Genetically engineered plants that have been approved for sale don’t need labels — and people can be assured they’re safe to eat, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.
The FDA issued new rules about labeling GM plant foods at the same time as last week’s approval of the first genetically modified (GM) animal approved for the U.S. food market — a salmon engineered to grow faster than usual.
The FDA said the salmon was safe to eat and was nutritionally equivalent to other, non-GM salmon on the market. It also said GM salmon didn’t pose a risk to wild salmon because it would be farmed inland from any oceans.
The agency sent out a reminder about the requirements for plant foods on Monday.
“The agency is not aware of any valid scientific information showing that foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class of foods, differ from other foods in any meaningful way. GE (genetically engineered) foods don’t present greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding,” it said.
“However, if a food derived from a genetically engineered plant is materially different from its traditional counterpart, the labeling of that food must disclose such differences,” the FDA said.
For instance, canola oil that’s been genetically engineered to have more lauric acid — a so-called good fat — must be labeled “laurate canola oil.”
“Similarly, soybean oil containing higher levels of oleic acid than conventional soybean oil must be labeled ‘high oleic soybean oil’,” FDA said.
Otherwise, it’s up to the manufacturer to label any food. This sets the U.S. apart from the European Union, Australia and China, which require the labels. Consumer and environmental groups have long pressed for the FDA to require labels on GM foods, but the FDA says there’s no need.
“Food manufacturers may voluntarily label their foods with information about whether the foods were not produced using bioengineering, as long as such information is truthful and not misleading,” the FDA said.
Foods that are genetically engineered have new traits added by splicing in DNA or other genetic material directly into the chromosome, instead of using the more time-consuming process of cross-breeding plants in the hope of introducing the desired traits.
Sometimes it works well, like crops engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup. Other times, it flops, like the Flavr Savr tomato that was meant to stay firm as it ripened on the vine but didn’t. The process worries some consumers, who fear the new genes might somehow be harmful to them or to the environment.
The FDA says it checks both carefully before approving any new genetically modified plant.
For labels, the FDA doesn’t particularly like the term “GMO,” mostly because the “O” refers to the word “organism” — and it’s not really clear what that means.
Phrasing the FDA likes better:
- “Genetically engineered” or “This product contains cornmeal from corn that was produced using modern biotechnology.”
- “Some of our growers plant soybean seeds that were developed through modern biotechnology to be drought tolerant.”
And if food makers want to say their food’s free of genetically engineered ingredients, they can say something along the lines of:
- “Not bioengineered.”
- “Not genetically engineered.”
- “Not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology.”
- “We do not use ingredients that were produced using modern biotechnology.”
It’s very difficult to avoid genetically engineered plants, the FDA pointed out.
“In 2013, in the United States, bioengineered soybeans made up 93 percent of the acreage of planted soybeans, bioengineered cotton made up 90 percent of the acreage of planted cotton, and bioengineered corn varieties made up 90 percent of the acreage of planted corn,” it said.
“In addition, bioengineered sugar beets accounted for 95 percent of the acreage of planted sugar beets in the 2009-2010 crop year.”
President-elect Trump just promised that private insurance companies can help lower costs and get health insurance to more Americans.
But private health insurance already forms the basis of the Obamacare exchanges that Republicans have vowed to raze. And a conversation with just about any American covered by private health insurance makes it’s immediately clear that the private health insurance industry is a source of many, if not most, of the frustrations of managing health insurance.
“We’re going to get private insurance companies to take care of a lot of the people that can afford it. That’s going to take a tremendous burden off and they’re going to be able to have plans that are great plans,” Trump said in an interview aired Wednesday on the Fox news channel.
That’s pretty close to the goals of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare or the ACA.
“The ACA is a fairly free-market oriented health care proposal, more than I think many people on the left would have liked,” said Sherry Glied, dean of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “For the most part, companies can decide more or less what they want to do.”
Obamacare set up health insurance exchanges where people who couldn’t get good coverage any other way could go to buy policies regulated by the new rules, often with a generous federal subsidy.
