GMO foods are Not the answer to world hunger - They may be a hazard to public health

GMO foods may not be safe and in fact, they pose an enormous risk of damage to human, animal and environmental health.  I believe that everyone has the right to clean water, uncontaminated food, clean environment and decent shelter.  When we are deprived of any of those things, life becomes tricky and even downright depressing, dangerous and life-threatening.  If you don't know what genetically modified organism (GMO) foods are, read on, you might be in for a big shock!

The GMO foods industry claims that producing GMO foods have major advantages for the human race, but there are many reasons why the production of GM foods should not be encouraged.  It is beyond the scope of this essay to give a comprehensive overview of all of those reasons; however, the most important appear to be that GMO technologies are facilitating corporate control of the world’s food supply, environmental degradation, and GMO foods may threaten human health.  There are also important social and economic concerns which need to be investigated and addressed.

GMO foods are not new.  In fact, the first commercial GM crop in the United States (US) was a tomato, and was released in 1994.3  In 1996, the first genetically manipulated, glyphosate-tolerant soybeans were planted in the US.An organism is genetically modified by taking the genes from one organism and inserting them into another to produce a genetically modified hybrid, which then acquires new properties.1

Research has found that the new organisms are not tested for harmful effects to human health and environment, or for nutritional value, because expression of the introduced genes is the objective. 1

The main GMO food crops are maize, soybean, canola, sugar beets, and cottonseed oil.  Animals including pigs, cows and salmon are also genetically engineered.3  Crops such as Bt corn are engineered to be pest resistant, and others to enable them to survive lethal doses of herbicide.GMO foods have been marketed by corporate giants as being the path to cheaper food and the solution to world hunger.  GM crops are created to “tolerate herbicides or to express a pesticide”, and these objectives do not address the problem feeding the world’s starving people.1

Consumer concern over corporate control of the world’s food supply through ownership of species and seeds is strong in the United Kingdom (UK) and Europe.5  In 2009, France’s Supreme Court ruled that Monsanto made false claims about the environmental safety of its herbicide.  By 2003, ten companies controlled 60% of the world’s food supply.5 

These corporations are agglomerates producing seed, pesticides, and fertilizers, and providing the processing and shipping of those products.  GM crops are bred to be dependent on high doses of the very chemicals which are produced and sold by the corporations producing the GM seeds.

Vandana Shiva, a prominent environmentalist, argues that the production of genetically modified food in India has cost many people their livelihoods and their land, and has caused many thousands of farmers in India to suicide.2   

She believes they suicide because dependence upon corporate seeds increases the farmers’ debts until their land is repossessed.  Shiva also asserts that the farmers have no choice but to buy these seeds, as corporations and governments have conspired to ban the use of traditional seeds.2 

A difficulty arises when it comes to substantiating GM industry claims, because those same companies have the power to suppress independent research, and they do so when the results do not support their claims.1

Scientists who publish research that is unfavorable to GM companies are attacked and discredited, and their results are dismissed.1

Nearly 80% of GM crops worldwide are sprayed with glyphosate-based herbicide, which is the active ingredient in “Roundup”.

It was developed by Monsanto, a GM giant, and was widely promoted by them as being biodegradable and leaving no traces in the soil.  But because it is a systemic herbicide, it cannot be removed from sprayed vegetables even when washed, peeled or processed.7   

Widespread poisonings occurred in Latin America due to aerial spraying of GM crops, causing much harm to human health.  GM crops have the ability to contaminate non-GM crops, a major environmental concern is the possibility of GM crops pollinating into the wild, which could have catastrophic effects on native plants and wildlife, and disrupt the balance of nature.3  

Plants modified to be resistant to herbicides, can cross-pollinate with weeds giving them immunity to herbicides, and facilitating super-weeds, which then require spraying with other stronger herbicides.3  Much research documents the harmful impacts of GM crops on the environment, but this research is quickly discredited in the US.1  Watts (2009, 3) cites examples of harm to soil and plant health, and toxicity to beneficial organisms and insects, from the spraying of glyphosate on GM crops and also warns of glyphosate’s persistence in the soil and the risk of contamination to groundwater.

