By Shawn Dell Joyce
Some 200 million acres of the world’s farms grew biotech crops last year, with over 90 percent of the genetically-engineered (GE) seeds coming from US-based Monsanto. Scientists have taken genetic materials from one organism (like a soil bacterium), along with an antibiotic resistant marker gene, and spliced both into a food crop (like corn) to create a genetically-modified crop that resists specific diseases and pests. There has been no long term independent testing on the impacts of these “franken-foods” on the ecosystem or human health. Instead, there is a long litany of concealed truths, strong arm tactics and even outright bribery by the world’s biotech giants.

In the early 1990’s when frankenfoods were being evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, several FDA scientists warned that GE crops could cause negative health effects. These scientists were ignored and blanket approvals of GE crops were passed. Perhaps one reason for the quick approval process is the revolving door at the FDA, which allows corporate executives from biotech giants to hold decision-making positions in the FDA. Michael Taylor was an attorney for Monsanto before being appointed deputy commissioner of the FDA in 1991. Taylor hastened approval of GE crops through the FDA then returned to Monsanto to become the vice president for public policy.

It is very difficult to avoid eating genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s) in our country, because they are so pervasive in the food system and unlabeled in the grocery stores. Part of the reason for this is biotech giants fought to keep GMO foods unlabeled. Most recently, the growth hormones from GE organisms known as rBGH, which is given to cows to make them produce more milk, were banned in Europe and Canada after the authorities found out about the health risks resulting from drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH hormones. Some American milk producers started labeling their milk “rBGH and rBST free.” Monsanto, which sells bovine growth hormones under the brand name Posilac, began suing dairy producers to force them to stop labeling their milk.

In addition to most milk products, GMO’s can be found in most commercially-farmed meats, and processed foods on store shelves. In our country, 89 percent of all soy, 61 percent of all corn, and 75 percent of all canola are genetically-altered. Other foods like commercially-grown papaya, zucchini, tomatoes, several fish species, and food additives like enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses, also contain GMO’s.

To complicate matters, GMO’s move around in the ecosystem through pollen, wind, and natural cross-fertilization. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted two separate independent laboratory tests on non-GM seeds “representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply” for corn, soy and oilseed rape. The test found that half the corn and soy, and 83 percent of the oilseed rape were contaminated with GM genes, eight years after the GM varieties were first grown on a large scale in the US.

The reports states that “Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life at the most elemental level.” There could be “serious risks to health” if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM crops were consumed in food.

What can you do to avoid GMO’s?

· Know how your food is grown by buying directly from local farmers.

· Support organic agriculture, and food producers who label their ingredients, particularly dairy farmers.

· Eat pastured meat raised on organic feed-the only way to ensure this is to buy from someone you know.

· Support farmers who are a sued by biotech giants. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting more than 150 farmers for a total of more than $15 million dollars.

· Demand labeling on all GMO-containing products so that we at least have a choice!
Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery, and an award-winning newspaper columnist


One Response to “Frankenfoods”

  1. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Great advice, Shawn. Here is a link to yet another threat from genetically engineered food, Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” alfalfa, recently approved by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture:

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