Lots of recent news on the genetically modified food front. First the good news. Whole Foods Grocer will require all GMO food to be labeled by 2018, and will encourage food companies to switch to non-gmo ingredients. Consumers demanded it, and Whole Foods listened. This could be a game-changer. Should other grocers follow suit, GMO labeling will expected everywhere. As usual, governments bow to companies, but consumers are the ones that truly have the power.
Now the bad news. The US government just passed the “Monsanto Protection Act” which as Food Democracy Now put it, ” …strips judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer and farmer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, citizens and the environment.”
Genetically Modified Organisms are NOT produced by cross-pollinating two wheat varieties in order to create a type of wheat that is hardier, nor by breeding two kinds of horses in order to encourage off-spring with certain desired traits such as speed or hauling ability.
Cross-breeding or hybridization also happens naturally without human help, as the wind and insects carry pollen, and well, animals will be animals. But dogs and cats cannot interbreed, corn cannot hybridize with rice, and fish can’t produce offspring with sunflowers.
Genetically modified, genetically engineered or transgenic organisms are creations made in the lab, where genetic material from one plant or animal is inserted into a totally different species in order to "improve" the species in some way, and to give the company the ability to patent and control the new life-form.
Patenting genes is a huge business which prevents farmers from saving seed to plant the following year. Instead they must buy new seed each year putting them at greater financial risk should their crop fail.
Monsanto goes after farmers for patent infringement if their fields are accidentally contaminated with GMO plants. Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian canola farmer who was sued by Monsanto because the wind blew some Round-Up Ready GM canola onto his non-gmo field of canola. He fought Monsanto all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the Court ruled that he did not owe Monsanto anything.
The benefits of the genetic modifications are questionable. For example, GE soybeans were altered with the genes of brazil nuts in order to improve the taste of the soybeans. The idea sounded good until those with nut allergies unknowingly ate them. (Nut allergies can be fatal).
Most of the genetic modifications are designed for pest control with toxic results. Round-Up Ready Canola for
example, is modified to withstand Round-Up Ready insecticide, which pretty much kills anything but the GMO crop, rendering the soil infertile. This modification encourages more pesticide use, particularly as the pests adapt and become more and more resistant to the insecticide.
Corn is modified so that every cell in the plant contains BT toxin. The leaves, the stems and yes, the kernels that we eat. The BT toxin is meant to destroy the guts of the bugs that eat them. But those bugs have become resistant to this modification as well.
So instead of solving the pest problem, these genetic modifications have created resistant "super bugs", rendering the modifications useless.
Monsanto said BT toxin would be destroyed in the guts of humans, but research now shows that that is not true. BT toxin has been found in the placenta blood of pregnant women.
Rats that have been fed GM food for their entire lives suffer huge cancerous tumors.
GMO agriculture tends to promote monocrops, which decreases biodiversity, which in turn impacts food security.
Monsanto also created a “terminator gene” in 1998, which would stop a crop from producing viable seed. If this technology gets to market it will ensure the farmers need to re-buy each year.
Many farmers initially believed that they would benefit from higher crop yields by switching to GMO crops, but found that any marginal benefit they may have gained was wiped out by the fact that instead of being allowed to save seed from the previous crop, they were forced to re-buy GMO seed each year.
Monsanto, the major player in GE foods, also created a “terminator gene” in 1998, which would stop a crop from producing viable seed. If this technology gets to market it will ensure the farmers need to re-buy each year.
As you have probably observed, crops tend to be grown outside, with access to wind and insects. I find it frightening to think that this "terminator gene" may naturally hybridize with non-GMO crops. We don’t really know what might happen, but it seems at least possible that we may accidentally destroy our food supply if this gene were to get out of control.
Genetically Engineered food is a huge experiment in which we are the unknowing guinea pigs. Of course those involved will say it is safe – they have a vested interest. But the bottom line is we simply don’t know how safe it is for us or the planet.
The most commonly modified foods are canola, corn, soy and cottonseed. If you want to avoid genetically modified food, read labels and avoid any products that contain these ingredients, or choose organic.
GMO food is a complex topic encompassing many important ethical issues. For more information, see the movie The Future of Food, and to look up GMO issues in your part of the world, go to www.gmcontamination.org to research by country, crop and year known GMO incidents caused by contamination, illegal release, or negative agricultural side-effect.
Chek, Paul; How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2004.
Garcia, Deborah Koons; The Future of Food DVD, Cinema Libre Studio, CA, 2005.