ECOSPECTIVE: Genetic modification no cure for world hunger


Daniel O’Neail
In 1994 the simple tomato was re-introduced to the world as new and improved — a fruit (yes tomatoes are fruit) that was more resistant to rotting, providing for longer shelf life. This was the first example of a commercial GMF (Genetically modified food).

While this tomato never really caught on it opened the door to a new market — GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms).

It was quickly followed by foods like Roundup Ready Soybeans, Vitamin A enriched Golden rice, pest-resistant cotton, and plans for medicated bananas.

A bright new world and a solution to world hunger were trumpeted, but marketing is not the same as reality.

What we actually have is a paradigm shift of power. Food production has shifted from farmers and co-op feed companies to mega-corporations, such as Monsanto and Syngenta.

Seeds that use to be traded freely have genetic markers and royalties attached, like recordings from rock stars. To grow food now you need to pay these mega-corporations what they demand.

Now, in some cases humanitarian behaviour has remained. The Golden Rice was distributed to ‘sustenance farmers’ royalty free, and only those who grow crops for profit are charged extra. But in other cases the public has been harmed.

The national average cotton yields of GM cotton in India fell to one seventh in 2002, because the parental cotton plant that had been engineered was not well suited to the climate of India and failed.

Farmers have been ruined by the demands for royalties, even when there was no proof of theft. Here in Canada, Monsanto sued Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, because their Roundup Ready Soybeans were found in his field. Lawyers have invaded the farmer’s fields, and knowing what we are eating has become shadowed in doubts. Ever since the discovery of the cause of Mad Cow people have begun to question our government’s ability to monitor acceptable food production methods.

For years we have been feeding our meat animals growth hormones, maturing them faster, and as a result those same hormones have entered our bodies, accelerating our maturity to such a degree that girls reaching puberty at 8 or 9 is no longer uncommon. Mad Cow was a result of the cost saving efforts of feeding dead cows, to other cows, turning a herbivore into a cannibal, and prime rib into a toxin.

Today, our tomatoes contain resistance to antibiotics, some corns, rice and soybeans have been spliced with bacteria. There are even soybeans spliced with Brazil nuts known to cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to nuts. Yet none of this has to be listed on the ingredient in Canada. The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate that as much as 75 per cent of the food on the shelves contain GMOs.

“Bioengineered foods do not pose any risks for consumers that are different from conventional foods,” said James H. Maryanski, PhD, the FDA’s biotechnology coordinator. “We make sure there are no hazards, such as an unexpected allergen or poisonous substance in the food, or that the food is not changed in some way that would affect its nutritional value.”

Yet there have been cases of unexpected allergic reactions, A potato is a potato unless it should contain the genes of a shellfish, then it is something new and unexpected.

Future applications of GMOs include drugs in food, bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases, metabolically engineered fish that mature more quickly, fruit and nut trees that produce years earlier than what is natural.

I do not see this as a bright new future. I see the homogenization of our food sources. Vegetables genetically identical to each other have led to what used to be a local outbreak of a plant disease becoming a global pandemic because we have cloned our food out of the diversity that would naturally prevent this eventuality.

I see the production and sale of sterilized plants unable to produce seeds as extortion from corporations who get to name their price every time you want to plant a crop. I don’t see this as a solution to world hunger, I see humankind’s insatiable desire to control nature.

We do not need to manage nature, we need to manage ourselves, so that nature can take care of itself.


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