There is a lot of confusing information out there today about our food and how it’s grown, so I’d like to offer some clarity. Unlike creating a hybrid plant by cross breeding two varieties of the same type of plant, there’s a newer process that involves changing a species’ genetic make-up in a laboratory. You may already know that GMO means Genetically Modified Organism, but do you know how it impacts the planet, our farmers and, in the end, the food we eat? And what other factors are relevant and need attention?
As a society, we increasingly use technology to make things better and easier. In principle, this is a very smart approach. Enhanced understanding of our world allows us to make more informed choices, creates efficiencies in the way we do things and allows us to achieve things we didn’t think possible. In regards to food, we hope it creates a path for using fewer resources to feed more of the planet’s population, especially those in need. This is where the argument for GMOs is born. If we can genetically alter plants and seeds to produce more vegetables and fruit with less space and water, or allow them to survive at lower than normal temperatures, how is that bad?
Those that support GMOs use this type of argument and, without talking about the facts, it seems a valid one. Here are the facts:
- There have been no long-term studies of how the food we genetically manipulate impacts our bodies, health, animals or the environment. None.
- Companies that create GMO seeds patent them, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each year. Farmers are forbidden from using any seeds from the previous crop’s yield. If a farmer is caught using those seeds, they are likely to end up in court and face hefty fines. Many lose their farms. Wikipedia page here.
- GMO seeds are extremely costly. This puts farmers at risk, since their livelihoods depend on the yield from their crops. GMO or not, drought or excessive rains can destroy a whole crop but the farmer still has to pay for those seeds. And the effects of global warming are drastically changing our weather patterns.
- Industrial farming is becoming more common, consisting of larger portions of land growing fewer varieties of crops. Growing monocrops (one type of food, such as corn) year after year pulls the same nutrients out of the soil without adding any back. This increases the need for fertilizer, which leaks into water tables, contaminating drinking water and surrounding land. GMO crops are often grown on these farms, making it difficult for family-owned farms to compete with their pricing.
- Traditional farming practices of smaller farms with rotating crops in their fields ensure that the soil is well cared for by leaving key nutrients in the ground. This requires substantially less fertilizer, if any, and is much more environmentally friendly. Caring for the soil and future growing potential means higher prices for foods.
- We’re now engineering plants to be resistant to Round Up (a powerful herbicide made by Monsanto), so farmers can heavily spray their entire crops with chemicals to kill the weeds surrounding the plants without killing the crop plants. Those chemicals get absorbed into the soil and plants, which we then eat. Multiple studies show that Round Up damages human cells in many ways. Use has also created resistant super weeds, creating a need for even more chemicals. Take a look at studies here and here, and some easier to understand articles here and here.
- It may sound like science fiction, but we’re also altering plants to produce larger than natural amounts of insecticides, which are toxic. There is conflicting information out there, since this is a natural occurring toxin and other factors involving GMOs need to be considered. There isn’t enough scientific proof to make claims either way, more studies are needed. Read an informative article here.
- Scientists are using genetic material from one organism and placing it in another organism, outside of its own species. Examples would be using genetic material from fish in tomatoes or genetic material from Brazil nuts in soybeans. Though neither of these products made it to market, people with an allergy to Brazil nuts demonstrated an allergy to the soybeans when tested, which can be fatal. Check out an article about it here.
- Atlantic Salmon are now being genetically modified in Canada to grow larger and faster. Again, no long-term studies have been conducted to understand the effects this will have on us, wild fish populations or our environment.
- There are no regulations forcing companies to inform the public of GMO’s being present in their products. The only way to know if your potential purchase is GMO free is if it is labeled “Organic” in Canada (USDA Organic isn’t good enough) or if it has this label on it. Visit Non-GMO Project here.
These are classic examples of us putting the cart before the horse. It’s not a coincidence that we’re coming full circle on the traditional farming practices that have kept us happy and healthy for generations. Countries across the world are banning GMOs but we’re not one of them. Canada currently grows GMO corn, canola, soy and sugar beets. We also import GMO cotton seed oil, papaya, squash and milk products, so you should always know where your products are coming from.
Science has helped us in understanding DNA, its expression and how mutations occur. The challenge lies in humans consistently contaminating our environment without full knowledge of the impacts those choices and changes will have on us. This especially applies to long-term exposure. History has proven that we’ve been confident about past choices that have ended up being to our detriment. Mother Nature has a way of continuing to press on despite the obstacles we place in her way, but how far can we go until we permanently damage ourselves because of a lack of research and restraint?
Want to learn more? Check out these useful resources:
Link to my site http://www.nutritiouslife.ca/2016/11/24/what-are-gmos/