martes, abril 25, 2006

Letter from NY-SAGE


To: Hon. Senator Efrain Gonzalez, Chair of Puerto Rican/ Hispanic Task Force and Chair Emeritus of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators
To: Hon. Assembly Member Peter Rivera, Chair of Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force
To: Hon. Co-Chair and Executive Board Members of Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Forces
From: NY-SAGE (over 35,000 safe food advocates of statewide food coops)
Re: Support for labeling of genetically engineered seed (S6522,A8344)
Date: April 12, 2006

Dear Honorable Chair and Honorable Task Force Members:

We want to address issues involving biotech crops and food, especially with respect to Puerto Rico. First, some background facts about biotech, if needed, for your review.

Biotech (GM, GMO, GE, transgenic) crops have been prematurely marketed during the last ten years in that no health and safety testing has been required by the federal government, and in that almost no peer-reviewed independent or long term health testing has been done.
Biotechnology is imprecise in that genes are transferred across natural species barriers (creating combinations like a flounder gene in a tomato, a toxin-producing gene in corn, or a human saliva gene in rice), but scientists cannot guarantee stable expression of the gene in the new genetically engineered organism. Additionally, an antibiotic gene and a virus promoter gene are always added to each genetically engineered cell of any biotech crop.

Biotech crops are used mostly for animal feed, but biotech soy, corn, canola and cotton seed are also ubiquitous in most processed foods as sweetener, lecithin, starch and oils. And are probably ubiquitous in eggs and meats from animals fed biotech grains. There is also evidence, despite industry claims, that novel GE genes, or transgenes, and proteins transfer into human tissue.

No federal law exists to regulate biotech crops. The FDA has declared this food “substantially equivalent” and thereby safe, ignoring the warnings of its own scientists. Further, the FDA accepts voluntary-only testing by industry (though novel genes, including the antibiotic-resistant gene used as a marker, are permanently added to each cell, and these genes will propagate and mutate as all living things do.)

The USDA approves almost all field trials without requiring environmental impact assessments. This includes open field testing of biopharmaceutical crops, as rice with three human genes to produce a drug to treat diarrhea, and corn containing spermicide genes.

The EPA has licensed biotech corn as a pesticide. This corn contains in each cell a gene which produces Bt toxin that, although it targets the corn borer, could, according to preliminary studies, end up in human tissue.

Farmers are currently suing the USDA to withdraw its approval of biotech alfalfa (used as cow and horse feed in NYS) because it is a perennial crop and is open-pollinated by bees, which can travel for two miles. Cross-contamination, farmers claim, can soon end conventional and organic alfalfa production in this country.

The $1 billion Starlink corn recall of 2000 demonstrates the potential of crops to transfer their traits and contaminate by drift, by mistaken planting of a variety, by contamination through shared machinery, etc. Starlink corn was voluntarily marked as not for human consumption by its manufacturer, yet led to many people needing emergency care for extreme allergic reactions to tacos and corn chips. A non-profit organization, and not the FDA, tested supermarket corn and discovered the Starlink contamination. But Starlink corn, banned for human consumption, continued to contaminate corn exports to Japan four years later. And Starlink corn turned up in 80% of samples of food aid shipments to six Latin American and Caribbean countries five years later, in 2005.

Second, we would especially like to inform you of our concerns re the impact Puerto Rico faces from these novel food crops and biopharmaceutical crops.

Puerto Rican farmers use the 3-4 annual growing seasons to produce biotech soy and corn for commercial seed. However, labeling seed in NYS is unlikely to affect this commercial production and the biotech job market in PR. Seed labeling anywhere will only prevent organic and conventional farmers and gardeners from inadvertently planting a GE crop.

USDA documents show that, no state (with the exception of Hawaii) has as many outdoor experimental biotech crop test plots per square mile as does Puerto Rico. And the USDA approved over 47,000 field test sites through Dec 2004, rejecting only 3% of applications submitted.

USDA authorized field tests include experimental biotech foods (as avocado, banana, sorghum and sugar beets) as well as many biopharmaceutical crops, most of which will not become marketable but may remain in the ecosystem and even enter the food chain through cross-contamination.

Field tests are “outdoor, uncontrolled experiments….And experimental GE crops aren’t even subject to the cursory rubber-stamp ‘approval’ process that commercialized GE crops go through -so I think the high concentration of experimental GE crop trials in Puerto Rico is definitely cause for concern.” (Freese, Friends of the Earth)

The large scale of biotech commercial seed production in PR is a threat to biodiversity on this island because it is basically monoculture (corn and soy), because it is extensive in the use of agrochemicals, and because cross-contamination of natural crops is inevitable.
We fear that health and environmental problems associated with these crops will be disproportionately great for the population of Puerto Rico, including higher risks of allergy, antibiotic resistance, etc. (There has been documentation of Filipino farm workers sickened when harvesting biotech corn).

We also have grave concerns about the shipping of unlabeled biotech foods to the Caribbean, Central and South America and Africa, as both commerce and food aid. US biotech corn has already been found to have contaminated heirloom or ancient Mexican corn.

Many consumers and farmers assume incorrectly that there is substantive government oversight of biotech crops. Please offer NYS consumers and farmers the minimum protection of mandatory seed labeling.


Eduardo Gonzalez and Fabiola Simpson (Park Slope Coop, Brooklyn); A. Rodrigo (Honest Weight, Albany); Ana Ortega (High Falls Coop); Sam Koprak (Flatbush Coop, Brooklyn); E. Karabinakis (Green Star, Ithaca); B. Strother (Natural Foods, Cobleskill); E. Hartz, NYSAGE Buffalo; K. Marsiglio (Green Earth, Oneonta) et al.

Note: See for a collection of reports and articles from varied sources, as
“Prohibited Gene-Altered Corn Found in Latin American & Caribbean Food Aid Shipments”
“More on Banned GE Corn Contaminating Food Aid to Central America & Caribbean”
“Latin America: Transgenic Crops Make Their Mark”
“Puerto Rico: Biotechnology and the “Knowledge Economy”
And “Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US”. April 2005. US PIRG Education Fund
And “Report on the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety”. www.genet-info/genet/2004/Jul/msg11183.html

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