Food labels are sometimes humorous to the health-conscious consumer but have ultimately shaped the way shoppers perceive various products, such as ‘diet soda’ for instance.
Many shoppers view ‘diet’ soft drinks as a healthier option than regular cola, but the potentially dangerous chemicals such as aspartame, caramel color and BPA that are present in nearly all diet sodas are far riskier than they will probably ever be advertised.
Another controversial ingredient that is mislabeled is the infamous genetically modified organism (GMO). Nearly all processed foods contain GMO – normally soy, corn, wheat, and canola ingredients. Regardless of the food company not blatantly displaying that their products contain GMOs, most products such as Goldfish crackers and Tostito’s chips actually advertise their foods as “all natural”, which is a lie.
Campbell’s Soup Company is one of those “all natural” fibbers and is now facing a lawsuit by Florida residents. Mark Krzykwa filed the suit last year, which claims that Campbell’s knowingly mislabeled its soups containing genetically modified corn as “all natural”.
With attempts of dismantling the case against them, Campbell’s argued that it’s the job of the Food and Drug Administration to approve their soups anyway; therefor it’s the agency’s wrongdoing. US District Court Judge William P. Dimitrouleas didn’t agree during his ruling on May 24. “We do not even know whether, when reviewing the label for whether it was ‘misleading,’ the USDA even knew that the soup contained GMO corn, particularly as there is nothing the soup label to so indicate,” he explained.
Dimitrouleas also detailed that the FDA “simply does not regulate those claims.”
In 2010, four women who argued that the “low sodium” tomato soup contained just as much sodium as the regular tomato soup sued Campbell’s. In September of 2011, the ladies were awarded $1.05 million in damages.
Last year, if you’re like the average American, you ate more than your body weight of a group of foods you didn’t even know you were consuming. Foods that have never been proven safe to eat. Foods that are becoming more and more widespread in our food supply.
These foods consist of genetically modified organisms (GMO), plants that have been created in laboratories and then planted by farmers. The most frightening part about these foods is that they are unlike any other foods that humans have ever eaten before recent times. And they were probably on your dinner plate last night and almost certainly in your snack foods.
The Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocate organization, determined that Americans eat, on average, 193 pounds of GMO foods a year. And the group justifiably asks: “If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year, wouldn’t you want to make sure it was safe to eat?”
But you don’t know if these foods are safe to eat, and nobody is planning any research to find out how risky they are. The government doesn’t require international corporations like Monsanto, which make tremendous profits off of these foods, to establish their safety. Other countries are more concerned about these foods than we are. As a matter of fact, the United States is just about alone in not requiring labeling of GMO foods or the performance of safety tests to see whether these bizarre, chemist-created foods are harmless. As a result, about 90 percent of the corn, soy and cotton now produced in the United States are GMO crops. When you eat processed foods like corn chips or breakfast cereal, 70 percent of what you take in has been made from GMO products.
Who stands to profit from this change in our eating habits? Primarily Monsanto, the biotech company that controls 90 percent of all GMO seeds that farmers plant. (For more on agricultural terrorism, go here.
A big reason Monsanto can get away with engineering this profitable threat to health stems from its gargantuan lobbying efforts in Washington. According to a report by Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization, Monsanto and other huge food and agricultural biotechnology firms and trade associations lavished more than $540 million in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts on the elected class during the past decade. And their efforts are accelerating.
Food and Water Watch has determined that the annual spending on politicians by these corporations has doubled during that time. These companies employ more than 100 lobbying firms and also have in-house lobbyists who wine and dine politicians and government functionaries to get what they want.
In many cases, the same people who hold high-paying jobs at Monsanto eventually move into positions at the regulatory agencies that are supposed to be protecting us against their abuses of the food system.
Consider the case of Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for Foods for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the past, he has moved from a job at the FDA to a job at a law firm that represented Monsanto. Then he moved to a job at Monsanto, over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, back to the law firm, over to Monsanto, to a position on a university, to a think tank and then back to the FDA. It’s a pretty cushy career path for Taylor, but a disaster for our protection from questionable food.
While Taylor was doing his second stint at the FDA, the agency adjusted its regulatory policies so GMOs could be introduced into our diet without being tested for toxic effects.
Aside from the possible danger of eating GMO foods that have had genetic material from other species added to their cells, the GMO crops that farmers grow often have been sprayed with unconscionable amounts of pesticides that contaminate our air and water. Residues of these chemicals may also contaminate foods made from these plants.
Many of these GMO crops are “Roundup®-ready.” That means they have been modified genetically to survive massive amounts of the pesticide called Roundup® (also provided by Monsanto). Glyphosate from Roundup® is now being detected in ground water far from the farms at which it is sprayed. Traces are even being found in the urine of city dwellers. It crosses the placental barrier and can be detected in the blood of unborn children.
This technology threatens you, me and the world around us. Roundup®-ready crops have led to the creation of “frankenweeds,” weeds impervious to herbicides. GMO seeds that produce their own pesticides are creating “frankenbugs” that withstand and even thrive on GMO plants.
But this toxic brew is killing off populations of beneficial insects like pollinating honeybees. It has led to what is called colony collapse disorder and a worldwide die-off of bees. GMO crops may also be wiping out monarch butterfly populations.