Research studies have found that glyphosate may accumulate in, and kill human cells, and have mutagenic effects on the human reproductive system.7   Exposure has also been linked to various neurological effects, liver damage, DNA damage and a range of cancers, especially haematological cancers.

In the US, the FDA’s scientists warned of unknown risks and the threat of new allergens and toxins in GMO foods when they were first released onto the market, but they were overruled.1  The FDA formed new policy, overseen by a former attorney for Monsanto, that allowed GMO foods to be approved without testing and labeling.1    Dr Pusztai, a renowned scientist, was commissioned by the Rowett Institute of Scotland to develop methods for identification of risks to humans and animals from GMO foods.5   He found that rats fed with GM potatoes for 100 days, were stunted in growth and suffered defects to their immune systems, but was widely discredited after making his findings public.5   

It is generally believed that GMO foods are subject to stringent testing and regulations, but that regulation of GMO foods is either weak or non-existent in most countries.1  When Monsanto declare that the assurance of the safety of their GMO foods is the FDA’s task, and the FDA state that responsibility for food safety belongs to the food producer, it becomes evident that regulations to protect consumers are inadequate.1

The results of this GM ‘cheap food’ solution are the indirect and hidden economic costs of pollution, degradation of human health, damage to soil structure, and environmental damage, estimated by Professor Jules Pretty to be £2.43 billion per year in the UK alone.5  

The cost of removing pesticides from drinking water in the UK by 2003 was £120 million per year.5    The ‘cheap food’ solution is producing corporate dominance by a small collective of companies, and a planned system of GM animals and vegetables being raised for human consumption in multi-storey complexes; a complete artificial environment.5  Farmers do not necessarily benefit from these evolving farming techniques.  In fact, according to Levins (2000), “In 1929, farmers kept 49 cents of every dollar they handled.  In 1960, farmers kept just over 1 cent on the dollar”.4   The giants of agribusiness are non-farm agglomerates, with enormous investment in farming and farmers.  As these are some of the largest corporations in the United States, they generate enormous profits, while the farmers retain less and less of their farming income.4

In conclusion, GMO foods are produced in many parts of the world, and millions of people and animals eat GMO foods or products containing GMO ingredients.  However, when considering the environmental and agricultural disadvantages of GM crops, caution is warranted.  There is evidence supporting the positive aspects of GMO foods, and evidence supporting the negative effects, both direct and indirect.  Until more time passes, and more independently collected data is gathered to assess and verify any links to unwanted effects, the production and ingestion of GMO foods should be discouraged. 

There should also be great resistance to the idea that private corporations can own and regulate planetary food security.  Indigenous seeds have traditionally been the product of generations of farming knowledge and practices; their viability improved with each passing season.  GMO foods have little to do with feeding the world’s hungry and everything to do with corporate greed.6  Such corporate ownership constitutes disaster for independent farmers, genetic diversity in agricultural and wild environments, and threatens human health, our social and economic systems, and ultimately the resilience of the human race.

Sources and References:

1 Antoniou, Michael, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan. 2012. “GMO Myths and Truths: An Evidence-Based Examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops.” Earth Open Source.

2 Davis, Rowenna. 2008. “Interview with Vandana Shiva Environmentalist Extraordinaire.” New Internationalist April, 2008: 29.

3 Maheshwari, Raaz. 2012. "Genetically Modified Foods: An Insight." International Journal of Life Sciences and Biotechnology and Pharma Research 1(3): 1-5.

4 Ramey, Elizabeth A. 2010. “Seeds of Change: Hybrid Corn, Monopoly, and the Hunt for Superprofits.” Review of Radical Political Economics 42(3): 381-386.

5 Rowell, Andrew. 2003. Don’t Worry [It’s Safe to Eat] The True Story of GM Food, BSE and Foot and Mouth. London, UK: Earthscan Publications Ltd.

6 Walters, Reece. 2010. Eco Crime and Genetically Modified Food. Hoboken: Routledge-Cavendish. 

7 Watts, Meriel. 2009. “Glyphosate.” Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific.

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