It’s been some time since the latest news on genetic engineering and our food. As you might recall, the Obama administration recently helped expand the GMO market by approving the unrestricted production of GMO or “roundup ready” alfalfa and sugar beets. Huge controversy flared over the debate, calling companies like Whole Foods and StoneyField Farms into question regarding their commitment to keep GE foods off the shelves.
Let’s take a quick minute to orient ourselves in this debate. What are GMOs and what’s the problem? What does the prevalence of GMOs mean for consumers? If they really do pose a threat, then what can we do about it?
What are GMOs?
GMO simply stands for “genetically modified organism.” Sometimes, people will use the abbreviation GE instead, which means “genetically engineered”, but these do not necessarily mean the same thing.
Instead, GM refers to “genetic material altered through any method, including conventional breeding” and GE speaks to “one that has been modified using techniques that permit the direct transfer of genes to that organism”, according to the Canadian Forest Service.
So why do we do this – why go GMO or GE? The idea is simple: if we can get “into” the genes of our foods, we can maximize some (or all) of its benefits – larger yields, drought resistance, increased number of seeds. To companies, there are two major arguments to be made in support of the engineering of foods: first, GE foods ‘promote productivity’ and, in extension, profits; second, many make the ‘feed the world’ argument, which argues the benefits of GMOs will help feed populations in every corner of the earth.
This all looks very nice on paper, but are there reasons for worry?
GMO Crops and What they Mean for You
As you might guess, my question was rhetorical. Yes, there are a number of reasons for worry.
First and foremost, the point of health must be addressed. Since the early 1990s, when companies like Monsanto started turning everything GMO and the FDA turned its back, the United States has seen a relentless spike in food borne illnesses, obesity, chronic diseases, autism, and diabetes.
Now, while correlation does not always equal causation, it would be in err to ignore the two simultaneous events. In the last 20 years, obesity has exploded in the United States. According to the CDC, “In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.” I suggest watching the animated graph on the CDC’s obesity information page.
Not only is the food bad for our health, but the practices used in farming that food is bad for our own, the nation’s, and ultimately the world’s health. Due to the genetic alteration of plants, many do not see the same lifeline as, say, an organic crop. Within a few years, seeds become sterile and farms require a new stock, highlighting the unsustainable nature of this practice.
Worse yet, more and more pesticides are required to fight the evolving pest life. Tons of chemicals are dumped on our crops and are carried by the breeze. They leech into water supplies, contaminating natural aquifers. They blanch the earth, leading to weak top soil that is easily washed away by heavy storms. These farming practices, in fact, have been identified as a reason why the south is being ravished by such storms as those seen in the earl 2011 season.
As brought up by Mark Bittman with the New York Times, the concentration of food stocks (or seeds) into the hands of a few small companies is undemocratic. Simply put, our food supply is being dictated by corporate CEOs. As Bittman points out, no one would want the government to have such power, and yet we find ourselves in a situation where the only worse reality is true: corporations have that power.
Furthermore, with the lack of labeling of GMOs (something intolerable in European states), consumers simply have to accept the food they buy. There is no room for choice, largely because GMO producers see labeling as a threat to sales. Threat to sales vs. choice for the people?
Remind me, what country are we in?
Finally, many of the arguments made by companies in support of genetic engineering are, for lack of a better word, bollocks. For instance, the famed argument that “GE foods are necessary to feed the world” is blatantly erroneous. The fact remains that we grow more than enough food to feed the world’s hungry. Even the poorest countries have a supply of food to feed their hungry.
What it comes down to is not a supply problem – it’s a political one.
As Karen Charman of VegSource put it, “Starvation and malnutrition are very real problems, but they are caused by unequal distribution of wealth, not by food scarcity” (emphasis added). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has argued that food production has been steadily ahead of population growth, an argument supplemented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who found that “78 percent of all malnourished children under five in the developing world live in countries with food surpluses.”
Without a doubt, argues, Melissa Moore from Food First, “even the most “hungry countries” have enough food for all their people right now.”
What You can Do to Fight Back
Support organic, grow your own food, and work against industrial agriculture. Organic farming – which is required not to use GE seeds, let alone synthetic pesticides or artificial fertilizers – promotes job growth, healthy soil and water, and a healthier public. Truth is, chemical and GE farming is artificially cheap, heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
Take control of your health by becoming aware – and help others become aware too. This issue is too large to ignore. Write your representative, hold rallies, and protest actions like that of the Obama administration, allowing GMO alfalfa and sugar beets to go unregulated.
As geneticist David Suzuki argued at the 2008 Commonwealth Lecture in London, “Any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it, is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long-term effect will be.”
Let’s avoid finding out that long-term effect and get back to better health, shall we?
Dr. Berkas Comment
Sad but true. This is a reality. Why isn’t the US taking a closer look at this? Britain and other countries are. Shouldn’t you?
The UK Progressive reports:
“Scientific testing has not been done on what effects GMOs may have on humans. What has been shown is that GMO foods contain excessive amounts of certain toxins, the effects of which have not been determined. Genetically modified foods also negatively impact the environment by creating more toxins and potentially leading to the creation of mutated soil bacteria, which may lead to more harm regarding the future of food production.”
I think you should know that 90-95 percent of the major US-grown crops are genetically engineered. Most of these crops are used in both human and animal food production without labeling and with no safety testing.
Some of the recent GM (Genetically Modified) food study results are as follows:
- GM peas cause lung damage in mice. Additionally, offspring of rats fed GM soy showed a five-fold increase in mortality, lower birth weights, and infertility.
- GM potatoes have been found to have a correlative cancer risk in rats
- Male mice fed GM soy were shown to have damaged young sperm cells.
- In fact, bacteria in your gut can incorporate DNA from GM foods!
- It has also been found that embryos of offspring of GM soy-fed mice had altered DNA functioning.
- Several US farmers have also reported sterility or fertility problems among pigs and cows fed GM corn varieties.
It has begun and has been going on for years, but where does this stop? The first step is the most important: YOU should know!
Joint the movement and sign the petition to President Obama to create a mandatory labeling of GM foods. This is not just for you anymore…it is for OUR future!