Guest Post: The Problem with Genetically Engineered Food

The US is one of the few countries that does not require labeling of GMOs in our foods. As conscious consumers we have a right to know what is in the food we feed our families. To learn more about this important issue and the campaign to “Just Label It”, I consulted with my go-to resource on the topic. Brenna of Almost All The Truth, a green activism blog, is leading the movement for public awareness about GMOs and transparency in our food supply. Please welcome Brenna and take a moment to educate yourself about genetically engineered foods.

The Problem With Genetically Engineered Food

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What Are GMOs? What Are GE Foods?

Simply put, GMOs are genetically modified organisms that have been genetically engineered in a laboratory by inserting DNA of different species, including plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses. Genetically engineered food is a subset of this.

Contrary to some opinion, agriculture has NOT been using genetically engineered foods for long. American farmers first planted genetically engineered crops in the mid-1990s. Between 1999 and 2000, genetically engineered soy, cotton, corn, and canola became the norm and now comprise large percentages of these crops grown in the U.S., as well as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and India.

There is a huge difference between common sustainable agricultural practices like grafting, plant breeding, crop rotation, cover crops, soil enrichment, natural pest predators, and biointensive integrated pest management, all of which have proven benefits to yield and soil fertilityand the biotech industry’s methods.

The Problem With Genetically Engineered Food – Big Picture

We may not have to worry about fish genes in our strawberries, but there are plenty of other reasons to be concerned, namely adverse consequences for soil, human and environmental health, with little effect on global food issues.

Environmental Health, Human Health, and Food Security

Understandably we are continually looking for more efficient methods to feed the world’s hungry. Experts expect the world will add another 2 million people in the next 40 years or so. Nine billion people is a lot of people, but the argument that genetically engineered food will provide food security, particularly in the developing world, is unfortunately not likely to be the solution.

“I am particularly alarmed by those who seek to deny small-scale farmers of the Third World — and especially those in sub-Saharan Africa — access to the improved seeds, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals that have allowed the affluent nations the luxury of plentiful and inexpensive foodstuffs….While the affluent nations can certainly afford to pay more for food produced by the so-called organic methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low-income, food-deficit nations cannot.”

–Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel-Prize-winning agriculturalist and father of the Green Revolution

The myth that we must encourage a second Green Revolution is naive. The first Green Revolution certainly increased production, but managed to do little to curb world hunger, and instead has led to soil degradation, greater pest and weed problems, and ill health effects. Even now we are growing and raising enough food to feed the world, and 30% of food produced worldwide is wasted, yet a billion live in chronic hunger.

“Some researchers have shown that none of the genetically engineered seeds significantly increase the yield of crops. Indeed, in more than 8,200 field trials, the [genetically altered] Roundup seeds produced fewer bushels of soybeans than similar natural varieties, according to a study by Dr. Charles Benbrook, the former director of the Board of Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences. Far from being a solution to the world’s hunger problem, the rapid introduction of genetically engineered crops may actually threaten agriculture and food security.”

–Dr. Peter Rosset, director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy and co-author of World Hunger: Twelve Myths (Grove Press, 1998)

Prevailing wisdom indicates that developing nations who succumb to genetically engineered crops will only lead to further food insecurity through a dependence on monoculture and the biotech corporations, besides the evidence of decreased soil life and devastating health effects for humans and wildlife we are already seeing from glyphosate (Roundup).

Scientists are now seeing the herbicide in GE food in the bloodstream of pregnant women and in umbilical cord blood. In many parts of the world, there have been enough documented cases of infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects from the glyphosphate that accompanies genetically engineered crops that strongly suggest we should be concerned.

Furthermore, leading scientists agree that we don’t know enough about more long-term effects of eating and growing genetically engineered foods, which is exactly why the thought of deregulation of certain GMOs is so scary. We just don’t know what we don’t know. Science has not yet been able to produce a large enough body of peer-reviewed study into the health and environmental effects of genetically engineered foods.

All of this is not to say that there may be some benefit to GM technology, but the issues surrounding glyphosphate, Monsanto, and scientific determination of risk are too great to ignore completely. Once we unleash GM seeds, it is highly unlikely that we can turn back and run the great risk of losing our small, organic family farms due to cross-contamination. We should then proceed with caution when approving any new unlabeled GM crops such as 2,4-D corn.

Just Label It

Whether you feel we should continue to develop genetically engineered technology for food crops or not, the majority of Americans, an estimated 92%, think we should be able to decide whether or not to eat them. I believe we all have a right to make the choice whether we feed our families genetically engineered foods or not. I also believe that the U.S., like Japan, Australia, and the European Union, should require labels on the 80% of packaged foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients and are already on shelves.

