When USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach recently made comments before the House Agriculture Subcommittee, he had the audacity to suggest that it is time to discuss the possibility of allowing of gene-edited GMOs within organic production. This is outrageous.
But if we need to have that discussion, here’s our answer... NO!
Please join me and tell the USDA that GMOs are NOT TO BE CONSIDERED for organics.
Even though the Trump administration and USDA Secretary Perdue have been very friendly toward biotechnology, organics is NOT. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to keep all genetic modification and manipulation out of organic production in 2016 and again in 2017. One of the hallmarks of organic agriculture is the prohibition of genetic engineering.
There really should be no discussion about organic and GMO foods coexisting!
But if the USDA insists, join the discussion by signing this letter to Ibach stating we won’t ever agree to GMOs being in certified organic food!
Dear Secretary Ibach and House Agriculture Subcommittee,
USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach recently made comments before the House Agriculture Subcommittee suggesting it is time to open the discussion to consider whether it’s appropriate to allow new techniques like gene-editing within organic production.
We don’t agree. There should be no discussion about organic standards allowing GMOs, including gene-editing!
One of the hallmarks of organic agriculture is the prohibition of genetic engineering. Organic consumers do not want gene-edited food. In a 2017 survey conducted by Natural Grocers, 70% of respondents said they buy organic specifically to avoid GMOs!
In 1998, when the USDA proposed to include GMOs (and sewage sludge and irradiated foods) into organic, the public responded with more response letters (nearly 300,000) than had ever been sent to the government before. That sentiment has only increased over time. And the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) consistently votes to keep all genetic modification and manipulation out of organic production.
Ignoring the will of organic consumers and the fundamental intent of the USDA organic label renders it meaningless and threatens the $52.5 billion industry.
But if you insist on opening a discussion, here’s our response:
The government is misinformed and continues to mislead
Under Secretary Ibach falsely claimed that gene-editing “can be done through a natural breeding process.” Gene-editing is most certainly not a natural breeding process. Even a cursory review of opinions by independent scientists acknowledge that gene-editing uses artificial laboratory techniques and generates or multiplies risks that do not happen spontaneously in nature.
For Secretary Ibach to make such a patently false statement demonstrates that his source of information is not independent. They are the unsupported talking points from the biotech industry, which has controlled the agenda and information on GMOs within the US government for years.
For example, it is the official position of the FDA that GMOs pose no more risk than their non-GMO natural counterparts. This was based on the 1992 FDA document stating that “the agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”
Did you know that this was a lie? It was a complete fabrication that directly contradicted the actual consensus among the scientists at the FDA.
Summarising the position of “the technical experts in the agency” at the time, Dr. Linda Kahl, an FDA compliance officer, wrote: “The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different, and . . . lead to different risks.” FDA scientists identified potential side-effects of the process, such as allergens, toxins, and nutritional problems, which they said would be hard to detect. They uniformly recommended that GMOs should undergo safety testing, including toxicological studies.
But the person who was in charge of the FDA policy ignored the scientific recommendations and allowed GMOs onto the market without any required safety studies. That person was Michael Taylor, the former outside counsel for Monsanto and later Monsanto’s vice president. As he reviewed and rewrote subsequent drafts of the FDA’s policy, the science and concerns by FDA experts were systematically purged.
FDA microbiologist Louis Pribyl responded, “What has happened to the scientific elements of this document? . . . It reads very pro-industry, especially in the area of unintended effects.”
Dr. Pribyl was just one of numerous FDA scientists who urged caution and protested the official policy. Their concerns were ignored and even denied by the government, which continues to spout industry rhetoric and overlook mounting evidence that has since validated the scientists’ concerns.
Peer-reviewed and industry studies link GMOs, and the Roundup sprayed on most GMO crops, to organ damage, premature death, cancer, immune system activation, birth defects, microbiome damage, and many other health issues. But don’t ask the industry to verify this. They just recount the same myths that have long been disproven, yet remain enshrined in government rhetoric.
Deja Vu of lies
When first introduced, the biotech industry proclaimed GMO as “safe and predictable.” In fact, unpredictable side-effects have been the hallmark of the technology--its most consistent outcome. The industry now uses the same “safe and predictable” talking points to describe their latest GMOs, derived from gene-editing. It’s still a lie.
