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(MintPress) – A nationwide push for labeling of genetically modified foods has spurred the nation’s food giants into a panic, spending exorbitant amounts of money to defeat grassroots campaigns. And while companies like Monsanto and DuPont have plenty to lose if such labeling were mandated, it could also cause quite a headache for the government’s three main food, drug and environmental agencies.
The way in which genetically modified food is regulated in the United States lacks uniformity. While some crops are regulated and tested under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), others fall under the umbrella of the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
According to experts, there’s no rhyme or reason behind the varying bodies that govern the industry.
“It’s a bit of a mess,” University of Minnesota’s Science Policy Expert Jennifer Kuzma told the LA Times.
That mess has left a twisted avenue for genetically modified regulations, resulting from decisions made decades ago based on federally funded studies that indicating the emergence of genetically modified crops posed no new threats to the American people.
Origins of GMO regulations — or lack thereof
As pointed out by a recent article in the LA Times, the regulations began during the Ronald Reagan era, when his administration claimed new regulations weren’t needed, as proof regarding unique risks did not exist. The proof was delivered by the National Research Council, an organization established by Congress to provide “independent” analysis on the nation’s most pressing issues.
While Reagan and the National Research Council deemed it safe, there was widespread doubt among leading scientists just one decade prior, when the new technology had been discovered.
The nation’s leading scientists came together at the Asilomar Conference of 1975 to discuss concerns regarding potential risks associated with the new technology, calling for restrictions until it was the risks were known. From there, testing was carried out under the National Institutes of Health, but was called into question as its research was federally funded. Regardless, the U.S. began regulating genetically modified food.
From there, the creation of new types — and new strains — of GMO products continue to roll out. And the confusion regarding which regulatory body governed each development continued to grow increasingly so.
Genetically engineered Atlantic salmon, for example, is labeled in the eyes of the U.S. government as a “new animal drug,” consistent with the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which includes all genetically engineered animals to be regulated under the FDA.
Genetically engineered crops, on the other hand, fall under the umbrella of the United States USDA or FDA — and there’s really no rhyme or reason in determining what product is governed by what agency.
It’s that mess that is leading to weakened confidence among consumers, who fear the lack of unity in regulations will allow the food and drugs they consume to slip through the cracks.
“The regulation is confusing because the EPA, USDA and FDA all deal with different facets of GMOs,” Christie Wilcox wrote for Nutrition Wonderland.
The EPA is responsible for testing GMOs that come in the form of pesticides, as they pose potential risks to the environment. That means genetically modified corn, created to withstand exorbitant amounts of pesticide fall in the EPA’s realm. Other GMO products, including those created for disease resistance, like salmon, do not.
As Wilcox explains, a box of cereal purchased at the store, likely containing GM corn products, is regulated by the FDA — a whole ear of corn would be regulated by the FDA and USDA.
Rather than move toward streamlined program, the GMO web of regulations is only bound to grow more complicated. Recognizing the complexity of the regulatory system, both the FDA and USDA have attempted to create a more uniform regulatory process, but were turned down.
According to the LA Times, the FDA proposed a compulsory consultation process, but was told by federal government that the organization did not have the authority to make such a decision. In 2008, the USDA attempted to classify all GMO crops under existing “noxious weed” laws, but that proposal has not been approved.