Saturday, March 5, 2011

GMO's Explained-The not so good, the bad,and the ugly

Many times in this blog, and other places on the internet, I've mentioned my thoughts and cautions on GMO's. They're a big controversy because there are concerns over long term exposure and health risks. There are many reports from lab tests involving animals, and many medical studies linking them to diseases like cancer. Though there is nothing 100% definite that can state that these are a danger to human health, why take the risk?

I've tried explaining GMO's to family and friends, but, as always, most think I'm crazy or paranoid, just like they do about many things that I choose in my life. Some of them do listen, but not a single person I know personally has made the choice to avoid these crops as much as possible. Generally I hear the same things-"The FDA wouldn't let them give us anything that bad", or "I can't make a difference", or simply "I don't care what's in my food as long as it tastes good". It's strange to me how people can worry about the enviornment, using antibacterial cleansers and hand sanitizers, or cars with safer emissions, but not have much, if any, of a concern about what they eat on a daily basis. My thought behind this post is that maybe, just maybe, to get just one person to think about their food and GMO's. One at a time, we CAN make a difference.

First of all, for those that don't know what a GMO is, let me explain. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms.Genetic engineering is used to alter the genes of the very organism, using DNA molecules from different sources to create a new set of genes. These genes are transferred into a living organism (in this case a plant), giving it the traits of those modified genes. Generally, GMO's are in the plant world, but others exist and even more have been tried. Once, the DNA of atlantic salmon was modified and introduced into a tomato to attempt making the plants more frost and cold weather resistant. Is anyone seeing this? Frankenplants?

As far as I have been able to find in my research, the first GMO plant was a tomato in 1994. It was "designed" to ripen on the vine faster, stay firm longer, and have a longer shelf life after being picked. There were no GMO plants used commercially in 1997, but now in 2011 nearly 10% of all worldwide farmland is dominated by GMO crops. There are many GMO cops grown commercially worldwide, with 81% being soybeans, 64% being cotton, 29% being corn, and 23% being canola. Other crops also grown with GMO seed are sugar beets, alfalfa, summer squash, potatoes and sweet peppers. In the United States alone, 93% of the soybeans, 86% of the corn, and 95% of the sugar beets grown are genetically modified. Land devoted to growing GMO crops grew 10% in 2010, and 7% in 2007 in the United States. 29 countries plant crops of GMO's, with the United states using 165 million acres, Brazil 63 million acres, and Argentina using 56 million acres, just as the top 3 in terms of size.

GMO crops, for all intents and purposes, started off as trying to design strains of crops that would be less prone to disease, cold weather, and many other instances which can produce poor yields or crop failure. After a short time, plant genes were modified to contain the gene called Bacillus Thuringiensis. This gene comes from a soil bacteria, and through it's introduction into plant DNA, allows the plant to produce it's own insecticide. 17% of all GMO crops contain this gene. Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) works as a toxin, which binds the digestive system of insects, therefore killing them. BT is harmless to humans, so it is fairly common to be used in organic gardening or crops. OK, this isn't so bad, right? A plant, somehow through the magic of modern science, can produce it's own "natural" insecticide? While it may be "safe" to use, I simply cannot get away from the fact that man is changing nature in a laboratory. Whether it works or not is not my issue. My issue is the act itself. Are we really meant to mess with nature?

To myself, and many others across the globe, there is a much more scary part of GMO crops. These crops are modified to withstand the effects of a chemical known as Glyphosphate; which is commonly known as Roundup. Seeds are with this gene are marketed as "Roundup Ready". Fields of these seeds can be planted, and be totally sprayed with glyphospate, causing them to be nearly completely weed free. From my own research, I've found that 61% of all GMO crops in the United States are "roundup ready", while 17% of the same GMO crops are grown worldwide. What does that mean? It means that the US grows more of these crops than anywhere in the world, which also means that the US sprays more glyhosphate than anywhere else. It has been estimated that 7.3 million pounds of it was used in 1994, compared to 119.07 million pounds in 2005. That's a 1500% increase in use in just 11 years, and a LOT more chemical than I can even begin to comprehend. I honsetly can't conceive 119 million pounds. That number itself is staggering.

