A chat with a professional.

As part of my assignment, I had to find a human source. After lots of emails, phone calls, and google searches, I finally found someone willing to discuss GMO’s and how they are affecting them. I became connected with Beth Braun through Greenpeace and was immediately interested in how her career as a professor at both the City Colleges of Chicago and Northeastern Illinois University caused her to be a GMO activist. She teaches General Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, Nutrition and Environmental Science, but says that her “true passion is information.” She says that being a professor allows for her to reach out to the younger generations and encourage them to make a change for the future. Upon asking if any of her students have heard of GMO’s, she normally is responded with silence as “virtually none of [her] students have heard of it”. Ms. Braun believes that because many people hold this false idea that the ecosystem is a remote environment that will not affect them personally, they do not care. Unfortunately, they are very wrong. Ms. Braun’s main concern with GMO’s is that they ARE changing the ecosystem. For her students, she uses an example that makes GMO’s easier to understand. She says that fast food, such as, is something we all know is not healthy for us. Yet, if we wanted to we could go ahead and get a Bic Mac for lunch. With GMO’s, though, we do not have that option. Once planted within the ecosystem, they contaminate the environment whether we like it or not. It is not something we can choose to ignore, nor should we. In closing with Ms. Braun, she said many people try to “frame” her as a person against anything that is “big business”. For all you activists, she says do NOT allow anyone to portray you in that way. If the “big business” was “doing something good we’d be cheering them on”, but unfortunately many people take their power for granted.

After hanging up the phone with Ms. Braun, I  became aware of my need to generate awareness and knowledge on the topic of GMO’s. The chat we had together provided me reason to continue my research and interest in this project long after the due date.  She inspired me to talk with my mom, my dad, my friends, even my sibling about their feelings on GMO’s, in lieu of the BP oil spill, the way we are treating the environment in general. As part of this intricate system of the ecosystem, I feel the least I can do is disclose some of the information I have in hopes that it ignites the same flame that it has in myself.

The ongoing battle: how to feed the hungry

The genetic engineering world claims that it will feed our ever-growing population; that with their pesticides and insecticides it will create the higher yields necessary to feed the some 6 billion people that live on this planet. Yet, an article in The Atlantic (showed to me by Mr. Coffee) refutes this claim. Adding another dimension to the ongoing battle between those for genetic engineering and those for organic/conventional methods.

Farmers in third world countries, according to Monsanto’s website, couldn’t be happier about the new era of technology allowing them to produce higher yields with less costs for fertilizers, as discussed in my earlier post “The good, the bad, and the ugly“. An interview I listened to on National Public Radio (Npr) confirmed this belief as they spoke to a farmer in Honduras.

Rodolfo Rubio, “who grows corn and vegetables on about 50 acres near the city of Comayagua” is a firm believer in the power of genetic engineering. With the help of Monsanto, Rubio is able to produce corn without and pesticides and without any evidence of silk worms, an ever-present problem in his region of Honduras. Monsanto was able to take a gene from the worm and transplant it into the seed. Therefore, when the worm would eat the corn, the worm would die.

Although Rubio spends an extra $1,000 for the seeds, it “saves him so much time and money, he says, he can’t imagine not using it”. A possibility when you consider that much of Central America is against the production and use of genetic engineering. Believing that “bringing in unnatural genes threatens the integrity of [the corn's] natural biodiversity”. Although, with the onset of a major food crisis in Honduras, farmers are being pushed “to plant more corn, including genetically modified corn”. So as of late, a ban of GMO’s is still in the distance.

But, why all the fuss? It saves time. It saves money. It should be the answer to our prayers. Yet, many people refute these claims believing that organic methods work just as well without all the risks a new technology brings.

A study at the University of Michigan found food production “could double or triple using organic methods” not only equal that of genetically engineered crops. When done properly, it could “potentially produce more than enough food”. Good news for farmers in developing countries, unlike Rubio, who can’t afford to shell out $1,000 all at once just for seeds every year. Their research concluded that “planting green manures between growing seasons provided enough nitrogen to replace synthetic fertilizers”.