It sought to stop the worst insurance company abuses, such as cutting off coverage when people got too sick, and sought to get rid of some of the most bare-bones plans that had low premiums but that also often left people in the lurch when they actually needed coverage.
Yet people still have struggled with denied claims, red tape and surprise medical bills, even on the Obamacare policies.
Abigail Leigh has been fighting with her provider, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Virginia, to pay for an emergency visit she made last August to an urgent care clinic while visiting her home state of South Carolina.
“It became very painful to breathe,” Leigh, a pharmacy student in Richlands, Virginia, told NBC News.
“I had to take very short breaths to even breathe at all. I was starting to get a little dizzy. So we decided to go to urgent care.”
The symptoms pointed to a potentially deadly blood clot in the lung, called a pulmonary embolism, so doctors ordered a battery of tests.
Luckily for her it wasn’t. “He decided I must have pleuritis, which is an inflammation of the lining of my lungs,” said Leigh. The total bill: more than $1,700.
“I later on got a statement from my insurance company saying they won’t cover it.”
Leigh’s been going back and forth with the insurance company. Her $184-a-month policy, which she bought through the exchange that the federal government runs on Virginia’s behalf, doesn’t cover out-of-state care, unless it’s emergency care. Leigh argues that her case is clearly emergency care, but as of this week her appeal is still unanswered.
“Now I’m having to call the hospital facility and keep them from sending the bill to collection,” Leigh said. “I don’t feel like I should be having to keep up on this.”
It’s a problem that easily could have existed pre-ACA, but Leigh said these kinds of negotiations should have been addressed by the law.
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) lays the blame at the feet of the health insurance companies.
“No one chooses when they will need emergency care and should not be punished financially for having emergencies or discouraged from seeking medical attention when they are sick or injured,” said ACEP president Dr. Rebecca Parker.
“There have been significant reductions in insurance payments for emergency care, as much as 70 percent. They have taken gross advantage of patients and emergency medical providers since the ACA, arbitrarily slashing payments to physicians,” Parker added.
In some states, such as California, the exchanges have attracted many insurance companies and offer a variety of policies. In others, problems caused some insurance companies to abandon the exchanges, saying they can’t make enough money.
That’s what happened to Beverly Deeds, who lost her Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Santa Fe, New Mexico when the insurer dropped off her state’s exchange. “They left me high and dry,” said Deeds, a 62-year-old retiree.
The only insurer left for Deeds was Christus. Deeds had been paying $250 a month, with a $6,000 deductible, she said.
After making several phone calls, Deeds got a bronze-level Christus plan for $449 a month. The bare-bones bronze plans are meant to provide catastrophic coverage for people who are generally healthy.
“The deductible is just under $7,000,” she said. Her husband, who has Medicare coverage, earns too much for her to qualify for a federal subsidy or for Medicaid, even though New Mexico did opt in to the federal expansion of the program.
“I hate it,” said Deeds, who says she voted against Obama but she says there’s plenty of blame to go around for what she sees as the ACA’s failures. “The insurance companies slanted things so they made a lot of money. Obamacare really padded their pockets,” she said.
Now, even though she qualifies for free annual mammograms and well-woman checkups, Deeds doesn’t go. “I’m scared to death. If I got diagnosed with something, how would I pay with that $7,000 deductible?” she asked.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration out there where this law was passed and was supposed to fix problems with the health care system, and people feel they are still paying a lot and don’t understand why the law hasn’t done more to help them,” said Liz Hamel, who leads polling for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
A report out this week from consultancy firm Avalere Health shows that the 11.5 million people getting health insurance on the exchanges in 2017 will pay more and often get less for their money than in previous years, although federal subsidies will close the gap for 81 percent of customers.
“Following several years of single-digit premium growth, premiums increased 12 percent on average for silver plans in 2017—from $496 per month in 2016 to $554 per month in 2017,” Avalere says.
Fewer than a third of policies are the preferred provider organizations (PPO) or point of service (POS) plans that offer customers a wide choice of doctors, hospitals and other providers. Deductibles for the silver plans – the plans that qualify for federal subsidies – grew by 20 percent for 2017.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents insurance companies, says prices depend on competition in each state, and says some of the ACA’s rules have driven up costs. “Health insurance premiums are set based on a complex set of factors that reflect the cost of providing coverage in a state and in a market,” it says.
