With all of the rain we’ve had lately in my neck of the woods it feels more like movie watching weather than gardening weather, so I thought it was a good opportunity to focus on the hot food sustainability topic of the week–GMOs.
Last Saturday over two million people around the world took to the streets to raise awareness about the GMO seeds produced by seed and chemical giant Monsanto. In over 436 cities in 52 countries people of all ages were asking for labelling of GMO foods, including these incredible ladies pictured below–the Raging Grannies at a Montreal protest.
From what I have learned about farming I am convinced that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the use of GE (genetic engineering) technology are not improving our food system. One of the problems with GMOs is that there has not been enough research on the long term health impacts of eating these foods. What has happened with GMOs so far is enough to have us questioning why we are taking the risk of saturating our food supply with them. Top problems below as well as the stories of a teenager and father who are doing something about it.
1. More chemicals are being used
The major GMO crops grown in North America and elsewhere are cotton, corn, soy, canola and sugar beet (the US also grows GMO papaya and some GMO squash). All five of the major crops have been genetically altered to either withstand a Monsanto-made pesticide called Round Up or to exude their own natural insecticide (Bt). The problem is insects and weeds adapt quickly when you use a single chemical to try and control them, soon they become resistant and you need to find another, usually more toxic, chemical to get rid of your weed or pest problem. This is exactly what has happened with GMO crops, the original promise was that LESS chemicals would be needed to farm these crops, now MORE are needed. More chemicals means more pollution in our water ways, more toxic stuff on our food and more expense for farmers who have to buy more pesticides from Monsanto along with their GMO seeds.
2. Patent-protected seeds put the future of food production in the hands of corporations
Agriculture evolved by farmers saving some of their seeds from each year’s crop to plant the next year. This is the heart of food security–seed saving. Saving seeds also allows you to select the plants that perform best under your local conditions, building a naturally-selected seed bank over time that is best adapted to where you grow. GMO seeds are patent protected, which means it is illegal for farmers to save them and even if, as seeds tend to do, a field is cross-pollinated by GMO crops planted by a neighbour Monsanto has been known to threaten, sue and demand money from farmers who never planted a single GMO seed.
This is a really scary downside of corporations patenting seeds and exercising legal rights over them–essentially the companies that own the seeds control the food supply and since those companies need to make money from their seeds this undermines the viability of farmers (and all of us) to feed ourselves. It undermines crop diversity and is a direct threat to food system sustainability.
3. Adequate food safety testing is not in place
Another very scary fact:GM foods are approved for human consumption based on company-produced science alone. The data is secret and is not peer-reviewed by independent scientists, our government agencies (Health Canada and the US FDA) are not doing their own testing. To make matters worse, there are no standards set for what constitutes adequate testing and in the few independent studies that have taken place study trial times that are slightly longer than industry-science are showing health effects. Independent research on the impacts of GMO foods have been hampered by the patent on the seeds, companies will not release the seeds to independent researchers. But the companies don’t mind releasing GMO foods into the food system at large with no labelling, making us all the lab rats.
Many scientists warn that the process of genetic engineering could create new allergens and animal feeding studies indicate liver and kidney problems. Without mandatory labeling there is no way to track or monitor possible health impacts.
4. At least label it and let consumers decide
The Right to Know movement has swept the US resulting in state-level movements to label GMOs in Maine, Vermont and California. Efforts to get GMO labelling are also taking place in Canada. The argument is: if GMO foods are in the foods we eat consumers at least have the right to know what foods they are in so they can avoid them if they want. There is huge opposition from industry to this because they know consumer rejection can kill their market–just as it has in Europe and Japan where imports are tested and rejected if they contain GMOs.
And now for a two minute video interlude…
The power of youth and parents
All of this may sound quite dire, but public pressure has already significantly set back Monsanto’s GMO plans. GM varieties of tomatoes, potatoes and wheat have been taken off the market because of consumer rejection. Where GMOs are still showing up in our food supply are mainly processed foods and conventional animal feeds–corn, soy, canola and sugar beet are heavily used in animal production and as processed food ingredients. If you want to avoid them buy certified organic foods (no GMOs and no pesticides allowed) or, if an organic option isn’t available, you can look for the non-GMO project label that verifies no GMO ingredients have been used.
Now let’s meet two of the over two million people pushing for change on this issue.
First up, 13 year-old Rachel Parent who started the Kids Right To Know project in Canada. She established her own website to raise awareness about GMOs at age 11. Don’t doubt that youth are ready to change the world, check out her articulate interview on Global TV.
But let’s not wait for the next generation to do something about this. Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert started out to make a film about GMOs. In the process he became a father on a crusade to get GMOs out of his kids’ diets. His documentary, GMO OMG, has just started screening. Watch the trailer below and keep an eye out for local screenings.
Want to learn more? C-BAN is a great resource. Right now there is push to approve GMO alfalfa and a GMO apple in both Canada and the US. Keep on the look out for ways to support these campaigns and take pride in your gardening efforts however small. Learning to grow food is one of the best things you can do to help support future food sustainability.
See you next week when we get back into the garden.