The Senate recently passed the newest version of the US Farm Bill which, no big surprise, did not include the labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Once again, big industry was able to use its political and money clout to keep Americans from being informed, despite the fact that over 90% of Americans want to know if there are GMOs in their food. On top of this, the second largest country in the world, India, will now become the 50th nation in the world to require labels on genetically engineered foods, joining the EU, Japan, China and other nations.
During a discussion in my book club last week the philanthropy of Bill Gates was discussed. I made the off-hand comment that I was disappointed in Bill Gates support of the GMO industry. This brought up a heated response from another book club member who strongly supports GMOs and believes that GMOs are the answer to feeding the world’s poor. I was shocked by that response because I fervently avoid GMOs and sign petitions right and left in support of the labeling of GMOs.
So am I wrong? Are GMO’s indeed safe? Have I overreacted? In 1992 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that genetically engineered foods were no different than conventional foods.
“More than HALF the foods at U.S. grocery stores are likely to contain genetically engineered ingredients.” – http://www.justlabelit.org
GMOs are not created by your grandpa farmers out in the fields allowing plants to cross pollinate and hybridize new varieties or breeding animals or grafting trees. It is scientists in labs creating what many now call franken-foods.
What combinations have been tried? It is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Scientists have worked on some interesting combinations:
- Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
- Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
- Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.
- Artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.
- Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
- Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.
Current field trials include:
- Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
- Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
- Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
- Tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii)
- Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
- Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)
Sounds like a science fiction movie idea, doesn’t it? Creating plants that won’t be killed by toxins so they can spray pesticides and herbicides to manage the fields may sound like a great idea – but what do these plants do inside our bodies? We don’t really know. For certain insects it breaks open their stomachs and kills them. Hmmm, sounds like one of the Alien movies. The testing our government currently requires is done by the same companies creating these foods. What grade would you give yourself if billions of dollars in profits were riding on it?
Do you want to eat a plant that won’t die if poison is put on it? Do you want to eat a soybean product that might have an allergen? Soybeans have been spliced with the brazil nut gene; what if you are allergic to brazil nuts and the product can’t be labeled? And a genetically engineered salmon is pending FDA approval.
That’s the scary part: The companies using GMO’s don’t have to tell you. But over 40 other countries require foods with GMOs to be labeled. The US is one of only a few developed nations that doesn’t require labeling of GMOs. GMO crops that contain their own pesticides often kill more than their targeted insects, producing a chain reaction of unintended consequences: “super-weeds”, “super-pests”, “super-viruses”.
In the US, first Vermont, then Connecticut, fell to the threats by Monsanto to be sued if those states proceeded with labeling of GMOs, even though over 90% of each state’s citizens supported the labeling. California is in the fight of its life for its citizens’ right to know with their Label GMO’s (labelgmos.org) campaign which puts the question up for vote in the November elections. You can be assured Monsanto will be dropping a bucket-load of $$$ to thwart this campaign.
Besides the health, environmental and biodiversity risks that GMOs might pose, and supposing that biotech defenders are right and GMOs are safe to eat and safe to grow, there is a stronger argument to oppose them. That argument includes the biotech industry’s use of intellectual property rights, laws and international trade regulations to patent GMOs and to transform the nature of farming from an activity required to sustain life to a profit-driven high-tech industry. Just ask some of the American farmers who have been sued by Monsanto for GMO seeds blowing into their fields, putting many small farmers out of business.
Biotech corporations have faced resistance to the introduction of GMOs in Europe from many sources. Several developing countries, such as Angola, India, and Zambia, have said no to GMO crops. They have also resisted GMO foods as food aid. USAID, the US international agency, has exerted enormous pressure through the United Nations World Food Program, effectively telling countries that they have no choice: accept GMO food, or get no food aid at all.
In March of this year Poland’s beekeepers won a ban on Monsanto’s GMOs. Monsanto’s Mon810 corn, genetically engineered to produce a mutant version of the insecticide Bt, was banned in Poland following protests by beekeepers who showed the corn was killing honeybees. Poland is the first country to formally acknowledge the link between Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn and the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that’s been devastating bees around the world, including here in the US. Mon810 was approved for food use in 1996 in the US. Many analysts believe that Monsanto has known the danger their GMOs posed to bees all along. You know what? No bees, no food.
If you are the type of consumer like me who strives to purchase organic foods as much as possible, GMO contamination could make it impossible for you to obtain organic foods. GMO crops unique threat of genetic pollution could spread to the soil and other plant and animal life triggering irreversible genetic contamination.
Planting GMO crops is not a question of choice: once they are planted somewhere, crops elsewhere become contaminated by them. This could be especially disastrous for organic farmers. The claim that GMO crops require fewer herbicides and pesticides has been proven wrong. GMOs require fewer chemicals than conventional crops in the short term but gradually they need significantly more. GMOs threaten plant biodiversity. Biotech goods undergo no independent safety testing.
Biotech corporations and the US government present GMO crops as the solution to world hunger. Bill Gates has bought into this story. Sustainable agriculture is an approach to agriculture that is environmentally, economically, culturally and socially sustainable. It emphasizes crop diversity and rotation, conserves natural resources, and favors small and medium-sized farming rather than agribusinesses and large corporations.
How about bt toxins that become part of your food and don’t degrade? Or antibiotic resistance? Or paying a license fee for something Mother Nature gives us for free? Saynotogmos.org and justlabelit.org have many articles on the health, economic, biodiversity, and the-freedom-to-eat-what-you-choose risks. Nope, still don’t want GMOs.