AUG 1 2016
President Obama has signed a new law that would require all food labels to declare for the first time whether the item contains genetically modified ingredients.
Just how clear those labels are, however, is up for debate.
The new law, signed Friday and supported by the food industry, pre-empts a recently passed — and stricter — Vermont ruling that requires food to say “produced with genetic engineering.” Instead, companies will be allowed to either say that in plain words on the package, or provide a QR code, 1-800 number, or website for consumers to visit for more information.
Opponents argue that this type of labeling discriminates against lower-income families who may not have access to the technology required to learn further details.
Plus — when you’ve got a grabbing toddler in the stroller and you’re snagging crates of mac n’ cheese off the shelves, you probably won’t have time to be scanning bar codes.
A recent review of two decades of research and over 900 studies by the National Academy of Sciences has not found any evidence that genetically modified organisms pose a hazard to human health. But advocates say not enough is known about GMOs — and consumers want to know exactly what’s in their food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved commercial planting of two types of potatoes that are genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine.
The potatoes next must clear a voluntary review process through the Food and Drug Administration as well as get the OK from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The approval covers Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co.’s Ranger Russet and Atlantic varieties of the company’s second generation of Innate potatoes.
The company says the potatoes will also have reduced bruising and black spots, enhanced storage capacity, and a reduced amount of a chemical created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures that’s a potential carcinogen.
“We obviously are very proud of these,” said company spokesman Doug Cole.
The company says it expects those approvals in January with the potatoes entering the market next spring.
The two varieties join a third variety with the same traits called the Russet Burbank that has already Been approved by the Agriculture Department and FDA, with EPA approval also expected in January.
The company said the potatoes contain only potato genes, and that the resistance to late blight, the disease that caused the Irish potato famine, comes from an Argentinian variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.
Late blight continues to be a major problem for potato growers around the world, especially in wetter regions. Company officials say the new types of potatoes will bring 24-hour protections to farmers’ fields and reduce the use of pesticide spray up to 45 percent.
The reduction in bruising, Cole said, could reduce waste and increase by 15 percent the top-quality potatoes coming out of fields, which sell for more than bruised potatoes.
Cole said the new varieties of potatoes can be kept in cold storage longer. Conventional potatoes can turn a dark color when cooked after they were kept cold for too long. The enhanced cold storage could have significant ramifications for the potato chip industry by reducing trucking costs, Cole said.
The company’s second generation of Innate potatoes follows the first generation that has been selling to consumers for more than a year. Those potatoes, marketed under the White Russet label, have reduced bruising and reduced potential carcinogens when cooked, but not resistance to late blight or enhanced cold storage.
Cole said about 40 million pounds of the first generation potatoes have been sold to consumers in more than 35 states. He said that’s about 1 percent of all potato sales. Of the 40 million pounds, he said about two-thirds went to produce sections of stores.
There is no evidence that genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, are unsafe to eat, but for some people, altering the genetic code of foods presents an ethical issue. McDonald’s has rejected using Simplot’s first generation of Innate potatoes for its French fries.
The food industry has also faced pressure from retailers as consumer awareness of genetically modified foods has increased. Retailer Whole Foods has said it plans to label GMO products in all its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018.
A company spokeswoman declined to comment over the phone on Monday, and the company didn’t immediately respond to an emailed question from The Associated Press about whether it would consider selling the potatoes in its stores.
While more and more people are becoming educated about the true history of Monsanto and genetically engineered foods, most still don’t realize one extremely important piece of information: the FDA’s surprising lack of safety testing.
In regards to GMOs, the FDA’s declaration of “substantial equivalence” means that there is no long-term, independent safety testing of new foods and crops that have been genetically engineered.
When it comes to the forthcoming GMO pineapple, that is once again the case: the FDA has said that Del Monte’s proposed creation is “safe” based solely on information submitted by the company itself. There is a distinct lack of information on long-term potential health effects, however.
