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Panel targets pesticides, GMOs

PRINCEVILLE — A panel discussion about potential human health dangers posed by weed killer and the consumption of genetically modified crops drew about 100 people to the Church of the Pacific Wednesday night. 

The event, organized by the local anti-GMO movement, included talks from Judy Carman, director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Adelaide, Australia, and Stephanie Seneff, senior research scientist at MIT’s computer science and artificial intelligence lab.

The panel is part of a statewide tour, which included three evenings on Kauai. Sponsors include GMO Free Kauai, GMO Free Hawaii Island, Hawaii SEED, The Shaka Movement, Kokua Coop Market and Honolulu’s Center for Food Safety.

Carman’s hour-long talk focused on what she described as a lack of federal regulations and required testing before a GMO crop enters the food supply in either Australia or the United States.

“There are no human studies required before it comes into the food supply,” she said. “And in my view all GM crops should undergo longterm safety testing on animals physiologically comparable to humans by people who are independent of the GM companies so they have no vested interests in finding anything good or bad — before GM crops are distributed to a billion people worldwide.”

Carman’s research includes a study of 168 newly weened pigs in the U.S., half of which were fed genetically modified food while the other half were fed a non-GM diet. The results show that genetically modified foods inflame animals’ stomachs, Carman said.

Carman said she is not anti-GMO. Rather, she said she supports comprehensive testing of biotech crops to ensure their safety before they reach the dinner table. Governments, she said, need to take more responsibility for food safety.

“The GM companies don’t even have to tell your government that they’re going to release a GM crop into the food supply,” she said. “Now, in reality, they do actually volunteer to do this and they do actually give that information to the government. But then you would think that your government or FDA would do a thorough review of the information and then come out with a conclusion that it is safe for people to eat, right? No, they don’t.”

When asked about the panel’s concerns, Juli Putnam, U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman, referred The Garden Island to the department’s safety guidelines.

Foods from genetically modified plants must meet the same requirements, including safety requirements, as foods from traditionally bred plants, according to the FDA.

As with other foods, manufacturers of foods derived from genetically modified plants are required to ensure that the foods they offer to consumers are safe and otherwise comply with applicable requirements. The FDA has a voluntary consultation process that allows manufacturers the opportunity to engage with the FDA on the safety and regulatory status of a food from a new plant variety prior to marketing. This process includes a rigorous, case-by-case safety evaluation.

As part of the FDA’s consultation process, scientists with experience in assessing the safety of food and food ingredients evaluate the safety of the food from the genetically engineered plant variety as compared to food from a comparable, non-genetically engineered plant. The process the FDA uses for the safety assessment is consistent with the approach described in international guidelines.

And although the consultation process is voluntary, compliance with the law is mandatory; it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that the food products it offers for sale are safe and otherwise comply with applicable requirements.

“Foods from genetically engineered plants must meet the same requirements, including safety requirements, as foods from traditionally bred plants,” FDA rules state.

Seneff’s portion of the panel discussion focused on her research on disease and health complications that she said are linked to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.

Hawaii — and Kauai in particular — is a research hub for genetically engineered crops that are sold to farmers worldwide. Their biotech practices as well as their very existence here on the islands is a point of contention among some residents concerned about health and environmental safety.

Officials for biotech seed companies like Monsanto and Syngenta have said their operations are not only safe, but integral to the state’s economy. Activists argue that the crops and the pesticides sprayed on them are potentially hazardous.

Monsanto officials, who couldn’t be reached Thursday or Friday, have said the company is “outraged” over the World Health Organization report that says Roundup a likely carcinogen, saying that conclusion is inconsistent with decades of research and accusing WHO researchers of “cherry picking” data.

“Safety is the top priority for every person who works at Monsanto,” Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, said in March. “Glyphosate-based herbicides on the market meet the rigorous standards set by the regulatory and health authorities who work every day to protect human health, and we want our customers and consumers to be assured of these evaluations.”

Pesticides, including those bioengineered into food crops, are regulated primarily by EPA, which reviews the safety of pesticides and sets tolerances for pesticides.

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