Davoud Hayatgheib (Biosafety Project National Coordinator)
Atefeh Sahlabadi (Interpreter/Translator/Reporter)
I.R.I. Department of Environment
Perhaps the most important question about genetically modified organisms is whether people are properly informed of the kind of food they consume. Most of the GMO foods are not labeled as GMO. Furthermore, there’s not enough awareness around the world as to what consequences could GMO have, or what good or harm has it had so far.
Should people have the right to know exactly which food is organic and which is genetically modified? We asked former chairman of the National Organic Standards Board of United States of America, Dr. James Riddle.
DOE: Is it true that US citizens are prevented from knowing if their food is GMO? What do the American people demand regarding GMO labelling?
Dr. Riddle: This [GMO] technology has been largely developed in the United States, but it’s been developed in secret. The citizens of the United States don’t even know this is in their food. We don’t have these products labeled, and polls consistently show that over %90 of Americans would like to know. But the interest to prevent Americans from knowing what’s in their food is very strong.
DOE: So the GMO-making companies don’t spend money on labeling?
Dr. Riddle: Well, they’re spending money to prevent labeling effort. Say, they spent over 100 million dollars just in three [US] states, successfully defeating valid initiatives that would require labeling. They’re the top donors to both the Democrats and Republicans in congress. So they’re spending a lot of money to keep Americans from knowing what these are and prevent labeling.
They intimidate scientists who try to conduct independent research and whenever there are research studies published that are critical of their products, the scientists are attacked or characters are attacked. So it’s really not a good situation that we’re facing in our country.
DOE: Is that why there are a lot of researches promoting GMOs but not a lot against it?
Dr. Riddle: It’s the intimidation of scientists. The biotech companies spend a great deal of money in universities, basically getting public institutions to promote their technology, and like I said, when a few brave scientists try to do research and their findings are critical, they’re attacked, and that really intimidates other researchers from doing critical studies that need to happen. And even under the US regulatory system, they are no requirements for human heath safety tests of GMOs before they’re released into the food supply. None.
DOE: GMO supporters believe GMOs are as safe as organic food. We know GMOs have roundup…
Dr. Riddle: Right, exactly, and the World Health Organization has named roundup a probable human carcinogen.
DOE: But GMO supporters say that something like Glyphosate, which is a phosphoric poison, is safe.
Dr. Riddle: Of course they say that! But the research shows just the opposite. The World Health Organization would not have said probable carcinogen without evidence that they’re harmful. I come from the opposite side—the organic side—and we know all the research shows that organic methods protect water quality, biodiversity, and produce equivalent yields of more nutritious and safer foods without the pesticide residues.
DOE: So which one is more resistant to draught, really, organic crops or non-organic crops? What would be a better alternative to the current trends of food consumption?
Dr. Riddle: Expanding the amount of research in the organic agriculture. There is very little money spent on organic research worldwide. And even with the research that is done, though the results are very positive as far as protecting the environment and making soils more draught-proof, building organic matter level of the soil which is a requirement of organic systems actually, sort of it’s like a sponge to capture water, and then it’s there during draught years, and numerous studies show that organic crops yield better during draught years than non-organic crops.
DOE: GMO supporters in Iran use US’s large consumption and support of GMO as a reason for Iran to do the same. Could it be the lack of enough awareness about GMOs both countries?
Dr. Riddle: I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the research on the impacts of GMOs, and it’s led to increased use of pesticides, it’s led to pesticide-resistant insects, herbicide resistant weeds, [it’s led to] residues of pesticides and the genetically engineered toxins in the food and the bloodstreams of humans, as lab tests show. In animal feeding studies, animals consuming [GMOs] have problems in their health—reproductive and digestive systems—and earlier death.
So I think there’s a lot of reason for biotech companies to try and hide their technology, but it’s all the more reason we need to know, both in America and in Iran, if genetically engineered foods are on the market, and let us choose whether we’d like to buy them or not.
James Riddle has been an organic farmer, gardener, conservation district supervisor, organic inspector, educator, policy advisor, author, organizer, and avid organic eater. Since 1991, he has trained hundreds of organic inspectors throughout the world, and helped develop standardized organic certification and inspection forms, which are used by numerous USDA-accredited certification agencies. In January 2001 he was appointed to the USDA's National Organic Standards Board. He served on the Executive Committee for 5 years and was chair in 2005. He has worked with the Agricultural Marketing Service; Economic Research Service; Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service; Agricultural Research Service; Natural Resource Conservation Service; Risk Management Agency; National Ag Library; Foreign Ag Service; National Ag Statistics Service; and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.