This week's food news in America was, "Shoppers shun spinach as E. coli cases top 100"³ and it was splashed in bold headlines and led the television news reports. For the rest of the world, and watchers of genetically engineered crops, a far more dire food crisis has been the feature story for weeks. A genetically engineered variety of toxic Bt rice, never approved for human consumption and grown in a small test batch in 1999 had been found to have contaminated vast amounts of the American rice crop.The Bayer LL601 rice is a Bt variety that produces a pesticidal protein. That means when the bugs eat it they die; no one knows what it might do to humans because no tests have been done to determine any level of safety for LL601. It was assumed when Bayer abandoned the trials in 1999 that no one would ever have to. Unfortunately the greatest fears of unregulated genetically engineered field crops were realized when this abandoned variety turned up as a contaminant in worldwide exports.
Show Me The Money
The rice contamination was not totally absent from American news. In this land that worships corporate profits, the reports led with a business spin noting the $1 billion dollar market. Smaller news noted millions in losses faced by American farmers and their efforts filing lawsuits against Bayer. Those feeling the impact impact, rippling through the South Eastern States, even noted the cost of the Star Link corn contamination, that years earlier, ended with tainted corn in consumer products. No one noted that it forced rare public discussion of the otherwise secret ingredients in American foods.
Ever the dutiful servant of the corporate customer, USDA Secretary leapt forward with assurances that this posed no threat. It doesn't matter that the stuff is banned worldwide and has never been subjected to safety testing. Secretary Johannas confidently announced, and US news quoted the following, "Based on "available scientific data" provided by Bayer, the USDA and the FDA have concluded "that there are no human-health, food-safety or environmental concerns associated with this G.E. rice." It is nice to know he has blind faith in safety when genetic scientists are alarmed. It must be the water in Washington.
Consumer Protection and Free Speech
On Sunday, September 18, in media outside America, worldwide headlines carried news of the tainted rice stating simply, GM Cover Up and similar condemnations . In Britain, where strict controls are in place and consumers are provided ingredient labels identifying genetically modified ingredients, the story was one of outrage. Not only had the toxic tainted rice been shipped to the EU in opposition to the ban, American authorities had waited two months to tell the world. Meanwhile LL601 rice was finding its way to supermarket shelves in Europe and Japan. The overseas government demanded the rice shipments be recalled and a ban was put in place. In defense of the US, the Administration is casual with laws and it's nothing they won't try to feed to Americans.
America didn't even know there was a problem until Bayer brought it to their attention. Most people would assume that the regulatory agency would provide oversight but don't look, don't find has been the preferred American method. Actually, Bayer discovered the problem in January but waited nearly seven months to inform US regulators. Since the US policy is based on the manufacturers voluntarily informing the government about their products, this probably seemed acceptable to both Bayer and the USDA. They both understand that no one tells the American consumers.
There have been huge strides in the Federal Government's policy of keeping bad news under wraps. Last week we looked at new rules to remove whistleblower protections from EPA employees charged with enforcing the Clean Air and Water Act. If the EPA did not have some many years of testing for threats to human health and the environment maybe the Administration wouldn't be forced to silence them. Who really needs to hear about violations of toxic corporate contamination? America, this is insanity.
The President's Orwellian war continues to threaten our security. Beyond the contaminated air and water, the EPA is restrained from reporting, we have the uncontrolled growth and contamination of the genetically engineered crops. Despite the fact that the USDA approvals are generally rubber-stamps for these crops, there have been some varieties, never approved for commercial production or deemed fit for human consumption.
This was the case with the contaminating Bayer variety. The offending LL rice 601 was grown in a small test plot in 1999 and abandoned. Suddenly widespread contamination was discovered in 2006. While this highlights the lack of oversight and control it leaves the rice growers in a terrible predicament.
The result has been a ban on US rice exports to the EU, Japan and other nations around the world. The economic loss from the event has been huge now that the estimated 20,000 tons of rice, normally exported each month, now have now foreign buyers.In classic Bush Administration form the USDA's response has been to hurry to get a retroactive approval for the toxic LL 601 rice. The government view is that it's better to see us swallow it than have Bayer lose money.
If The Shoe Fits
There is no sense breaking the law when it can be changed so the lawbreaking activity is legal. President Bush has Senator Specter working to revise the domestic spying to remove the obstacles he faces with the pesky FISA court impeding his domestic spying program.
Torture bans in place under the Geneva conventions are up for grabs as he moves to avoid having the detainees who have been interrogated in secret prisons unable to charge their questioners with war crimes. What's the big deal with a few words moved around in the laws? This preferred approach to problem solving is what has been done again.