A Call for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to Take a Stance on GMOs

As I mentioned previously, GMO Free Northeast Ohio showed the documentary Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives last Thursday at the Mustard Seed Market in Solon. While I am glad to make it out of Solon alive (lack of public transportation = long walk from the bus in the street due to snow covered sidewalksRIP Joseph Brown), I am looking to get a less biased view of GMOs. The movie should be watched, but for people who are already skeptical of GMOs, it offers little answers, which I guess is the intention of the movie. Yes, chronic diseases and allergies have increased since GMO foods were introduced in 1996, but correlation does not equal causation. I needed to continue to look elsewhere to get more information on GMOs, though I still heartily agree with the precautionary principal, and that more long-term studies are needed.

To get more information on GMOs, I headed to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, but was still not able to find much information (more on that below). It seems challenging to find unbiased information on GMOs, which is exactly the topic of a series of articles from Grist titled Panic Free GMOs . The articles seem pretty informative, so I will plan to read them soon and write a nice, long post for you to read.

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper: "Nutrition Security in Developing Nations: Sustainable Food, Water, and Health" published April 2013.

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper: “Nutrition Security in Developing Nations: Sustainable Food, Water, and Health” published April 2013.

Meanwhile, I did a more thorough review of eatright.org, the site of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) for further information on GMOs. As mentioned previously, AND is the largest organization representing Dietitians in America (yes, I am a dues paying member and like to see what their opinions are). As discussed in a previous entry, AND stated in October 2012 that a position paper on GMOs was expected to be published in 2013. It is now 2014 and the silence is deafening. Searching AND’s website for information on GMOs, I did come across 2 articles:

First, I found a position paper “Nutrition Security in Developing Nations: Sustainable Food, Water, and Health” published April of 2013 that mentioned GMOs one time, stating pretty much that the jury is still out on GMOs – again, no real opinion. I checked the sources and all 3 appear to link back to large non-partisan agencies related to the United Nations, etc… no problem there, so far.

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' March 2013 Public Policy Workshop session "Point-Counterpoint: Labeling GMO's - Help or Hindrance for Consumers"

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ March 2013 Public Policy Workshop session “Point-Counterpoint: Labeling GMO’s – Help or Hindrance for Consumers”

The 2nd document I found was a bit more interesting: a schedule for AND’s 2013 Public Policy Workshop, held in March 2013, which included a 90 minute session titled “Point-Counterpoint: Labeling GMO’s – Help or Hindrance for Consumers.” The discussion featured Melinda Hemmelgarn, a dietitian with an excellent radio show/podcast, “Food Sleuth Radio”, that I have been listening to for years. Another RD who I’d never heard of, Jennifer Schmidt, was also featured in the workshop. I did a search for more information about Schmidt, and I found was that she is a farmer with ties to the International Food Information Council. According to Sourcewatch, “The IFIC is a public relations arm of the food, beverage and agricultural industries, which provide the bulk of its funding. Its staff members hail from industry groups such as the Sugar Association and the National Soft Drink Association, and it has repeatedly led the defense for controversial food additives including monosodium glutamate, aspartame (Nutrasweet), food dyes, and olestra.” That last bit is interesting, especially since the lawsuit I mentioned yesterday against the FDA and GRAS cited olestra as possibly causing gastrointestinal problems.

Jennifer Schmidt contributes to "GMO Answers" website. GMO Answers is funded by Biotech giants...

Got GMO questions? Monsanto has GMO answers!

Schmidt also writes for the website GMO Answers, which is also funded by BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta. She also has a blog, The Foodie Farmer, “logging about how your food gets from field to fork.”
I loaded The Foodie Farmer, and the first post I saw was against Chipotle’s new ad campaign on industrial food, called “Farmed and Dangerous”. Foodie Farmer claims that industrial agriculture is a “myth” because “97% of farmers are owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator.” While this may be true, the more relevant question is what is the USDA’s definition of a farmer? Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, organic farmer, and author of Foodopoly, states in her book that USDA statistics on farming are often misinterpreted and misleading, and greatly exaggerate family the number of full-time family farm operations. Specifically, “a close look at the USDA’s Census of Agriculture shows that one third of the 2.2 million entities counted as farms by the agency have sales of under $1,000 and almost two thirds earn under $10,000 a year. These small business ventures are counted even though they are far from being full-time farming operations.” Why do I mention this? I am concerned that the first thing I read on “Foodie Farmer” is a statistic that has likely been misinterpreted only to further an agenda for the current agricultural system, this is in addition to strong ties to the biotech industry. In other words, she is not exactly an independent expert that I hoped would appear as part of an AND event.

So what’s your point?

The point is that AND needs to be clear more clear about contributors who have clear conflicts of interest. Furthermore, AND needs to publish their position paper on GMOs soon if they want to stay relevant, especially considering that 19 states are currently considering GMO measures. AND needs to take a position now, before they are forced to. AND should also be discussing GMOs more openly and often. It is concerning that the only recent discussion I could find on their website was nearly a year old with only 2 professionals’ input (1 with ties to the industry). This type of dialogue is at least a start, but not nearly enough for the “world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.”

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