On the heels of my post about the new Arctic Apple on Wednesday, another post on the subject on Real Agriculture. I love this post by Debra Murphy. Thanks to a couple of my twitter friends for sharing it!
I have a few things I want to say about GMOs as there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding them and I’ve had a couple of people suggest related topics for blog posts.
1. The Arctic apple was approved for production by the FDA and the CFIA a few weeks ago. Some
food manufacturers people are pretty excited about this because it means that you will now be able to slice or bite an apple without having to worry about unsightly enzymatic browning. I mean, god forbid that your apple innards not be a pristine white. Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this was approved at the same time as everyone’s expressing such enthusiasm for “ugly” vegetables and fruits?
It’s this sort of use of genetic modification that makes me particularly angry. The primary argument in support of GMOs is that they will help to feed the world through hardier higher yielding crops. An apple that doesn’t brown is going to be of no benefit to people living in drought stricken regions. It’s not going to help alleviate the hunger of anyone except the food manufacturers who think that apples need to be pre-sliced and packaged in plastic pouches at exorbitant prices. Did you know that an apple comes with a lovely natural protective skin on it and that it can be sold intact? Did you know that you can eat an apple without slicing it first? And that there are kitchen tools called knives that enable you to slice an apple yourself if that’s your preferred method of consumption. Come on. Creating an apple that doesn’t brown when exposed to the air should not have been a priority for engineers. Do something worthwhile.
2. Non-GMO is not the same thing as organic. Based on the current definitions, all organic foods must be non-GMO but not all non-GMO foods are organic. Organic foods must also be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. Which leads to number three…
3. Mamavation’s top 10 reasons to feed your family organic which are basically a list of lies. One and two being true (although not necessarily good reasons to feed your family organic) and the rest, aside from number six, being misleading at best and completely false at worst. 3. Organic foods have been found to contain residual pesticides. Organic farmers are permitted to use pesticides, they just can’t use inorganic (i.e. synthetic pesticides). In addition to those pesticides, organic crops also become contaminated with inorganic pesticides through air, rain, and soil contamination. 4. Have you ever looked at any of the packaged organic foods in your local supermarket? Products containing preservatives are plentiful. While they may not contain artificial flavours or colours this doesn’t make them nutritionally superior. Natural fallacy anyone? Beaver anal glands (can’t miss an opportunity to mention them!). 5. No antibiotics or hormones. You won’t find these in any Canadian milk regardless of whether or not it’s organic. In fact, you’ll only find hormones in beef and antibiotics in some animals (1). 7. There is no evidence, despite numerous studies, that organic foods contain more nutrients than non-organic foods. 8. Better taste. How to argue with subjectivity? I have had some delicious organic foods and some that taste terrible. I think that freshness and variety are more important factors in flavour profile than organic is. 9. Support the farmer and the farm. Organic is irrelevant here. I think that she’s confusing conventional agriculture with factory farms. Many smaller farming operations may be organic without being certified organic, they may also not use organic practices. You can also buy organic foods that come from large-scale farming operations. A better suggestion: buy local, know your farmer. 10. Reduces pollution and saves energy. Again, this is confusing farm-scale with organic and conventional farming practices.
While I’m not a supporter of genetic modification, I’m even more opposed to ignorant fear mongering.
I bit my tongue the other day when I was reading a deluge of tweets insulting people who were participating in the March Against Monsanto. I found the tweets offensive because they presumed that only farmers have the right to decide if genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are worthy of entry into the food supply. They also presumed that people who were marching against Monsanto were only concerned about GMOs and were ignorant of science. Someone actually said that, as long as you have enough to eat, you have no right to complain about or question the food system. Seriously? I think that we should question everything. As long as I’m putting food into my body I would like to feel confident that it’s safe, nutrient rich, and delicious. Of course, GMO is not the only concern when it comes to safety, the centralization of our food supply and the diminished capacity of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are probably more concerning to me. As is the declining number of farms and farmers across the country.
To be honest, I take exception to both extremes. My concern with Monsanto is that they force farmers to become reliant on them for seeds. Patenting seeds is terrifying to me. We should not be allowing one company to have so much control over our food supply. My concern with GMOs is that we don’t know what the long-term impact of their introduction to the ecosystem will be. We don’t know what effect these new plants and animals (so far just salmon has been applied for approval in Canada but we’ve seen other experimental animals around the world) will have on the other plants and animals. There could be serious implications for biodiversity. We also don’t know what the long-term implications of consuming these GMOs will be. Sorry if short-term mouse studies don’t convince me of the safety of these new foods for human consumption throughout our lives.
Okay, now for the other extreme. We have research conducted on tumour-prone mice intended to demonstrate that GMOs will give us cancer. Lots of photos like this:
No, that one’s no GMO, but the extreme anti-GMO camp tends toward chemophobia and seems to lack an understanding of the fact that everything is comprised of chemicals. So what that ants aren’t into the artificially sweetened candy. That must mean that it’s toxic. Except, there are many foods, including lots of vegetables, that ants would not recognize as food.
While I am clearly wary of GMOs, I don’t see attacking each other and dismissing arguments out of hand as beneficial to either side. It’s making me want to tune out both camps and start my own subsistence farm in a very isolated location.
Scientists at Monsanto are set to be presented with the Nobel Prize of Agriculture on October 16th (ironically World Food Day). If you think this is wrong, please take a moment to sign the petition.
A friend recently sent me a link to this blog post Why I Won’t Be Buying Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise Flakes Anymore. She thought it might be something that I would agree with, rather than the usual nutrition misinformation that she alerts me too. However, as I read I found myself disagreeing with the author.
While she’s absolutely entitled to purchase (or boycott) whatever type of cereal she chooses, and entitled to her own opinions about GMOs, I think that her conclusions are misguided. Basically, she’s decided not to purchase the aforementioned cereal anymore because Nature’s Path is staunchly anti-GMO and has tweeted support for a film that is allegedly pseudo-science and fear-mongering. She believes that we need to differentiate between types of genetic modification and can’t lump things like Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready, Bt corn, and arctic apples together. I beg to differ. I think that these GMOs can be lumped together (especially the RR and Bt corn – since they’re both supposedly engineered to be pest-resistant).
I know many intelligent people who firmly believe that GMOs are safe for us to eat. I also know many people who are vehemently opposed to these foods and believe them to be toxic. I tend to lean toward the latter category. It baffles me that a crop can be engineered to contain pesticides and yet it’s supposed to be safe for humans to consume. While I don’t necessarily think that crops that are engineered to have certain qualities (such as the arctic apples and GM salmon) are going to be toxic I think that there’s more than food safety to consider here. Yes, we are essentially the guinea pigs in this long-term study of GMO safety. There hasn’t been enough research for us to know whether or not these foods are safe to eat. But there’s more than that.
We don’t know the impact that introducing these GM crops and animals is going to have on the ecosystem. We’re already doing plenty to destroy our planet by emitting greenhouse gases, polluting the water, killing various species, and clear-cutting forests. Do we really need to add our scientifically engineered organisms to the list? There are always unanticipated unintended consequences; just look at the hypoallergenic cow. What impact will GM crops have on their current counterparts? What impact will GM crops have on essential insects and other animals who pollinate and eat them?
Despite what Monsanto and those who’ve consumed the genetically modified kool-aid would have you believe, we don’t need to genetically modify crops to feed the global population. We need to be smarter about how we grow and distribute our food.
So, I’m not going to buy Nature’s Path’s Mesa Sunrise Cereal because I don’t like it. However, I will buy their Pumpkin Raisin Crunch when it’s on sale because it’s delicious.