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Whiter button mushrooms cannot forgo testing

By Anya Vanecek
Public Health Digital Campaigner

This has me worried. The Food and Drug Administration is considering a mushroom that has been genetically modified to remove the DNA that causes browning, and more than likely, they’ll send this product to market without testing it first.

For just an aesthetic change, this all seems rather foolish.

But let’s take a look at the facts.

Confusion about genetic modification abounds, and it’s no surprise why. Despite industry claims about scientific certainty about the safety of these products, there is no scientific consensus, and there are remarkably few long-term studies, on the health and environmental effects of genetic modification. Saying there’s no evidence that GMOs are unsafe is hardly a meaningful statement when there’s little information on GMO safety to begin with.

What’s obvious is that GMO technologies has not provided the earth-feeding, environment-saving change the industry would have us believe.

“GMOs have been ... a tremendous disappointment. What does it do to agriculture? Well, it encourages farms to get bigger. What does it do to the kind of food that is grown? Well, they're basically doing more soy and corn. What does it do to pesticides? It increased them dramatically.”– Michael Pollan to GrubStreet, March 7, 2016.

Michael Pollan has long advocated for increased scrutiny of genetic-modification technology – and gotten heat for it from industry allies. But the fact remains that there hasn't been the kind of testing that many of us assume. The FDA doesn't demand or conduct testing itself

In theory, the industry’s own safety tests should be reliable. After all, public health and safety should take precedent over corporate profits. But we’ve seen time and again how rarely that’s the case. Far more common are realizations, decades too late, that products once supposedly known to be safe were far from it. Lead. Cigarettes.

But my point is not to compare GMOs to these clearly toxic products. My point is that until something is vigorously tested, consumers should not be expected to trust in its healthfulness or long-term safety. Nor should they be forced to support it.

Make no mistake: when these mushrooms -- or any GMO product -- arrive on the market, they won’t be labelled, and it will be near impossible to keep them out of your shopping cart.

In an age of growing consumer awareness, it seems distinctly unreasonable to expect food buyers to accept the wink and nod offered by the biotechnology industry about the healthfulness and safety of genetically-modified foods. And for what? Whiter mushrooms? That’s a genetic gamble I’d rather not buy into.

Cutting up complex genetic material is a complex game. Changes may interrupt gene interactions and produce potentially-disastrous results. Or perhaps not. As the agency dedicated to protecting citizens from potentially unhealthy and dangerous products, the FDA has a responsibility to determine that – before they allow new GMOs on our shelves.

Consumers’ right to be able to trust that their food is safe ought to come first.

Tell the FDA: This genetically-modified mushroom should not be approved for sale until it has been fully tested to determine that it’s safe for our health and the environment.

At best, these mushrooms aren’t substantively different from their unmodified predecessors – just prettier. At worst, they pose a threat to human and/or environmental health. Either way, FDA testing would allow these mushrooms to come to market with legitimate value and confidence, or prevent unnecessary suffering.

In less than one week, nearly 30,000 people have called on the FDA to conduct meaningful and robust tests on the genetically-modified mushrooms before giving their stamp of approval. All we’re really asking for is proof.  

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