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"GMO JOB Will the Obama administration be the first to seriously regulate genetically modified food?"

By Tom Philpott  Posted by Linn Cohen-Cole (about the submitter)     Permalink
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By Tom Philpott

12 Dec 2008

Barack Obama. Photo: Charlie Neibergall / AP

Will Obama buck the trend and regulate GMOs?

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On Nov. 11, Austria's Ministries for Agriculture and Health released the results of a long-term study[PDF] of genetically modified organisms. A widely used strain of GM corn, they found, appears to decrease both birthrates and the size of offspring in mice -- and the problems seem to grow with each generation. 

This is a troubling conclusion. U.S. farmers planted the first commercial GMO crops in 1996. Today, upwards of 90 percent of U.S. soy, and 60 percent of U.S. corn, come from GMO seeds. Those crops suffuse our food supply -- they provide the bulk of our cooking oil and sweetener, and feed the animals that feed us. By 2003, as much as 75 percent of processed food available in the United States contained GMO ingredients, according to an estimate cited by the USDA. GM corn and soy acreage have only expanded since then. 

Of course, the reproductive function is complex and intimately linked to the body's other systems. If GMOs are affecting our ability to reproduce, then it seems likely they're affecting our health in other ways, too.

Yet the Austrian study dropped with a thud in the U.S. media. The New York Times didn't mention it; on The Washington Post website, it rated a few paragraphs in the midst of a daily health round up.

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Nor did it seem to penetrate the world of our president-elect. Less than two weeks after the Austrian study emerged, Obama named the members of his transition team for issues related to the USDA. Among them was Michael R. Taylor, a consultant who has spent the past 30 years bouncing among high-level positions at the USDA, the FDA, and Monsanto, the company that dominates the lucrative market for GMO seeds. Taylor served as director of policy at the FDA during the 1990s, when GMOs began to infiltrate the food supply. 

A few days before that, Des Moines Register agriculture correspondent Philip Brasher speculated that Obama will be as friendly to the ag-biotech industry as his predecessor, based on "both [Obama's] statements of policy and the type of people from whom he's taking advice."

Given the startling conclusions of the Austrian researchers and Obama's evident embrace of GMOs, it's time to revisit how the U.S. government regulates the technology.

Quayle's Brainwave


When he takes office in January, Obama will inherit perhaps the most GMO-friendly regulatory framework of any nation in the world. In a 2003 paper for New York University's Center on Environmental and Land Use Law, Emily Marden describes the fragmented, porous process through which genetically altered traits move from lab to supermarket.

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