Yet, no one is aware of the seemingly easier idea of organic farming. Shannon Dipietro of The Atlantic believes that it’s a difference in budgets. While company’s like Monsanto can constantly be in the consumer’s face about the looming danger of overpopulation, organic farmers do not have a big guy out front rooting for them. Monsanto’s “ads use facts related to fears that are unrelated to the product they produce” to grab our attention.

So. like the rest of the controversies, this too is unresolved. There is and always will be two sides. Who are you rooting for?

To listen to the full NPR story, follow this link:

Honduras Embraces Genetically Modified Crops by Dan Charles

Toxicity in GMO corn? Who knows!

Monsanto, the leading business in the biotechnology world, funds many schools research programs. In 2006 alone they gave out an estimated $11.9 million in grants. The money is in turn used for further research, new equipment, education programs, and the like. Unfortunately, because of this funding they are also have the power to decide what is being released to the public and what is kept low- key of the research that takes place.

In an article entitled “Strong Suspicions of Toxicity in One GMO Corn” Stephanie Foucart details how Greenpeace, an independent environmental campaign organization, worked to get an 1,000 page document entailing a study performed on rats that were given MON 863, a “transgenic corn invented by Monsanto”. The corn had been and still is in the center of controversy because of the lack of proper testing and knowledge on the long- term side effects. What was found in this study is a little ominous.

Although side effects differed for the male and female rats, the damage was found in their liver and kidneys. Female rats saw in increase in blood fat and sugar levels, while males were the very opposite- a decline in body and kidney weight. Monsanto had ruled out any possible threat because the rats reacted differently, yet a scientist who reviewed the study noted that “the liver, for example, is an organ that reacts differently as a function of sex” (if this is really all too much, take a humor break).

Unfortunately, because the study only took place over a 90 day time span, it is hard to draw any conclusions at all. One would think that an issue as large as what we’re putting into our bodies would take the news, but unfortunately GMO’s have taken to the back-burner and as of right now “there is no public budget for conducting this type of research”.  Until then, we are all left to wonder. Was it the MON 863 that led the rats to have liver and kidney failure? Or was it merely a coincidence?

To see the full article, click here.

Alfalfa Sprouts and YOU!

If you keep up with the latest in the food world, then you probably have heard about what is happening with the alfalfa sprouts. If not, then you probably have no clue what I’m talking about and wonder why you should even care. Keep reading and I will tell you why.

Alfalfa sprouts are “the fourth largest crop, in terms of acreage, grown in the United States behind corn, soybeans, and wheat” (Green Talk). It has many uses such as crop cover, since it is so rich in nutrients, and creating more homes for wildlife. If you are not a big of fan of eating alfalfa sprouts, that does not mean that they still don’t affect you.

Cattle is generally fed hay, which, according to Green Talk, will still produce good beef and a good profit. The best feed for cattle, however, is alfalfa. Therefore, if something were to happen to alfalfa your hamburgers, your milk, your cheese, your yogurt, your favorite steak, or quite possibly your ice cream might all be affected.

Well, be prepared. In two days, March 3, 2010, a decision will be made on the safety of genetically engineered alfalfa sprouts by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) only after being sued by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) for originally approving the crop before proper analysis (Ga3.org). The analysis, which is known as the environmental impact statement (EIS), was first released December 14, 2009 and is open for comment until, as I said earlier, March 3. This analysis is the first ever done on a GE engineered crop and as such will have “broad implications for all GE crops” (Ga3.org).   

The problem is that if the GE crop gets approved, there will be no way to regulate it with the standards that are set in place now. In the documents required for the lawsuit against the USDA “the Court found that contamination had already occurred in the fields of several Western states” (Ga3.org). As mentioned in the Percy Schmeiser vs. Monsanto post, there are also other ways a non- GE crop can be contaminated such as wind, pollination, and bad practices. Because of this, the once safe alternative, organic foods, will no longer be safe.  Alfalfa may no longer be able to be found without having been genetically modified.

If this bothers you, you should do something! Go to this site and find out where to send your comments. The USDA said that there is no evidence supporting the fact that consumers care about organic crops becoming contaminated with GMO’s. You have the opportunity to prove them wrong and delay the onset of GE crops until further testing has been completed.

