What Will We Eat?

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By Elena Day

Washington state’s ballot initiative to force mandatory labeling of ingredients in packaged foods failed in last month’s election. Packaged foods are the bulk of what Americans consume. The law’s aim was to give consumers the choice of whether or not to ingest products that contain genetically modified/engineered ingredients (GMOs).  According to the Organic Consumers’ Association, the average American eats 150 pounds of genetically engineered foods yearly.

GMO’s started appearing in our foods in the late 1990’s. Today over 95 percent of the corn, soybeans, canola, and sugarbeets raised in the U.S. is genetically modified (i.e., resistant to the herbicide Roundup or more simply, “Roundup Ready”). This translates into the oils and a large amount of sugar we consume, our cereals, and the grains/meal fed to our livestock. It might be almost impossible to avoid GMO’s in the U.S. today given these stats.

In spite of what the GMO industry wants us to believe, there is no consensus among scientists as to whether genetically modified foods are safe for human or animal consumption.

In early October the World Food Prize was awarded to Syngenta and Monsanto. Hundreds of thousands worldwide protested the award, calling it a sham.

Previous winners have been critical. Hans Herren, who won the prize in 1995 and heads the Washington, D.C.-based Millenium Institute, believes that GMO’s cannot alleviate world hunger. Rather, the focus should be on improving soil fertility. And that is not with conventionally manufactured fertilizer that contributes to increased CO2. Syngenta is the same biotech company that, with Bayer, has filed suit against the European Union for banning bee-killing neonicotinoids.

I find it interesting that Russia maintains a ban on all GMO’s. Nine European Union member states—Poland, Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria and most recently, in August 2013, Italy—have banned GMO’s approved by the European Food Safety Authority. Currently only two GMO’s have been approved and only Monsanto GM corn is commercially cultivated.*

Monsanto, DuPont, Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), and other industry giants like Bayer Crop Science have spent $22 million plus to assure Washington state residents that GMO’s are safe and that labeling would greatly increase food costs and confuse the public regarding food choices.

After all, the public is infantile and easily swayed, sometimes even panicked.

Note that GMA members include producers of household staples such as Coca-Cola, Nestles USA, and Kellogg’s.

The initiative’s backers raised slightly over $7 million, largely from small individual donors. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a fifth generation family-owned business committed to labeling, contributed $2.3 million.

Beyond health and truth in labeling issues is that of corporate control of agriculture.  GMO’s are driving small and middle-sized farmers from their farms all over the world. Farmers can no longer save seeds year to year if they buy patented seed that companies like Monsanto are happy to provide. We are all familiar with the suits brought against farmers by Monsanto who have suffered pollen drift from neighboring Roundup Ready cultivated fields.

Agriculture in general is currently locked into a model of intensive use of water, fertilizer and pesticides/herbicides. The biotech companies appear to want to keep it that way. In many areas aquifers are being depleted, fertilizer is expensive, and insect pests and weeds are becoming resistant to the chemicals applied. Fostering GMOs destroys biodiversity, local knowledge and promotes unsustainable farming practices.

Roundup may well reduce loss of topsoil because it is a no-till option. Indeed, lots of of topsoil has escaped and silted our waterways. However, when Roundup  (glyphosate) kills all the green plants on a field, this negatively impacts insects, amphibians, and reptiles and of course, soil microorganisms. (The web of life concept is out the window here.)

Butterfly lovers, note that Roundup has all but eradicated milkweed on 80 million acres of Monarch habitat in recent years. (Monarchs will lay eggs only on milkweed.) This has been largely in the Midwest where GM corn and soybeans abound. Of course our own VDOT does a good job eradicating milkweek along our roadways here in Virginia every summer.

Agribusiness has spent $750 million in the last five years lobbying Congress. It has sunk $450.5 million in electoral campaigns these last 20 years. Since 1995, taxpayers have provided $292.5 billion in direct agricultural subsidies, $96 billion in crop insurance subsidies, and $100 billion in subsidies to promote the growth of GM corn and soybeans. Did any of us know or sanction this? Or the agribusiness that has been created?

The struggle to provide ourselves and future generations with a healthy and chemically untainted or genetically modified food supply will continue. We do have a right to know what we ingest.

 

Somehow or other I found this bitterly amusing. Dr. Harry Klee, employed by Monsanto for 11 years and currently at the University of Florida Institute for Plant Innovation funded by Monsanto, is working to develop a better tasting supermarket tomato. He seeks a “chemical recipe for the ideal tomato bringing back flavor so people won’t eat so much junk food.”

Dr. Klee is also seeking to reinvigorate blueberries with “apple-like” crispness and of course these blueberries will have a longer shelf life and make growers happy.

 

*In 2012 EU-approved Monsanto GM corn was grown on 213,000 hectares in Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania.  A hectare is equal to 2.471 acres.