We all enjoy a cold glass of milk with homemade cookies, a refreshing pop on a hot summer day, and a juicy cob of corn in the summer months. But, do we ever wonder what is really in our food? Because genetically modified foods do not have to be labeled, you will likely never know if the food you are consuming is genetically modified. As a fellow member of the Organic Consumers Association, I am eager to inform you of why genetically modified food is an issue that we must work to minimize or perhaps even abolish. I am excited to present this information to you, hopefully expanding your knowledge of genetically modified food.
I hope that this conference will allow us to broaden our ideas of how to stop the wave of genetically modified foods that is sweeping our nation. With genetic engineering, transferring genes from one species’ DNA to another is just like taking a page out of one book and putting it between the pages of another book. Biotech food is not the answer to global food security, should be strictly regulated because of its various detrimental effects on human health and the environment, and humans should be educated about the food they are consuming.
When genetically modified foods were first introduced approximately twenty years ago, many saw it as the answer to world hunger. People argued that “by developing pesticide and herbicide resistant crops, farmers would be able to increase their yields and decrease their costs” (Suzuki). Instead of answering the world’s increasing hunger problem, bugs and weeds have grown to become resistant to the widespread applications of chemicals. It is a cycle: “more spraying means more cost to farmers, more damage to the environment, and more health concerns” (Suzuki).
Companies that produce genetically engineered seeds, like Monsanto, claim that GM foods are necessary if the world’s food supply is to keep up with population growth. If this was the case, Monsanto and other companies would be producing seeds that had certain characteristics. These characteristics include: be engineered to favor small farms over large ones, cheap and freely available, designed to feed humans, not animals, and ability to grow on substandard soils.
John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution states that “if genetically engineered plants were designed to reverse world hunger, you would expect them to bring higher yields. But there is increasing evidence that they do just the opposite”. Numerous studies have shown that GM crops do not have a higher yield production, but in fact have at times shown a lower outcome. In 2000, “research done by the University of Nebraska found the yields of GE soybeans were six to eleven percent lower than conventional plants” (Robbins).
Evidence that GM foods are not the answer to world hunger continues to pile up. Former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman acknowledges that GM crops are not beneficial to solving world hunger: “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” (“10 Reasons Why we don’t Need GM Foods”). Genetically modified corn is a product that has been modified to the extreme in recent years.
Here, you can clearly see the physical differences between organic and GM corn. In response to Monsanto’s statement, eighteen African delegates clearly objected, noting that it would undermine their capacity to feed themselves. Through companies like Monsanto, we are being convinced to believe the false information that GE food is the ultimate solution to world hunger, and that it will benefit our world in several sectors. Every time we go into the grocery store, we pick out foods we assume to be healthy for our bodies: fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and grains.
However, if these foods are genetically modified, they could be detrimental to our health. The problem with GM foods is that the effects they may have on the environment and human health are widely unknown. This is because of inadequate testing and licensing too quickly. Without completely scrutinizing and examining the harmful effects that GM foods can have on the environment and humans, licenses are issued to companies that allow them to produce seeds that are genetically engineered. Genetically modified crops may transfer genes to other species, which can result in cross-breed weed species.
Weeds like this can impact the surrounding crop, ultimately harming the farmer because of reduced product yield. A large concern for most GM crop critics is the spread of pollen to non-GM plants, thus eventually making non-GM and GM plants unable to coexist. The fact of the matter is, once these crops are planted, the harmful effects of them cannot be undone. “In recent years, food-safety experts have identified several potential problems that might arise as a result of engineering food crops, including he possibilities of introducing new toxins or allergens into previously safe foods, increasing toxins to dangerous levels in foods that typically produce harmless amounts, or diminishing a food’s nutritional value” (Mellon). Incorporating foreign genetic material into our food is dangerous because there has been little study of the long term effects that could cause problems for humans later. “To date most of the studies have been done on animals; worryingly, though, some of those studies link GM foods to altered metabolism, inflammation, kidney and liver malfunction, and reduced fertility” (Mount).
In addition, those with allergies worry about the possible transfer of allergenic proteins as genes are transferred from plant to plant. Despite potential health and environmental implications, more GM foods appear on our shelves each year. This infographic shows several brands that support/do not support Proposition 37, a California ballot measure that would require the labeling of genetically modified food. Many of these brands are familiar, for example, Welch’s, Heinz, and Ben ; Jerry’s.
All three of these examples are against the labeling of genetically modified food. What does that tell you about what goes into their products? This is because the regulation system is flawed, and the rigorous testing that should be conducted on each of these modified foods is simply not being done. Likely as consumers of these potentially dangerous foods themselves, members of the Canadian government must work harder to obtain more and better information about these foods before mass producing them to our local store shelves.
As more and more genetically modified food makes its way onto our dinner plates, we should have the right to know what we are putting into our bodies, especially if it could be hazardous to our health. Though many try to avoid it, consuming genetically modified food is almost inevitable. The main reason for this is because in Canada, it is not law for companies to label if a food is genetically modified or not, “despite intensive campaigning and 10 years of polling that show over 80% of Canadians want these labels” (“Labeling”).
Those in favor of enacting a law for the labeling of these foods emphasize the right for consumers to know what is in their food. Those against simply do not want to add labels because of the expense and logistical difficulties of labeling, because they do not think that there are any significant health risks linked with GM foods. My question is, if you had a nut allergy, would you want products labeled as “nut-free”? Should there be nuts in a product, there is a label that warns consumers. Although some people may not be concerned with this as they are not allergic, those with allergies are.
The same goes for genetically modified foods: not everyone is concerned with the potentially harmful effects, but many are. As humans, we want to know what we are putting into our bodies, and we have the right to. Humans should be educated on the effects that GM crops can have on not only the environment, but themselves. Though it is impossible to reach every single global citizen with this information, it is important to reach as many people as possible with information regarding the possible effects that GM foods could have on both the environment and them.
With your help, we can greatly expand the number of people aware of the consequences that genetically engineering and modifying our food can have. Genetically modified food is unnatural, potentially unsafe, and widely unknown to many. Biotechnology is not the answer to hunger, nor is it the safest and most effective method of solving this problem. With potential health implications and numerous environmental effects, humans have the right to know what they are consuming. We will work educate those around us, we will protect present and future generations, and we will limit and eventually abolish genetically modified food.