Search OCA
Get Local!

Lies & Deception--Straight from the Mouth of USDA
Chief Dan Glickman and Other Biotech Apologists

Transcript for "Twists in the Genetic Revolution", September 8th, 2000.
Digital West Show #131

REBECCA ROBERTS, HOST, DIGITAL WEST: Scientists and policy makers, farmers
and consumers are hotly debating genetically modified food. Hear what U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and others involved in the
controversy have to say about the future of our food supply right now on
Digital West.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Hello and welcome to Digital West. I'm Rebecca Roberts.
Depending on your point of view genetically modified organisms, or GMOs,
are either an agricultural boon or an unpredictable environmental threat.
Tonight we'll ask the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture how the government
develops policies governing GMOs, and later in the program we'll talk to
experts on both sides of the issue. First we turn to science reporter Lilah
McCrae for an explanation about the science behind GM food.

DW REPORTER: The first breakthrough in genetically modified food came out
of UC-Davis in 1994. The Flavr-Savr tomato was developed to travel better,
be bruise resistant, and to last longer on supermarket shelves. While the
Flavr-Savr was developed to be more attractive to consumers, scientists are
also using biotechnology to create crops that are resistant to pests or add
nutritional value to common agricultural products. Some experiments create
seeds that become sterile after only one growing season, requiring farmers
to buy new seeds each year. But how is all this genetic manipulation done?
Scientists identify and extract one particular gene, which is a strand of
DNA that determines hereditary makeup. They take that from one organism and
insert it in another. The two organisms don't even need to be similar
species. For example, a bacterial gene that makes bacteria resistant to
certain pests can be inserted into a corn plant making it pest resistant
too. The result, farmers can plant fields of corn that can fight off
destructive pests without the use of chemical pesticides. Since the
introduction of this technology, farmers' use of genetically altered seeds
have skyrocketed. Current estimates show that about one-third of US corn
and one-half of US soybeans are genetically modified. But recent protests
claim there's not enough scientific data to say conclusively that
genetically altered food is safe. There are concerns that pollen from
genetically modified crops may spread to other plants, and some worry that
transplanted genetic material could trigger unexpected allergic reactions.
Protesters are also concerned that consumers have no way of knowing that
the food they buy in the grocery stores could be genetically modified.
That's because the FDA doesn't require manufacturers to label genetically
altered foods. These and other consumer concerns are now causing farmers to
think twice before planning their next cycle of genetically altered crops.

REBECCA ROBERTS: As scientists continue to discuss the pros and cons of GM
food, many calling for political solutions. I recently had an opportunity
to ask US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman about how the government is
approaching GM food from a policy perspective. Let's take a look: Secretary
of Agriculture Dan Glickman, welcome to Digital West. Thanks for being here.

DAN GLICKMAN: Thank you. Thank you.

REBECCA ROBERTS: We are discussing today genetically modified food or
genetically modified organisms, GMO. One of the reasons the debate has gone
on, there is a lack of US standards on GMO. Why aren't there US clear
standards?

DAN GLICKMAN: This is a fairly new technology as it is affecting foods.
Now, we have been modifying foods -- when I say "we" -- industry and
research has been modifying foods since, you know, probably for several
thousand years. But -- but only in the last decade or so have we looked at
the issue of doing genetic engineering on foods to give them certain
qualities; for example, resistance to certain pesticides or growing food
with less water or increasing vitamin or nutritional content or doing other
things. It's a fairly new phenomenon and we are, at the same time, now
improving our regulatory system to meet those new phenomenon.

REBECCA ROBERTS: One of the things that's been suggested is labeling. Where
does the US government stand on labeling these foods?

DAN GLICKMAN: I think it is important to understand the differences on the
government agencies on this thing. USDA is really not directly involved in
the labeling of food. That's an FDA issue because it relates to food
safety, but recently they have indicated some regulatory changes in the
whole issue of the labeling regime. We at USDA are largely involved in
regulating genetic engineering as it relates to other plants and other
animals so that they're not harmfully affected by genetic engineering. FDA
does the food safety, and EPA deals with the issues relating to pesticides.
Genetic engineering would create an impact on pesticides. We are in the
process of looking at these labeling issues. We're seeing more and more
companies getting involved in the labeling of food products. I've actually
encouraged companies to do that. But at the current stage, it's still on a
voluntary basis and, by and large, not regulated by the government.

