The GMO Debate

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 7.53.39 PMWhy are we so skeptical, if not completely paralyzed with fear, regarding genetically modified foods (GMOs)?  We’ve been developing, grafting and cross breeding trees, plants and crops throughout civilization. Very little of the food that exists today resembles the food of our great, great, great ancestors. According to The American Medical Association, The World Health Organization. and The National Academy of Sciences, hundreds of peer review studies confirm that GMOs are perfectly safe for human consumption. We’ve indeed already been consuming these crops for decades with no recognizable adverse effects – according to a host of reputable scientists. Or has there been residual effects that we’ve ignored?

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 1.47.10 PMGMO means that the DNA or genes of the plant have been altered. We have the scientific ability to speed up the adaptation process of plants to drought, flooding, pests, temperature… growing more food to the benefit all. We can counteract the ravishing speed of climate change and its effects on the world’s poorest and most environmentally devastated.

The rub lies with herbicides and pesticides associated with genetically engineered crops. Crops that have been modified to withstand the application of herbicide/pesticide use offers protection to the seed but not necessarily to the Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 8.36.41 PMhuman ingesting the bounty of that seed. And certainly not to the benefit of our air, water and soil. Over 92% of corn and soy crops are genetically modified. Approximately 10 crops grown in the U.S. are GMO crops. Which means chances are, you’ve been eating GMO food no matter how arduously you’ve tried to avoid them. Movie popcorn anyone?

Critical focus is most directed at glyphosate – a major herbicide in RoundUp – which has been linked to cancer, hormone disruption and antibiotic resistance.

Following on from last week’s Word Health Organization (WHO) report on glyphosate, which confirmed the world’s most used herbicide probably causes cancer, Sustainable Pulse has discovered documents from 1991
that show how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) themselves
were fully aware of glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential.

– Global Research, March 31, 2015

But according to Dr. Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president & chief technology officer, glyphosate does not pose much of a threat. Bill Nye, a recent pro-GMO convert, paraphrases (and shares) Fraley’s stance that “glyphosate is not really such a bad thing. Compared to all other herbicides, glyphosate’s pretty benign, which I’ve done research on and I’ve decided that’s true.”

However Marsha Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at The Pesticide Action Network, stresses that “People have a healthy skepticism to corporations telling us that their products are perfectly safe. We’ve seen this with DDT and tobacco, for example. Since engineered seeds are responsible for an enormous increase in the use of pesticides – primarily herbicides (weed killers), we should be concerned.”

The lack of long-term studies in order to fully answer the possible adverse effects of GMOs is particularly troubling to Ishii-Eiteman. Not labeling GMO foods, only adds to the difficulty of ascertaining the effects of GMOs. This has been a tough bill to pass federally despite the powerful anti-GMO movement.

Monsanto is the largest corporate supplier of GMO seeds, so naturally, they are the primary target of the anti-GMO movement. Any farmer using Monsanto’s patented, herbicide resistant seeds must sign a contract locking them into also using large quantities of  the Monsanto produced herbicide – RoundUp. Crop seed rotation from year to year (a common farming practice since the beginning of agriculture) is prohibited when using Monsanto seeds (by penalty of suit) to insure a Monsanto return and that more product stays in the market. Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto, claims the business practice is justified given the “billion and a half dollar yearly research and development investment they make”. He also notes that farmers are free to take their business to anyone they choose. And he’s right. It is a free market and not necessarily an unsound business practice. But is it best for our earth and our health? The debate continues among our most elite scientists while Monsanto floods the market and the world with their GMO seeds.

Bill Nye

Bill Nye

Even Bill Nye is for labeling. He claims to have suggested the label, ‘Proudly GMO’ to “see what happens and let the market sort it out. If the people don’t want it we’ll see what happens.” His suggestion is not a hard sell for Monsanto, as it seems that CEO Hugh Grant is also for labeling: “We’ve been for voluntary labeling for quite some time. If we are going to be transparent we should really open up. To me that makes sense.”

Grant’s stance on labeling is surprising considering that, according to the California secretary of State, Monsanto and the rest the pesticide industry’s “Big 6” have contributed $13.5 million so far to defeat the labeling initiatives.”

Marsha Ishii-Eiteman goes on the warn that “99% of the GE (GMO) crops on the market are engineered to either contain a pesticide or survive being doused with herbicides. This has led to surging herbicide use: contamination of our air, soil and water; millions of acres of farmland infested with RoundUp-resistant “superweeds” and “superbugs”; and a desperate recourse to older and more toxic pesticides driven by the pesticide companies themselves, and thus a continuing cycle of pesticide-related illnesses.

Public pressure is gaining traction. Polls show that 57% of Americans view GMOs as unsafe to consume and over 90% polled are for labeling. Companies like Chipotle, Hersey and Whole Foods have already banned or will require the labeling of GMO’s in the food they sell.

The truth on the safety and efficacy of GMOs most likely lays somewhere in the middle. Yes, the ability to produce genetically modified crops offer tremendous hope for our future life on a planet that will be dealing with the ramifications of global warming and climate change for some time to come. However, we must be extremely careful to do our due diligence in this matter. We cannot sacrifice our health and the health of our planet in what would seem to be a noble endeavor. We’ve been down this road before on so many fronts – extraction and burning of fossil fuels, household chemicals, plastics… . Let’s learn from our experience.


About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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