Big Ag claims that this isn't about politics, but proponents of the measure beg to differ.
In a move that was secured because of the government’s desperation to avoid a shutdown, a bill that was passed by the Senate 79 to 18 earlier this month included an allocation of $3 million for the FDA to lead a campaign aimed at “consumer outreach and education regarding agricultural biotechnology.” Though many Democrats attempted to have the measure struck from the bill, senators were unable to remove it and were forced to vote in favor of the entire bill.
Though $3 million is small in comparison to the Food and Drug Administration’s $2.8 billion budget, people are pointing to the political and moral implications of allowing a government organization to tout the benefits of GMO foods despite scientific evidence that proves otherwise. In the language for the measure, the FDA will promote the “environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts” of biotech crops and food products.
The measure was brought about after a letter from more than 65 agriculture and food industry groups was sent to congressional leaders urging them to include support for agricultural bioscience in the budget. Many are concerned that this an overreach by both the government and the biotech companies because this industry is notorious for their donations to government officials, mainly Republicans, and say that it is not the government’s place to combat “misinformation” about certain types of food.
“It is not the responsibility of the FDA to mount a government-controlled propaganda campaign to convince the American public that genetically modified foods are safe,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.). “The FDA has to regulate the safety of our food supply and medical devices. They are not, nor should they be, in the pro-industry advertising business.”
Some of the leaders that signed the letter to congress have said that the misinformation that has been spread is an issue of communication and not related to politics. Many of those within the industry are reportedly excited about the opportunity to engage with consumers on a more meaningful and official capacity. However, some are not so convinced as to the underlying intentions of this measure.
“This is a really clear example of Big Ag influencing policy,” said Dana Perls, the senior food and technology campaigner for the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “The Trump administration is putting Big Ag before consumer desire and public health.”
“Monsanto has plenty of money to advocate for GMOs,” argued Andy Kimbrell, the executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “Why do we need to use taxpayer dollars?”
This certainly poses an interesting question, one that Big Ag has responded to by pointing at the Department of Agriculture’s initiative to label products made from GMOs. If the government is already overreaching into the biotech industry’s products in order to inform consumers, why not do the same thing in a way that benefits the industry?
The safety of GMOs has long been debated, and in a recent poll about 39 percent of adults in America thought that genetically-modified foods were worse for their health than their organic counterparts. Although most scientists agree with this, 90 percent of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that GMOs are safe to eat.
While they might be safe for consumption for now, the long-term effect of GMOs on health and the environment is not certain but looks dire. For example, 14 years of farm data revealed that an increase in GM seed planting was strongly linked to an increase in herbicide use; herbicides contribute to health issues in both animals and humans, raising the question of whether these products are truly safe to eat.
Regardless of the safety of these foods, it’s still a question of whether Americans can trust the health advice given by the FDA, whose responsibility it now is to distribute information in favor of GMOs, whether or not scientific evidence supports the claims.