Should the FDA require DHMO to be listed on food labels?

 

dihydrogen monoxide

Would you drink Dihydrogen monoxide? (Image by helen sotiriadis via Flickr)

Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is used in the production of genetically modified crops. It is also used as a food additive and preservative. Every year people die from accidents involving DHMO, including DHMO poisoning. Some have died from as little as one drop. Additionally, the burning of hydrocarbons (e.g., wood and fossil fuels) releases DHMO into the atmosphere where it is a powerful greenhouse gas, more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The government and food companies will tell you that DHMO has been used for years, is perfectly safe (Chemicals are part of life; they are the building blocks in fact), and does not need regulation. Yet, given these facts, shouldn’t companies be required to place DHMO on their food labels?

Actually, no, although every fact presented to you is true, it is designed to mislead you. In fact, DHMO is relatively safe. Dihydrogen monoxide, (two hydrogen atoms to one oxygen atom) is normally written as H2O: water.

Think about spin such as DHMO when you hear that genetically engineered crops have not been proven safe. As an example, you will hear about a Cornell University research study that was reported as a note in Nature in June 1999. You will read things similar to “The Nature study was published after several Bt-corn varieties had been approved by the EPA and over 20 million acres of Bt corn were planted in the United States.” (source: Union of Concerned Scientists website) The preliminary research found that monarch butterflies died from eating pollen from corn that has been modified to produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt toxin). Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed that grows in the Midwest where the corn grows. That is true. The European corn borer and monarch butterfly are members of the Lepidoptera, and though Bt is harmless to humans (indeed it is used by organic farmers as a pesticide because it is a naturally occurring soil bacterium) it is toxic to lepidopteran insects. Pollen from the Bt corn could fall on the milkweed which could sicken or kill monarch caterpillars. Again, true.

What is missing is perspective and balance. No crop is grown without the farmer (organic or conventional) using a pesticide. The better targeted the pesticide, the less harm that occurs to non-targets plants and animals. While it is true that Bt pollen poses a small risk to monarchs, organic farmers use Bt sprays, would monarch caterpillars be any less at risk from organically grown corn? No, the monarch would still be sickened or killed by organic growing methods. Additionally, other insects would be at risk too.

Less pesticide use is a result of growing Bt corn. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency pesticide use has decreased about 33% since Bt corn was introduced.
For more about Bt corn and the monarch study go to: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/btcorn/index.html#bt3

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