Friday, October 26, 2012

To Choose or Not to Choose? The GMO Food Question

In November, not only is the election for president going to affect the future of this country and the world, but maybe an even bigger vote will occur as well.  Californians will be voting on whether genetically modified foods should be labeled.  This may be a bigger deal than even the presidential election, because California’s food industry is one of the largest in the world and is certainly the largest in this country.  What happens there will determine a great deal for our future.
So what you say? Well, it’s pretty complicated and may seem to some not to be harmful at this juncture, but the genetic field is just beginning, what comes next is pretty much science fiction.  For now, foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) are genes of plant material spliced with some other organism, say a parasite, that then help the plant (our food) grow to maturity without pest damage and have been with us since 1996. Ninety percent of the corn, soybeans, rapeseed (the source of canola oil) and sugar beets grown in the United States are GMO. These crops contain bacterial DNA that make the soybeans resistant to a weed killing herbicide (think Roundup) and enables corn to produce its own insecticide, among other things.  Of course, the company selling the modified seeds, also sells the pesticide the seed is resistant to and of course, the seed can not be reproduced in any way except to buy every year from the same company.

Seems harmless enough, especially since we’ve obviously been eating and drinking products made from GMO plants for over a decade, right?  Maybe one could argue that and, of course, food companies are pouring millions of dollars into ad campaigns to convince voters in California to believe just that.  But here’s the deal in my mind:  Wouldn’t you like to know?  Wouldn’t you like to be able to make that choice?  If they have spliced an organism into the corn that causes those pesky caterpillars who also love corn to blow up and die (and this is essentially what one does), I want to know and decide to eat a product made from that corn or to choose another that uses organic corn, which regulates against GMO use.  If a soybean has been modified to allow the pesticide imidacloprid to do its job on insects and in the process is causing bee colony collapse, which is currently the implication being made, then I’d like to know so I can choose differently.  Wouldn’t you?
I am simplifying a complex issue into 2 examples, but the 2 are very widespread examples of GMO crops.  Arguments in favor state that a crop modified to use a bacteria within the plant itself, such as the corn example above, allow for less pesticide use (better for insects, birds, water quality, etc.).  True, but at what cost?  Unfortunately, we don’t actually know the cost.  And even in that case. I still would like to choose!  I would like to say, I choose the product made with corn that is GMO. 

Costs unknown and yet possible:  when we mess with these organisms that are so simple and microscopic, they get really good at evolving resistance.  Also, there are toxins produced by some GMO species and these toxins are deadly to some insects (unintended).  What sort of toxins are yet to come?  Are they testing the toxins on larger organisms yet?  Insects are also becoming resistant to the GMO paired pesticides and therefore science will need to keep taking this further into who knows what sort of splicing of genes!  For some that may be exciting.  That’s fair, but still, if you support it, then choose it.  If you don’t you should have the right not to.

The final and perhaps, most alarming, argument for labeling is that GMO pollen drifts.  Imagine a big farm field with hundreds of acres of GMO alfalfa (alfalfa was recently allowed into the mix by the Department of Agriculture).  The pollen, which is evolutionarily evolved to be easily spread by just a simple breeze, is released by the thousands and thousands of plants.  These pollen molecules drift along, making you sneeze, but also land on organic crops, pollinating them and forever changing their DNA.  Now, feed these to what are supposed to be organically fed cows to produce organic milk.  Contamination!  This is not preventable and again, eliminates choices, that consumers may want to be able to make!
Currently, the only sure way not to choose GMO is by choosing organic.  If products were labeled, then choice across all food spectrums is possible (unless the issue of contamination spreads exponentially).  From Andrew Weil’s website: “According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, processed foods including breakfast cereal, granola bars, chicken nuggets and salad dressing now contain one or more ingredients from crops that have been genetically modified. Corn, sugar, soy protein, cornstarch and vegetable oil almost always come from genetically modified crops.  To date, no identified food safety issues have emerged as a result of the consumption of foods that include products including these GM crops, but some experts say it’s too soon to observe any negative impact on human health.”



No comments:

Post a Comment