Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: GMO foods

Genetically modified foods shouldn't be labeled as such, U.S. argues

May 11, 2010 | 12:21 pm

Booster Shots recently blogged about an international trade meeting that addressed, among other things, whether genetically modified foods should be labeled as such.

The United States argues that they shouldn't -- because, it says, to do so is to imply that GMO foods are somehow different. The U.S. also doesn't want the rules to let countries set their own standards on this issue -- because, again, it would imply that GM foods are somehow different.

Before the meeting, which took place in Quebec a few days ago, 80 groups including the Consumers Union had sent a letter of concern to the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture about this position.

The U.S. didn't budge from its position at the Canada meeting, apparently, in opposition to most countries there. The issue is to be taken up at a later date.  

The meeting is for the Codex Alimentarius, a kind of international set of rules that govern food trade standards. Consumers Union is concerned that if the U.S.' desires prevail, it could lead to a ban on "GMO-free" labels. According to a news release, the group has now called on the Obama administration to endorse the compromise that most countries represented at the meeting favored: letting different countries to do their own thing on the matter.

Here's an article about the issue at Food Safety News.

-- Rosie Mestel

GMO food labeling fight

April 20, 2010 |  5:21 pm

Cereal These days, many foods -- especially organic foods -- carry labels declaring that their wares are free of genetically modified ingredients. Will companies be able to continue to do this? A consortium of 80 groups fear that the answer may be no.

On Tuesday, the 80 groups sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture "expressing serious concerns" about the agencies' stance on the issue.

The bone of contention: The FDA and USDA have written a draft for an upcoming international meeting in which they say that requiring labels indicating that a food has genetically modified ingredients would be "false, misleading or deceptive" as it is "likely to create the impression that the labeled food is in some way different." Right now, each country can set its own rules for GMO-food-labeling and the FDA and USDA oppose that.

The 80 groups who signed the protest letter include the Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports), organic food organizations, farmers and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others. (You can see the whole list at a website that posts the letter in full.)

Here's the news release from the Consumers Union about the issue.

All this is taking place because of a meeting to be in Quebec City on May 3 to talk about international standards for food labeling. The meeting is to discuss revisions to part of the "Codex Alimentarius," a group of rules and guidelines that set international food standards. Sounds fascinating, huh? Here's an official Codex Alimentarius website where you can learn more about what this thing is. Here's even more information about the Codex. All kinds of food-labeling issues will be discussed at the meeting.

-- Rosie Mestel

Photo: Does that cereal have GMO ingredients or not? The Consumers Union, among others, fears that companies will not be able to tell us if some international labeling rules change.

Credit: Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles Times

Would you eat a clone?

September 5, 2008 | 11:15 am


Would you eat a clone?  What about the offspring of a clone? Food companies are sensing that many of us won't, and are positioning themselves accordingly. A survey conducted by the Center for Food Safety, a group that opposes cloned and genetic engineered food, reports that 20 food companies have pledged that no meat or milk from a clone will end up in their products. Among those companies: giants Kraft Foods, General Mills, Gerber/Nestle and Campbell Soup Co.

At least for meat, this is a bit of an easy promise. For economic reasons, nobody would slaughter a cloned animal for meat (except at the end of their lives) because clones are far too pricey and difficult to produce. First you have to manipulate eggs in the lab -- fish out the DNA they contain and insert the DNA from the animal you want to replicate. Then you have to nudge these cells to begin growing into embryos -- and, at a certain point, implant them in a surrogate mother. The clones have to develop and survive to birth -- and be born healthy. It takes many failed attempts to get one clone that far.

That's why it cost $60,000 for Limousin cattle rancher Larry Coleman of Charlo, Mont., to create three clones of his prize bull First Down, according to a Jan. 16 Times article by Karen Kaplan. (He did it to be able to sell the clones' semen.)

What about the offspring of clones? According to a Wall Street Journal article about the survey, Kraft's pledge did not yet extend to such offspring: "The company says it will continue to monitor consumer acceptance" of these. Other companies that have pledged to eschew clones haven't done the same for clone offspring, the article notes. Eight of the 20 companies in the survey did said they'd avoid using clone offspring if they knew, but since meat and milk from these offspring aren't tracked anyway (even clones are only tracked on a voluntary basis) you might say that was an easy promise, too!

The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, examined hundreds of scientific studies on clones and their offspring and concluded in January that they and their milk are as safe to consume as regular meat and milk.

In Europe, the European Food Safety Authority released a "scientific opinion" in July stating that, "There is no indication that differences exist in terms of food safety for meat and milk of clones and their progeny compared with those from conventionally bred animals. " But the report did note uncertainties because the number of studies are limited, and expressed concerns about the welfare of animals. Another EC advisory group, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, stated that “considering the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones, the EGE has doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified."

Now the European Parliament is calling for a European Union ban on animal cloning for food.

Why would clones not be safe to eat? Unlike GMOs -- where one could make a case that the physical essence of a creature has been changed in a way that might conceivably cause allergies or something -- there is no genetic material added. It's an entire genome, moved from one cell to another. There are some slight alterations in the activity of a few genes, similar to that seen with in vitro fertilization and which don't seem to persist to the clones' offspring. The animals do get their start with in vitro culture, of course, for several days. And they gestate in the wombs of surrogate mothers. But those practices are used elsewhere in modern animal husbandry, which is a far cry from "natural." (Let none of us imagine that the bird we bite into on Thanksgiving is progeny of anything other than a tryst between a turkey hen and a syringe or straw.)

As for the offspring of clones -- well, they're the products of natural reproduction -- or as natural as things in modern agriculture get (as noted above). Why should they be harmful to eat?

Even the "yuck" factor I don't quite get, personally: Would this be the same yuck factor one gets from seeing twins (devil spawn!) or from Louise Brown and the 1 million IVF babies that followed in her wake? (Not that I would eat these people, mind you.)

Would you eat a clone -- or the progeny of a clone? Why? Why not?

-- Rosie Mestel

Photo credit: Thomas Terry / Associated Press


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