The peer-reviewed articles referenced at the bottom of this letter clearly demonstrate that gene-editing causes widespread unanticipated changes in the DNA. A single mutation created by the technology can turn a harmless crop into a dangerous or even fatal food.
When genetic engineers employ gene-editing for human gene therapy, they are meticulous in searching for and evaluating these disruptions to the genome. But in agricultural biotechnology, these inevitable mutations are typically ignored entirely. Thus, any side-effects, even serious ones, are not identified prior to commercialization.
We don’t think this is wise. We think it’s a potential disaster . . . and one of the reasons we choose organic.
Keep organic the healthier, unadulterated option
If GMOs are dangerous, then people switching to organic food may get healthier. This turns out to be the case.
In a peer-reviewed article, 3,256 people surveyed by the Institute for Responsible Technology reported getting better from 28 different conditions after changing to non-GMO and largely organic food. The documentary Secret Ingredients takes us into the homes of individuals and families who experienced the dramatic recoveries first hand.
There are thousands of physicians now prescribing organic diets to their patients, and many report rapid improvements as a consistent result.
You MUST preserve this clean, non-GMO organic option for us, for doctors, for children, for future generations.
Altering and replacing nature
Unfortunately, even if we choose organic, we can’t guarantee that our food is not contaminated. Once released into the environment, GMOs can cross-pollinate with organics. The government has failed to protect the organic industry and its consumers from this ongoing problem.
But the threat of outdoor release is far greater. The Trump administration is seeking to lift any meaningful oversight over gene-edited crops. His June 11th executive order further charges federal agencies to pressure foreign governments into doing the same. When you consider that thousands of labs (often supported by artificial intelligence and robotics) may ultimately create and release new gene-edited organisms into the environment at a high rate, we are looking at a massive introduction of new species with altered DNA. As these GMOs cross and reproduce, the corrupted gene pool becomes permanent.
When you also consider that the most common result of genetic engineering is surprise side-effects, we are looking at a potential biological time bomb. At what point will we discover crops that have become toxic, or invasive or any of a myriad of dangerous outcomes? Without testing, monitoring, or meaningful regulation, we are replacing nature with a permanently altered gene pool that could wreak havoc on future generations. Numerous scientists have warned against this, but the government pretends that it isn’t true.
Are you really ready to open a discussion about GMOs? If so, are you willing to reevaluate the government’s position, using real science instead of industry spin?
We urge you to take these concerns seriously. Leave GMOs, including gene-editing, out of organic. And while we’re at it, roll back your plans to widely implement this high-risk technology.
Signed on behalf of all IRT organic consumers and future generations!
Selected references demonstrating unpredictable side effects from gene-editing:
Repair of double-strand breaks induced by CRISPR–Cas9 leads to large deletions and complex rearrangements
Michael Kosicki, Kärt Tomberg & Allan Bradley
Nature Biotechnology, 16 July 2018
CRISPR/Cas9 targeting events cause complex deletions and insertions at 17 sites in the mouse genome.
Shin HY1,2, Wang C1, Lee HK1,3, Yoo KH1,4, Zeng X1, Kuhns T1, Yang CM1, Mohr T1, Liu C5, Hennighausen L1.
CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing induces exon skipping by alternative splicing or exon deletion
Haiwei Mou†, Jordan L. Smith†, Lingtao Peng, Hao Yin, Jill Moore, Xiao-Ou Zhang, Chun-Qing Song, Ankur Sheel, Qiongqiong Wu, Deniz M. Ozata, Yingxiang Li, Daniel G. Anderson, Charles P. Emerson, Erik J. Sontheimer, Melissa J. MooreEmail author, Zhiping WengEmail author and Wen Xue
Zhu C, Bortesi L, Baysal C, Twyman RM, Fischer R, Capell T, Schillberg S and Christou P (2017). Characteristics of genome editing mutations in cereal crops. Trends in Plant Science 22:38–52.
Wolt JD, Wang K, Sashital D and Lawrence-Dill CJ (2016). Achieving plant CRISPR targeting that limits off-target effects. The Plant Genome 9: doi: 10.3835/plantgenome2016.05.0047
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