Right now, the only way for you to avoid GMO foods is to eat organic food. Any other food, even items marked “all-natural,” may contain GMO ingredients. You can get a free shopping guide to help you find non-GMO foods here.
MONSANTOpoly, Part 2: Corrupt to the Core
by Marc Belisle
“Follow the money.”
– ‘Deep Throat,’ All the President’s Men
Bush Sr. kept his word to help out Monsanto as described in Part 1: Sowing Dependence. In 1992, he deployed Vice President Dan Quayle to announce that the US government’s policy on genetically modified foods is that they are no different from other foods and don’t require any special regulation or even labeling. Americans have been buying foods genetically modified by Monsanto ever since, whether they realize it or not.
Americans also may not realize that they have a government politically modified by Monsanto, through the revolving door. The threshold between Monsanto’s management, legal and communications teams and the federal government, particularly regulatory agencies, is less of a secret passage and more of an industrial cargo bay. Since Reagan, dozens of top Monsanto people have held important positions in every administration, particularly in the FDA, USDA and EPA, but also in Justice, Energy, Commerce, Labor, Defense, Homeland Security, the FBI, international trade negotiation delegations, and White House advisory roles, and many have gone back and forth.
One of the key players who revolves around and around is Michael R. Taylor. According to The Huffington Post, Taylor wrote the policy that Dan Quayle announced in 1992. Anarticle, posted privately whose author claims it was published in The Ecologist but was removed after Monsanto threatened The Ecologist, disclosed the now publically available information that Taylor worked for ten years as a corporate attorney for King & Spalding, a firm advising Monsanto. There, he wrote a report on ways Monsanto could skirt laws to use Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) without having to label the milk. In 1991, he left the law firm to work in the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy. In the documentary Genetic Roulette, Public Interest Attorney Steven M. Druker and author Jeffrey M. Smith claim that after a lawsuit forced the release of 44,000 secret internal FDA memos, it became apparent that while Taylor helmed FDA policy, the FDA hid its own scientific findings on the potential dangers of BGH and other GMOs, overruled its scientists, claimed that “scientific consensus” supported BGH when the opposite was true, and approved BGH to be marketed without labeling, circumventing the FDA’s normal testing regime. Meanwhile, BGH was being banned in Canada, Japan, Australia and all EU countries. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, BGH is linked to colon, prostate and breast cancer.
Taylor wasn’t the only Monsanto hand on the FDA’s deck while BGH was being approved. According to Think Progress, “The hormone was approved in the US after Monsanto employee Margaret Miller oversaw a report on its safety, took a job at the FDA, and promptly approved her own report. Another Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, later wrote the USDA’s organic food standards, allowing irradiated and genetically modified foods to label themselves as organic.”
Taylor continues to switch public and private hats to this day. From 1994 to 1996, Taylor was Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA. From 1996 to 2000, Taylor worked as Monsanto’s Vice President for Public Policy. In 2009, President Obama returned him to the FDA as a senior advisor, and in 2010, he wasappointed Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
Monsanto’s response to critics’ charges that it has undue influence on the government is that they “ignore the simple truth that people regularly change jobs to find positions that match their experience, skills and interests.” This is true enough, but most people applying for a job couldn’t write in their cover letter: “I worked for you a few years back. While I was there, I advocated for an uncritical blanket approval of a biologically unprecedented change to the food chain. In my current job, I implemented that change, which I understand has been quite a boon for your stock shares. I hope you remember me.”
The overall effect of the revolving door has been to intimidate and sideline those within government outside of Monsanto’s fold who favor a methodical approach to biotechnology. In the documentary, “The World According to Monsanto,” Dan Glickman, Bill Clinton’s Agriculture Secretary from 1995-2000, says,
“In the early years that I was involved in the regulation of biotechnology … there was a general feeling in agribusiness and inside our government in the US if you weren’t marching lockstep forward in favor of rapid approvals of biotech products, rapid approvals of GMO crops, then somehow you were anti-science and anti-progress. I think there were a lot of folks in industrial agriculture who didn’t want as much analysis as probably we should have had because they had made a huge amount of investments in the product. … I had a lot of pressure on me not to push the issue too far. But I would say even when I opened my mouth in the Clinton Administration I got slapped around a little bit by not only the industry but also some of the people even in the Administration. In fact, I made a speech once … saying we needed to more thoughtfully think through the regulatory issues on GMOs and I had some people within the Clinton Administration, particularly in the US Trade area that were very upset with me. They said, ‘how could you in Agriculture be questioning our regulatory regime?’”
The huge amount of investments Glickman refers to have certainly paid off. Monsanto is ranked 206th on the Fortune 500 list. Its profits last year were over $2 billion, more than a 14% increase in a year, so it has plenty of money to diversify its investments into things like a big chunk of Congress. In 2012, Monsanto made contributionsranging from $1,000 to $13,000 to 61 House candidates ad 27 Senate candidates. The total contributions were $384,500. However, if donations to and from PACs and other proxies are included, donations may be over $1 million. Eight legislators own stock in Monsanto and two are former Monsanto advisors. Additionally, in the decade from 2002 to 2012, Monsanto spent $52.5 million on lobbying.
