Are Scannable Bar Codes the Best Solution for GMO labeling?

According to a recent survey, nearly 90 percent of consumers still want to know if they are consuming foods with genetically modified ingredients.

While a clear and concise label on the package seems like a no-brainer, it has been fought at every turn by those who oppose labeling, including the biotech and food industries. These industries have spent millions of dollars to squash grassroots labeling initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. They also support national bills and policy riders that block a state’s right to label GMOs. And now the Grocery Manufacturers Association–the largest trade group for corporations that make food and beverages–has stepped up to the plate with its own solution for the conundrum of GMO labeling: QR codes.

The new initiative, called SmartLabel™, is a voluntary program that would add a bar code to foods consumers can scan using their smartphone camera to get information about a product. This could include more detailed ingredient information including whether a food contains GMOs. The program is limited, however, because not all companies would participate, nor would they all disclose whether a food contained genetically modified ingredients.

The program is also problematic for a number of other reasons. Do consumers really have the time to scan every item they purchase to find out if it contains GMOs? And what about the people who don’t have a smartphone, such as the elderly or those with lower incomes?

Data from the Pew Research Center reveals that for Americans who make less than $30,000 per year, only half have a smartphone. And for those that have one, 44 percent had to let their smartphone service lapse at some point for financial reasons. For seniors, a mere 27 percent own a smartphone. Thus, is a bar code really an equitable solution if 50 percent of those with a lower income and 72 percent of seniors can’t scan it? That’s about 100 million people who would not have access to the information they need to make an informed decision. Despite what some say, everyone does not win if we use bar codes in place of GMO labeling.

What does make sense? Putting a label right on the package. Even the New York Times Editorial Board recently came out in support of labeling. Americans want transparency and as food politics expert Marion Nestle, PhD, says, “Transparency is always the right thing to do.” The SmartLabel™ bar code would offer limited transparency and discriminate against the elderly and lower income Americans, keeping millions in the dark. It’s clearly not a win-win.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Copyright 2015 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

10 Things You Should Know About GMOs and GMO Labeling

cornfield-3by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Even though GMOs have been in our food supply for years, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about them. There are legitimate environmental and societal concerns including the corporate control of the food supply, loss of crop diversity, and the escalating use of herbicides. The safety of GMOs is a whole other matter and something that is very important to me as a health professional.

Proponents claim they offer a plethora of benefits including higher yields, more nutritious food to feed the hungry, fewer weeds and bugs, and a decrease in herbicide use. But reality tells an entirely different story. While they make millions for multinational corporations, they don’t offer consumers a thing.

Although it is nearly impossible to have a civil conversation about GMOs, discussion about scientific issues is necessary and important. Here are 10 things worth considering in the ongoing and contentious debate about GMOs.

1. GMOs have not helped to feed the world. This is partly because a lot of GMO corn and soy are used for other things such animal feed or ethanol production, and not human consumption. Most of the GMOs we do consume are found in the junkiest processed food available, which does not improve anyone’s nutritional status. Although we grow more GMOs than any other country, 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million childrenlive in households that are food insecure.

2. Yields for GMO corn and soy have not gone up significantly. But herbicide use has increased by 404 million pounds.

3. Weeds are becoming resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (used with GMOs) and now cover about as much farm land as the state of Oregon. A toxic new herbicide called Enlist Duo, made with 2,4 D (half of agent orange), has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to fight these weeds. This herbicide is linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson’s, and may be particularly harmful to children.

4. GMOs have dramatically decreased the monarch butterfly population due to glyphosates destruction of milkweed, the monarch’s breeding habitat.

5. Some believe the hypothetical “golden rice,” genetically engineered to be higher in vitamin A, could help prevent blindness. However, Jonathan Foley, Ph.D., and executive director of the California Academy of Sciences says, “Why pick an expensive, high-tech approach — costing millions of dollars and decades of work, with no guarantee that people will accept and eat orange-colored rice — rather than low-tech, simple solutions that could work right now?” Why indeed.

