Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Monsanto, GMOs, and a dose of condescention

9 Comments

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:

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And this:

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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.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

9 thoughts on “Monsanto, GMOs, and a dose of condescention

  1. Hello, I’m a farmer who has grown GMO canola for about 10 years. There is so many different aspects I could discuss but one point seems to stick out to me that patenting seeds terrifies you. As a farmer dealing with a dynamic environment I need tools to work with mother nature to produce a crop. These tools can be organic or GMO, it doesn’t matter to me but the bottom line is I have to manage my crops. I will pay a company for the right to use their product (GMO in this case) if I see a benefit. I’ll admit we hate paying the tech fee but our fields have never been cleaner, and the herbicide resistant pressure by using less effective herbicides has gone way down.

    Another point is even though we use Monsanto’s Roundup Ready trait we have never bought seed from their seed company DeKalb for the reason we liked other varieties better. Its like different automotive companies making cars but using a common engine. Each car or variety needs to suit the purchaser or grower. Off the top of my head the different companies using the RR trait in canola are Nexara, Pioneer, Dupont, Canterra, Viterra, Brett Young, Syngenta, DeKalb. These companies contract regular farm seed growers to grow these varieties which end up on a farm like mine for commercial production. Crops like corn, soy, and canola are hybrids and takes a special seed growing system to grow the male and female plants to harvest properly. The hybrid seed gives huge benefits and yield for regular commercial growers but the benefits are only for one generation.

    We live in a capitalist society and companies should have the right to protect products they develop for a period of time. This is what fuels innovation and development. The roundup ready patent is set to expire in 2015 and the roundup patent expired in 2000. I for one do not want my personal taxes going to fund plant breeding.

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    • Thank you so much for providing an alternative perspective Jay! I was really hoping that I would get some response from farmers and that we would be able to have a mature dialogue. It’s nice to know that even though we may not agree, we can still be respectful.

      It’s also interesting to hear that you’ve had much greater yields with GM seeds. Films like Food Inc have given the impression that there’s no benefit, and actually decreased yields, for farmers.

      I’m curious, with all of the discussion about the declining bee population over the past few years, have you noticed any difference there? Do you think GMOs are a factor or disease or something else?

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  2. Diana, I think the thing to keep in mind hat if Food Inc was correct and the products had no increases in yields and no benefits to farmers, farmers certainly would not use them. Farmers are the best customers out there, tough ones. They trial everything first. The reason 275000 farmers in North America use the seeds is because they provide benefit not available in standard hybrids. The note from Jay above is consistent with most farmers’ experiences.

    Monsanto, or any company, does not force farmers to do anything, let alone become reliant on a product. Farmers don’t do what they are told. They do what works. Many companies produce seeds, several produce GM varieties, and farmers can grow whatever they want.

    Patents shouldn’t terrify you. They should make you very happy that you’re insured improved plant varieties going forward. You don’t realize it because nobody ever cared, but just about every improved plant variety is patented. Breeders spend many years and huge amounts of money (sometimes millions) to create a new elite crop. Should they have to give it away? Of course not! Patents allow breeders, and technology companies, to get some funding back on their investment, research and hard work.

    The rest of your points are “we don’t know”. Actually, we know more about GM products than we do from anything that has been conventionally bred and put into the field or in our mouths.

    The bottom line is that there is nothing magical about these products. There’s no reason that replacing a gene that does amino acid synthesis with a protein that does the same chemistry would have any impact. That’s all ’roundup ready’ is. Very simple, well understood. Again, we do know what will happen and after 2 decades of use, there is no unknown affect. Anything negative was anticipated and is being addressed.

    And the salmon is not going to be released in the wild. If it escapes, it can’t reproduce. It’s triploid. Science does know exactly what will happen.

    And keep in mind that the corn “test” is not much of an experiment. That’s a propaganda piece. There is no way that the presence of a transgene is going to change feeding to such an extreme.

    I’m always glad to answer your questions. Thanks. Kevin

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    • Thanks for your response Kevin. I still have my concerns.

      As far as patents go, my concern is that there will be a monopoly and everyone else will suffer for it. I also worry about diminished biodiversity when one company holds all of the seeds. I know that part of this is consumer demand; everyone wants red tomatoes, but it’s still sad and worrying to see beautiful heirloom varieties lost.

      As far as the safety of GMOs, yes ingestion is part of my concern, but my greater concern is the effect of introducing them to the ecosystem. Only time will tell what the impact of these crops will be.

      I guess I just don’t think they are absolutely necessary. Food is plentiful and I think we would be better served with working towards better food systems and practices than by genetically modifying our food supply. Do we really need non-browning apples and hypoallergenic milk? No.

      Science does not know exactly what will happen and it’s dangerous not to question things just because “science”.

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      • I agree with most things you say, but two points stick out as wrong. First, you should have no concerns about ingestion of GMOs. It’s like the difference between a red and a green bell pepper. Genetic modification only speeds up nature’s processes of evolution (change in allele frequency). The second point is on the necessity of GMOs. We live in a world where many families cannot get the nutrients to survive, and yes, there are many factors causing that problem, but the bottom line is that we need an efficient method of agriculture to sustain our current population without using up our precious natural resources. Issuing a blanket ban on GMOs because of nebulous concerns of health and safety just does a disservice to the people of this earth. Without optimizing our agriculture, we risk everything, from famine to climate change.

        Sorry if that was a bit rambly, I’m tired.

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  3. We have as many or more varieties available now in GM crops than we did before GM was introduced. Monsanto doesn’t have a monopoly, there are other choices of GM crop seeds. No company sells one variety of GM corn or soybeans to all growers across Canada or the US, there are many varieties with different adaptions available.

    As far as losing heirloom varieties I would suggest you read this: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/09/02/anti-gmo-myth-busted-not-losing-plant-genetic-diversity/

    You are probably right, we in Canada and US could do without GM crops. There would be an environmental cost associated with not using them, such as increased tillage and the associated erosion as well as increased insecticide usage. I think it is pretty selfish for us to look at it that way when these crops provide more benefits to farmers in developing countries who have less access to pesticides and almost no access to safety equipment to apply pesticides. Studies have also shown that growers in developing countries benefit from GM crops, in terms of farmer safety, yield and income, more so than growers in developed countries.

    I also have a problem when people paint all GM crops and technologies with one broad stroke instead of looking at each technology for the benefits and risks associated with that particular technology. I, for one, would not be against more regulation in terms of preventing herbicide tolerance in Roundup Ready crops, although pest resistance is not unique to GM crops.

    As I mentioned above, Canada and the US could survive without GM crops, at least for the short-term, but what about the future? The citrus industry is facing a serious threat called citrus greening disease. This disease could wipe out the citrus industry in the US and other parts of the world. Much like what happened with GM papaya saving the Hawaiian papaya industry, genetic engineering may be the key to saving the citrus industry.

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