Monsanto’s investment in Congress matured this March when, without any hearings, Congress passed a bill to prevent a government shutdown that included an unrelated rider. The NY Daily News explains that the rider
“would seem to place the commercial concerns of Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically modified crops and seeds, above the authority of U.S. judicial system.
In effect, the provision, which opponents call the Monsanto Protection Act, would limit the ability of judges to stop Monsanto or the farmers it sells genetically modified seeds from growing or harvesting those crops even if courts find evidence of potential health risks.”
Imagine if Congress passed an “Auto Protection Act” stipulating that courts couldn’t stop manufacturers from selling cars even if they were shown to have faulty brakes. According to Mother Jones, the bill was written by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo), who happens to be one of the largest recipients of Monsanto donations. A 2006 report by Public Citizen says Blunt is “a legislative leader who not only has surrendered his office to the imperative of moneyed interests, but who has also done so with disturbing zeal and efficiency.”
SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas
Since you can’t rely on Congress or the White House, if you have a problem with Monsanto, you’ll have to take them all the way to the Supreme Court. There, your case will likely be decided by former Monsanto lawyer and Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, who, in 2010, penned the majority opinion inMonsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, a key case that allowed Monsanto to prevent its individual farmers from saving their own seeds. In the same case, future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan inexplicably advocated on behalf of Monsanto in her capacity as Solicitor General, even though the government was not a defendant in the case. Thomas has joined the majority in finding for Monsanto in at least two other cases.
Through contributions, lobbying and aggressive staffing rotations in both parties and all three branches, Monsanto keeps the federal government in check and holds it in balance. But that’s not the limit of Monsanto’s power. Monsanto has also cultivated a great deal of influence over universities. A report published in Salon shows that in universities with agriculture departments around the country, Monsanto funds research, funds professorships, donates to schools, and also has revolving door influence in university hierarchy, just as it does in the federal government. For example, the report states that South Dakota State’s president is on Monsanto’s board of directors. Professors and students outside of the Monsanto sphere are sidelined just as Secretary Glickman was in the Clinton Administration. In the report, one anonymous PhD student at a land-grant university was told more than once that she should study something Monsanto would fund. She wanted to research organic agriculture in farmers markets. Her academic adviser told her that her “best bet was to write a grant for Monsanto or the Department of Homeland Security to fund my research on why farmer’s markets were stocked with ‘black market vegetables’ that ‘are a bioterrorism threat waiting to happen.’”
The Salon report describes a peer-reviewed study that found that corporate-funded nutrition research is 4-8 times more likely to reach conclusions favorable to the funder. And the Salon report cites evidence that any scientist who reaches conclusions Monsanto doesn’t like can expect to be told to find new funding. In Genetic Roulette, authorEric Holt-Giminez argues that Monsanto uses its influence to deny tenure to professors critical of GMOs, and scientist Elaine Ingham describes how after speaking to the UN about dangers posed by GMOs, she was told that if she wasn’t “heart and soul into this technology” then she “didn’t belong at Oregon State University.” She claims that Monsanto seeks to shred the credibility and reputation of any scientist who criticizes GMOs.
But research on GMOs is extremely difficult to even begin in the first place. According to Jeremy Bloom, Monsanto systematically blocks funding for research on its crops and denies the use of any of its seeds for research purposes. The government doesn’t do much research on the risks of GMO crops either. According to Dean DellaPenna in National Geographic, “only one percent of USDA biotech research money goes to risk assessment.”
Monsanto also allegedly has critical news reports removed from mainstream media. According to a report,corroborated by Jeffrey Smith in the Huffington Post, a team of investigative journalists, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, working for a Fox News station in Florida had just completed filming an expose on the dangers posed by BGH. Just before the report was to air, a Monsanto lawyer in New York faxed a letter warning of “dire consequences for Fox News” if the report aired. Akre claims that Fox was worried about getting sued and losing advertising. Wilson claims that his manager asked him if he’d ever tell anyone if the story was pulled. He says management told them to make certain changes to the report in accordance with the way the lawyers wanted it written, regardless of what their research showed. Wilson says he refused to make the changes. The management threatened to fire him, and he threatened to report them to the FCC. Wilson says that management then offered him hush money. Akre says, “He was going to offer us the rest of our year’s salary if we agreed not to talk about what Monsanto had done, to not talk about the Fox corporate response in suppressing the story, and to not talk about the story, not talk about BGH, again, anywhere.” They refused the money and were told to rewrite the story with the lawyers present. Akre says the lawyers replaced words like “cancer” with phrases like “human health implications.” Akre says anything critical of Monsanto was either removed or minimized. The reporters claim they were made to rewrite the piece 83 times. They believed the lawyers were stalling for a window in their contracts. Then Fox announced the journalists were fired. The journalists took Fox to court and were initially granted whistleblower status, but on appeal they lost this status and ultimately lost their legal case on the grounds that falsifying news reports is not against the law.
Monsanto’s influence is astounding. The corporation wields political, financial, legal and communications power, along with donations, creative staffing, alleged threats, intimidation and bribery, and alleged censorship to great effect. The evidence shows that, ultimately, Monsanto’s business interests were not simply deregulated. Since the Reagan Administration, Monsanto has built its own regime of strict regulation over government, academia and media, to ensure that they serve its corporate interests, or are neutralized. In every relevant sphere of society, critics allege that Monsanto infiltrates institutions, sidelines those outside of its circle, rams through its agenda, blocks research and undermines critical inquiry of its products and actions, threatens its critics and silences dissent. One reason the Monsantopoly must stack the deck in its favor so thoroughly is because of what would happen if well-funded large-scale research informed the public of what Monsanto’s products do to the environment, farms and farmers.