REBECCA ROBERTS: One of the criticisms of labeling is that the information
in a vacuum would just scare consumers; that without enough information
then that wouldn't help them make a decision. Whose responsibility is it to
educate consumers?

DAN GLICKMAN: I think it's -- the government's responsibility is to have a
good solid, regulatory system arm's length from industry and is
science-based. For that reason, we have asked the National Academy of
Sciences to come in and look at our regulatory system at USDA to make sure
it is modern and the public has confidence in it. As long as the public
have confidence in our food safety system, they will not be scared and they
will make the decisions based on sound scientific judgment. But ultimately,
these are market decisions to make and these are decisions that are going
to have to be made by consumers and by the food companies. That's why, by
and large, if you have to err, I think you err on the side of giving the
public information, the kind of labeling that would be useful to them. And
we've done that with nutritional labeling, we do that with an awful lot of
other things, and I think ultimately you'll see more and more of this in
genetic engineering. But it is not the government's responsibility to do
anything other than to make sure that the foods are safe and to have a
regulatory system out there that gives people the confidence foods are
safe. After that, really it is up to the consumers and the industry itself
to work out whether they buy or sell these things or not.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Of course, consumer confidence is sort of a moving target.
And, as more and more protests in Europe make the news here, are you seeing
a change in public opinion here about GM foods, and how do you gauge public
opinion?

DAN GLICKMAN: Let me say this, I think there is certainly more interest in
the whole issue of genetically engineered foods. We have found that at
USDA, as we've dealt with the issue of organic foods we are about ready
this year to issue national rules on organic certification because that is
a very rapidly growing market. We have made the decision, early on, that
genetically engineered foods would not -- could not be classified as
organic. And that was largely due to the public concern about what organic
foods are. It doesn't mean genetically engineered foods aren't safe; but
from the standpoint of organic, we've made the decision consumers do not
want GMO foods as part of the organic scenario. But, you know, ultimately,
I think consumers will be governed by issues of safety. And they will then
make choices based on safety and quality and price and as long as we have
the best science governing the regulatory system, then I think that
ultimately they will make their judgments based upon sound scientific
principles and a rational basis. There is some hysteria, frankly, in Europe
and other parts of the world and some of the concerns about genetically
engineered foods are not really based on science, at least not on sound
science but maybe political science or based on fears or other kinds of
things. But we can't just poo-poo that, we can't just say that that's
stupid. We have to understand there is some legitimate concern out there by
consumers that they are eating safe food. And we have a responsibility, as
a government, to have the best regulatory system we can possibly have.

REBECCA ROBERTS: It's also not just a pro-science versus anti-science
debate, there are scientists on both sides of the issue.

DAN GLICKMAN: There are. But we have scientists on the sides of all sorts
of issues, and ultimately you have to come down with a public policy
decision based on this, you know, overwhelming preponderance of the
evidence. But you also have to understand -- I'm sure people out there
watching the show do -- that consumers have a lot of reasons why they buy
food, and that is one of the reasons why I think ultimately you're gonna
see more and more genetically engineered foods labeled. We've got to come
up with a good way of labeling and a way that gives people the kind of
information that they need so that labeling makes some sense. But I think
that people like to know what's in their food. I'm not sure the government
ought to be telling them at every stage what's in their food, but they
really do need to have a system to know what's in their foods.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Do you, I know it's an FDA issue, but do you see moving
from voluntary to mandatory labeling?

DAN GLICKMAN: I would say right now, I don't have any evidence to know
exactly how we would move to a mandatory system. Until such time as more
work is done on thresholds, for example, to know how you measure the level
of GM foods, and other kinds of issues like that, I think it's gonna be
tough to do that. But I do think probably that you're gonna see more and
more companies, probably, go down this road. And we in the government have
to make sure that we have the kind of systems in place so we can measure GM
foods so then people will then know what kind of standards to actually meet
if, in fact, foods are going be labeled. Let me say this: my own judgment,
my own belief that the foods that are out there that have been approved in
the marketplace are safe. I don't have any concern about safety. I think
that some of the issues here go beyond those issues of safety to issues of
choice. And people like to know what's in their foods, and so I think we in
the government are gonna continue to explore all the ways that we could try
to help this labeling issue out by providing the kind of testing and
criteria so we can label intelligently.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Secretary Glickman, thank you for being on Digital West.
Dan Glickman is the US Secretary of Agriculture.
There are two battles being fought over genetically modified food; one
about science, the other about policy. Head for our message board at
dw.kqed.org, and tell us who you think should ultimately make decisions
about introducing GM food to the environment and why. Then vote in our
online poll. Tonight's question - should manufacturers be required to label
foods containing GMOs? You'll also find complete transcripts of this and
all our other programs, links to additional online information and more,
all that at dw.kqed.org.

