Genetically modified foods (GMOs) have been getting a bad rep for years now as studies continue to come out revealing the dangerous nature of GMOs. Whether it be the harm they cause to people eating them, or the environment, many believe GMOs have no place in our world.
On the flip side, many state there are no real concerns we have to worry about yet when it comes to human consumption, and in many ways GMOs help to feed the world. The ‘feed the world’ claim has always been refuted by pointing to the amount of food waste that exists as well as the current farming methods available that could feed the world without GMOs.
Nonetheless, people are not sold on GMOs and they have good reason. Here are 10 problems genetically modified foods are already causing in our world. No need to keep waiting for the science, it’s already in.
1. They Kill Bees & Butterflies
It was a debate before but that debate is now over as a Harvard study confirmed that what is killing the bees in such large numbers is pesticides. Now one could argue that GM crops aren’t the cause of all the deaths as there are other pesticides being sprayed, but Monsanto’s Roundup has been linked to killing off the Monarch Butterflies. In the end, this is just adding to the insane amounts of pesticides that will increase greatly every year as a result of how these crops are being engineered. It’s a problem that will be huge even just a few years down the road.
Although some have been suggesting that more food for the world is better than a few bugs dying, the reality is that the bees are a huge part of pollinating our food plants in order for us to even be able to enjoy their fruits.
2. Cross-Pollination Contaminates Regular Crops
This could prove to be one of the biggest issues once the rest of North America realizes GMOs shouldn’t be grown any longer and we finally stop producing them. GMO seeds are very tough to contain.
Unfortunately they are finding that seeds can travel much farther than initially anticipated (up to several kilometers) and are creating cross-pollination on farms that are not and do not wish to be GMO. Farms that have accidental cross-pollination and are organic could lose their organic status as a result of this.
3. They Create Superbugs & Superweeds
It appears great. You design a plant that is already resistant to pests and therefore you can grow food without the bugs tearing away at it. The problem is, in the process you create superweeds and superbugs as well as less nutritious food.
What most people don’t realize about GM crop farming is that while farmers may experience a lower need for chemicals in the first few years of growing, it increases greatly as the crops, weeds and pests develop an immunity to the chemicals. Operating costs, pollution levels and herbicides/pesticides on your food increases as well.
In 2011, scientists studied 13 major pests and found that five were immune to the poisons genetically bred into GM plants like Bt corn and Bt cotton. On top of that, farmers found that they were regularly battling with superweeds as a result of glyphosate found in RoundUp. According to the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, GM crops cause herbicide use to increase 25 percent per year.
4. It’s Illegal To Accidentally Grow A GM Plant
This is very much coupled with the problem above. When seeds can fly everywhere, there can be a lot of accidental growing – which is still illegal. In a number of cases, seeds found on farmers who were not growing GM crops caused huge court cases in which Monsanto sued these farmers for illegally growing large amounts of seeds they did not buy. Meanwhile the seeds may have blown onto their land, could have come in second generation seed sales without farmers noticing, or could have come from farmers buying cost-effective bags of seeds where sources are unknown.
The bottom line is these seeds are hard to track and with something as simple as a seed being illegal to plant, it’s bound to create issues.
5. Farmers Are Not Able To Harvest Seeds
Many may not realize but, Monsanto does not allow farmers to use second generation seeds. They must buy new seeds every year which increases the cost for farmers as Monsanto’s “premium seeds” don’t come cheap. This takes many of the fundamentals away from farming. Instead of the typical plant seeds, grow crops, harvest them and harvest the seeds for next year, Monsanto’s you must buy again next year.
In the Supreme court case between Bowman v. Monsanto, the 70-year-old farmer was unanimously found guilty of patent infringement for buying second generation Monsanto seeds. It’s another move by Monsanto that illustrates their lack of care for food and people and their clear-cut obsession with control and profit.
6. Little Government Oversight
Remember the superbugs and superweeds? The reality is it’s possible this could have all been avoided if farmers were required to go through training for safe GM farming practices. For example, farmers who follow GM guidelines and plant “refuges,” which are not Bt-crops, adjacent to their GM fields, have much lower rates of pest resistance. Many farmers did not follow these strict guidelines which could be contributing to the problems.
If the government put in regulations to make sure large farms were planted correctly, this could have been avoided. Maybe the Bollworm problem in India could have been avoided as well considering many believe it has been the cause of the sudden increase.
Labeling has been another big argument. 64 countries – including China and the European Union – require labeling of genetically engineered foods. But, the US, the largest producer of GM foods does not have any labeling laws. Considering much of the informed public is steering well clear of consuming GMOs, it appears the US is afraid that if labelling was required, many wouldn’t bother to buy products that were GM and thus it would kill their business. This also illustrates the fact that the public does not want GMOs around and yet the government spends money and makes decisions to produce them without public support.
