December 15, 2010

Argument Against Genetically Modified Foods

Sharing Lunch With Your Car BiotechNOlogy

In The Food Revolution by John Robbins he asks:
 “Can answers to world hunger, human health and environmental problems be found in the genetic engineering of our food supply?” 
A plausible question, one that has fundamentally started the process of biotechnology within the food industry. However, a good idea doesn’t necessarily warrant a superior decision, and consequently the genetic modification of our crops and livestock has proven to be more of a risk than originally expected.

The first genetically altered crop recorded in history was the “FlavrSavr” tomato in 1995. Scientists altered the enzyme expression within the crop which caused it to ripen; creating a longer shelf life for the fruit because ripening would cease once it was picked. They introduced the produce as genetically engineered, hoping the scientific notion would persuade people to consume. Hopes fell short however, when the general public rejected the idea all together. The tomato ended up being undesirable, with a high vulnerability to bruise and an unappealing lack of firmness, and the public rejected the idea of their food being poked with the scientific needle. Since then, putting “genetically engineered” labels on food has not been promoted and the labeling of these products all together has been fought. Essentially, if you buy an apple and bite into its juicy outer core, there is no way to tell if that apple has been injected with toxic chemicals.

Most nutritionally beneficial genetic engineering experiments have been done by independent scientists and farmers, staying out of the mainstream Biotech industry. But the companies with all of the control are also the ones with all of the money. Monsanto, along with DuPont, Astra-Zeneca, Novartis and Sanofi-aventis all rule the world of biotechnology and in joint effort own 23 percent of the global seed market, as well as 60 percent of the global pesticide market. Each of them are multi-billion dollar conglomerates who feed on scientific advances as a way to seek profit. Yet in 2003, independent Professor Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich engineered a crop solely for the benefit of human nutrition called “Golden Rice”. The idea behind the crop, which produced beta-carotene (converting to vitamin A in the body), was to reduce the death and illness rate linked to vitamin A deficiency around the world, especially where rice is a staple food product in the environment. The science of it all was groundbreaking, a step taken towards ending world hunger. However, there was no assurance that the crop would grow or last in the areas of the world where it was needed most without spending large sums of money to make it happen. It also wasn’t taken into consideration that there were less expensive ways to grow regular crops that were rich in vitamin A. As it turns out, golden rice required around 54 bowls to reach daily intake requirements for an eleven year old child. Experimentation with golden rice has continued, but no revolutionary methods have been discovered.

Biotechnology originally had a large motive to reduce pesticide use and in doing so created pesticide-tolerant crops. These crops were genetically altered with an herbicide to withstand a specific pesticide based on the company’s manufacturer. So pesticides could be sprayed and the plants wouldn’t die because they were altered to resist the chemical. However, the genes they were altering were so compact with pesticide toxins that eventually a potato that was produced and marketed by Monsanto called the “New Leaf Potato” was considered a registered poison with the Environmental Protection Agency. However, it was still marketed as a food product and was only pulled from the shelves when fast food companies such as McDonalds and Burger King pledged to serve only GE free foods. Examples such as these have become a pattern with many crops circulating in the food market today because the agrichemical community is so easy to grab a hold of once plants undergo certain genetic mutation.

Corporations have been pushing for the approval to genetically alter the genome of fish and other seafood since 2005. In 2007, a list of at least 35 varieties of “super fish” was created by researchers of these companies. At the top of this list is the idea to implant an “anti-freeze” gene in fish as a way to ensure longer freshness after death. Dabbling into the lives of sea creatures, however, has been the hardest venture for the biotech industries thanks to environmental agencies and consumer groups. Controlled experiments have shown that regular fish prefer to mate with “super fish”, and that the spread of all biotech experimentation within the fish population would occur at an uncontrollably fast rate. Essentially, the entire original population of fish would be whipped out within an estimated 40 generations.

Crops spread the same way in a process known as trans-gene mutation. Once a seed is planted which has been genetically altered to survive under conditions where others normally wouldn’t, that seed will fertilize another which has survived (chemically or organically). A plant with the similar genetic mutations and strength will grow. Eventually, an entire field of once naturally grown produce will become a field of a new genetically mutated species. Thus, if a crop is altered to resist antibiotics, and the population consumes this produce, then there is a surplus of mutated food being fed to people who have no idea that what they are eating could be toxic. Not only do GM products not have to be labeled, but they also have not been tested thoroughly. Some doctors agree that eating antibiotic resistant food can result in internal gene mutations, making the consumer resistant to antibiotics as well. Could these genetic materials have side effects? The health impacts of genetically engineered foods are not tracked. There is virtually no collective data which suggests that the rise of certain illness could be directly correlated with the influx of GMO products, just as there is no data collected which proves the products have been beneficial either. The industry is turning the human population into a school of fish, swimming and eating in the dark. 90% of Americans claim to want labeling on GM products, while across Europe it is mandatory.

Doctors and scientists have even been quoted saying biotechnology is one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in American history.

In 1999 the CEO of Monsanto, Bob Shapiro, released a statement about their work with genetic engineering;

“I want to emphasize that we will remain fully committed to the promise of biotechnology, because we believe that it can be a safe and sustainable and a useful tool in agriculture and nutrition, in human health, and in meeting in particular the world’s needs for food and fiber.”

None the less, Monsanto and other agrichemical conglomerates continue to make millions at the expense of human health. There is no doubt that there are advances and potential benefits that can come from the practice of genetic engineering, even in the food supply, but the process must be monitored. Biotech conglomerates say they are trying to make food more nutritious while most genetically engineered crops are programmed to have longer life spans and to resist pesticides, adding no nutritional value what so ever. And though ending world hunger is a justifiable goal, human beings should not be the blind test subjects of scientific experimentation. We are not lambs to the slaughter controlled by monopolistic corporations. Information about genetically modified foods should be made easily accessible to the entire public, and a choice should be given as to whether or not pollution is welcomed into the body when there is the ability to control such substances. Essentially, whether we know it or not, there is a price to pay for feeding the planet the same thing that we feed our cars.
  • Your Right To Know, by Andrew Kimbrell
  • The Food Revolution, by John Robbins

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