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
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?
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