Paul’s Perambulations

May 2, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods Pose Serious Risks (Fran’s post)

Filed under: Education,Nature — admin @ 9:29 pm

Genetically modified (GM) foods aren’t produced in isolation. Pollen from GM plants finds its way to conventional plants, and there are serious consequences for traditional farmers and for wild plants. GM is done for many reasons other than directly “improving” the food. One reason is so the plants will tolerate greater applications of pesticides. Another is  that the plants will not create viable seed, locking the farmers into purchasing new seed each year. GM is done by huge companies whose economic growth depends on selling seed, fertilizers, and pesticides, which is bad enough, but it has the potential for destroying the natural/conventional/traditional agricultural system that has sustained humans since the dawn of time. And then, too, we don’t know all the ways that a plant or animal is changed when even one gene is changed. For instance we know that sickle-cell disease is related to a gene that provides protection against malaria. GM to reduce one problem, and some other protection is also lost. How do the GM companies know that there aren’t some yet unknown negative consequences of the genetic changes they are making? That’s not their concern, so it needs to be ours.

Just like the use of broad spectrum antibiotics that kill the beneficial bacteria as well as the harmful ones, pesticides kill the beneficial insects. They are used preventively, not as a response to an outbreak, and that’s a big problem. The answer is not to use less, it’s to not use any (except, perhaps, in an emergency situation). Yes, people have bred plants and animals for desirable traits, but as it takes place over time, the results, intended and unintended can be seen. Look at the genetic problems of some show dogs. (Hip dysplasia in German shepherds comes to mind, but I know there are others.) Breeders know these unintended consequences and still choose to breed because the traits they were breeding for are considered desirable enough to warrant the adverse effects. But with breeding in the food chain, even before GM engineering, the weakened plants that have been developed have to be supported by pesticides and fertilizers. They can’t make it on their own. The spread of pesticides on fields may be reduced by plant GM, but that’s done by making the plant itself a pesticide. But even if that’s found after testing (typically conducted by the business and not thoroughly reviewed by the FDA), to be “safe,” there’s still the problem of the pollen being carried to traditional plants and native plants. That cannot be tested for; there is no way to predict the results, but we know they could be devastating and irreversible. But that’s only one small part of GM. The biggest push is for Round-up ready crops. And the whole point of them is not to use less chemicals, but to use more.

 I am for good breeding programs that produce strong plants (and animals) over time when the results can be seen and tested and found to be beneficial. But to allow a chemical industry to control our entire system of agriculture that is becoming as weak as a house of cards, is craziness. There’s an article in today’s NYTimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/science/earth/02tilapia.html?ref=world) about factory-farmed tilapia. They don’t have the same nutritional value as wild fish, because of their corn and soy diet. Putting aside the fact that I would like to have healthful fish, our entire system of agriculture is based essentially on two products, corn and soy. That total reliance leaves us even more vulnerable than the Irish during the potato famine. I guess that’s fine for someone who wants to opt in to that system, but I have a right to opt out, to eat what’s healthy and sustainable. GM of plants doesn’t allow that option.

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