“Today the vast majority of foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified substances whose effects on our health are unknown. As a medical doctor, I can assure you that no one in the medical profession would attempt to perform experiments on human subjects without their consent. Such conduct is illegal and unethical. Yet manufacturers of genetically altered foods are exposing us to one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in modern history.”

–Dr. Martha R. Herbert, pediatric neurologist

What You Can Do

Donate your voice. Tell the FDA we have a right to know and to require a label on genetically engineered (GE) foods. {Update: The campaign to “Just Label It,” has sent the petition with more than one million names! It isn’t yet over though, please call, e-mail, or mail U.S. state and federal elected officials and government agencies.}

Vote with your wallet. Avoid the packaged, processed foods that are likely to contain GE ingredients. Look for a certified organic label, the Non-GMO Project Verified label, and/or avoid the top GE food crops: corn, soy, canola, and beet sugar. Some say, if you have to ask, avoid it.

Occupy your food supply. Take the ultimate control of some of your food supply by growing a food garden, joining a CSA, or buying directly from a local farmer you can trust.

Learn more. Educate yourself, your family, your friends on this issue.

What are your thoughts about where genetically engineered foods are headed and the campaign to label them?

Note: All quotes were from a look at both sides of the GM foods issue from PBS’s Frontline. ***

Brenna Burke is a mama of three trying to live a green life, pursue greater health and well-being for her family and the planet, and teach her children well while providing tips, insight, and a little activism for those wanting to go green. Brenna blogs at Almost All The Truth.

Comments

  1. says

    I honestly don’t have the scientific background to have an informed opinion on this. You would have to study genetic engineering, and fully grasp that to follow the 2 sides of this issue. My husband is a bio chemist, and all I know is that it is so complicated, even for the ones studying it, and things are always changing. They only discover something that unleashes all of these things that they didn’t know, or changes completely what they thought previously.

    It’s kind of like how they used to put leeches on people who were ill, and then that was of course silly with modern medicine, and now some are doing it again as a certain form of treatment for back pain. I guess you can try to know, knowing that you will probably never know everything. But, I don’t want to ever stifle discovery, just because they got something wrong.
    Courtney~Mommy LaDy Club recently posted..Battle of The Leading Men Round 2: Orlando Bloom vs. Jude Law

    • says

      Thanks for commenting!

      It is incredibly complicated, but I don’t believe that means we should give carte blanche to corporations like Monsanto to push through something that could be be irreversible. I am more inclined to expect more caution under those circumstances.

      We should never stifle discovery, but only acknowledge that we don’t yet know what we don’t know – both the good and the bad. I would prefer to have truth in labeling for all things, so then we can all make informed decisions. There shouldn’t be any debate about that, in my opinion.

      What do you think?
      Brenna @ Almost All The Truth recently posted..Hipcycle, An Eco-Friendly Upcycled Shop

  2. Barbara Mascareno says

    @Brenna, very interesting information and yet there’s still more awareness that needs to be done. This is like a double-edge sword: can it help fight hunger or actually hurt humanity in the long run. Hard to say with so many people starving in the world. But at the same token can this hurt our health as you presented.
    @Sarah, as always you have great blog guest and such awesome information about how to keep healthy for the whole family. Thanks a bunch :)

    • says

      It is such a tough question. One thing that is debatable is if this technology will actually be able to do a better job of feeding the world. Many food scientists argue that the amount of food that is wasted, particularly by the West, is nearly enough to feed the world’s hungry. We already grow and raise so much… And the factory farms consume enough resources to raise animals that could also feed the world. It is a fine line and one we need to think very critically about.
      Brenna @ Almost All The Truth recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Today He Turns Six

  3. says

    Thank you for the lesson. I had an idea of what genetically engineered food was before reading this but not in great detail. The quote “Today the vast majority of foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified substances whose effects on our health are unknown. As a medical doctor, I can assure you that no one in the medical profession would attempt to perform experiments on human subjects without their consent. Such conduct is illegal and unethical. Yet manufacturers of genetically altered foods are exposing us to one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in modern history”. You would think such things wouldn’t be allowed. Wow.

  4. Kerry says

    I found this information so interesting- thanks for bringing this out in the light. Since I have been trying to stay away from processed foods, I feel that anything that is “messed” with falls into this category. It can be so difficult to figure out where everything is coming from and if it has been changed at all.

    Kerry recently posted..Sometimes it’s not Fibromyalgia and Sometimes it is

  5. says

    I’ve been very concerned about the amount of genetically altered food my family is eating.

    Labeling it as such is the bare minimum that the FDA should require.

  6. Marysa says

    I think GMOs are so scary! I study labels for so many things, like food dyes, chemicals, etc. — but not GMOs. There are a few popular foods that I stay away from because of GMOs, but I need to be more careful.

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