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The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group of countries established in 1961, exists in order to promote economic growth, mostly through encouragement of free trade.  It was this body, encouraged and abetted by Reagan’s presidency, that introduced, in 1993, the “substantial equivalency” concept, which states that if a new food (GMO) is found to be mostly equal to an already existing food it can be treated the same way as the existing product in respect to safety.  The U.S., Canada and Japan all base their GMO safety regulations on substantial equivalence.  In essence, the biotechnology companies wanted government regulators to help persuade consumers that their new genetically modified products were safe.

Monsanto had not, at this time, received clearance from the USDA for its GMO technology, but Ronald Reagan helped speed up the deregulation process.  Vice President Bush publicly toured a Monsanto biotechnology facility in 1987 as part of the process to keep GMOs unregulated.  And it was during G.H.W. Bush’s presidency that V.P Dan Quale first announced the substantial equivalence policy in a speech.  The policy itself was crafted by Michael Taylor, the infamous former Monsanto lawyer who was then hired by the Bush FDA to become the deputy commissioner of policy.

Having introduced GMOs to the market, the biotech industry wanted to streamline their acceptance.  It was argued at the time that one obvious solution would have been to treat GMOs in the same way as pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, which would have required the industry to conduct toxicological tests.  These tests would then have provided evidence from which “acceptable daily intakes” could be set.  The industry reacted against this solution as it would delay marketplace access and cost, by some estimates, $25 million per product.  Reagan, Monsanto and Bush made sure that the biotech industry could sell their products immediately and with no testing or labeling.  Substantial equivalence thus became the standard, with the industry continually referring to it as though it provides scientific proof that GMOs are safe.

Substantial equivalence, however, is vague and nowhere precisely defined.  Erik Millstone, Eric Brunner and Sue Mayer, all of whom have studied the differences between GMOs and conventional crops, stated in a paper that “it is exactly this vagueness that makes the concept useful to industry but unacceptable to the consumer.  Moreover, the reliance by policymakers on the concept of substantial equivalence acts as a barrier to further research into the possible risks of eating GM foods.”  The Institute of Science in Society published a study which concluded that “the principle [of substantial equivalence] is intentionally vague and ill-defined to be as flexible, malleable, and open to interpretation as possible.”  The paper also states that “comparisons are designed to conceal significant changes resulting from genetic modifications.”

Another study, done in 2013 by Professor El-Sayed, found significant toxicity levels in Monsanto’s 810 Corn.  And Thomas Bohn conducted a study that evaluated pesticide and herbicide residues in genetically modified soybeans, from which he concluded that the overall chemical composition of the plants were altered.  The Permaculture Research Institute states “that [the] new studies, independent of the biotech industry, are showing glaring differences between GMOs and their non-GMO counterparts.”  They go on to say that “this makes a mockery of the regulatory principle of ‘Substantial Equivalence’ which has facilitated approvals of GMOs with practically no protection for public health and the environment.”  Indeed, a study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology demonstrated dangers to non-target organisms (in this case, aquatic organisms.)  The Bt toxins inserted into plants to make them insect resistant are leaching into nearby rivers and streams and affecting the health of essential insects.

The precept of substantial equivalence was designed specifically to facilitate the rapid commercialization of GMOs.  The effect has been to allow GMOs on the market with no testing or labeling, which continues to put our health at risk.  Tests are now being conducted outside the biotech industry, and immediate findings are, at the minimum, that substantial differences exist between GMOs and conventionally grown crops.  The concept of substantial equivalence has been debunked.  There are major differences between GMOs and conventional crops, including the amount of herbicides and pesticides used, and some of these differences are disrupting our environment and endangering our health.  The government is slow in recognizing these dangers and that the continuation of GMO promotion is also detrimental to our economy.  You can’t destroy the infrastructure and expect growth and prosperity.

Recipe of the Week

Greek Garbonzo Bean Salad

This is a great meal for a hot summer evening, and can be served alone or mixed with organic greens.

1 1/4 cups dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight (or you can use two 15 oz. cans of organic beans, drained and rinsed.

1/2 large cucumber, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 ounces or more to taste of goat cheese or feta

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 of a large, sweet onion, minced

salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

a few sprinkles of red wine vinegar

Cook the beans until done, about two hours.  Drain and pick out as many of the peels as possible as this will affect the texture.

Mix with all ingredients and taste for salt, oil and vinegar.

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