Next up, Part 3: Seeds of Destruction will look at what Monsanto has done to America’s amber waves of grain.
Sometimes called Mon-satan, there is a reason that people are up in arms about Monsanto, more than any other Big Pharma company. Monsanto is to be dealt with swiftly – more than Dow Chemical, more than Syngenta, more than the hundreds of other companies that have been against GMO labeling. The genetically modified seed that Monsanto is selling to farmers constitutes more than 90% of the total GMO food crops in the United States. This is called a monopoly. Just last year a report published by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) stated that 420 million acres of GMO had been planted, in 28 countries worldwide. Since 1996 GMO crops have been grown on over 3.7 billion acres. This is no accident. Monsanto has a plan.
It’s been a grand scheme for over 20 years. It’s about more than potatoes and corn, soy and sugar cane. Monsanto is trying to control the entire food supply chain. It’s better than nuclear warfare, more evil than the arm’s trade. If Monsanto controls the seed, every seed, from trees to oranges, to cauliflower and rice, okra, mustard, and so on, royalties will be collected on Mother Nature herself. What was once free to the world, heirloom seeds that grow into everything from bamboo trees to broccoli, becomes a commodity controlled by a corporation.
It all started with the ‘revolving door’ policies in the White House, which has been exerting control over law makers’ decisions, specifically through one Michael Taylor. Taylor once worked for Monsanto as an attorney and was also appointed the deputy commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991, only later to rejoin Monsanto as their Vice President for Public Policy. It is beyond a conflict of interest. Monsanto and the White House have been sleeping in the same bed for two decades.
The intimate relations of people like Taylor with the US government are what have allowed Monsanto to slowly spread their ‘seed’ into as many countries as possible, in order to try to slowly take over the entire food chain. Even in the early 1990’s other members of the FDA warned that GMO seed could cause ill-effects to the public’s health, but those concerns were stifled through marketing campaigns and general disinformation.
Now, companies like Coca-Cola, Campbell’s, Hershey’s, Godiva, Sara Lee, Hormel, Del Monte, Smucker’s, Mars, Wrigley, Heinz, Kellogg’s, Pepsi-Co, Dole, and Smithyfield, among others are happily supporting the gag-order instituted by Monsanto. They unite against any political campaigns that would allow American’s to know exactly what is in their food: the GMO seeded food-stuff (because it isn’t really food) that causes cancer, liver failure, strange allergies, and reproductive failure.
This has been the plan since the early 1990s. It is coming to a head now because Monsanto is even planting crops without the permission of the FDA, knowing full well that the more seed they plant, the more it will spread. While labeling is a great idea, and more than 60 countries already require it, including all of Europe, Japan, Australia, Russia, and China, it doesn’t solve the problem of GMO seed taking over the world. If GMO is all that is planted, we will be forced to pay Monsanto royalties – “Agribusiness giant Monsanto, wants farmers to pay a royalty to plant any seed that descended from a patented original.” While this is clearly an illegal tactic, it is one the Supreme Court has recently upheld.
Furthermore, the GMO seeds that Monsanto has so strategically planted are now taking over organic fields. The contamination is part of the plan. Crops that are wind and insect pollinated are more at risk than others of being cross-bred with GMO seeded crops, leading to more ‘patented’ food for which Monsanto can charge farmers for planting. Two western Australian farmers recently talked about just how easily Monsanto GMO seed had contaminated their nearby organic farms after a big storm.
We can’t wait for food labeling bills. By then it will be too late. We can’t wait for the FDA to decide to get its hands out of Monsanto’s pants and start protecting the food supply for the American people, as their mission statement says that they are required to do. We have to stop Monsanto now, before all the crops in the world are contaminated with their ‘patented’ seed. It is creating crops that will make us sick and cancerous, and it’s giving the company control over the global food supply. It has to stop now – with radical acts, like the recent burning of GMO seed in China, Hungary, and Haiti. It is time for some radical taking-over of our land and a complete cease and desist order for agri-business. It starts with small farmers saying no to GMO seed and stopping Monsanto in their tracks. They’ve already been allowed to gain too much traction in their evil plot to control the world.
About the Author
Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.
On May 25, activists around the world will unite to March Against Monsanto.
Why do we march?
Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.
In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-lead research on the long-term effects of GMO products.
Recently, the U.S. Congress and president collectively passed the nicknamed “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.
For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.
Monsanto’s GMO seeds are harmful to the environment; for example, scientists have indicated they have caused colony collapse among the world’s bee population.
What are solutions we advocate?
Voting with your wallet by buying organic and boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that use GMOs in their products.
Labeling of GMOs so that consumers can make those informed decisions easier.
Repealing relevant provisions of the US’s “Monsanto Protection Act.”
Calling for further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
Holding Monsanto executives and Monsanto-supporting politicians accountable through direct communication, grassroots journalism, social media, etc.
Continuing to inform the public about Monsanto’s secrets.
Taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.
We will not stand for cronyism. We will not stand for poison. That’s why we March Against Monsanto.
Find cities already participating: http://bit.ly/ZTDsk8
Monsanto is HUMANITY and the EARTH’S Enemy. Please IF you care about our world JOIN US. WE are all one we cannot do this without one another!. WE need to STOP this before Monsanto stops us. Please RE-BLOG this event. IF there is no march in your city START IT!. AWARENESS=CHANGE. There is nothing to SMALL or to BIG. WE must come together FOR OUR FUTURE, OUR CHILDRENS FUTURE and most importantly our EARTH.
Dr. Mason Jarvis, a leading researcher in the field, spoke by phone from his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
“Although we have documented cases of this debilitating condition in the occasional senator or representative, we’ve never seen the disease approach near-epidemic dimensions. We’re literally racing against time to curb this rapid spinal deterioration, which threatens to render most Democrats little more than babbling, floppy ragdolls by year’s end.”
Specialists are working tirelessly to find a safe antidote to the progressive condition. Initial symptoms include motor disturbances, such as a grimace experts call the “bowery-drunk simper,” and a compulsion to shake hands vigorously with lobbyists contributing vastly more to the opposing party.
Dr. Jarvis noted that many of the afflicted Democrats had already reached more advanced stages of the spinal disease. During examination, the lawmakers exhibited an inability to “stand tall,” and a helpless descent into the speech pattern known in the literature as “two-way utterance.”
Citing an example of the speaking disorder, Dr. Jarvis recalled examining one senator “who insisted we provide him with a podium. He then leaned heavily against it and repeated ad nauseum, ‘It is with great reluctance that I extend the Patriot Act, for I abhor its every tenet.’ I’ve seen many challenged patients over the years, but it never gets easier to watch a once-vital individual deteriorate in this manner.”
Because researchers are working within a critical time frame, several potential therapies have been fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration.
“One treatment has given us a glimmer of hope,” Dr. Jarvis said. “In an encouraging number of cases, our Democrats have responded fairly well to being slapped squarely in the face and told in a firm voice to ‘snap out of it,’ much as Cher did to Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck.”
Added Dr. Jarvis, “The slapped Democrats were not yet able to stand tall, but at least some of them lost that pathetic grin.”
Supersized genetically modified salmon grown fast and fat and after years of wrangling, are ready for market – but is the market ready for them? And why is the firm hidden away in Panama?
t is hard to think of a more unlikely setting for genetic experimentation or for raising salmon: a rundown shed at a secretive location in the Panamanian rainforest miles inland and 1,500m above sea level.
But the facility, which is owned by an American company AquaBounty Technologies, stands on the verge of delivering the first genetically modified food animal – a fast-growing salmon – to supermarkets and dinner tables.
The US government this week enters the final stages of its deliberations on whether to allow commercial production of the GM fish, with a public consultation on the issue ending on Friday . Separately, a committee in Congress on Monday took up a bill that would outlaw GM salmon entirely – essentially destroying AquaBounty’s commercial prospects in America. If approved, the salmon could be the first of some 30 other species of GM fish under development, including tilapia and trout. Researchers are also working to bring GM cows, chickens and pigs to market.
In Panama City, government officials are upbeat about AquaBounty’s prospects of getting its fish to market. “From what we know it is very close to being approved. There have been tests for many years and the last thing we heard from the FDA is that there is a very good probability that it is going to be approved in the near future,” said Giovanni Lauri, the director of the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama, Arap.
Aquabounty’s GM salmon fish farm in Boquete, Panama Photo: Sheena Rossiter
AquaBounty must still overcome formidable opposition from supermarkets and consumer organisations, environmental groups and commercial fishermen to sell its fish, however. The prospect of introducing GM fish into the food supply has generated enormous passions, with the FDA receiving 36,000 comments on the fish so far, most of them opposing the move. But after 20 years, AquaBounty’s efforts to bring GM animals to the table are getting closer to reality.
There was little outward sign of history in the making – or of the enormous controversy surrounding GM salmon at AquaBounty’s remote Panamanian location on the banks of the Calderas river in the western highlands of Chiriqui province. At the premises, visitors can see a fading green industrial shed and four large above-ground pools behind a high wire fence. On the site are up to 5,000 salmon,according to Arap officials say.
The only evidence of AquaBounty’s presence is a small round company decal next to the front door of the shack. Signs warn: “No pasar”. The place seems deserted at first, then a guard suddenly emerges when visitors approach the wire fence.
The facility is leased from a commercial fish farm that produces non-GM rainbow trout for export to the US. Access to both farms is by four-wheel drive across a river bed or a rusting footbridge, kept padlocked to keep out intruders. It’s a strange arrangement; the non-GM fish farm also raises organic trout for the upmarket supermarket Whole Foods. But the chain is deeply opposed to genetically engineered salmon, and said last month it would boycott the fish if it came to market.
Luis Lamastus, the owner of the trout farm and AquaBounty’s landlord, has a different view: “These kind of fish are the future.”
It was not entirely clear why Aquabounty chose this out-of-the-way location to raise GM fish for market, or indeed why it chose Panama at all – the company refused to comment for this article.
