Friday, August 17, 2012

Eating Omily: We Don't Know GMO

I'd like to interrupt your regularly scheduled post of food porn and easy recipes with a public service announcement.  Today, we're going to talk about GMOs.  You've probably heard of them.  Do you know what they are?

G.M.O. stands for Genetically Modified Organism.

Things that are not genetically modified organisms: plants or animals that have been bred with other plants and animals of the same species in order to produce offspring with certain traits.

Examples:
 1.)puggles
2.)lettuces that don't flower when the temperature hits 75 degrees

Things that are genetically modified organisms: plants or animals that have had their genes spliced in a lab by scientists with plants or animals from different species in order to produce offspring with certain unnatural traits

Examples:
1.) salmon that grow 30 times faster than natural salmon
2.) sweet corn that causes insect's stomachs to explode when when they attempt to eat it.

When GMOs were invented, they were heralded as a solution to world hunger, a way to help farmers make more money off their land, and a solution to the overuse of pesticides.

Among many others, we have corn, soy, sugar beets, and others, that are resistant to Round Up pesticide.  Tons of pesticides can be dumped on these fields, and the plants will, freakishly, not be killed by it.  Does this sound like a recipe for not overusing pesticides to you?  Funny, me neither.

If you guessed that the company that makes these franken-fruits also makes Round Up, give yourself a gold star.

If you guessed that overuse of a pesticide on plants that are resistant to it have caused many species of roundup resistant weeds to pop up, decimating crops, give yourself another gold star.

Then there's Bt corn.  Bt corn is NOT resistant to roundup.  Instead, the gene spliced into it comes from a bacteria that's fatal to insects.  The corn manufactures its own pesticide.  And you were worried about pesticide residue.  You probably eat pesticide everyday.  This particular pesticide works by making the stomachs of worms and caterpillars that try to eat the corn explode.  Corn is wind pollinated.  Though all genetically modified organisms are bred to commit suicide in a single generation (and if you guessed that this is so the farmers have to buy new patented seeds from the companies that made them every year, versus saving seeds from the previous crop so the next generation is free as they've done for thousands of years, you're up to three gold stars), the corn still makes pollen, and the pollen still blows for up to a few miles in the wind.

Guess what happens to any insect it lands on, including, for example, monarch butterflies.  Yep, they die.

Now, Monsanto's scientists have assured us that this whole 'stomach exploding' thing only happens to insects.  Bt corn doesn't affect mammals, and hence humans, at all.  Genetic material is destroyed in the digestive process, so eating genetically modified foods is exactly the same as eating natural ones.

Can you guess what scientists NOT on Monsanto's payroll are saying?

Lets start with this study done in Quebec.  93% of pregnant women tested had Bt toxin in their blood.  Bt toxin was found in the blood of 80% of umbilical cords tested.  Bt toxin was found in the blood of 67% of nontoxic women.

Doesn't sound like that material is breaking down completely in the digestive system then, does it?

But hey, if it's safe for mammals, then no worries, right?  Well, that's up for debate, too.

I take this quote directly from this article: "If Bt genes are colonizing the bacteria living in the digestive tract of North Americans, we might expect to see an increase in gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and childhood learning disorders since the advent of Bt crops in 1996, and that’s exactly what’s being reported. For example, between 1997 and 2002 the number of hospitalizations related to allergic reactions to food increased by a whopping 265 percent. One out of 17 children now has some form of food allergy and allergy rates are rising."

Coincidence?  Perhaps, but other studies have found that GMOs do cause chronic autoimmune, gastrointestinal, and fertility problems, and there are scientists out there who believe GMOs are one factor in the rising rates of autism spectrum disorders.

Let me be clear: The science is not all in yet.  The tests Monsanto are running are finding GMOs to be safe; the tests other scientists are running are finding quite the opposite, but these studies are not yet peer reviewed, so it is fair to say that the jury is still out.  We don't know for sure if GMOs are dangerous, but we absolutely do not yet know that they are safe, and in the meantime, we're eating them.  A lot of them.