REBECCA ROBERTS: The battle over GM food involves more than scientists,
policy makers, and members of the public. Many American farmers find
themselves caught in the middle of conflicting demands. To see how this
debate looks from the fields, we visited a family farm in Yolo County
northeast of San Francisco.

BLAKE HARTMAN: My name is Blake Hartman, a fifth generation farmer here in
Woodlawn, California. I grow tomatoes, wheat, corn, alfalfa, rice, and some
other crops. If the economics were there for us to do well as is, you
wouldn't see the interest on the growers' side to adapt to GMO foods. But
when we budget for, let's just say, for example, a corn crop, we know how
many times we're going to have to go through a field, we know how much
nitrogen we need to put on, we know how much water we need to put on. When
we have an option to cut any of these operations, it's attractive to us. We
need to do it cheaper to -- to make money because we're struggling. The
agriculture industry is struggling very much right now with -- with the
margins we're working on. And when we see the option to use GMO products
and the advantages that they offer, we want to get them implemented because
in the system that we work in right now, we need help. I think, as we come
under more scrutiny and more regulations and more restrictions on chemicals
that we're allowed to use, the more that we're going to want to plant GMO
products. We've got some barriers to overcome in some foreign trade issues
and some domestic food quality concerns, as well. But I'm optimistic that
we can overcome some of these and allow GMO foods to be produced. We've got
the technology to adapt GMO into a lot of crops we have, but we haven't
convinced the public that they are safe yet. We can't prove them safe, and
we can't prove them unsafe. I'm hoping the government's role is going to be
one of assuring people that we're going to do this right. Where we've
lagged and where many of us think, the step we need to take to have more
consumer appeal and consumer demand for our products is to develop traits
in the plants we grow that consumer wants, whether it be high vitamin C,
high beta carotene, increased nutritional aspects of any type. And only
when we develop those traits into the plants we grow that the consumer
wants will we then be able to benefit from those grower-friendly traits
that we want right now. This is an ever-changing business. The way we run
our farms today is nothing like the way our predecessors and my father and
grandfather ran this place years ago. And, you know, we're getting better
and we've adapted to so many changes already and this is, for me, it's just
one more.

Panel Discussion

REBECCA ROBERTS: Here now to discuss the problems associated with
regulating genetically modified foods are Steven M. Druker, founder and
executive director of the Alliance for Bio-integrity, Henry Miller, Senior
Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Dr. Roger Wyse, former Dean
of Agricultural and my scientist at University of Wisconsin, now biotech
investor at Burrill & Company. Welcome to Digital West. Thank you for being
here. We had a previous episode on Digital West concentrating on the
science of genetic modification. For the purposes of this conversation,
we'd like to sort of talk about the regulatory environment. Steven Druker,
let's start with you. Do you think we know enough about the science now to
either make a decision about regulation or to make a decision that enough
regulation is already in place?

STEVEN DRUKER: Yes, we do. We know, from hundreds of well-credentialed
scientists who do not depend financially upon the biotech industry, that
genetic engineering is very different than traditional breeding and the
food it creates poses different risks, unique health risks, to the human
beings who eat them, to the environment. And we know, actually, that the
predominant opinion of the FDA's own scientists as expressed in the FDA's
own administrative record which my organization received through suing the
FDA, the predominant opinion of the FDA's own scientists is, or was
expressed, that these foods are different, they pose unique health risks,
that each one has to be carefully tested. So, the law requires in such a
circumstance that none of these foods be on the market unless each one has
been demonstrated safe. So, we know right now there's adequate regulation
if it were enforced. The law is that these foods shouldn't be on the market
because they pose unreasonable risks, and that is the sound science.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Henry Miller, you are a former FDA scientist yourself. Do
you agree with Mr. Druker said?