To label or not to label? That is the question.

As of right now, there are no rules pertaining to the labeling of genetically engineered foods, unless that food has a new nutritional effect, such as an allergen.  The only way to be sure that what you’re eating has not been modified is to buy certified organic foods, which mustn’t contain any GMO’s. As with every argument, there are the two sides.

The pro- labelers:

  • believe it is their right to know what is going in their food and what they are eating
  • whether it be for personal or religious reasons they understand people avoid eating animals, even if it is the animal DNA. A risk they are taking while eating unlabeled food.
  • think that labeling will help educate more people about what GMO’s are.

The anti-labelers:

  • Afraid of the cost that labeling will bring
  • believe that the label has a negative connotation and will scare people away from buying it
  • believe there is no difference between conventional foods and genetically engineered foods
  • believe people already have the option to avoid GMO’s- by buying organic

You must be aware that these are only skimming the whole problem. Along with the GMO battle, brings fights that are outside of our borders.

The five countries producing more than 95% of commercialized GMO [legend pattern orange] Other country producing commercialized GMO. [orange dot] Only experimental crops.”]

Many countries, such as Europe, have already decided to completely take GMO’s off the shelves until they are proven safe (whereas we have taken the very opposite approach- safe until proven dangerous). This is troublesome, though, when we think of the trade that happens between countries. The United States is a GM giant as well as a huge exporter, if Europe, for example, decided to suddenly stop accepting our food until labeled properly it would greatly hurt the trade industry. Already thinking ahead, the European Union (EU) has proposed a treaty that would force “exporters to provide more information on GMO products like maize and soybeans before any shipment to recipient countries, to help them decide whether to accept it” (World Environment News). Once again, those against it are afraid of the money that would go into the screening of genes before shipments. Although the treaty is still in its early stages, it is creating a bit of discomfort among bio- tech countries like the United States.

As the battle of labeling continues, so will the battle of GMO’s. Until then, people must educate themselves on what they are putting into their body.

Sources:

Colorado State University

Brown University

Natural News

Planet Ark

Percy Schmeiser vs. Monsanto

Here’s the story.

Percy Schmeiser is a farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan Canada whose livelihood is his canola fields. Percy inherited the farm from his parents and for over 40 years has been cross- breeding and the like to produce his own perfect seed.

Monsanto is a bio- tech engineering company that by “using the tools of modern biology, [they] help farmers grow more yield sustainably so they can produce more and conserve more“. They are the top providers of GMO’s. Their leading product, Roundup Ready, had been the top- selling herbicide since 1980. With the onset of genetic technology, Monsanto was able to construct Roundup Ready seeds that are resistant to the herbicide so as not to hurt the crop, only kill the weeds.

Unnanounced to Percy, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds found their way on his fields. He claims that wind, his neighbor’s Roundup crop, and trucks driving by the main road he lives on with inadequate covering all contributed crop contamination with the genetically modified seeds. Percy became aware of the presence of these seeds after spraying the Roundup herbicide, and not killing the seeds, although he did not tell Monsanto nor did he take any measures to remove the seeds. “Following an anonymous tip, Monsanto’s investigators confirmed the presence of plants bearing the gene in Schmesier’s fields” and because of this Monsanto filed a lawsuit against him for use of their seeds without permission.

When using Monsanto’s seeds, the farmer must first sign an agreement that among many other things they will buy new seeds every year and not share seeds (a common practice among farmers).

Percy Schmeiser is a seed saver and always has been. Not once has he signed an agreement with Monsanto nor purchased any of their seeds. Completely caught off guard with this attack at his fields, Percy fought back. And that’s what makes this all too common case, stick out.Accepting donations from other farmers and really anyone willing, Percy and his wife spent much of their fortune fighting for their cause and even taking the case all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. The claim was that since Percy was supposedly using the seeds, he should have to pay the company around $200,000 in infringement costs plus $15 for every acre of his land, EVEN IF the seeds had landed their accidently. Percy believed that it was not his fault that the seeds had landed on his farm and he should not be held accountable.

