When I hear GMO, I think Monsanto- corn, soy, and canola are the largest GMO crops. Genetically-modified organisms are organisms (here we’re talking about seeds) which have been altered to have specific characteristics. I thought for a long time, what’s the upset over GMOs? They are made to be hardier plants (sometimes drought-resistant) and produce higher yields (or just have less crop loss). Sounds good to me!
Risks of GMO’s
But you know when you buy an apple and you wash it first to get off any dirt, residues, pesticides, etc? Well what I hadn’t bothered to learn about GMO’s until recently is that in many cases they are manipulated to self-produce pesticides and insecticides. No amount of washing can rid them of these substances. These are ‘insect-resistant’ GMO’s. Another form of GMO’s is ‘herbicide tolerant’ like ‘Round-Up ready’ which means they can be treated with a specific variety of chemicals with no detrimental affect to the growth of the plant. Some test results of the health consequences of these alterations on humans (examples here and here) are apparently not enough to convince the people who are supposed to be regulating food industries to take action. Weirdly, tests have shown that cows, pigs, and other animals show preference for non-GMO crops when given the choice. Concerns include:
-the huge amount of pesticides and insecticides GMO crops are able to withstand end up in our grocery stores
-these strains may affect entire ecosystems–after all, you can’t control every seed that blows in the wind and where it lands, how quickly it reproduces, or what eats it
-harsh effects on ecosystems (watch Vanishing of the Bees..really eye-opening)
-increase in yields does not benefit developing countries or small farmers because the costs of patents, licenses, buying new seeds and specific fertilizers, are so high
GMO’s are a large-scale and highly risky case of commodification. Monsanto and similar organizations have toyed with natural forms of life and patented this life. Monsanto has sued and bankrupt many small and medium sized farmers by claiming that the farmers are infringing on Monsanto’s patent when seeds have made their way onto these farmers lands. Those sued are often organic farmers who are intentionally not using Monstanto’s seed but instead have been contaminated by them. Fortunately, the tables are slowly being turned and Monsanto might not only be stopped in its tracks but also be made responsible for the strains that it has introduced into nature and been unable to control.
GMO food products are poorly regulated in the US and there are major efforts by corporations to not only not require GMO labelling but to make it illegal to label a product ‘non-gmo’. We in the United States are way behind the eight-ball on this. The EU had a ban on GMO’s beginning with France in 1998. The EU’s approach to food safety is pro-active and cautious whereas the US is reactive and, er, headstrong. Sort of the ‘innocent until really definitely proven guilty, and enough people put up enough of a fuss’ approach. But even in the EU, up against a giant like Monsanto bans are difficult to uphold. The international regulation of GMO’s was even an issue in the wikileaks papers, demonstrating its political and complex nature.
“Yuck, Vanessa, how can I avoid these crops?!” Well reader, I’m glad you asked. I like this page that gives some really simple and easy-to-remember tips on staying away from GMO’s. And if you’re interested in learning more about this stuff look at books and documentaries I’ve been into lately.
As always, thanks for reading!
Update: Website I came across on August 3. Check out the ‘GMO Health Dangers’ segment about halfway down the page.