HENRY MILLER: No, not at all. Neither the consensus of our scientists or
the data, the very extensive data that we have are consistent with Mr.
Druker's assertions. In fact, the scientific consensus says that the new
bio-tying/gene splicing is really an extension or a refinement or
improvement over the older, less precise kinds of genetic techniques that
we have.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Rather than a new technology, it's simply an evolution of
older technology?

HENRY MILLER: It's an evolution. In automobile technology, we added disc
brakes, we added seat belts; we didn't create new regulatory paradigms to
regulate those cars that had improved safety. Nor did we put a lower speed
limit on these improved cars which, in effect, is what's being done now in
the regulation of biotech products.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Dr. Wyse, where do you fall on this?

DR. ROGER WYSE: I think this is clearly an evolution of technology but it's
a very powerful technology therefore we need to proceed with due caution.
And that caution needs to be tempered with good science. Right now there is
no science that would suggest that these foods produced from genetically
modified plants by gene splicing are, indeed, any less safe than the
traditional foods we have been eating for many years.

STEVEN DRUKER: I would like to correct what Dr. Miller has said. People,
listeners are invited to look at our Web site, Bio-integrity.org, where
with photocopies of key FDA documents. You will see in document #1, Dr.
Linda Call, a compliance officer for the FDA whose job was to review the
input from the scientists. And to keep the FDA in compliance with the law
she wrote a scathing memo saying that the FDA was trying to fit a square
peg into a round hole by trying to force an ultimate conclusion that
genetic engineering is the same as traditional breeding. And then she
stated "the processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are
different and, according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead
to different risks." That was Dr. Call not stating her personal opinion.
That was Dr. Call summarizing what anybody can see, if they read through
the file, these foods lead to different risks. The microbiologists, the
toxicologists, the Center For Veterinary Medicine are all on record as
saying that unique health hazards are posed by these foods. The FDA
political appointees overruled the scientists, they covered up the warnings
and they lied in public. They lied in public and continue to say that they
have no information showing these foods different in any meaningful way.
That is a scandal! The law says these foods need to be proven safe when
there is scientific disagreement, and there clearly is!

REBECCA ROBERTS: Henry Miller?

HENRY MILLER: None of that is true. The consensus that I alluded to comes
not only in the US from the National Academy of Sciences in a 1987 report
and the national research council in a 1989 report but from international
organizations, as well. The organization for economic cooperation and
development, which has studied the potential risks of these products, all
find that the risks are likely, if anything, to be lower because of the
much greater precision, much greater predictability of genetic engineering
using the new techniques. We've been doing engineering of a very
sophisticated and very dramatic kind for a long time, and that ranges from
genetic hybrids of a grapefruit and tangerine that we call a tangelo to
putting genes from wild grasses into wheat to make them more pest and
disease resistant; to creating the very important other cereals that gave
rise to "the green revolution." So genetic engineering of various kinds has
been around for a long time, but gene splicing is much more precise moves
only a few genes or at most a couple as opposed to these others which move
dozens or hundreds and introduce whole chromosomes --

STEVEN DRUKER: Dr. Miller, I have to say, you said that what I said wasn't
true. Are you saying that Linda Call did not state what I said she stated?
The memo was on our website for the world to see. When Dr. Miller says
these techniques are more precise, he is ignoring the fact that the FDA's
own scientists says they are less precise -

DR. ROGER WYSE: That cannot be true, sir -

STEVEN DRUKER: -- they are less precise when it comes to be able to predict
the effects on food safety--

REBECCA ROBERTS: Let's let Roger Wyse get in here.

DR. ROGER WYSE: But can you give us one specific example of a risk?

STEVEN DRUKER: Yes. There are risks of unexpected and novel toxins or
carcinogens produced in the food. This is clear. The FDA scientists said,
the scientists in our lawsuit have submitted sworn declarations to the
court that the process of gene splicing is so potentially disruptive to the
life processes of the organism that it could lead to new poisons or
carcinogens that have never before been in any of the species.

REBECCA ROBERTS: If we have, obviously, this much disagreement among the
three gentlemen at this table, there is obviously still disagreement in the
community along these lines. At what point is there a responsibility to say
enough; we need to make decisions here? Have we reached that point yet?

