Thursday, June 28, 2012

American Medical Association On GMOs: More Testing, No Labels

On June 19, at their annual meeting, the American Medical Association came out with two seemingly contradictory statements.
  • It thinks GMOs should undergo mandatory premarket safety testing.
  • It doesn't see the need, "no scientific justification," for labels.
I know quite a few people who think the FDA already premarket tests GMOs. It doesn't. So this statement by the AMA is, well, special.

The AMA's no-label stance aligns with its previous pronouncements, but the testing stance seems to diverge. Seems to.

Right now, the biotech industry and the FDA say that GMOs are not different from non-GMOs, are safe, and so do not require a label. (FDA: "We are not aware of any information that foods developed through genetic engineering differ as a class in quality, safety, or any other attribute from foods developed through conventional means. That's why there has been no requirement to add a special label saying that they are bioengineered.") The AMA now also appears to be saying that. But by supporting additional safety assessments, I suppose they are hedging their bets (the report included a review of potential adverse health effects of GMOs) and appearing to side with consumers. Appearances. For if indeed something about GE food is found to be unsafe, how do you distinguish those products without labels?

It occurred to me that the AMA may not be going out on a limb here. The USDA has been encouraging biotech firms to conduct their own environmental testing. Perhaps the FDA would take the same route with safety testing. I'm not convinced Monsanto and other biotech firms would be objective in their investigations.

The AMA has had trouble in the past with its ties to industry. In the late 1990s it agreed to endorse Sunbeam's health products in return for royalties, reneged on the deal, and was promptly sued, paying Sunbeam $9.9 million for breach of contract. At the meeting last week, a delegate from Illinois recalled this Sunbeam endorsement and said, "we must be very sure that what we do here is not seen as an endorsement of a product." Appearances.

In 2001, AMA held a seminar in New York on genetically engineered food where its then director of science policy promoted the benefits of GE food and defended GE food safety.1

"The seminar was funded by an unrestricted grant from the Council for Biotechnology Information, a group of six biotechnology firms and two trade associations. They included Aventis Crop Sciences, BASF, Dow Agrosciences, EI du Pont de Nemours, Monsanto, Syngenta, the American Crop Protection Association, and the Biotechnology Industry Association."
No speakers at the seminar spoke against genetically modified crops.

And this, from:
Non-Profit Organizations With Ties To Industry, CSPI
"AMA planned a campaign to remind doctors of ethical guidelines limiting their acceptance of gifts from pharmaceutical companies. The campaign was to be sponsored by Eli Lilly Corporation. (USA Today, 4/27/01, "Drugmakers bankroll ethics guidelines on 'freebies'")"
It's hard for me to accept that the AMA is acting with clean hands here.
1 AMA Promotes Benefits Of "Genetically Improved" Foods, BMJ, October 2001.
Photo of the AMA's 2012 annual meeting.

1 comment:

Ben P. DaSalt said...

The AMA probably doesn’t have clean hands, but I do tend to agree with the assessment that GMO doesn’t pose any serious health concern.

I find the anti-GMO health argument to be one of the weakest.

As for labeling, I still haven’t made up my mind. I can swing either way depending on what mood you catch me in.