to this letter. But, about a year later he penned a guest opinion in the Idaho Press Tribune advocating that people need to take personal responsibility for their health and teach their kids how to eat healthy. In it, he said: “This includes making healthy choices and providing families with the freedom to choose the foods that match their interests and needs.”

I wrote the following letter to the editor in response to Senator Crapo’s guest opinion:

IPT published a letter from Senator Mike Crapo on June 17, 2011 titled, “It’s up to you to make healthy choices.” In it, Senator Crapo advocates for personal responsibility when choosing our foods and teaching our children to make healthy choices. Senator Crapo says, “This includes making healthy choices and providing families with the freedom to choose the foods that match their interests and needs.”

A year ago this month, I sent Mr. Crapo a letter requesting that he support legislation to require labeling for genetically modified ingredients in our food supply. I asked Mr. Crapo not to accept campaign donations from biotech industry giants. Mr. Crapo sent me a lengthy, but inaccurate reply where he defended the practice of genetically modified foods in spite of the fact that they have never been tested for human safety by the FDA, USDA, EPA or any other agency. He told me that he “understood the concerns expressed by many who seek mandatory labeling” but went on to explain why he would not support such legislation.

Mr. Crapo refuses to pursue mandatory labeling that “many” are seeking so they can make informed decisions about the foods they consume yet he also indicates that it is up to us to make healthy informed choices. He wants us to have the “freedom” to choose foods, yet refuses to label them even though he knows that many people would not choose to eat genetically modified organisms. Ironically, the same day Mr. Crapo’s letter appeared in the IPT there was another article stating that, in spite of the recession, many people are choosing organic foods. People want to make healthy, informed choices. Big agriculture, the biotech industry and our elected representatives need to stop preventing it. If you would like to read Mike Crapo’s letter to me and my response to him, visit us on Facebook at GMO Free Idaho.

Jenny Easley

Our fight for our right to know is being impeded by elected representatives like Senator Crapo, food manufacturers, biotech industry and our own regulatory agencies. We must remind them all that we are here and we want clear and honest labeling on our food. Elected representatives need to remember who they are here to represent and the ties between them and their corporate sponsors need to be severed. Elected representatives who choose not to listen to the will of the people need to be punished at the ballot box. As long as money means more than our rights, we will never win this fight. Please, contact your representatives.

Better yet, submit your letters to us and we will deliver them to our representatives! I am currently trying to schedule meetings with Senator Crapo, Senator Risch, Representative Labrador and Representative Simpson. Most of them have said they will not meet with us in person but we can get in to see their staff. I would love to deliver hundreds of statements to them from Idaho citizens who think they have a right to know about the presence of genetically modified organisms.

Jenny Easley
Co-Founder GMO Free Idaho