Roost: Three reasons to worry about genetically modified organisms

Amy Roost
Amy Roost

By Amy Roost

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a broad group of plants, animals and bacteria that are engineered for a wide variety of applications ranging from agricultural production to scientific research. We’re not talking plumcots here. We’re talking the insertion of genes with herbicide and/or pesticide components. GMO producers claim that this only hurts insects, is safe for humans and reduces our use of pesticides.

There are at least three reasons we should be worried about GMOs:

Most of the concern surrounding GMOs relates to their potential for negative health effects. What happens when you eat plants grown from seeds that are synthesized with everything from bacteria to fish to herbicides? What happens when you eat the animals that ate these crops? The answer is we don’t know...yet. Monsanto, a giant biotech company with a monopolistic corner on the GMO market conducted a three-month study on rats and claims their products show no adverse health effects...on humans.

Several studies suggest otherwise. For example, The International Journal of Biological Sciences recently published findings based on Monsanto’s own data that consumption of three of the company’s genetically modified corn products resulted in statistically significant damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, adrenal glands and spleen. Other potential health effects include the production of new allergens, increased toxicity, decreased nutrition and antibiotic resistance.

Second, more than 80 percent of corn and more than 90 percent of soybeans planted each year in the U.S. are Monsanto seeds. Even the freest of free market capitalists should agree that it’s bad for competition and hence the economy when one corporation holds control over any one product, let alone the global food system. Monopolies are the reason for anti-trust laws and it’s a primary reason we Americans rail against the Middle East oil cartel.

Additionally, Monsanto’s monopolization of the seed supply pushes indigenous/regional and older seed varieties out of the marketplace. This has the effect of reducing the genetic diversity in our critical staple crops. The 19th century Irish potato famine resulting in over a million deaths is a good example of this. Broad diversity means that if something comes along to threaten or wipe out one crop, there will be many surviving backups.

Finally, there are the economic pitfalls associated with GMOs. On a micro level, small farmers are hurt. As non-genetically modified seeds are phased out, higher seed prices are unavoidable. As under colonialism, actual producers (farmers) of the raw materials and commodities extracted get little or no benefit of what they produce, while rich corporations like Monsanto enrich their bottom line. The resources may have changed from gold and silver to seeds, and the location from the Third World to the Great Plains, but the process is the same.

On a macro level, consider what happened last month when it was announced that a herbicide-resistant strain of wheat was found on an Oregon farm. The finding came as a surprise because genetically modified wheat has only been grown in experimental settings and is not approved for cultivation. Following the announcement, Japan and South Korea suspended some imports of U.S. wheat, and the European Union said it was testing U.S. wheat shipments to make sure they did not contain genetically modified wheat. Wheat prices took an immediate nosedive on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Not so long ago, the tobacco industry told us there was no evidence that smoking causes cancer. Now we have Monsanto telling us GMOs are safe. Would it be wise for us to trust them to be telling us the fully informed, unbiased truth? What will the future have to say about this? If we’re not careful, it may say we have an increasingly narrowing set of alternative food options from which to choose. Another future development seems all but certain: Worldwide population trends will eventually lead to food shortages. This augers well for the GMO industry. Let’s hope that it also augers well for the rest of us.

Roost works in the book publishing industry.

   
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