6. GMO proponents on one hand say GMOs are safe, but on the other hand say nothing is proven safe. So which is it? The truth is all we have are animal studies. Without long-term data in humans, we will never know if they are safe for us, nor will we know their long-term health effects. Even the American Cancer Society says the “…long term health effects are unknown.”

7. Substantial equivalence, which is used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve GMOs, compares the compositional analyses of a GMO crop to a similar plant that is not a GMO (isoline). This process looks at nutrients, antinutrients, and toxins to determine if there are any significant changes. The problem is there may be other changes we are not aware of that are not a part of this comparison. Trans fats, for example, have just one change in the placement of a single hydrogen atom. That one change totally alters their impact on human health. Are we really aware of all of the subtle changes that can occur with genetic engineering?

Additionally, substantial equivalence has failed the FDA before. Metal on metal hip replacements are one example of a technology approved using substantial equivalence with disastrous results. These hip replacements had a high failure rate due to the erosion of metal and it’s migration into the surrounding tissues. Ultimately, it’s impossible to know the long-term implications of a technology without appropriate research.

8. Some think that GMOs must be safe since we have been eating them for 17 years without any demonstrated harm. However, in reality our health has been declining, not improving. We weigh more and have more co-morbid conditions than ever before. In fact, a recent Journal of the American Medical Association article states that we spend a fortune on health in the US, more than any other industrialized nation, yet we have “fallen behind peer countries in terms of improvements in population health.” While you can’t say this is because of GMOs, you can’t say its not. And that’s why we need human studies.

9. Questioning GMOs does not mean you’re a fear mongerer, denier, or anti-science and has no relationship to climate change or vaccines. It just means you’re cautious about a technology we don’t need to survive.

10. GMO proponents spent 45 million dollars to block labeling in California and 22 million in Washington. So far they have spent about almost 19 million in Oregon and 11 million in Colorado. That’s close to a 100 million dollars in total. The biggest spenders have been Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Land O’ Lakes, and Kellogg’s. What are they trying to hide?

There are many reasons to question GMOs. But the concerns about safety and impacts on the environment are almost a moot point. The irony is, the behavior of biotech corporations and food manufacturers to thwart labeling at every turn and some scientists, journalists, and bloggers who attempt to discredit anyone who disagrees with their ideology, has alienated many. So for a lot of people, even if someday research shows GMOs are safe and we understand their long-term effects, they still will not want them.

These corporations, organizations, and individuals have tried to bully us and push GMOs into our daily diet without our consent, attempting to tell us what we should eat without any transparency or choice. Dr. Foley got it right when he said:

“It’s about respecting people’s deep cultural connection to food and their right to know what’s in it.”

Food politics guru Marion Nestle, Ph.D., weighed in saying:

“I think much of the public distress over GM foods is because of lack of transparency. Without labels, customers cannot exercise freedom of choice.”

Dr. Nestle was also part of an early focus group for the FDA and reveals:

“We warned the FDA that if GMOs were not labeled, the public would wonder what the industry was trying to hide. This, we said, would not only hurt the FDA’s credibility, but would end up hurting the GMO industry as well.”

And this is their fatal mistake–and their undoing. Even millions spent on clever video programing orchestrated by Conde Nast and Monsanto,the recruitment of mommy bloggers, and misleading articles and hit pieces about anyone who questions GMOs, can’t fix their PR blunder. The consumer rejection of GMOs is why some companies are already “quietly dumping GMO ingredients” as reported by NPR.

Sometimes freedom of choice is the most important consideration of all. Want to exercise yours? Check out my previous post for tips on how to avoid GMOs. And vote “yes” to label GMOs.

Copyright © 2014 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Have NOT Been Proven Safe

White-Mouse-001By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

The resounding claim of GMO proponents is that GMOs have been proven safe. Some scientists are quite emphatic about this, such as Dr. Pamela Ronald from UC Davis, who says:
“Genetically engineered crops currently on the market are as safe to eat and safe for the environment as organic or conventional foods.”