A genetically modified salmon, rear, and a non-genetically modified salmon, foreground. Photograph: AP
AquaBounty has had a long and difficult journey trying to develop GM fish in the 20 years since researchers at a university in Newfoundland first hit on the idea of making a faster-growing salmon.
The researchers injected growth genes from a Chinook salmon and a seal eel into an Atlantic salmon. The new genes made the fish produce growth hormone year-round, enabling the altered salmon to grow twice as fast as farmed salmon, bringing the fish up to market size in 18 months instead of 30.
But despite the commercial potential, Panamanian government officials at Arap said AquaBounty had difficulties finding a place to grow their salmon to market size. Arap’s Giovanni Lauri said he understood AquaBounty had approached a number of other countries seeking to set up a research site.
“They tried many countries but they were afraid to start something new,” Lauri said. After multiple refusals, the company eventually turned to Panama, where the project won a warm welcome from government officials. Lauri said officials had few concerns about the potential health and environmental risks of growing GM salmon in Panama. “We were not afraid of something new,” he said.
The first few years brought mixed results. A storm in 2008 destroyed part of the facility, according to a filing to the FDA. In 2010 an entire batch of fingerlings died in transit to the Panama facility, according to Franklin Kwai Ben, research director of Arap. The company then switched to importing eggs from a research lab in Prince Edward Island in Canada, hatching them at the Panama facility, according to officials. All the while AquaBounty worked to navigate the American regulatory process and win approval for the GM salmon, while trying to fend off financial pressure. The company has run through more than $60m waiting for the FDA. Last year, its main investor, the Georgian oligarch Kakha Bendukidze, sold his shares to a synthetic biology firm, Intrexon.
With the FDA nearing its decision, Panamanian officials began to hope their hospitality to AquaBounty would help gain the country an entry to the biotech industry.
“We have been talking to them. We want to be the first to have different farms,” Lauri said. His clear expectation was that this approval would clear the way for production of other GM fish, such as tilapia or trout, possibly at facilities on Panamanian soil. “Once they have salmon then I am pretty sure they are going to look for some other species,” he said.
Under the law, however, FDA approval would only allow AquaBounty to produce salmon at its existing facility. Other GM fish, or a move to a full-scale commercial facility would require additional approvals, according to Theresa Eisenman, a spokeswoman for the FDA.
The Obama administration has been weighing its decision on GM food animals for at least three years, after the FDA produced its first detailed study on the effects of consuming the animals on human health, essentially concluding it was as safe to eat the genetically engineered fish as conventional Atlantic salmon. Some campaign groups still dispute the finding, saying that GM salmon potentially has more allergens.
But the study that brought GM fish closer to market, published late last year, focused on the environmental impact. The main concern of the FDA was whether the genetically engineered salmon could escape and because of its superior size conceivably take over wild Atlantic salmon. The study concluded that even if the fish did slip through the net and escape the above-ground pools, it is unlikely they would travel far. The nearby waters would be too warm for them to survive.
But those determinations came under attack from campaign groups and upscale supermarkets, as well as members of Congress concerned about the threat to wild-caught salmon industry.
Opponents of the fish argued America’s regulatory system was ill-equipped to deal with new technologies such as GM foods. Unlike Europe, America has no specific laws for GM products, but regulates them as “animal drugs”.
Emma Ruby-Sachs, campaign director at Avaaz, said: “The approval of transgenic salmon could open the floodgates for genetically modified meat everywhere, yet the science behind its safety has been sloppy at best. If the FDA approves this GM salmon, it risks undermining its mandate to protect public health.”
Campaign groups said the current review process did not take adequate account of the sweeping changes in store for the global food supply, once GM food starts hitting the market.
“You have GM corn and soybeans,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, which has campaigned against GM foods. “But this would be the first food animal. You are taking it to a whole other part of the food supply,” she said.
There were specific concerns raised about the use of a facility in Panama for the launch of the first GM fish.
Supermarket chains said there was no need for GM salmon, and announced a boycott. “Whole Foods Market will not sell genetically modified salmon as our quality standards prohibit the use of genetically modified animals,” Beth Krauss, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods said in an email.
The company also said it was unhappy about the proximity of the GM salmon to its own trout. The two facilities are separated only by a shallow trench. Krauss indicated she hoped that AquaBounty would be forced to leave once it lease expires later this year.
But Lamastus said he would renew the lease. “They are a very good company,” he said. “The salmon is something unique, growth faster, but is the same like the Atlantic salmon, producers will use less feed probably, and less feed means less pressure on our seas, to obtain more fish for consumers, and for feed; therefore, it is good for the environment!”
In their temperature-controlled waters, kept at a constant 16C, the salmon in the Panamanian rainforest are oblivious to the ferocious debate about the future of GM animals. The 5,000 or so fish now reaching maturity at the AquaBounty site are the biggest GM salmon ever raised by the company, weighing in at 5kg a piece. Under the protocols put in place by the FDA, the fish can not enter the food supply. They are due to be slaughtered in September and buried in a pit on the banks of the nearby Caldera river, according to Franklin Kwai Ben, who heads the research division at Arap.
But it could be the last time such a mass disposal is carried out. The Panama site got a shipment of about 25,000 eggs from their lab in Prince Edward Island last month. By the time those fish reach maturity, some 18 months from now, they could be bound for American supermarkets instead.
