GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops and foods are becoming one of the most important controversies of our time. Are we creating a better and more stable food supply to better feed the world? Or are we poisoning ourselves and eliminating biodiversity at the same time?
Today, many of the foods you find in a grocery store contain GMO ingredients. Indeed it has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of processed foods contain GMO ingredients.
Most of these foods contain genetically modified corn which has been modified to be “Roundup Ready.” (Roundup is, of course, the branded herbicide created by Monsanto.) Roundup Ready crops have been biologically engineered to be immune to the herbicide. The claim is that such crops need less tilling and are therefore less expensive to raise.
When I grew up on a Midwestern family farm in the 50s and 60s, there were dozens and dozens of corn hybrids bred (not engineered) by dozens of seed corn companies. Good yields for these crops were 100 bushels per acre. Today, most seed corn comes from conglomerates, and most of the varieties have been genetically engineered. A good yield today exceeds 200 bushels per acre.
Of course, such yields require large investments in herbicides and fertilizers which, during rainfalls, enter our streams and rivers. The runoff has created a massive “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi River which extends far into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s called a dead zone because no fish or ocean-dwelling mammals can live in the waters. Of course, this had been compounded by the BP Oil catastrophe (an incident far too extreme to be called a mere spill).
But the dead zone is only a side effect of GMOs.
The more important issues involve the future of family farms which are being squeezed out by corporations; the future of our food supply which many believe is gradually poisoning us; the many medical conditions which dramatically increased following the use of GMOs; the effect of GMOs on nearby organic farms; the lack of biodiversity of food crops which may eventually result in a catastrophic crop failure and famine; the effect on domestic animals used for meat and dairy; and the impact on wildlife.
Today, the world’s six largest chemical companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, and BASF) collectively own or partially-own hundreds of formerly-independent seed companies which have retained their names to give the illusion of independence.
Of course, these companies own trademarks on the brands and patents of GMO seed hybrids. In fact, the extent of their ownership was recently affirmed by a Supreme Court decision favoring Monsanto…Bowman v. Monsanto. The question in this case was whether a farmer who buys patented seeds may reproduce them through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission,’ the justices concluded. ‘We hold that he may not.’ They ruled that Bowman must pay Monsanto more than $84,000 in damages and court costs for patent infringement.
Bowman purchased Roundup Ready soybeans from a company affiliated with Monsanto. Each year, he planted seed he had saved from the year before (a common practice by family farmers for generations prior to Monsanto’s GMO). The Court ruled that ‘Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article.” Of course that ruling assigns absolutely no value to the farmer’s land and effort.
What should be noted is that Justice Clarence Thomas was formerly employed by Monsanto and should have recused himself from the case. He didn’t.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of modern agriculture is a widely-used class of neuro-active pesticides called neonicotinoids. While they are used with a large variety of crops, more than 90 percent of corn seeds are coated with the pesticide. Neonicotinoids are designed to be absorbed vascularly to kill those insects feeding off of the crops. At least one scientific study has linked the pesticide to the rapid decline of honey bee colonies which are needed to pollinate most of our food crops.
As a result, the European Union has banned use of the chemical.
As for the impact of GMO foods on human health, a study by the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Minnesota lists potential health issues that could result from GMO foods. These issues include food allergies, increased toxicity produced by the plant, decreased nutritional value, and resistance to antibiotics.
In addition, there are other studies linking GMO foods to increases in asthma, autism, cancer, cardiovascular problesms, digestive problems, inflammations, liver problems, and more. As always, there are conflicting studies, so it’s difficult to determine which ones to believe. But if you’re concerned, the easiest way to avoid GMO foods is to eat foods raised and prepared by people, not corporations.
Following is a collection of websites on the subject:
Institute for Responsible Technology
University of Minnesota Study of GMOs
Neonicotinoids and Honeybee Colony Collapse