This, remember, is a love story. This life, this time, it’s a gift. And it’s my prayer that when you are surrounded by mystery and uncertainty, your eyes look up to the bright morning star. It is my prayer that you love your neighborhoods—those not even born yet, by caring for this planet. And if you do, it will be very, very good.
—Matthew Sleeth, MD, Blessed Earth
Wishing everyone a Thanksgiving full gratitude and wonder.
This, remember, is a love story. This life, this time, it’s a gift. And it’s my prayer that when you are surrounded by mystery and uncertainty, your eyes look up to the bright morning star. It is my prayer that you love your neighborhoods—those not even born yet, by caring for this planet. And if you do, it will be very, very good.—Matthew Sleeth, MD, Blessed Earth
The definition of GMO* foods is that a gene from one species is inserted into another, often unrelated, species. For example, soybeans that have been genetically modified to resist Roundup herbicide are inserted with genes from bacteria, the cauliflower virus, and petunias. This is something that does not occur in nature and is not the same as cross breeding.
After an unfavorable consumer reaction to the introduction of genetically modified foods in our grocery stores, food that contains GM ingredients has been stealthily placed on our grocery shelves for approximately twenty years now. Some of the most common GM foods are corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, and cottonseed oil as well as Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, some yellow squash and zucchini. Derivatives of these GMOs are found in most packaged foods (Fructose is often derived from GM corn; lecithin is often derived from GM soy; even citric acid and vitamin C are often derived from GM corn). The USDA states that approximately 80% of packaged food contains GMOs.
Since these GM foods have been around for about twenty years, you might think that there is nothing to worry about. However, unlike the strict tests that are required for drugs, the FDA does not require any safety or health tests on GM foods. In fact, no long-term studies have been conducted to determine the safety of these foods.
However, the concerns are many. They include health risk, damage to nature that might not be reversible, food security, farmers in peril, and lack of transparency and independent scientific study.
For more information on each of these concerns, see these posts:
- GMO Crops and Nature: Which Will Win?
- Health Risks of GMO Foods
- GMOs and Food Security
- Food System Based on GMOs puts Farmers in Peril
- GMO Food Process Lacks Transparency and Hinders Scientific Testing
*GMO stands for genetically modified organism (GMO or GM food, also genetically modified or GE foods).
Nature provides us what we need to live. We may come up with all sorts of manmade materials, but we can’t make something out of nothing. Without the inputs from nature, none of our manmade materials can be made. With the development of GMO seeds, biotech companies are patenting and attempting to own nature. We can push nature, but only so far. Nature will only put up with this to a point. Then watch out.
- Biotech companies are patenting nature. Seed patenting “treat[s] the diversity of farmer’s breeding and nature’s evolution as illegal.” (Vandana Shiva) Is it just that nature is patented and owned by a few?
- Biotech companies claim that GM crops would not crossbred with non-GM crops and pests would not become resistant to GMOs. However, nature has its own way in mind. Signs of superweeds and super bugs have appeared. “There’s ‘mounting evidence’ that Monsanto Co. (MON) corn that’s genetically modified to control insects is losing its effectiveness in the Midwest, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.”—Bloomberg News, “‘Mounting Evidence’ of Bug-Resistant Corn Seen by EPA”
- A University of Notre Dame and Loyola University study showed proteins from GMO crops in Indiana waterways. And U.S. Geological Survey studies revealed that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, was evident in up to 60 to 100 percent of all air and rain samples tested during two growing seasons in Mississippi and Iowa. This means that Roundup lingers in the environment, which creates potential health risks to humans and the environment.
Related post: Health Risks of GMO Foods
Despite biotech companies claims that genetically modified foods (GMOs) are safe, evidence shows that there is room for concern:
- Studies by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) found that animals that were feed GM foods developed immune, infertility, and gastrointestinal problems. They also experienced accelerated aging and organ damage. AAEM is suggesting that doctors prescribe non-GMO diets for their patients.
- GMO plants that are developed to be pest resistant are engineered so that the pesticide is in all parts of the plant and cannot be washed off; therefore, you can’t avoid eating the pesticide when you eat the fruit or vegetable. “In 2011, Canadian researchers reported that 93% of pregnant women’s blood and 80% of their fetal cord blood samples contained a toxin found in a GE corn that produces its own pesticide (Bt corn).” The EPA classifies these GM crops as pesticides.
- GMO crops contain an antibiotic marker. This increased use of antibiotics can play a role in the loss of antibiotic effectiveness.
- Studies found that, in the process of genetically modifying an organism, new and unintended proteins have been created. Proteins are the substances that can act as an allergen. The result is that possible new allergens are introduced to our food supply.