7. Increased Suicide Rates
This is one that we may not be aware of but is actually quite a staggering fact. Many know that farming can be risky, especially in places like India. Farming in India requires a good monsoon season in order to have enough water to keep crops growing well. Since farms hope to keep up with production and are open to trying anything, they have opted to try out Monsanto’s GM seeds. The issue is that they require double the amount of water and there pest-free claims are not always the case. As Bollworms continue to eat their crops and monsoon seasons are weak, farmers struggle to make money and their debt takes over. This is leading them to commit suicide in large numbers. About 1000 per month or so are taking their lives.
A New York Times article concluded that the extremely high prices of GM seeds and pesticides are causing farmers to make less money than ever.
India’s Agricultural Ministry believes that Monsanto is partly to blame for the increased suicide rates (125,000 since GM inception.) In 2012, a panel of scientists commissioned by India’s Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials for all GM crops until further testing was done and stricter regulations created.
8. GMOs Harm Biodiversity
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is all about having a variety of lifeforms in various regions on earth. It is part of a delicate balance nature maintains and each aspect of biodiversity plays a key role in the circle of life. Unfortunately, agribusiness is putting a huge damper on biodiversity due to its obsession with monoculture farming.
Monoculture farming is when land is cleared of all of its native plants and instead a single crop is grown. This is especially bad with GM foods because not only are farmers only growing one crop, but the plants themselves are all genetically the same and from the same source. No diversity whatsoever. This makes our food all very susceptible to changes in climate, pests and disease. Not only are we eating GM foods that are harming health and plant species, but we are also cutting out insects like bees and butterflies which will have an impact on not only other plants but other areas of the food chain. To continue down the wildlife path, herbicides are known to cause birth defects and population declines in amphibians, birds, soil organisms and marine ecosystems.
Monsanto is a business and they do not seem to be putting the earth, people and biodiversity ahead of their own profits. By buying up seed farms everywhere, removing tried and tested seeds and replacing them with higher-priced GM seeds, they are killing biodiversity and gaining ownership over nature. Some argue that Monsanto is helping to fix the world’s food supply, but there is nothing to back that up at this point. Instead, it appears as though they are putting food at risk.
9. Corruption: The Revolving Door Between Government & Biotech Workers
The fact is, there has been a large amount of ridicule pushed towards GMOs touting their lack of safety. But these companies respond time and time again that they are perfectly safe and seem to have studies in hand to prove it. But on the other side of the coin there are a plethora of studies to prove their lack of safety as well. Regardless of all the contradictory information out there, it would be fair for anyone on an unbiased playing field to feel suspicious over the fact that the former vice president of Monsanto, Michael Taylor, is now the Deputy Commissioner at the United States Food and Drug Administration. This also isn’t the first time Taylor has held positions at the USDA. He has been criticized a great deal for being in the “revolving door” of the public and private sector.
Conspiracy or not, is it not odd that he took the position? Was he doing so for his love and passion for food and safety? Or was he placed there to help protect his agribusiness friends? This wouldn’t be the first time the FDA has been caught performing corrupt actions. Things get even more sticky when you consider that, back in the ’90s, FDA scientists warned that gene-sliced foods were significantly different and could lead to “different risks” as compared to conventional foods. Interestingly these findings were never added to official policy released.
10. Distract from Healthy, Environmentally Friendly Technologies
Monsanto is trying to convince the world that the future of food is lab designed versus the proven methods of natural growing. When you take into account aquaculture food production where food grows in the plenty and is supported by other aspects of nature, we can quickly see that we can grow enough food for the world. Although Monsanto is trying to make a case for GM foods being the answer to world hunger, most places that would need it don’t even want to eat GM foods. This pretty much says it all: 24 delegates from 18 African countries told the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, “We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial to us. We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia, and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.”
What are the answers for alleviating world hunger? To begin with, government subsidies used to grow GM crops could be used to grow good organic foods in eco-friendly ways. These foods could be supplied to the local public or if need be shipped to countries at lower costs (due to subsidies) in order for them to have food. This model would encourage countries to help each other out as opposed to simply competing with one another. There are also a number of crops that currently grow well in harsh areas such as pearl millet, fonio and African rice.
We could also use creative tactics like grocery store rooftop gardens so produce can be grown local. Encourage greenhouses so foods that cannot grow year round can be grown and sold locally. Urban farming can take off and people would grow food in their own backyards. There are a number of ways we can bring real, local food back to our tables and to the tables of those who are in need.
What You Can Do
Plain a simple, vote with your dollar. When you spend money on GM foods or foods that contain GMOs you are sending the message that you support it. Instead buy organic foods or support local organic farmers. You can also begin growing your own food.
This information can also be spread to people so they become aware of the issues. The more we know, the more we can take action to make things change.