This is my ruckus (the one about GMOs, at least).
May 27, 2011

When I began reading about food industry, the thing that bothered me most were GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.  They are, quite literally, the single greatest reason that my family began making a move toward organic and sustainable foods.  GMOs are largely unlabeled and not subject to independent long-term testing or high standards of regulation.  Approximately 75% of processed foods contain at least one genetically-modified ingredient.

I have four big problems (not to mention the little ones) with GMOs:
    1.  Genetic escapism,
    2.  Environmental depletion,
    3.  Insufficient oversight, and
    4.  Toxins.

Genetic escapism is a pretty simple concept, so let’s start with that one.  When genetically modified species breed with natural species, what ends up happening is that the next generation of the species can contain the manipulated gene.  This means two things.  First of all, it means that natural species gradually cease to exist without GM contamination and since I personally feel that all humans have a fundamental right to natural food, this upsets me.  Secondly, it expands the control of the company that owns the patent relative to the modified gene.  The company in possession of that gene OWNS THAT GENE and related rights whether the contamination was intentional or not – and they are not required to take steps to prevent their gene from cross-breeding with natural species.  In my opinion, the control issue is even more relevant when the genetic modification in question includes a suicide gene (a plant with a suicide gene does not produce viable seeds – it dies after one generation so growers cannot save seed), which creates agricultural reliance upon the company with the gene patent.

Environmental depletion is also a pretty simple concept.  Many GMOs are created in order to meet a demand for crops with pesticide resistance.  More pesticides can be used more easily without significant damage to the plant.  But when more pesticides are used, soil is depleted, native populations that perform vital roles in the ecosystem are reduced (i.e. bugs are killed, bats and birds that rely on those bugs for food decrease in number, native plants cannot withstand pesticide toxins in the soil, etc.), and chemicals from the pesticides turn up in our bloodstream.  If they’re turning up in our bloodstream, presumably they’re turning up in the bodies of all the animals that eat those plants as well.  In small-scale studies of animals eating GMOs, there appears to be a correlation between the foods and illness and death in the livestock populations - how much more incentive do we need to demand further testing on this topic and to be concerned about the devastation GMO crops might wreak on native ecosystems?

I already touched on the problem of insufficient oversight, but because this is a completely ‘treatable’ issue it is even more infuriating.  We do not KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that genetic modification is 100% safe.  We do not know what the long-term effects, if any, may be on our bodies.  We do not know how to contain modified genes so that cross-breeding is not a threat to natural species – and we do not know what the long-term effects of cross-breeding might be on the eco-system.  We do not know what the impact to economies, food supplies, and ecosystems of cross-breeding species with suicide genes might be.  But EVEN WITHOUT THIS KNOWLEDGE, genetically modified foods are an enormous part of our food supply and labeling GMOs remains voluntary.

When, as a result of insufficient oversight, toxins from genetic modification end up in our bloodstream?  In the bloodstream of animals that eat those plants?  In the bloodstream of our unborn babies?  I am horrified.

We can stop this cycle.  We can mandate that companies in the business of producing GMOs are responsible for keeping modified genes out of the natural gene pool – and we can require that companies answer to independent inspectors.  We can increase the demand for reasonably priced organic foods, which by definition cannot contain GMOs - and we can require labeling on genetically modified foods so that we can make educated decisions about which foods we put in our bodies and feed to our families.

I, for one, firmly believe in making a ruckus when it comes to my child’s health - and the health of the world she’ll inherit.  I know I’m not alone.  It may take quite a bit of ruckus-making to accomplish these goals, but I know that citizens standing together can make a world of difference.

Anybody want to make a ruckus with me?

Healthy Child, Healthy World | Say No to GMOs | Bio-Democracy Alliance | PBS contains excellent links to both sides of the GMO debate


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  1. By on May 27, 2011

    I would like to make a ruckus with you. This is an issue I feel very strongly about, and I would like to fight for food safety and environmental safety with you. Would you mind if I posted this on my blog?

  2. By Sarah M. on May 27, 2011

    Yes, yes I do!

  3. By Vee on May 27, 2011

    YES. Great post, Sarah.

  4. By on May 27, 2011

    I’m not even sure where one BEGINS when making a ruckus…

    I feel like there’s plenty of information out there telling us what’s wrong with our food and why we shouldn’t eat it, but not nearly enough information about how to effectively make a difference (other than changing the way we eat to alter demands).

  5. By Sarah Christensen on May 27, 2011

    Katie - Go ahead.

    Alicia - Have you seen Change.org?  Or called your representatives?

    I have a post about this in the works, but it’s been in the works for a month, so don’t hold your breath for anytime soon.  It’s hard for me to know how to write about these sorts of things because I’m not very good at serious.

  6. By on May 27, 2011

    LOVE THIS! Since I got pregnant (Daughter is now 18months) I found myself paying a crazy amount of attention to what I eat and where it comes from. So much so that this year we joined a CSA and it is wonderful (so far).

