World Food Day is coming up on October 16th, and we once again find ourselves with a beautiful opportunity to raise the issue of genetically modified foods. While this is surely a fight that should not only be fought on one day a year, it is a great chance to bring the problem of GE foods back into the national consciousness. Here in Eugene, I’ll be attending our local World Food Day rally at the OSU campus with my pals at GMO Free Eugene. To commemorate this day, I would like to take a minute to expand upon the statement in my bio that reads “I will never knowingly support, promote, or endorse any product or service on this site that is engaged with the promotion, sale, distribution, manufacture, or endorsement of genetically modified products.”
There could come a time in a not-too-distant future where we will all be faced with a very simple reality, and that reality is one of dependence. This isn’t dependence of the nature that is generally cited by Tea Partiers or Libertarians– upon big government and its various divisions– but rather a dependence on something far more insidious. It is a dependence upon an unelected, independent, profit-driven company for every piece of food we eat.
See, we citizens still maintain some manner of control, however tenuous, over the actions of the government which is supposed to represent us. We are allowing that power to slip, but it is still there. Yet we citizens are less empowered to monitor, control, and regulate the activities of large, multi-national biotechnology corporations. These corporations, by comparison, are allowed to contaminate the food that you eat with genetic modifications that produce no independently documented benefits, that there is massive worldwide public outcry against, and that have been linked to cancer and higher allergy risks. Did you even know they are doing this?
The sad thing is that most people don’t even know this stuff is in their food. If you’re wondering if you’ve eaten this stuff before, ask yourself: “have I used ketchup, mayonnaise, sugar, cereal, coffee, mangos, or bananas that are not labeled ‘organic’ over the years?” If the answer is “yes”, then you’ve been eating genetically modified food without knowing it. As of 2011, 94% of all soy planted in the United States is genetically modified, as is 72% of corn(1). If you have a moment, walk over to your pantry and look at how many items you have that contain soy and/or corn products. Some estimates have the percentage of commercial food contaminated with genetic modification at around 70%(2).
You may be thinking to yourself, “I do not have cancer, and I see I’ve been eating this stuff for years.”
To which I say, “I smoked cigarettes for years, and I do not have lung cancer.” Does this mean smoking is safe?
In case you’re wondering, the answer is no(3).
Much like the tobacco industry during the days of future US Presidents (4) and doctors promoting cigarettes(5), the GE industry is aflutter with the many different promises of GE products. However, much like the claims of “scientists” in the 50′s regarding cigarette smoking and health, the claims of the GE crowd are without any true merit or scientific backing.
The biotechnology industry flouts higher yields of GE products as the great overall benefit to both our economy and food supply. This is false, and it has no grounds in reality. In fact, GE “foods” have not been shown to produce these touted yields over the past 20 years(6). Only “Bt Corn” has been shown to produce a minor increase in yield, but with a lower success rate than traditional methods(7). Much of this can be attributed to the well documented result of pest/disease promotion that monocultures create(8). This has led to a scenario in which the GE products being used to fight off pests in these vast industrial food monocultures are actually making these pests stronger(9, 10).
In the print of the WSJ reference (#9), you may have scanned over the phrase “Bt Corn”. In case you’re wondering, “Bt” is short for Bacillus thuringiensis(11). In the case of “Bt Corn”, Monsanto takes a gene from this bacteria that codes for the production of a toxic protein that kills the dreaded corn rootworm. When the worm eats “Bt Corn”, the ingested “corn” contains this protein. Once the protein enters the gut of the rootworm, a toxin is produced that attacks its gut lining, effectively killing it from the inside(12). The effects of this toxin accumulating in humans is as of yet unknown, and with our current state of regulatory oversight it will likely never be known. That is largely because the FDA and USDA are allowing Monsanto to provide them with the data upon which they will decide the fate of the products that Monsanto creates(13, 14). It is also due to the fact that Monsanto controls the patent to their “Bt Corn”– as well as all of their other GE products– and therefore controls all of the research into them, making truly independent research legally impossible(15, 16).
The control that companies like Monsanto wield over any reasonable inquiry of their products leads to a number of different problems. There is an ethical quandary that comes with allowing a company to market a food product, with the only research on the effects of that product coming from the people who stand to gain the most from its use. Not only does this mean we can’t tell what effects will come of this “food” before we use it, but it also means that if there are any ill effects from the use of this “food” in the future, it will never be positively linked to the very things that are causing them. This means that we are not only losing our ability to choose what we put into our bodies, but we’re losing critical information that would be essential to the treatment of any diseases that may come from the use of these products. This reality is already felt in places like India.
In India, they have a population of around 1.15 billion people. Many of these people live far below what we in the United States would call the “poverty line”. In many ways, India is a prime example of the exact type of country that Monsanto says it is developing these GE seeds for. These Indian farmers must be jumping for joy at this new technology.
As it turns out, GE cotton plants are possibly killing livestock in Indian fields (18, 19), are being burned by farmers (20), and the massive amount of debt that farmers unwittingly find themselves in upon using GE seeds is leading to financial ruin that has contributed to hundreds of thousands of suicides(21). Peasant farmers– that had once been able to save their seeds– are now unable to save their seeds without a team of lawyers from a multi-billion dollar corporation putting them into financial ruin. If a farmer uses these GE seeds on his farm, then decides to stop using these seeds and go back to regular seeds, he soon finds it to be impossible. His land is irrevocably tainted with GE seeds no matter how much he attempts to eradicate them. When these contaminated seeds grow, the are found by the company that owns the patent that seed, who will then turn around and financially destroy the farmer on the grounds of patent infringement. This happens in the US as well (22), so don’t think we’re safe over here.
So, what’s the point of all of this? What’s the point of World Food Day, or causing a huge fuss about GE foods? It really comes down to choice. Currently, the USDA is allowing the biotechnology industry to do whatever it wants, however it wants to do it. There is no proof that these foods will 100% cause ill effects. However, there’s also no proof that they won’t. Real, solid, independent research has not been done on these products. If we have issues with the sale of these products, the USDA points out the research that has been done by the company selling the product we have an issue with. Monsanto says everything they make is safe, and that’s good enough for the USDA. What this means is that GM foods do not need to be labeled, meaning the only way you can avoid them is to purchase organic produce. The deregulation of wind-pollinated GE crops creates a situation where it is nearly impossible for organic farmers to keep these crops from contaminating their traditional crops. This not only threatens their moral right to protect their property, but it also threatens their organic certification and the fealty of customers that demand organic produce. Organic farms are forced to undertake costly, time-consuming measures to avoid contamination of their crops.
Imagine a rock band moves into an apartment in a complex. They play their music at full volume every day, all day. The landlord says they have every right to play their music as loud as they want. People who hate the music are forced to soundproof their apartments to avoid the noise, but they can never fully stop it– especially if they’re next door. Maybe you don’t hate the music so you don’t soundproof your apartment. Then you get sued by the band because their music got in your ears. Does that sound like the way that scenario should play out?
World Food Day is about your inalienable right to know what you are putting into your body. It’s about your right as an adult human to decide what products and technologies you support with your wallet. It doesn’t matter if you believe GMOs will turn into dragons inside of your stomach and turn you into a werewolf– if you don’t want it, you should not be forced to use it. As these crops encroach on our food supply more and more, you will lose your ability to choose what you eat. You will be dependent upon these companies for your food, and will lose your right to grow and eat what you want.
This is why I despise GE crops, and why I challenge you to take stock in the foods you eat. If you believe they’re as safe as traditional foods, provide the independent research proving it. Otherwise, let me eat my organic carrots in peace.
Filed under: Things to Consider