There are absolutely no laws on the books regarding the labeling of products made with GMOs.  GMOs can legally be used in products labeled 'natural', or 'all natural'.  And they are.  The most recent estimate is that 70% of processed foods contain GMOs, and  with the new GMO sweet corn, apples, and salmon on their way, even whole foods won't be safe for long.  Even certified organic foods can contain up to 5% GMOs.

Oh, and here's another fun, little story.  You know that corn pollen, blowing wild and free, and killing butterflies left, right, and center?  Well, it's also blowing onto non-GMO corn.  And the non-GMO corn is not sterile.  The corn that grows from the seeds of non-GMO corn that was polinated by GMO corn contains GMO material.  It cannot be certified organic, because it isn't.  It won't take long before it's impossible to grow organic corn on a landmass that grows GM corn.

Don't believe me?  Let's talk Canola in Canada.  Percy Schmeiser owns a 1,400 acre canola farm in Canada.  He's not certified organic, but he does grow natural varieties of canola, saving seed from year to year to plant.  Plenty of nearby farms chose to buy and grow GM canola.  In 1999, Monsanto sued Percy Schmeiser for damages to the tune of $145,000 because their GM genes were in some of his canola plants.  They didn't claim he had gotten the seeds illegaly.  They didn't claim that he had even planted the seeds.  They didn't claim he had profited from the genetic material.    All they claimed was that Schmeiser had some of their patented genetic material on his land.  Surprise surprise: canola wind pollinates.  These lawsuits had happened before, and always cowed by Monsanto's huge and well-funded legal department, the farmers had settled to their great financial losses.  Percy fought back.  His case went all the way to the supreme court, where his loss was narrowly upheld, but it was decided he didn't have to pay any money to Monsanto.

That's right.  He LOST.  Because canola can wind pollinate up to 1/3 of a mile.

Organic farmers in Canada are now suing Monsanto for making it impossible, yes, impossible, to grow organic canola in Canada.  Australia won't except imported canola from Canada because of the high probability that its contaminated with Monsanto's genetically modified material.

Percy Scheiser went on to sue Monsanto for trespassing on and contaminating his fields.  You can donate to help offset his legal fees here.

The fact of the matter is, all the facts regarding GMOs are not in.  They may be safe; they may not be.  They do increase yields for farmers, and in some cases, allow for less pesticide use.  Increased yields can be achieved through simpler means, however, and in just as many cases, they result in increased pesticide use.

While we continue to sort out whether or not GMOs are safe, we are eating them, because the USDA and the FDA don't want to 'imply that GMOs are different from non-GMOS.'  This is pretty silly, because they ARE different, no matter how you slice it.  They have far-reaching environmental and economic impacts, and potentially health impacts as well.  There are those who argue all those impacts are positive, but that still sets GMOs apart.  If they're the same as non-GMOs, after all, why doesn't the USDA allow certified organic foods to contain them?  The government should be letting the free market decide if it wants GMOs or not, especially since 87% of consumers have said they want them to be labeled, and 53% have said they would rather not buy them.

California has introduced proposition 37: The Right to Know.  It would require all foods (with the exception of dairy and most meat) that contain GMOs to label themselves as such, and would ban those foods from being labeled as 'all natural'.  I'll give you a few guesses as to who's fighting this initiative tooth and nail.  Coke and pepsi are up there, along with grocery chain lobbyists.  Why?  Because they know sales of these foods will drop once they are labeled.  If this proposition passes in California, it will pave the way for similar laws across the country.

A free market can only exist in the presence of an informed population.  Agribusiness is keeping us in the dark to protect their profits, and we don't have to stand for it.  Support prop 37, and when it passes, demand similar legislation in your state.  We have a right to make informed decisions about what we eat and feed our families.

Knowledge is power!  Here are some more articles on this issue:  "Why Aren't G.M.O. Foods Labeled?"  "Why PepsiCo is Fighting GMO Labeling in California"  This one features a better look at the other side of the debate: "Modified Food will be on Voter's Menu"

Just Say Know!
~em

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