Dr. Roger Clemens, from the USC Department of Pharmacology, also weighs in saying:
“They’re tested and evaluated in voluminous documentation that would fill this backyard. We don’t know of any health risk at this particular time.”

Dr. Clemons also supports food additives,  sugar, and processed foods, but I digress….

The problem with concluding that GMOs are safe is that the argument for their safety rests solely on animal studies. These studies are offered as evidence that the debate over GMOs is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Animal studies have value in that if something demonstrates harm in animals, it will also likely cause harm in humans. Although some animal studies have found harm from a GMO diet, these hotly debated studies are not the point of this article. The point is, if an animal study does not find harm with a particular substance, it may still cause harm in humans.

A good example of this is what’s happened with artificial sweeteners. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved artificial sweeteners for use using animal toxicology studies. Once these sweeteners were added to the food supply–and labeled as such–scientists were able to do epidemiological studies (also called observational studies) in humans. Several of these studies found that artificial sweeteners are linked with negative health effects.

The Framingham Observational Study found that both diet and regular sodas are associated with metabolic syndrome (a constellation of symptoms such as abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure that are linked to an increased risk of heart disease). Yet another study revealed that diet sodas may increase the risk of diabetes. The Nurses’ Health Study found that two or more diet sodas a day were associated with a 30 percent decrease in kidney function over time. Yet none of these results were found in animal studies.Clearly, there are still many unknowns about the impact of artificial sweeteners on human health.

Dr. Walter Willet, from the Harvard School of Public Health, sums things up nicely by saying: “It’s difficult to make blanket statements about the safety or risks of low-calorie sweeteners because all are very different in their structure and how they work in the body. The reality is, some studies have been done in animals, but we really don’t have good long-term data on humans with any of these.” And the same is true for GMOs.

Considering that biology, gene regulation and expression, and the impact of a substance on a particular gene can vary so much, it makes perfect sense that animal research is not the best model to determine the long-term health effects of GMOs in humans.

In fact, Dr. Ralph Heywood, past scientific director of the Huntington Research Centre (U.K.), found that the agreement between animal and human toxicology tests is below 25 percent. He has determined that there is no way of knowing what kind of toxic effect will show up in animals versus humans.

Instead of animal studies, epidemiological studies have been identified as the best way to verify the effects of a substance and its risk to humans.

Ultimately, we need GMO labeling so we can do the epidemiological studies that are essential to determine their risk. Without long-term data–in humans–no one can make the claim that GMOs are proven safe.

Copyright © 2014 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

GMO Update and the Huffington Post

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

gmo-patentI have spend the past few years trying to get the word out about GMOs (genetically modified organisms). I have had some truly interesting experiences, some which I have talked about, such as my travails with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and some which I may never talk about for a variety of reasons. These experiences have given me a different perspective on things and perhaps a more realistic view of how big food and big agriculture work. And because of what has happened, I have had the opportunity to also blog for the Huffington Post. Please consider following me there as well! My most recent piece is about what happens to scientists who go against the grain and dare to publish research that criticizes GMOs. The intro and link to the full article are below.

The Anti-Science Behavior of GMO Proponents

“As the battle to label GMOs (genetically modified organisms) rages on, we have another more insidious battle taking place. It’s the battle to hold on to scientific integrity, especially as it relates to research about GMOs.” (more)

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Copyright © 2014 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

4 Ways the Food and Drug Administration Is Not “Protecting and Promoting Your Health”

fda-logo11by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

A few weeks ago I happened to catch an episode of the radio show, This American Life, which focused on the how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dealt with problems related to acetaminophen, also know as Tylenol.

In a nutshell, it took the FDA over 30 years to let us know that taking too much of this medication can cause severe liver disease and death. Historically, Tylenol was thought to be the safe pain reliever and one that we should “trust.” Truth be told, taking just two extra strength Tylenol tablets over the maximum daily dose of 8, can cause liver failure.