  7. By on May 27, 2011

    Sarah - Never been to change.org and never called my representatives.

    This is the negative nancy side of me, but a good friend of mine was a long-term intern for Mike Castle. She basically was responsible for answering the phones and e-mails that come in from the constituents and from what I’ve gathered those phone calls never really seemed to get anywhere. Perhaps that’s why he’s no longer in office? Perhaps that’s what’s wrong with our political system?

    I guess that’s hardly an excuse for not trying, but it makes one less inclined to do so.

  8. By on May 27, 2011

    It makes sense to me that that experience would sour someone to it - but I do think that sometimes voices are heard.  Especially annoying voices.

    One time my mom visited our local representative for something (can’t remember what anymore) and before he was free to speak with her, he checked his fax for a final ‘tally’ that he needed to send in to the press before he flew out for a vote.  My mom asked what the tally was.  He said 7 pro, 4 against, so it looked like he was voting pro.  To this day, it amazes me that out of the thousands and thousands of people he represented, only 11 cared enough to weigh in.

    I think that corporate personhood is a huge problem in our country and that things like GMOs running rampant are in large part related to corporate personhood.  But I wonder if corporate personhood isn’t maybe a tiny bit more possible because people don’t speak up?

    Another option is visiting your representative.  I RARELY get responses from e-mails, but I do hear back about phone calls and visits.

    Change.org is pretty cool.  Since I sign A LOT of petitions, I was happy that there was a website that made it easy.  I just don’t feel comfortable starting one yet.

  9. By on May 27, 2011

    Oh yes, I do agree that when it comes to voting, they do take the opinions of those they represent into consideration. I guess what I meant specifically was that maybe they don’t care so much about the issue until it’s right in front of them and how they vote will determine whether they get reelected next term. So, if I called him up telling him that I’m joining the “Christensen Ruckus” and want them to help rally the troops and push a bill to the floor, I just don’t think it would do much…

    But I agree there’s no harm in trying. Eventually voices get heard - and perhaps if I became a more involved constituent and know what is being voted on and when, I could be one of the 7 out of 11 who actually get heard… and get what they want.

  10. By Sarah Christensen on May 27, 2011

    LOL!  Yeah, I’m just going to hazard a guess that if you threw the words ‘Christensen ruckus’ out there, they probably wouldn’t listen.

    I think you’re right - that it doesn’t do much.  When Charlotte was born, there were about six months where I had zero interest in news or politics, and I remember feeling completely hardened to the process of involvement afterwards.  Like, hey, I stopped chirping AND NO ONE NOTICED, and the world didn’t become much worse in the meantime.  And I can call until I’m blue in the face, but sometimes I know before I even pick up the phone that nobody is listening.  I just like to think that our republic isn’t completely broken, that if I keep weighing in, at some point my government will work for me.

    I think that the only two ways voices are heard in big issues, though, are through persistence or through strength in numbers.  If there’s one good thing about the Internet, it’s that the second is much more possible now than it has been in years.

  11. By erin on May 30, 2011

    Memememememe!  Count me in for the ruckus.  I guess change.org is where I need to start too.

    I get kind of disillusioned each year - Brian does a lobbying day every year at the capitol, to discuss his industry’s issues and so on.  He gets about 10 minutes with each representative that he is “assigned” to visit, and they generally have no idea what he’s talking about most of the time.  So here are all these people in Sacramento who are passing laws and making decisions on thousands of issues on all ends of the spectrum, laws and decisions that affect MY life and my child’s life, and yet 99% of the time they don’t really know what’s going on - they just listen to the people with the most money (because those people get the most time).  It’s so sad and so disheartening.

    [I guess that’s why we need to make a ruckus, huh?]

  12. By on May 30, 2011

    Count me in.

  13. By on June 01, 2011

    I’m in. Thanks for providing a starting point!

  14. By Ellen on June 07, 2011

    I always comment too late on these things but I haven’t had time lately to do anything except check e-mails. 
    Just wanted to say that although I am also tend to be negative about talking to my representative about anything my mind has been changed in the last 2 years.
    Here in TX we had 2 big issues come up, one being a huge trans-TX corridor that was going to destroy acres and acres of farm land, and the second being the state and nation wide Animal ID.  There was such a huge outcry (starting at the very small local level with visits to Austin by my husband and many others) that both of these projects are now history (for now.)  Both of these were “done deals” and a true grass roots movement played a huge part in stopping them. 

    On the GMO thing specifically the U.S. is the only modern and industrial nation that does not require labeling of GMO foods as such.  Even CHINA labels these and we don’t—that’s sad.

    I have an Ag degree and had a lot of interesting conversations about GMOs in college—think it is something we in the ag field will eventually look back at and regret

    (sorry for the epistle—I love your food posts :)


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