PARIS – The combination of the Arab Spring and the economic crisis in southern Europe has led to a quiet panic spreading in hospitals across the Mediterranean Basin.
“With the disorganization of medical services, the number of infections resisting most known antibiotics has literally exploded,” says professor Patrice Nordmann, chief of the bacteriology-virology-parasitology department at the Bicêtre Hospital in Paris, and head of the Epidemiology and Biochemistry of Emerging Resistance Mechanisms unit at the Inserm (National Institute of Health and Medical Research).
But beyond the Mediterranean sources for the spreading bacteria, such as Greece, Spain and North African countries, is a new reservoir of host countries. In Rotterdam, Netherlands, for example, more than 3,000 patients have been infected by strains of enterobacteria resisting multiple treatments. In Great Britain, while staphylococcus aureus had been spectacularly curtailed for ten years, health authorities have identified new bacterial waves, imported from India through low-cost medical tourism.
In France, the National Sanitary Surveillance Institute recently signaled ulltra-resistant strains of Acinetobacter baumannii, whose part in nosocomial diseases spread in medical facilities went from 3% in 2008 to 11% in 2011, causing death in 17% of cases. More worrying: cases of resistant infections are not limited to hospitals anymore. “A tsunami is to be expected,” warns Nordmann.
He is not the only one to think so. The acceleration of the phenomenon also worries the World Health Organization (WHO). Its Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan calculated that 440,000 cases of tuberculosis (out of a total 8 to 10 million globally), stem from a multi-resistant strain, which has killed at least 150,000 people in at least 64 countries. In a 2012 report, the organization shared its fear of a “return to the times when antibiotics did not exist.” In other words, medical pre-history.
“The risk of a paralysis of modern medicine is real,” confirm experts from the French Strategic Analysis Center, in a November report sent to the Prime Minister’s office. No antibiotics would mean no more surgery, organ transplantation, chemotherapy, or therapeutic barriers to stop the spreading of diseases.
Eight decades after the discovery of penicillin, which inaugurated the era of modern medicine, will Darwinism rear its destructive head? “Overconsumption of antibiotics, encouraged by their free circulation in some countries, forces bacteria’s natural resistance mechanisms to select the most adapted genes for survival in over-asepticized environments,” explains Patrice Nordmann. In view of bacteria’s reproduction speed, the time necessary for these mutations is extremely short. Rudimentary microbes that couldn’t survive ten years ago are now about to become real juggernauts.
“There is no reason today for this race to stop. If we do not act now, mankind must prepare to face an apocalyptic scenario where modern health systems could be destroyed,” says Richard Smith, professor of Health System Economics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Overconsumption is not only the product of uncontrolled prescriptions: according to the WHO, at least half of the antibiotics produced in the world are administered in prevention to livestock. Forbidden in Europe since 2006, this practice goes on in the United States where four out of five antibiotics consumed are used to fatten cattle.
The vertiginous decline of research into new antibiotics does not help: less profitable for the “Big Pharma” than treatments for chronic pathologies, the number of marketing authorizations granted by the Food and Drug Administration — the American sanitary authority — went from 16 for the 1983-1987 period, to only two in the last five years.
Even worse: no new treatment has been proposed for ten years against “superbugs”, or multidrug-resistant bacteria.
This race against the clock can be an incentive for research in new therapeutic approaches. At France’s Pasteur Institute for example, the laboratory headed by Jean-Marc Ghigo studies the metabolism of bio-films in order to invent surgical tools and hospital material on which bacteria would be unable to attach itself.
As for the Strategic Analysis Center, it recommends developing research in phage therapy, a nearly 100-year-old discipline, once overtaken by the rise of antibiotics. With the help of bacteriophage viruses, it can target pathogenic agents with extreme precision while protecting “friendly” bacteria in the human flora.
“The harmless bacterium Vibrio can thus become cholera’s enemy by acquiring a choleric toxin gene from a bacteriophage,” the authors predict. Three clinical trials are going on in the United States, in Belgium and in the United Kingdom, but the need to regularly update the phage cocktails according to targeted bacteria render the regulation more complicated. Yet the risks of the current situation could accelerate the process: Richard Smith assesses the annual cost of antibiotics resistances at $55 billion in the United States alone.
Read the article in the original language.
Photo by – Fabio Veronesi
A senior executive with Britain’s biggest drugs company has admitted that most prescription medicines do not work on most people who take them.
It is an open secret within the drugs industry that most of its products are ineffective in most patients but this is the first time that such a senior drugs boss has gone public. His comments come days after it emerged that the NHS drugs bill has soared by nearly 50 per cent in three years, rising by £2.3bn a year to an annual cost to the taxpayer of £7.2bn. GSK announced last week that it had 20 or more new drugs under development that could each earn the company up to $1bn (£600m) a year.
Dr Roses, an academic geneticist from Duke University in North Carolina, spoke at a recent scientific meeting in London where he cited figures on how well different classes of drugs work in real patients.
Drugs for Alzheimer’s disease work in fewer than one in three patients, whereas those for cancer are only effective in a quarter of patients. Drugs for migraines, for osteoporosis, and arthritis work in about half the patients, Dr Roses said. Most drugs work in fewer than one in two patients mainly because the recipients carry genes that interfere in some way with the medicine, he said.