DR. ROGER WYSE: No, absolutely not. I think good science has shown to date
that there are no risks. One could argue that there's a possibility of
putting a gene in that may be allergenic. Milk is allergenic to some people
who have a lactose intolerance, so this is very testable, one can determine
whether or not that is true. But in terms of doing genetic crosses in
potatoes, for example, some of the past varieties did have high
[solonaisee], high [solomin], it's a toxin. So that what we see now is
something we have not, we have seen before and we know how to handle it. We
go through thorough testing before they come out.

REBECCA ROBERTS: And what about labeling? What about just allowing
consumers to make the decision by seeing what's in it?

HENRY MILLER: Well, I think voluntary labeling is an option at any time,
and that's the way that society and through the marketplace has provided
labeling for information that consumers want. So, for example, where enough
consumers desire to know whether a product is kosher or whether it's
[holowed] or whether it's organic, the market forces provide that.

REBECCA ROBERTS: But voluntarily, not mandatory?

HENRY MILLER: Mandatory labeling would be a mistake for a number of
reasons. It would impose a punitive tax on these products that, in fact,
would make them more costly and therefore unattainable by many consumers.
As you mentioned earlier, it would be likely perceived as a warning to
consumers about these products, where there shouldn't be --- where no
warning is warranted.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Do you agree with that?

DR. ROGER WYSE: I agree. I think mandatory labeling would put an undue
burden on those products. Insinuate that they were, in fact, unsafe and the
scientific evidence does not support that.

STEVEN DRUKER: Yes and labeling is, at minimum, required. But the first
requirement is only foods that are legally on the market and are reasonably
safe can be labeled. If a food poses unreasonable risks, it shouldn't be on
the market in the first place. And as I said and as anybody can see by
checking our website, the predominant opinion of the FDA's own experts was
these foods do pose unique risks; they are not as predictable as these
gentlemen would like you to believe. And I would quote from one of the
scientists in a lawsuit, Professor Phillip Regal from the University of
Minnesota, internationally renowned expert; he said in a sworn declaration
to the court, there are scientifically justified concerns about the safety
of genetically engineered foods. Some of them could be quite dangerous. He
continued that because there has not been adequate testing, we do not know
which are dangerous and which are not. The implication is we have to
presume all of them are dangerous, and that is the presumption required by
law anyway.

HENRY MILLER: It simply is a myth that there is significant sentiment at
the FDA that believes there are enhanced risks to these products. It is a
myth. The --

STEVEN DRUKER: Read the Web site!

HENRY MILLER: The FDA's official position was described in a Federal
Register notice, the official publication of the government in 1992; and
the FDA said very clearly that the risks of these products were perceived
to be no greater and that gene spliced foods would be regulated no
differently in essence.

REBECCA ROBERTS: Dr. Wyse, you've got the last word. We're almost out of time.

DR. ROGER WYSE: I think we have a great technology that can, in fact, as
the farmer indicated, reduce costs and the impact to the environment and
allow us to feed the world in the future on half of the land that we do today.

REBECCA ROBERTS: All right, we're going to have to leave it there, we're
out of time. Thank you gentlemen for being on Digital West. Next week we
look at yet another technology's unforeseen consequences when we explore
the phenomenon of computer hacking. We'll talk to [Kevin Poulsom], one of
the world's most notorious hackers, and a panel of his peers. Is the
hacking community threatening our well-being or revealing flaws that real
enemies could exploit? That's next week on Digital West. I'm Rebecca
Roberts. Good night!

Funding for Digital West is provided by the members of KQED, and by Fenwick
& West, a Silicon Valley original. Fenwick & West has been providing a full
range of legal services to the high technology community for over 25 years.
Fenwick & West - lawyering for the information age. And by C/Net. C/Net.
Bringing the digital age into focus. C/Net.com, the source for computers
and technology. And by FamilyWonder.com, an online store with ratings and
reviews of kids' videos, music and toys. FamilyWonder.com. The smarter way
to shop for kids. A KQED television production.

http://www.dw.kqed.org/transcript.html

Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Forum | Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Volunteer | Donate | About Us | Contact Us | Email This Page

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.
Please Support Our Sponsors!

Organic Valley

Organic
Valley

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps

Dr. Bronner's
Magic Soaps

Botani Organic

Botani
Organic

Aloha Bay

Aloha Bay

Eden Organics

Eden Foods

Frey Vineyards

Frey
Vineyards

Intelligent Nutrients

Intelligent
Nutrients