What’s the problem with GMOs?

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October is GMO awareness month.  In order to raise awareness of GMOs and in participation of Non-GMO Awareness month, I’ve put together a series of blog-posts to help inform those who may not know why this is such a big deal.

What is GMO?

maize

Photo credit: Public Domain Images

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, and they are plants that have had foreign genes from bacteria and viruses FORCED into their DNA.  The insertion process happens at the cellular level, and causes a ripple effect of collateral damage throughout the DNA of the plant that can delete or turn natural genes on or off permanently.

Touted advantages of GM crops

Advocates for genetically modified crops claim the process is safe, and that the harvest produced is safe to eat.  They say that genetic modification is safe for the environment, reduces use of pesticides, increases crop yields–thereby helping to solve the food crisis–even creates a more stable economy.  Proponents of GM crops even maintain that these engineered crops are no different from naturally bred crops.

Effects of GMOs

While the corporations behind the creation of genetically modified organisms assert that they are safe all around, a large and growing body of scientific research and on-the-ground experience indicates differently.  Studies have shown that there are serious environmental hazards, risks to human health, and even economic concerns related to the existence of GMOs.

A threat to the environment

native pollinator

Photo credit: Flickr

Insects can devastate a farmer’s crops and subsequently his livelihood if left unchecked.  For generations farmers have applied a variety of practices and pesticides to maintain the health and success of their produce.  Now they plant seed bearing the gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces the Bt toxin that kills insect pests.  This toxin also kills beneficial insects–kills insects indiscriminately–has even been linked to the collapse of pollinator populations world wide.

What’s more is that there is evidence that these modified genes are cross-breeding with unmodified crops.  Since corn is wind-pollinated, a strong breeze can carry pollen a good distance to contaminate a pure variety separated by acres of land.  There is no such thing as containment, and no such thing as co-existence–the GMO gene is a dominant one that will completely overtake anything it cross-pollinates with.

Human Health Risks

There have been a number of studies that have shown that foods containing GM-ingredients cause a number of serious health problems, especially in infants and children–who have no blood-brain barrier to protect their developing bodies from the harmful effects of GMOs.

By introducing a foreign gene into these plants, it has effectively created a new allergen which causes a reaction in susceptible individuals; since the 1990s scores of children in the US and the UK have developed life threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods.

A number of studies have shown that GMOs cause damage to the gastrointestinal system of animals–including humans–and GMOs have even been linked to the rise of autism in children.

GMOs can cause fertility problems, as well as issues with the immune system, faulty insulin regulation, and significant changes in major organs–not to mention tumors.

Economic Concerns

Already the food trade export from North America has essentially collapsed due to the rejection of GM-crops and foods containing GM-ingredients by other countries.  In 1995-’96 foods were being exported at a rate of 2.8 million tons; in 2000-’01 that number had dropped to practically nothing.

Thanks to the consolidation of seed companies, farmers have little choice but to buy GM-seed at a rate that is 25-40% higher due to the technology fees associated with GM-seed, and are loosing money when that investment does not return a profit.

Economist Michael Duffy of Iowa State University analyzed soybean crops and discovered that herbicide tolerant GM soy LOST more money per acre ($-8.87/acre) than non-GM soy ($-0.02/acre) after all factors had been considered.

The GMO Controversy

Because of the protective nature of GM-seed companies like Monsanto over their technology, it has been nearly impossible to verify whether or not GM crops perform as advertised.  These companies have essentially given themselves veto-power over any work done by independent researchers by enacting end-user agreements similar to that found accompanying software and other such technologies.

GM seed customers must sign an agreement that limits what can be done with the seeds, and which forbids the user from using them in any independent research.  Under threat of litigation, scientists are prevented from testing the seeds to see in which conditions the seeds thrive or fail, and scientists cannot examine the seeds to determine if GM crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.

Only studies that the seed company approves ever see publication in a peer-reviewed journal, typically only studies that have produced a result that casts a favorable light on the GM-seed and the company.  And until recently only short-term studies 60-90 days had been performed, no long-term studies had been allowed.

And that is only one aspect of what’s wrong with this picture.

gm canola

Photo credit: Fotopedia

In 2004 the supreme court of Canada ruled that it doesn’t matter how Monsanto’s GM-seed ends up in your fields–you no longer own those crops.  You are no longer allowed to use your own seed if it gets contaminated with a genetically modified organism.

Percy Schmeiser has been growing canola for 40 years, and had developed his own varieties through careful and painstaking selection and storage of seed.  Then Monsanto accused him of developing genetically modified foods, charged him with patent infringement, and demanded restitution.  And that is just one example out of many.

Conclusion

The technology that GMOs are based upon is outdated and corrupt.  And the scientific process has all but been ignored.  There was little to no exploration of the effects of these altered organisms, and while the benefits advertised by GM seed companies have been disproven, America’s corrupted government has been swayed to ignore the evidence.

Out of all of this, there are two key points to remember:

a) there is no such thing as containment, and

b) there can be no co-existence–the GMO gene is a dominant one, and it will take over whatever it comes in contact with.

Think about that as we proceed through the up-coming posts, focusing on some of these topics that I’ve merely glossed over here, for if the GM genes were to spread unchecked–what would happen to the world’s food supply?  What would happen to humanity–to our children?  Is this really something man-kind should be messing around with?  Is it not akin to playing with fire?

Check out the next article in the GMO-series: How GM-food affect the body

Resources for this article:

GM-Crops: Just the Science

GMO food: Harmful or Helpful?

Moms! GMO Foods Threaten Your Children

Conversations w/ Great Minds – Jeffrey Smith GMOs – Seeds of Deception

The World According to Monsanto

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