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With the cost of food recently skyrocketing— hitting not just shoppers but the poor and hungry in the developing world—genetically modified foods are once again being promoted as the way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence game. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.
Here are ten of them.
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices. GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels (crops grown for fuel rather than food)—while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!
“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry,” writes Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent.
Professor Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales, had this to say about the issue: “The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s B.S.”
2. Genetically modified crops do not increase yield potential
Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialized crops. In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.
A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer-reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase crop yields in the United States. The author, former U.S. EPA and U.S. FDA biotech specialist Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
“Let’s be clear,” he wrote in 2008. “As of this year, there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.”
3. GM crops increase pesticide use
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that in the States, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield,” writes Bill Christison, president of the U.S. National Family Farm Coalition. “But let me tell you, none of this is true.”
4. There are better ways to feed the world
A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.
5. Other farm technologies are more successful than GM farming
Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world. Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM.
“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better,” writes Professor John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics at the John Innes Centre. “That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].”
6. Genetically modified foods have not been shown to be safe to eat
Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses and bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing, but animal feeding tests have shown worrisome health effects. Only one study has been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food. It found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.
Advocates claim that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the U.S., and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.
“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences,” writes Dr. Suzanne Wuerthele, a toxicologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
7. Stealth GMOs are used in animal feed—without consumers’ consent
Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labeled. Some studies show that, contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed are different from those raised on non-GM feed. Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products and that the animals’ health can be affected. Eating “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.
8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers
A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for U.S. farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the U.S. that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences.”
9. GM and non-GM cannot coexist
GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the U.S. rice supply and seed stocks. In Canada, the organic canola industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM canola. In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible.”
The time has come to choose between a GM-based and a non-GM-based world food supply.
“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM.” Roger Levett, a specialist in sustainable development, writes. “It’s a one-way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.”
10. We can’t trust GM companies
The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception. GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes—even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.
Tom Wiley, a North Dakota farmer, explained the situation in a 2004 news story: “Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.”
Contributed with permission by GM Watch: gmwatch.org.
View article resources and author information here: pathwaystofamilywellness.org/references.html.
Tips for Avoiding GMOS
Tip #1: Buy Organic
Certified organic products cannot intentionally include any GMO ingredients. Buy products labeled “100% organic,” “organic” or “made with organic ingredients.” You can be doubly sure if the product also has a Non-GMO Project Verified Seal.
TIP #2: Look for Non-GMO Project Seals
Products that carry the Non-GMO Project Seal are independently verified to be in compliance with North America’s only third-party standard for GMO avoidance, including testing of at-risk ingredients. The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization committed to providing consumers with clearly labeled and independently verified non- GMO choices. Look for dairy products labeled “No rBGH or rBST” or “artificial hormone-free.”
TIP #3: Avoid At-Risk Ingredients
If they’re not labeled organic or verified non-GMO, avoid products made with ingredients that might be derived from GMOs. The eight GM food crops are corn, soybeans, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya (most) and a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash. SUGAR: If a non-organic product made in North American lists “sugar” as an ingredient (rather than pure cane sugar), it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets. DAIRY: Dairy products may be from cows injected with GM bovine growth hormone. Look for labels stating no rBGH, rBST or artificial hormones.
TIP #4: Download our Shopping Guides
Use either IRT’s new Non-GMO Shopping Tips brochure or redesigned Non-GMO Shopping Guide to help you identify and avoid GM foods. There is an entire page in each guide to help you uncover hidden GM ingredients on food labels that often read more like a chemical periodic table. If you have an iPhone, you can download IRT’s ShopNoGMO guide for free from the iTunes store. (The Non-GMO Shopping Guide is a cooperative effort of The Institute for Responsible Technology and The Non-GMO Project.)
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #29.
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