Say NO to GMO

January 8, 2010

I have to admit I’ve been reluctant to post about genetically modified food.  I knew that I was against it, but wasn’t sure I could tell you why.  Mostly it was simply because GMOs (genetically modified organisms) felt unnatural to me, non-organic, very unlike the agriculture that works with nature spoken about by Wendell Berry, Joel Salatin and other agroecology minded people who I have come to greatly respect. However, after seeing The Future of Food, a documentary by Lily Films that came out in 2004, my ideas have become concrete.

The documentary lays out the main problems with genetically modified foods: patent laws over living things don’t make sense, the environmental, health, and even yield effects of GMO foods have not been tested, and GMO companies have way to much control over the food system (and it doesn’t help that they have friends or past employees in the government).

A man who was interviewed in the film made up a funny analogy that sums up why patenting living, reproducing things is sketchy. He said, its like you have a car and slowly bit by bit of it is invaded by another car’s parts and suddenly you have someone else’s muffler and then you get sued for it. Basically, never has a patented thing been able to establish itself where it wasn’t originally put. With genetically modified seeds that can be picked up by the wind and deposited nearly anywhere, fields can easily become contaminated. You would think that the contamination would be the GMO seed company’s problem, but because of the patent it is the innocent farmers that get the shaft.  Monsanto draws up huge cases against farmers whose fields have been found to contain their patented GMO seed. The Supreme Court says that no matter how the seed got to a field, by falling off a truck, by the wind, the farmer who owns the field is guilty of patent infringement. If a Monsanto seed enters a field and wipes away the farmer’s original crop, the remaining GMO crops now belong to Monsanto.

The director of the Aldo Leopold Society talked about how in his day, there was a certain code of ethics followed by farmers. If you bring in an advancement that could harm your neighbor’s crop, you take responsibility for it.  If you want cattle, but that cattle may trample over your neighbor’s fields, it is your responsibility to build a fence to keep the cows in, not them to keep the cows out.

No field experiments were done before GMO crops hit the market.  We know nothing about the environmental effects of these crops, or the associated chemical sprays, nor the health effects for the people who eat them.  The one area lacking in research that really got to me was in the yields of the plant themselves.  Monsanto and other GMO companies argue that these crops will feed a starving world, when there is no evidence that they actually do better that non-GMO crops. While maybe it is true that Round-Up Ready soybeans suffer less damage from herbivores, when there is a drought they fare much worse than their otherwise natural counterparts.  This could have huge implications in terms of yield in some regions.

Not labeling food products that contain genetically modified crops is infuriating to consumers like you and me who do not want to eat bio-engineered foods. In fact, 80-90% of people want GMO foods to be labeled. The real zinger with not labeling is that there is no traceability.  No research was done about the health of these foods before they hit the shelves and now no research can be done after because no one can say for certainty if there were GMOs in the crackers that caused an allergic reaction or any other illness.

GMO companies have been grossly underregulated, but with government employees in the pockets and families of these companies, what can you expect? All of the big GMO crops on the market are commodity crops which are subsidized by the government of the United States. This means that farmers will happily grow GMO crops, which cost more to produce than they sell for, because the government will pay the difference.  The more crop they produce the more government money they get.

No acres were planted to GMOs in 1980.  In 2003, 100 million acres grew them.  These companies are trying as hard as they can to get farmers to depend on their seeds to grow crops.  They do this by scaring farmers into never saving seed by filing huge lawsuits and they are able to do this because of government subsidies and bogus patent laws.

So there you go. Ask your representative to demand the labeling of genetically modified foods and find the time to see The Future of Food.

The main GMO crops that people talk about:
Bt corn: this corn is engineered to produce a pesticide that kills the corn borer, the plant’s main herbivore. Every tissue in Bt corn produces the Bt toxin. The whole plant is considered a pesticide.

Round-Up Ready soybeans: these soybeans contain a gene which confers resistance to the herbicide Round-Up, that way when farmers spray their fields with Round-Up everything will die except their crop.

Tomatoes: some tomatoes contain a fish gene which helps prevent freezing.

Watch The Future of Food full length on Hulu

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