The new GMO pineapple has been given a rubber stump, and it could be headed to store shelves. Here’s what you need to know about it.
New “Pink” Pineapple To Be Grown in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the most diverse and natural paradises in the world, but now the country is expected to be the site of the latest GMO experiment: an “extra sweet pink flesh” pineapple.
Here’s how the new pineapple was created according to the FDA:
“Del Monte’s new pineapple has been genetically engineered to produce lower levels of the enzymes already in conventional pineapple that convert the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink, so it is commonly and safely consumed.”
According to the company’s information the product is “safe,” but the process itself has many questioning it, wondering if perhaps any unintended consequences will come from “playing God” with such a widely consumed food.
While genetic engineering can be explained simply in a surface way, it also can create unseen changes at a cellular level that the everyday person is not aware of, critics say. When GMOs were originally approved, the FDA ignored its own scientists’ warnings about potential allergens and long-term health concerns.
The FDA and GMO companies disagree with critics on the need for long-term independent safety testing, however.
According to the NBC report, the pineapple will simply be labeled “extra sweet pink flesh pineapple,” suggesting that no special labels showing that it is genetically engineered will be required.
A terrestrial exoplanet orbiting in the habitable zone of the nearest star Proxima Centauri has just been discovered. It has a mass about 30% larger than our planet and an orbital period (year) of 11.2 Earth days. Could it have an atmosphere? Could it have liquid water on its surface? How long is its day? What is its climate like today? Can we see it directly with a telescope now? And in the future? This website provides answers to these questions as a result of the studies that we have carried out and that have just been submitted for publication to the specialized Astronomy & Astrophysics journal.
Is Proxima Cen b habitable?
In two publications, a team of astronomers from Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, UK, and USA has studied the prospects for the recently discovered terrestrial planet Proxima b being a habitable world. Proxima b is a 1.3 Earth mass planet orbiting its star at about 1/20th of the Sun-Earth distance, which places it well within the so-called Habitable (Goldilocks) Zone. It receives an amount of energy from its central star that is about 2/3 of that received by the Earth from the Sun.
The key element to habitability is whether liquid water could exist on the planetary surface. While visible and infrared light just warm the planet, high-energy radiation (X-rays and extreme-UV) and particles are a threat to the gases and liquids (volatiles as a whole) as they can be eroded away and escape to space. Proxima b receives a significantly higher amount of such radiation compared to Earth, and therefore its is crucial to assess whether the planet has been able to maintain its water, and gases in general, over the course of the 5 billion years of history since it was born.
The studies, which have just been submitted for publication to the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal, make use of the most advanced tools and observations available today to investigate the past history of Proxima b and the amount of gases and liquids that could still be on its surface. Researchers find that, currently, Proxima b receives 60 times more high-energy radiation than the Earth, and that the total from the time of formation is about 7 to 16 times higher (because the Earth was also irradiated more strongly in the past).
Although the amount of initial water on the planet is unknown, calculations reveal that Proxima b could have lost about 1 ocean’s worth of water due to the early irradiation in the first 100-200 million years after formation. What happened after that time is very uncertain. The planet could have continued to lose significant amounts of atmosphere gases and end up as a dry, atmosphereless world. Or perhaps it could have been able to keep most of its atmosphere and preserve liquid water on the surface and therefore be hospitable to life as we know it. Both possibilities are still open.
Much research is still due, but the studies conclude that the presence of liquid water on the surface today cannot be ruled out and thus Proxima b can be considered a viable candidate habitable planet.
To study the scenario in which Proxima b had surface water and an atmosphere, the authors examined the possible climates using a sophisticated 3D model and exploring a broad variety of atmospheric compositions and water inventories. They find that that liquid water may be present over the surface of the planet only in the sunniest regions, either an area in the hemisphere of the planet facing the star or in a tropical belt.
Future observations, for example using the 39-m ESO E-ELT telescope under construction in Chile, will allow further investigation of Proxima b and of the hypothetical presence of a thick atmosphere and a liquid water reservoir. If this turned out to be the case, it would be very exciting that the nearest star to the Sun also hosts the nearest habitable (perhaps inhabited?) planet.