Percy took many standpoints to win his case; attacking the Monsanto’s ability to patent genes, his ownership of the seeds since they were now on his land, and his innocence through it all. The court ruled in somewhat of a draw. They determined that the Monsanto patent is valid, but since Percy did not benefit from the seeds he would not have to pay infringement costs. He did, however, have to pay the requested injunction (all totaling around $145, 450 Canadian dollars).

Monsanto takes the side that Percy Schmeiser is “simply a patent infringer who knows how to tell a good story“. They claim that since majority of his crop was the GM seed, that he must have knew that he was continually saving the engineered seed and reusing it without permission or a license.

This story is important not only because of its popularity when talking of genetically engineered technology, but because people are concerned with the influence and control Monsanto has on seeds. Percy is quoted as saying, “If I would go to St. Louis and contaminate their plots- destroy what they have worked on for 40 years- I think I would be put in jail“. With control over plants genes, it leaves one to wonder what’s in store for the future.

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Many are in favor of the use of GMO’s. For many years we have used selective breeding to create desirable traits in a plant or animal, but with the new technology called genetic engineering there is now a more efficient way to do so with many more possibilities. In an ever- growing population, it is a convenient way to increase yield in many crops and reduces the use of pesticides and insecticides. This allows farmers to reap more of the profits while cutting costs.

By adding or changing the growth hormone, scientists are also creating larger carp, tilapia, salmon, and many other foods. Modifying the organisms also allows for scientists to add  in different desirable traits. Foods with edible vaccines are being researched as you read this. Martin Lemon, Monsanto’s environmental operations manager said, “The beauty of it is, it’s a lot more straightforward and quicker”. It also allows for the use of non- plant traits to be added to plant organisms, an impossibility during the years of selective breeding.

Although all of this sounds harmless and beneficial, many are against the use of GMO’s. Because the technology is still very new, it is still unknown how these crops will affect future generations of both plants and humans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that GMO’s are “considered by the government to be as safe as their traditional counterparts and are generally unregulated”, the fact that they are not being regulated is the main cause of concern. The ActionBioScience website suggests that Monsanto’s ability to put patents on seeds is “creating monopolies on living organisms“. For over 200 years patents on living organisms has been excluded as they were not seen as a new invention just a revised way to use nature. Not only is Monsanto slowly taking over the food industry, they are also depleting native countries of their indigenous crops by making the GM crop the only sustainable form. Probably the most frightening aspect of GMO’s is the lack of knowledge. No one can say for certain what the effects will be. Countries such as Algeria, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, Philippines, Spain, Brazil, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, and many more have declared not to plant or use genetically engineered seeds until more research has been completed.

 Scientist Miguel A. Altieri says that “profit motivations rather than environmental concerns, shape the type of research and modes of agricultural production prevalent throughout the world”. With that in mind, it is important to be aware that with the little research done on GMO’s it is a frightening thought to think that you could be a guinea pig for future generations.

P.s. If you are still unsure of what modifying food is, look at this Powerpoint.

Basics

GMO stands for genetically modified organism and includes plants, animals, and microorganisms.  When one of the organisms is modified, it means that a new protein or gene is being introduced to change the genetic makeup. Sounds extremely dull, but really it’s not. When these new genes or proteins  are added, it makes crops that are more resistant to droughts, diseases, and use less pesticides. New genes can not only be transferred from plant to plant, but also genes from non- plant organisms can also be used (gross, right?) This cross breeding creates “super- food” that is supposed to lower costs for farmers on chemicals and pesticides. In the United States, the use of these organisms is continually on the rise.

While the use of such crops initially meant to only lower costs, the continued research shows that just like diseases in humans, the crops continue to grow resistant to the added genes. The resistance has added pressure to the company’s creating these seeds. The big league, Monsanto, is continually producing new seeds that need more modifying and more engineering, such as, the new seed “Terminator“. Farmers can plant the seed, but in order for the new effects to take place, they must spray chemicals on the crop. So, now you will not only be eating genes not natural to the food, but also loads of chemicals to get it like that. What ever happened to planting the seed and hoping for the best?