Why did it take the FDA so long to inform the public of the health risks associated with Tylenol? According to a review of the FDA process, a lack of financial resources and a heavy workload caused the delay.

Ironically, days before I listened to this episode, I was thinking about a few other perplexing FDA positions. While their tagline is “protecting and promoting your health,” there are many instances where their actions are anything but. Here are four such examples.

1. Food Additives 

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine (JAMA Intern Med) found that between 1997 and 2012 all of the members on panels to determine if a food additive was safe had ties to the industry that created them, either as an employee or consultant. One has to wonder, with such an infiltration of industry in the decision-making process, if these additives are truly safe to consume.

Additionally, the FDA allowed companies that created food products to determine whether or not a food additive was generally recognized as safe also known as GRAS. In some cases, these companies did not even notify the FDA of this determination!

Food politics guru Marion Nestle, PhD, wrote the commentary for the article. Not one to mince words, she says:

“How is it possible that the FDA permits manufacturers to decide for themselves whether their food additives are safe?”

How indeed.

She also says:

“…financial ties with food and beverage companies are now recognized as influences on federal dietary guidelines, opinions of nutrition professionals, and the interpretation of nutrition studies.”

The article concludes with the authors urging the FDA to address the lack of independent review and the ubiquitous financial conflicts of interest in GRAS determinations. Let’s hope the FDA follows this advice.

2. Fecal Implants

Fecal implants, also known as fecal microbiota therapy (FMT), are a procedure whereby stool from a healthy donor is inserted into the colon of another. Yes, fecal implants sound really gross. But they save lives and are actually more effective for curing difficult cases of Clostridium difficile (C. diff)–which can cause diarrhea, cramping, colitis, and death–than really expensive antibiotic pills. They have also been found to be helpful, or in some cases cure, other gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, a debilitating condition that causes inflammation of the colon and bloody, frequent diarrhea.

However, in April 2013 the FDA decided if feces were preventing, treating, or curing a disease, then feces should be classified as a drug. The FDA did not approve fecal implants for therapeutic uses. Any doctor who wanted to use them would have to fill out an investigational new drug application. In response, many doctors stopped doing fecal implants, even though they were found to be 90 percent effective for C. diff.

Just a few months later the FDA changed their mind, due to strong push-back from the American Gastroenterology Association. They allowed fecal implants for use in people with C. diff who were not responding to standard antibiotic treatment.

I find it interesting that the FDA wants a lot of regulation for feces, a substance that appears to be helping many people, yet they are lax about so many other things. Of course, precautions need to be taken such as screening for HIV, hepatitis, and parasites. However, at a time of diminishing returns with drugs for many gastrointestinal diseases and no chance of an actual cure, why not allow fecal implants, especially when they have the potential to help so many people who are suffering?

3. Antibiotics in Animal Feed

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the FDA is still dragging its feet to ban the use of antibiotics in factory farming. A recent FDA report reveals that 80 percent of antibiotics are given to industrial farm animals. Why give these animals low doses of antibiotics? So they will get fatter faster and to prevent health problems caused by the extreme confinement and filthy conditions they are forced to endure.

Although there is a clear-cut link between the use of antibiotics in farm animals and antibiotic resistance, the FDA continues to allow their use. Instead of banning the practice, the FDA has called for industry to voluntarily stop the practice. According to Marion Nestle, the problem has only gotten worse. The Centers for Disease Control states that 2 million people are sickened each year by drug-resistant bacteria and 23,000 of them die. Since part of the problem is the use of antibiotics in animal feed, it seems like a no-brainer to stop this practice. The FDA has had over 30 years to take action on this, but has not as of yet.

Apparently, banning the hundreds of antibiotics used in factory farming would be “lengthy and cumbersome” so a volunteer approach was the option chosen by the FDA.

One would think that 23,000 Americans dying each year would trump industry desires and long appeals.

4. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

I have written before about the fact that the FDA does not do its own safety assessments or studies on GMOs before they are approved for use. Instead, the companies that create the crops do their own safety assessments, which the FDA only reviews. In other words, it is the opinion of companies such as Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, Bayer CropScience, Dow Agrosciences, or Syngenta that are driving the approvals. This is a win-win for companies that stand to make a buck on GMOs, but is a lose-lose situation for us, the very people the FDA is supposed to be “protecting.”

The FDA is worried about poop, a basically free substance that can cure C. diff and potentially other inflammatory bowel diseases, but is fine with adding food additives, antibiotics, and GMOs to our food supply without adequate testing or conflict-of-interest-free determinations.

What is wrong with this picture? A lot. And it is the American people who will be paying the price.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Is the Movement to Label GMOs Anti-Science?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

No gmo 2One of the criticisms I hear about the movement to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that it’s anti-science. Some even go so far as to say it’s an assault on science. While I can’t speak for the entire movement, I can say that the lack of research in humans and troubling findings in some animal studies is enough to make me question the safety and necessity of GMOs.

The research related to GMOs can be hard to sort through. One study may find health problems in animals, but then proponents and biotech scientists say the study is flawed. But are there any scientists that question the safety and effectiveness of GMOs?

Michael_Hansen_ResizedOver the past few months, I have spoken with scientist Michael Hansen, PhD, who is an expert on genetically modified crops. Dr. Hansen works for the Consumers Union, the safety and advocacy arm of the organization Consumer Reports. Consumers Union is not funded by agribusiness, or other multinational companies tied to the biotech or food industry. Therefore its opinions are not influenced by industry money.

Dr. Hansen has testified at many hearings in support of GMO labeling both nationally and internationally. And he has been interviewed on a lot of television and radio shows, including the Dr. Oz Show, which aired on March 26, 2013. He is willing to answer some of my questions about GMOs, also know as genetically engineered crops.

1. Does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do safety testing on genetically modified crops?

No, they do not. Nor do they require any companies to do safety testing of their genetically engineered (GE) crops. The FDA policy on GE was introduced as a deregulatory initiative in 1993. It is based on the notion that genetic engineering is an extension of traditional plant breeding and should be regulated in the same way. In other words, no requirement for human safety testing; instead there are voluntary safety consultations.

2. What are voluntary safety consultations?

The companies that create GE crops do their own food safety assessments, which the FDA reviews. At the end of the consultation process the FDA sends a letter to the company. Here is an excerpt from one letter which says, “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn grain and forage derived from the new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, or other relevant parameters from corn grain and forage currently on the market, and that they do not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA.” [emphasis added]. A version of this sentence is in all 97 “safety” consultation letters.

In other words, the FDA does not state its own opinion about the safety of GE crops. It only states what the company believes.

3. What are the potential health risks associated with Genetically Engineered Crops?

Human safety concerns may arise from genetic engineering due to the introduction of new allergens, an increased level of naturally occurring allergens, plant toxins, or changes in nutrition. GE crops may also have a negative effect on the gut and peripheral immune response. A meta-analysis of animal feeding studies involving GE crops suggests that they cause liver and kidney problems. And a new well-designed, long-term feeding study has found that pigs consuming GE corn and soy had significantly higher rates of severe stomach inflammation and females had significant thickening of the uterus.

In addition, GE plant material is finding its way into the human body with unknown health effects. A study found the toxin from GE corn in 93 percent of maternal and 80 percent of fetal blood samples. Clearly, more research is needed.

4. The Séralini study published in October, 2012, has gotten a lot of criticism. Do you think it has merit?

Yes, I do. The study was a follow-up to Monsanto’s 90-day feeding study on its NK603 corn. The Séralini study, which continued for 2 years, found that female rats fed this GE corn died 2-3 times more quickly, and developed mammary tumors more often than controls that ate non-GE corn. Male rats fed the GE corn had liver and kidney problems at higher rates than controls, and more large tumors than rats fed non-GE corn.

