Ban Genetically Modified Foods, Not Athletes


In September, former major league star Roger Clemens was indicted for lying to Congress about his use of human growth hormone. And later that month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report deeming genetically modified salmon safe to eat. If approved, the fish would be the nation’s first commercially produced animal that is genetically engineered for food. Our federal government seems to be saying two things: (1) use of human growth hormone or performance enhancing drugs by a professional athlete is bad but (2) allowing agribusiness to feed American consumers genetically engineered seafood is good. Sounds like cognitive dissonance emanating from Washington, DC.

There is no doubt that anabolic steroids cause cancer and violent outbursts among some users. Young athletes should avoid steroids unless doctor-prescribed and given under strict medical supervision. Illicit drug use by athletes is wrong because it endangers their health and violates the rules of good sportsmanship. And if, Roger Clemens lied in his congressional testimony, he should be punished. But I don’t believe Clemens committed perjury.

It is unsporting (if not, deadly) to take the padding out of boxing gloves, to slide into second base with cleats up, to “clip” a football player, or to spear in hockey. Using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are an effort to get a competitive edge on an opponent. Some star athletes may use human growth hormone to recover from injuries quicker. Some people argue that steroids and human growth hormone only enhance natural abilities. The sports entertainment business requires bigger, faster, healthier looking athletes. Those are the qualities that sell tickets, bring in advertising revenue, and earn megabuck endorsement deals.

It is this same confluence of big business and money that will lead the FDA to approve the sale of genetically engineered salmon to consumers. AquaBounty, maker of the AquAdvantage salmon, wants to bring their fish to market sooner but Mother Nature is too slow. AquaBounty geneticists have found a way to transplant a growth gene into salmon that will double its size in three months instead of six. While the FDA has determined that the modified fish was chemically and biologically identical to conventional Atlantic salmon, the sample size of approximately 30 fish is strikingly inadequate considering the hundreds of thousands of fish AquaBounty intends to serve to American consumers.

AquaBounty probably won’t be required to label their salmon as genetically altered. Why not? Big business and the FDA don’t want to panic the public. How do I know this? A few years ago, I drafted state legislation requiring the labeling of products derived from cloned (genetically engineered) animals. Industry lobbyists told me that such a law was unnecessary and would put them at a competitive disadvantage. The legislation got nowhere because genetically engineered animals had not been brought market. Now that unmarked genetically altered fish is being fast tracked for local consumption, it appears inevitable that an increasing percentage of our meat products will be genetically modified, despite limited studies on the long-term health effects of these animal products.

The FDA should also undertake additional long-term, large sample size safety studies to fully understand the implications of genetically altered food. Consumers deserve to know what products they are putting into their bodies and the FDA should comply. If the FDA approves the sale of genetically modified food, it must label these products accordingly.

One branch of the federal government wants to ban the use of steroids, performance enhancing drugs and human growth hormones by professional athletes but while another branch of government seeks to approve the consumption of animals injected with steroids, growth hormones and altered DNA. Congress seeks a public exposure of professional athletes who have used performance enhancing drugs, while the FDA would permit the consumption of genetically modified (GM) salmon but prevent the labeling of GM fish and livestock. I think their respective priorities are mixed up and misplaced.

As I stated before, I don’t believe Roger Clemens committed perjury. The use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes does not bother me. I think such use should be made known and cleared by team physicians. Mickey Mantle and other athletes of his era played under the influence of alcohol and amphetamines. Former major league pitcher, Dock Ellis allegedly threw a no-hitter under the influence of LSD. However, I believe genetically engineered food should not be eaten but if it is approved for human consumption, it must be clearly labeled as such. And our pro athletes should also be labeled as natural or enhanced.

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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