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Corporate Crops: GMO Technology Threatens to Take Over the Global Food Supply, but Communities Are Fighting Back

The GMO threat is spreading at an alarming rate. The GMO threat is spreading at an alarming rate.

 

When genetically engineered crops hit the ground in 1996, farmers used the modified seeds to plant approximately 4 million acres of land worldwide. By 2011, that number jumped to 400 million. These facts are celebrated by some and feared by others. Supporters claim genetically engineered food crops provide the only solution for feeding the world’s ever-expanding population. But a quick Internet search of the term “genetically modified organism” or its commonly used acronym, “GMO,” yields more negative press than accolades. So, what’s the problem?


The World Health Organization defines GMOs as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.” Sounds like a science-fiction plot, but the end results are lining real grocery store shelves around the globe. GMO farming and its products are taking over the food supply chain in giant-sized portions.

It’s Already Here

Currently, the largest genetically modified crop in the world is soy. In 2010, just over 80 percent of all soybean crops around the world were from GMO seeds. Corn, the second-largest GMO crop cultivated, is grown in three different versions of genetic mutation: for fuel, for feed and for human consumption. The U.S. is the largest supplier of GMO with more than 150 million acres of crops in 2009, out-producing second-place Brazil by 10.5 million acres. Canada’s largest GMO crop, canola, is cultivated for biofuel and cooking oil. Some countries, like Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland, have staunchly banned the cultivation of any GMO plants within their borders. Other countries have enacted bans on GMOs that have since lapsed or been struck down by the World Trade Organization.

 A GMO Yorkshire pig with superior digestion was developed at the University of Guelph by injecting genetic material into a pig embryo and implanting it in the reproductive tract of a sow in heat.
The genetic manipulation doesn’t stop with food plants — it also extends to food animals. Cows in the U.S. and other countries are regularly dosed with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH, also called rBST, to increase milk production. A GMO Yorkshire pig with superior digestion was developed at the University of Guelph by injecting genetic material into a pig embryo and implanting it in the reproductive tract of a sow in heat. The GE animal has been dubbed Enviropig because its excrement is said to be less polluting than the conventional species. Environmentalists say poo on that, claiming the pollution problems stem from the excesses of factory farming, not conventional pig feces.

Nature Retaliates

Contrary to popular opinion, GMO crops are not designed to play well with nature. The bulk of genetic seed modifications fall into two categories: seeds with self-producing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxins, which act as a built-in pesticide, and seeds that withstand herbicides otherwise lethal to their species. These two modifications are very effective for increasing crop yields. The plants become immune to their natural predators. There are no weeds in the field fighting for nutrients or a stake in the share of dirt. It’s a bumper crop, over and over.

But nature is pushing back. After several seasons of genetically toxic super crops, the once-defeated bugs are on the rise again. Organisms adapt to changes in the environment to survive. When the available food source becomes toxic, only the organisms that manage to stay alive despite the poison will reproduce. Each new genetic trait to promote dominance will be met with nature’s inherent ability to adapt.

Single traits, like the ones in contemporary GMO crops, are more readily overcome. The bollworm moth has developed resistance to the Bt toxin in modified cotton. Now farmers must plant GMO cotton crops with non-GMO cottonseeds in sacrificial sections here and there to slow the bugs’ quickstep evolution.

Farming Fiasco

As farming becomes hyper-industrialized, the stress on the land grows. Mega-yield mentality has farmers scrambling to keep up, and if they don’t comply with expansion that relies on chemicals and genetic modifications, they risk losing everything. Once a farmer signs up to grow GMO crops or produce rBGH milk, it’s very difficult to get back to anything conventional. Large corporations like Monsanto and Dow structure their product lines to require full commitment. And even farmers who have never made the switch to GMO are now facing the consequences of our genetically modified food chain.

Even organic seed crops are struggling to stay GMO-free. Reports of organic soybeans yielding traces of modified genetic material are cropping up in the news.
Outside the lab, plant reproduction can be wild and unpredictable by nature. Despite this reality, corporations have been granted patents for their GMO seed creations. Unfortunately, the wind makes it impossible to completely control where the GMO genetics end up. Herbicide-hardy Bt canola has jumped the barbed-wire fences and infested neighboring crops.

The most famous case of this occurred in 1997 when Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued for patent infringement by Monsanto after their Roundup Ready Canola plant was found in his non-GMO planted fields. Although he technically lost the lawsuit, Schmeiser became an international spokesperson for the dangers of GMO farming.

Many farmers in North America growing conventional crops have been sued for patent infringement when corporate watchdogs have found evidence of GMO material in their fields. Reports of spies in farming communities and strong-arm tactics from lawyers have farmers paranoid. Most cases between the corporate giants and the self-employed farmers don’t make it to court. Family savings are tapped out long before the legal teams of mega-businesses have time to break a collective sweat. Monsanto has established itself as the conventional farmer’s worst nightmare with constant lawsuit threats and regular follow-through. It is heavy-handed pressure, designed to force growers to choose GMO crops or risk the consequences of conventional farming while surrounded by patented seed technology.

Even organic seed crops are struggling to stay GMO-free. Reports of organic soybeans yielding traces of modified genetic material are cropping up in the news. Some biologists believe our entire natural seed population is at risk of GMO contamination now that the crops are grown so far and wide.

Farmers Fight Back

One of the most effective ways for stopping the spread of GMOs has been good old-fashioned market pressure. Most folks, when given the choice, will vote with their dollars to buy non-GMO foods. To battle this common-sense tactic, big-ag lawyers and lobbyists have succesfully argued to prevent mandatory GMO labeling in the U.S. and Canada.

Genetic engineering is a useful tool that can solve problems and save lives. Unfortunately, its aggressive application in the food supply chain has become a dangerous threat to farmers and the natural environment.
But people adapt to adversity too, perhaps none more so than the farmers. Several organizations have formed to oppose the forceful tactics of GMO pushers. One of the largest American movements, consisting of farmers, educators, scientists, doctors and nurses, as well as food industry retailers and manufacturers, is called Just Label It.

To date, the nonprofit has gathered more than 1 million comments urging the government to legislate mandatory GMO labeling. In March, a collection of public statements demanding action on mandatory labeling laws was sent to the FDA. The FDA has yet to respond, except to say that the sheer volume of data has overwhelmed its system for receiving and processing public comments.

In Canada, a bill was brought forth last year to enforce GMO labeling but was easily defeated in the legislature. American politicians have yet to draft any such laws for consideration, though the public may force their hand. Some countries have banned GMO crops and removed all traces of them in grand gestures. Hungary, for example, destroyed 1,000 acres of corn in 2011, enforcing its ban on biotechnology in the fields.

Science has always pushed the boundaries of our ethical comfort zone. Genetic engineering is a useful tool that can solve problems and save lives. Unfortunately, its aggressive application in the food supply chain has become a dangerous threat to farmers and the natural environment.

With the help of the American government, the World Trade Organization continues to put pressure on world markets, insisting they accept GMO technology or be left behind. And here, at home in North America, we hardly know what we’re buying in our local grocery stores and serving to our families. How can we feed the world without genetically engineered crops? Perhaps the better question is, how will we continue to feed the world in the aftermath of GMO?

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2012



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Last modified on Tuesday, 03 December 2013 13:14

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