California Green Party Approves
Platform Position on GMOs in Agriculture
SHANE QUE HEE & ERICA MARTENSON / Indybay 12apr2008
At its most recent General Assembly meeting in Berkeley, California on April 5th and 6th, 2008, the California Green Party approved the following platform position on GMOs in agriculture. Agricultural Products of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Cloned Animals
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are seeds, plants, rootstocks, animals, or microorganisms created by inserting foreign genes to impart a desired trait. Clones are the mature organisms created by replicating abiotically most or all of the DNA of the organisms. Transgenic research is aimed at optimizing a desired trait, and cloning can complement this by allowing the favored genetically modified organism (GMO) to be multiplied.
GMOs: While cross-breeding and grafting different strains of the same type of organism have been done for millennia, genetic engineering involving the insertion of foreign genes is a much more radical step, fraught with unpredictable consequences. The use of bacteria and viruses to overcome an organism’s natural resistance to foreign genes, of resistant marker genes to determine if the gene insertion took hold, and of promoter genes to ensure the inserted gene expresses the desired trait, all bring inherent risks.
The first GMO plant, the Flavr savr tomato, was commercially available briefly in 1994. Most of the currently used genetically modified (GM) crops have been altered by inserting genes from soil bacteria so that the GM crops resist glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide and/or secrete Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin.
The major four GM crops in the United States are soybean, corn, cotton, and canola, and about 75% of processed foods contain at least one of these ingredients or a derivative. GM microorganisms have been used to produce such food products as cheese and wine. Therefore, all U.S. consumers have already been exposed to GM food products, and are eating GM foods without being aware of it. This is a consumer rights issue, and currently 94% of the U.S. public believe GM foods should be labeled as such.
The European Union, Japan, China, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand among others label GM foods unlike the U.S. Because GM foods are not labeled, U.S. consumers cannot avoid them, and health problems cannot be linked to GM foods. The European Union allows only Monsanto’s MON810 insect-resistant maize to be grown, about 2% of the maize crop, though this is under review since France banned it in 2007.
Some criticisms on the unregulated entry of GMOs into the environment and food supply include environmental, health, and economic risks. Some environmental risks include: non-target organism effects like killing beneficial insects and soil biota, and the development of insect and weed resistance, necessitating more powerful pesticides. The health risks include: introduction of new allergens, toxins, antibiotic resistance, nutritional and reproductive problems, and cancer. The economic risks include: market loss to farmers; lower prices; lower crop yields; crop failure; contamination of the gene pool of existing crop plants; and corporate monopolization over the food supply through GMO patent protection.
The federal regulation of GMOs in the U.S. is through the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA regulates crops and microorganisms engineered to produce potentially harmful EPA-registered pesticides, for example, Bt crops; the USDA regulates the field testing and approval of all other GM crops, microorganisms, and animals; and the FDA regulates food safety. The FDA does not require the safety testing and labeling of GM foods since it concluded in 1992, over the objections of its own scientists, that GMOs would be regulated the same as organisms developed through traditional breeding. Under that policy, if a developer determines that a GM food is “substantially equivalent” to its natural counterpart, no safety test is required, although the FDA has never clearly defined what “substantially equivalent” means. The USDA since 1997 has required only notification (with no environmental assessment) to conduct field trials on most GM crops rather than a permit application. A 2005 Report of the Inspector General criticized USDA for lax oversight over GM field-testing.
The California Department of Health Services, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and local city/town/county health departments are concerned with food safety in California but have not issued any GMO or GMO product guidelines. Mendocino, Marin, Trinity, and Santa Cruz counties and the cities of Arcata and Point Arena have banned GMOs.
Cloning: In 2006, the FDA gave preliminary approval to the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals despite knowing that animal clones often have genetic abnormalities, and that 65% of Americans are not comfortable with animal cloning. The FDA again used its “substantially equivalent” dogma to bypass safety testing and labeling. Since Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, was born in 1996, cloning of pigs and cattle has occurred in U.S. research from 1998. On January 15 2008, the FDA declared meat and milk safe to eat from cloned animals and their offspring, and that labeling the food from the offspring of a cloned animal was unnecessary, the change to be effective immediately. FDA requested producers to voluntarily keep cloned cattle, pigs and goats out of the food supply indefinitely. Cloned animals already have a tracking system but their offspring do not and will not.
PROPOSAL: GPCA supports policies that ban agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), cloned animals and their offspring, and their products. To the extent that these products find their way to consumers, the responsible corporations must be held responsible for adverse effects.
The Green Party of California supports the following demands to:
1. Ban the open-air planting and release, raising, and commercialization of agricultural GMOs, of cloned animals and their offspring, and of their products in California. Genetic engineering research should be confined to controlled environments like laboratories, greenhouses, and biodomes.
2. Mandate labeling of all GM foods and foods from cloned animals and their offspring for products that are on the market or come on the market, thus allowing consumers to avoid them. This will also allow any future adverse effects to be traced, the food recalled, and the population who consumed the food treated appropriately. Labeling will also facilitate epidemiology studies on the long-term safety of cloned food products.
3. Support entities that currently label GM foods voluntarily or have policies against using GM ingredients in their products or brands. Support should also be provided for entities that will similarly not sell food products from cloned animals and their offspring.
4. Require that USDA notify the Agriculture Commissioner of the county location of any intended trials or plantings of GMOs even for research purposes, outline the steps being taken to prevent contamination, distribute an environmental impact analysis and statement that also takes into account natural disasters, distribute a human health impact statement, and offer a public comment period before any tests or plantings can be permitted.
5. Inform neighboring farmers that GMO crops are being planted even for research purposes.
6. Ban the development and planting of GMO plant varieties used for foods that are tolerant of increased levels of applied herbicides or produce their own pesticides.
7. Ban the development and planting of food crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals.
8. Hold the source biotechnology corporation accountable for any genetic pollution of conventional and organic farms, and natural areas, and for the costs of testing, any cleanup, and any market loss.
9. Make the patenting of GMOs illegal, and allow farmers to save and reuse seed from year to year. Similarly, the patenting of cloned animals and their offspring should not be allowed.
10. Ban the use of ‘Terminator Technology” to create sterile seeds, plants, and animals (with and without backbones).
11. Oppose any legislation that would prevent local governments from regulating GMOs and cloned animals and their offspring at the local level as a matter of grassroots democracy.
12. Require the FDA to define scientifically what “substantially equivalent” means by techniques such as genetic sequencing, DNA and RNA base sequencing, RNA characterization, proteomics, lipomics, saccharomics, and metabolomics.