“Dr. Don Huber, an internationally recognized plant pathologist and professor emeritus at Purdue University, has discovered an organism, brand new to science, related to GM corn and soy appears to be responsible for plant death, as well as infertility and spontaneous abortion in animals given GM feed. The organism is especially troubling as there’s strong evidence this infectious agent promotes disease in BOTH plants and mammals, which is extremely rare.”
Related post: GMOs and Food Security
Currently, five companies control over seventy-five percent of the world’s commercial seed supply. And these companies have been patenting their GM seeds and making the non-GM seeds less and less available. Domestic and international farmers can no longer save their seeds for replanting without paying a yearly royalty to the biotech seed companies. As one Iowa farmer said, “You know, I held out for years on buying them GE seeds, but now I can’t get conventional seeds anymore. They just don’t carry ‘em.” Is it moral and just that a few companies can patent nature and claim ownership? And how secure can our food supply be when just a few corporations own the rights to the crop seeds?
In spite of all these reasons for concern, you might think that GM crops are needed to feed the world. However, the jury is out on how effective GM crops are at increasing crop yields:
In spite of this (health) risk, the biotechnology industry claims that GM foods can feed the world through production of higher crop yields. However, a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed 12 academic studies and indicates otherwise: ‘The several thousand field trials over the last 20 years for genes aimed at increasing operational or intrinsic yield (of crops) indicate a significant undertaking. Yet none of these field trials have resulted in increased yield in commercialized major food/feed crops, with the exception of Bt corn.’ However, it was further stated that this increase is largely due to traditional breeding improvements.—American Academy of Environmental Medicine
In addition, “we produce 4600 calories per person per day, so there is enough food to feed twice the present population.” These are the words of Hans Herren, Ph.D., president of the Millennium Institute. He also states:
We already produce more food than needed; despite this we have 950 million people hungry. In India food is rotting in warehouses, yet India has the highest childhood malnutrition rate in the world.
The problem is the type of food that is grown (commodities instead of local food staple crops), distribution, corruption, and waste.
A third of the world’s entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste – or enough to feed 3 billion people; and this would still leave enough surplus for countries to provide their populations with 130 per cent of their nutritional requirements. …We can all be part of the solution.–Feeding the 5000
Related post: Food System Based on GMOs puts Farmers in Peril
Genetically modified crops (also known as GMOs, GM, and genetically engineered–GE) are a “new form of slavery.” These are the words of Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He went on to state the negative impacts that GM crops have on the economy and the environment.
Due to biotech patenting of seeds, which results in the need for farmers to constantly buy new seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (something not necessarily needed with non-GMO crops), farmers—both domestic and international—have lost the ability to make decisions on their own land. Farmers are catch in a cycle of debt and are dependent on the dictates of the large biotech corporations.
The increased number of farmer suicides in India is an international example. These words of an Indian villager regarding one of the farmers who committed suicide illustrate this: “He was strangled by these magic seeds. They sell us the seeds, saying they will not need expensive pesticides but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. It is killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here.”
Domestically, this quote from Iowa farmer Earl Sime, who describes himself as a Republican who has been with the Farm Bureau for fifty years, gives an idea of what life on the farm has become under this GMO-dominated system of farming: “Corporations will have you from stem to stern, from ship to shore. There will be control, control, control…. The only thing you’re going to be is a tractor jockey. Just a tractor driver. They’ll own the final product.… That’s why you’ve got farmers saying it ain’t fun anymore.”
If you live in California, vote YES on PROP 37. And support the passage of this ballot measure in whatever way you can.
GMO (genetically modified) foods have been developed and placed in our food supply with little transparency or consumer input. Profits to the large corporations that produce these GM seeds and foods are enormous. However, the possible harmful effects to consumers as well as the environment are also enormous.
A National Academy of Science report on the GMO food approval process (Fernandez-Cornejo and Caswell 2006) stated that there is a need to:
- make the process more transparent and rigorous
- provide enhanced scientific peer review
- solicit public input
- provide more explicit presentation of data, methods, analyses, and interpretations
These National Academy of Science (NAS) concerns have still not been addressed. Recently, the California Medical Association has called for labeling, and the American Medical Association has called for mandatory pre-market testing.
Currently, because of lack of access granted by these large corporations and lack of labeling of GM foods that are becoming so prevalent in our food supply, independent study of the possible harmful effects is extremely difficult. “For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails.”—Scientific American, “Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?”
Help increase the transparency of the genetically modified food process. If you live in California, vote YES on PROP 37. And support the passage of this ballot measure in whatever way you can.
See also: Why You Should Care about GMO Foods