“The vast majority of drugs – more than 90 per cent – only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people,” Dr Roses said. “I wouldn’t say that most drugs don’t work. I would say that most drugs work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. Drugs out there on the market work, but they don’t work in everybody.”
Some industry analysts said Dr Roses’s comments were reminiscent of the 1991 gaffe by Gerald Ratner, the jewellery boss, who famously said that his high street shops are successful because they sold “total crap”. But others believe Dr Roses deserves credit for being honest about a little-publicised fact known to the drugs industry for many years.
“Roses is a smart guy and what he is saying will surprise the public but not his colleagues,” said one industry scientist. “He is a pioneer of a new culture within the drugs business based on using genes to test for who can benefit from a particular drug.”
Dr Roses has a formidable reputation in the field of “pharmacogenomics” – the application of human genetics to drug development – and his comments can be seen as an attempt to make the industry realise that its future rests on being able to target drugs to a smaller number of patients with specific genes.
The idea is to identify “responders” – people who benefit from the drug – with a simple and cheap genetic test that can be used to eliminate those non-responders who might benefit from another drug.
This goes against a marketing culture within the industry that has relied on selling as many drugs as possible to the widest number of patients – a culture that has made GSK one of the most profitable pharmaceuticals companies, but which has also meant that most of its drugs are at best useless, and even possibly dangerous, for many patients.
Dr Roses said doctors treating patients routinely applied the trial-and-error approach which says that if one drug does not work there is always another one. “I think everybody has it in their experience that multiple drugs have been used for their headache or multiple drugs have been used for their backache or whatever.
“It’s in their experience, but they don’t quite understand why. The reason why is becausethey have different susceptibilities to the effect of that drug and that’s genetic,” he said.
Eli Lilly Knew Prozac had 1200% Higher Suicide Rate Than Other Antidepressants
It’s yet another example of the widespread negligent actions committed by Big Pharma in the quest for profits. It’s not just Vioxx, Bextra or Celebrex. Now the truth is finally starting to come out on antidepressant drugs like Prozac.
And what is the truth? That drug makers like Eli Lilly not only knew their star drugs were more dangerous than alternatives, but that they actively sought to suppress the release of that information in order to protect profits.
What we are witnessing today is the beginning of the end of an era: the days of the Big Pharma con in which direct-to-consumer advertising pushed a drug industry to unprecedented levels of corporate greed.
Of course, Eli Lilly denies everything. It’s the same story talking to Merck. All these companies claim to be actually protecting the public health and working for the common good. Yet they continue to sell drugs with questionable safety records that are only now coming to light. And in none of these cases did these companies produce these documents on their own. In every case, they were “caught” by other people or organizations such as the British Medical Journal, which has gone public with these documents on Prozac.
If all this sounds familiar, it is: Big Tobacco used the same stonewalling efforts in its ongoing denials that cigarettes were harmful to health (or even addictive, if you can believe that). Today, Big Pharma looks a whole lot like Big Tobacco: corporate greed, massive cover-ups, and hundreds of thousands of people dying each year from the use of their products.
One more thing: there are still tens of thousands of brainwashed physicians willing to prescribe all these dangerous drugs to you. And if the brainwashing wasn’t enough, the kickbacks certainly are. Recommended reading: “On the Take” by Jerome Kassirer, M.D. If you want to know the truth about how drug companies literally bribe doctors into peddling their drugs, read this book. It’s authored by the former editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal.
Finally, I want to mention that I warned people about the suicide risk of Prozac back in 1998. Back then, the idea that antidepressant drugs could cause suicides was considered ludicrous. It was fringe information, almost conspiracy theory stuff. Today, we’re learning it’s 100% true. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the parents of all the children killed at the Colombine high school massacre in Colorado: their killers were on antidepressant drugs.
Getting the picture yet?
An internal document purportedly from Eli Lilly and Co. made public Monday appears to show that the drug maker had data more than 15 years ago showing that patients on its antidepressant Prozac were far more likely to attempt suicide and show hostility than were patients on other antidepressants and that the company attempted to minimize public awareness of the side effects.
The document was provided to CNN by the office of Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, who has called for tightening FDA regulations on drug safety. “The case demonstrates the need for Congress to mandate the complete disclosure of all clinical studies for FDA-approved drugs so that patients and their doctors, not the drug companies, decide whether the benefits of taking a certain medicine outweigh the risks,” he said.
The 1988 document indicated that 3.7 percent of patients attempted suicide while on the blockbuster drug, a rate more than 12 times that cited for any of four other commonly used antidepressants. The document, which cited clinical trials of 14,198 patients on fluoxetine — the generic name for Prozac — also stated that 2.3 percent of users suffered psychotic depression while on the drug, more than double the next-highest rate of patients using another antidepressant.
In the paper, titled “Activation and sedation in fluoxetine clinical trials,” the authors said that the drug may produce nervousness, anxiety, agitation or insomnia in 19 percent of patients, and sedation in 13 percent of patients.
Its editors said the documents had been reported missing from a 10-year-old murder case, and that they had sent them to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for review.
A spokesman for Lilly said his company was expecting the release of the purportedinternal documents, but that he could not comment on them until he had seen them.