April 11, 2014

The CLF Week in Links: Rachel Carson, GMOs, GRAS, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Rachel Carson stamp, 1981

Rachel Carson stamp, 1981

Rachel and her sisters. Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s death. She died at the age of 57 from breast cancer, less than two years after the 1962 publication of Silent Spring, which brought awareness to Americans about the use of pesticides and spawned an environmental movement that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Today we celebrate Ms. Carson and other women environmental activists with our Polly Walker Ecology Fund Lecture, an event called “Distinguished Women in Environmental Health Sciences,” to be held from noon to 5 p.m. at the Bloomberg School. Robert Musil, an alumnus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s MPH program, will speak at noon about his recent book, Rachel Carson and Her Sisters, followed by a symposium featuring six women environmental health scientists. For more on Ms. Carson and other noted women in the environmental movement, read this blogpost by Leo Horrigan.

Going after GMO labeling. Rep. Butterfield (D–N.C.) Rep. Pompeo (R–Kansas) have drafted a bill that would require the FDA to review food labeling with respect to genetically engineered ingredients. The law, if passed, would prevent states from enacting their own requirements for GMO labeling. Consumer groups are framing this as an issue of transparency, stating that consumers have a right to know if their food has GMO ingredients, while agriculture and industry groups welcome the legislation that would provide a uniform set of guidelines, preempt labeling legislation from progressive states like California, and assure the ability of industrial agriculture to keep the public in the dark. This is a terrible bill. In the interests of the consumer’s right to know and to preserve the opportunity for greater transparency in food labeling we should urge our representatives to vote no.

Pirate fish. According to this National Geographic article, between 20 and 32 percent of the fish imported into the U.S. may come from illegal, pirate fishing operations. The fish being referred to are wild-caught fish, that is, fish that come from the oceans instead of from fish farms, but in violation of restrictions on net type, location of fishing, catch limitations and so forth. With so much illegal activity, it’s difficult for governments to limit overfishing—and difficult for consumers to know where their fish are coming from.

Walmart goes organic. This Washington Post article discusses Walmart’s plan for offering organic products at the same price as non-organic. By partnering with the company Wild Oats and employing its usual business strategies, the corporation expects that it will be eliminate the price differential.

Generally recognized as safe? This Food Safety News story sheds light on the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) loophole that has been allowing companies—instead of the FDA—to determine which ingredients are deemed safe for human consumption. According to the story, “The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has previously estimated that about 1,000 of the 10,000 additives used today are being used based on undisclosed GRAS safety determinations.”

Coupons for healthier food choices. Here’s an interesting story from the Washington Post about how coupons for fruits and vegetables might be showing modest success with changing shoppers’ habits. As the writer says, this is not a peer-reviewed study, but rather a report from an unnamed insurance company that is experimenting with ways to motivate its clients to make healthier food choices.

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