The study received a lot of media attention. It was viciously attacked in the media by pro-GE and industry-affiliated scientists in what appears to have been an orchestrated campaign.

The two main criticisms were that they used too few rats per group and that they used a strain of rat that is prone to mammary tumors as they age. Both criticisms are off base.

The Séralini study used 10 rats per group, the same number of rats that Monsanto used in their 90-day feeding study to look at key biological parameters. If ten rats are too small a sample size to demonstrate health problems, how come ten rats are a sufficient sample size to demonstrate no safety concerns?

As for the type of rat used, Séralini used the same strain, Sprague Dawley (SD), that was used in the Monsanto feeding study on its NK603 GE corn and its 2 year feeding study looking at the safety of glyphosate. Why is use of SD rat’s bad when Séralini uses them, but okay when Monsanto and other biotech companies use them?

If Séralini’s study is flawed, then so is Monsanto’s, and the safety of their GE corn should be reassessed.

5. Have GMOs helped to feed the world, reduce the use of pesticides, or increase yield as proponents have promised?

No. Dr. Charles Benbrook’s work has shown that GE crops in the U.S. have lead to a dramatic expansion in pesticide use, particularly herbicides. Indeed, over the past 16 years there has been an increase of about 404 million pounds more herbicides used on GE crops, compared to non-GE crops. Work by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman has shown that genetic engineering doesn’t really increase crop yield.

6. Why do you think foods with GMO ingredients should be labeled?

There are a lot of uncertainties related to genetically engineered crops including potential allergens and unknown health risks. If these foods are not labeled, it will be very difficult to identify an unexpected health effect resulting from eating a genetically modified food. For more information, see here.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

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References:

Bernstein, I.L., Bernstein, J.A., Miller, M., Tierzieva, S., Bernstein, D.I., Lummus, Z., Selgrade, M.K., Doerfler, D.L. and V.L. Seligy. 1999. Immune responses in farm workers after exposure to Bacillus thuringiensis pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(7): 575-582. At: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1566654/pdf/envhper00512-0103.pdf

Gupta, A. et al. 2006. Impact of Bt cotton on farmers’ health (in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh). At: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6265 and http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6266

Gendel, S.M. 1998. The use of amino acid sequence alignments to assess potential allergenicity of proteins used in genetically modified foods. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 42: 44-61.

Vazquez-Padron, R.I., Moreno-Fierros, L., Neri-Bazan, L., de la Riva, G.A. and R. Lopez-Revilla. 1999. Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant. Scandinavian Journal of Immunology 49: 578-584.

Finamore, A., Roselli, M., Britti, S., Monastra, G., Ambra, R., Turrini, A. and E. Mengheri. 2008. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 56: 11533-11539. At: http://www.giovannimonastra.info/documenti_pdf/Monastra_J_Agr_Food_Chem_2.pdf

Séralini, G-E, Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Gress, S., de Vendômois, JS and D. Cellier. Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements. Environmental Sciences Europe, 23: 10. At: http://www.enveurope.com/content/pdf/2190-4715-23-10.pdf

Kuiper, HA, Kleter, GA, Notebom, HPJM and EJ Kok. 2001. Assessment of food safety issues related to genetically modified foods. The Plant Journal, 27(6): 503-528.

Carmen, JA. et al. 2013. A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet. Journal of Organic Systems, 8(1): 38-54. At: http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf

Aris, A and S Leblanc. 2011. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reproductive Toxicology, 31(4): 528-533.

Séralini, G-E. et al. 2012. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 50: 4221-4231. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637

Bardocz S, Clark A, Ewen S, Hansen, M, Heinemann J, Latham J, Pusztai A, Schubert D and A Wilson. 2012. Séralini and science: An open letter. Independent Science News. At: http://independentsciencenews.org/health/seralini-and-science-nk603-rat-study-roundup/

Benbrook, C. 2012. Impact of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe, 24:24.

Gurian-Sherman, D. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009.

Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Committed to Telling Americans the Truth About What They Are Eating?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

A few days ago, an article appeared in the New York Times entitled, “Food Politics Creates Rift in Panel on Labeling,” by Stephanie Strom. It was about my dismissal from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics work group for not disclosing a business that I don’t even have.

eat right

The work group was tasked to review the evidence related to food technologies, including genetically modified foods. I was happy to be a part of the group because I have seen how industry uses these position papers to support their stance.  Last fall in the state of California, we had a proposition on the ballot that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The state voters’ guide incorrectly said that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics had concluded that “biotech foods are safe.” However, the Academy’s position was expired, so they actually had no position.  The Academy issued a press release about this, but it was too late. The voter guide was already mailed to over 18 million registered voters. And Prop 37 lost. This is why I wanted to be on the group. I was hoping to prevent this from ever happening again.

Being on the work group was an interesting experience. Right off the bat, I had some major concerns, including the following:

  • Two members, Jennie Schmidt and Marianne Smith Edge, disclosed their ties to industry groups such as Monsanto.
  • The evidence review was not going to link to the position paper. And it would only include human studies, not animal. The problem with this is that there are not very many human studies to review.
  • The position paper was going to be written by Christine M. Bruhn, PhD, from UC Davis, a vocal supporter of genetically modified foods who is against labeling. UC Davis has strong ties to Monsanto.

I mentioned some of my concerns with the group and I also sent an email to an Academy employee involved with the project about the potential conflicts of interest. Because of my concerns, members of the group were asked to fill out the Academy’s disclosure statement again and disclose any money they might have received.

On March 22, 2013, I received a letter saying I was dismissed for not disclosing my consulting business, listed on my blog, healthyeatingrocks.com. I was shocked to say the least, especially since I do not have a business. At some point I would like to pursue one, but I am too busy with my full-time job and family obligations.

I sent the Academy 3 emails explaining that I do not have a business, that I did have questions, and would like to talk. Since the dismissal letter specifically stated, “Please contact us if you have any questions,” I was expecting a response back. I waited for over 3 weeks, but I heard nothing

And that is why I decided to talk to the New York Times.

Then the Academy posted a statement that was filled with inaccuracies.

I did not refuse to “disclose any and all conflicts of interest.” Why would I disclose something that does not exist? I did disclose however, that I received $135.00 from two sources that were relevant to the project, as they required.

The Academy also says that “She was simply asked, repeatedly, to disclose this information and she declined to do so.” However, it was my questioning of the group’s policy to include people on the committee with ties to industry that led to the Academy’s request for more information from the entire group, not only me.  And I complied with their request.

It was clear their minds were made up. A nonexistent business, not disclosed, was a bigger concern than two people who are involved with industries that would directly benefit from an evidence review and position paper with a positive slant toward genetically modified foods.

All of this posturing takes away from the real issue: Is it appropriate to have people involved with the biotech industry, which could benefit from the outcome, sit on a biotech-related work group? I don’t think so. Additionally, I found it alarming that the Academy was intent on moving forward with a position paper, written by Christine M. Bruhn, PhD, to be published before the evidence review was complete. She wrote the Academy’s 2006 position paper, which said that GMOs “…enhance the quality, safety, nutritional value, and variety of food available for human consumption and increase the efficacy of food production, processing, food distribution, and environmental and waste management.” I am guessing her 2013 version will offer up more of the same.

Sadly, it is the American people who are the losers in this situation because they will probably not get clear, unbiased, and balanced information about what to eat from the organization that represents the largest group of nutrition-related health professionals in the country.

Considering that we have no long-term evidence showing that genetically modified foods are safe for humans, the most responsible position the Academy could take would be to say, “The long-term health effects of genetically modified foods are unknown. Until and unless we know more, at minimum, they should be labeled.”

Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics committed to telling Americans the truth about what they are eating? I, for one, am not convinced. What do you think?

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Thanks to all the people who have supported me. Your kind works and notes of encouragement have meant so much to me. Someone even started a petition to get me reinstated to the work group!

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.