So, with all of the statistics I have quoted in this extremely long post, you're probably asking what my point will be. I have lots of concerns over GMO's, especially the last one. No matter what any company or laboratory might say, I cannot begin to think that 119 million pounds of herbicide sprayed on the ground can be good for not only the earth itself, but us as humans. There are lots of companies and labs that have researched the affect of this stuff, and some of the results are downright scary. There are links to cancer, low birth rate, low sperm count, birth defects, DNA damage, hormone damage,and many others including the most deadly of all.....death! Besides affects on humans, continuous spraying will ensure that most any plant that does not contain that gene will never grow on that land again. No matter how much companies claim is dissipates and loses toxicity over time, built up amounts make up the difference. It's also gone another way with weed-type plants in that the weeds build up an immunity to it over time, therefore causing them to grow different strains, which in turn mean more or a stronger dosage or mixture of the herbicide is used each year. Imagine that weeds keep evolving and becoming more resistant. What next? There are also links and studies about the runoff of the chemicals into waterways and eventually the ocean. Studies show disease in fish and ocean areas totally free of life of any kind. These areas are known as dead zones, and the largest known is in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi river. It spans approximately 7800 square miles, roughly the size of the state of New Jersey. While these areas cannot be linked totally to use of this herbicide, it is known to be a large factor due to runoff from large commercial farms. Dead zones are also increasing worldwide. Studies showed roughly 146 in 2004, and 405 in 2008.

So, what can we do to change all of this? I really wish I knew. Until the world stops consuming more food and resources than we can grow naturally/organically, these practices will continue to grow. More and more farms will use the GMO seeds, more herbicides will be sprayed, and the companies producing these seeds and chemicals will have even more of a hold on our entire food industry. These companies already dominate the industry both in farming and in home use by buying smaller seed companies so their products can expand to even our very own backyard gardens. Quite frankly, they want it all.

These GMO's are one of the many reasons why I tell everyone that possibly can to grow their own food. If you can't grow your own, try buying as much produce as possible that is grown with organic methods. Read labels.Find seeds from companies that are not just non-GMO, but aren't owned by the company who produces them, because even if you don't buy their herbicide or use it, you could be still giving them your dollars. I, for one,. want to make sure these companies never see another dime of my money.
Do your own research. Pay attention. If you can't buy your own, buy from local farmers or farmers markets who don't use GMO products. Take back our food and once again make it safe for us and for the world. One at a time we can add together and change all of this. To quote from a podcast and online forum that I frequent daily-"The Revolution is You". Remember that.


Jane said...

Thanks for sharing this. I worry about gmo's and other things as well. I ordered my seed from victory heirloom seed,but don't know if they have been messed with by monsanto or not. Blessings jane

littlegreengardengal said...

Great post. I don't know if it's possible to avoid all GMO in what we eat, but it's important to try.
Right now anything made from field corn (corn tortillas, tortilla chips, etc) is all GMO corn UNLESS it says organic. And all sugar made from sugar beets in the US is also GMO (cane sugar is not). I've tried to focus on eliminating those two things from my diet as much as possible. It also is a good incentive to avoid processed foods as many of them have corn products in them and many of them just say "sugar" not cane sugar, which chances are means it is GMO beet sugar. I know I don't do perfect, but I try.
No one, and I mean no one, knows what the long term effects of eating these foods will be on people and also on the animals and the earth, as you mention. They can't guarantee the safety, and when it's ever "proven" unsafe it will be too late to go back. It's very worrisome.

Ralphy said...

Monoculture is the main problem. The farmers grow the same crop on the same field year after year. So when insect and weed problems and fertiler problems build up over the years GMO is presented as a solution. Crop rotation with intervals of inactivity for the fields destroy the profitability for the farmer. So GMO is chosen instead.Thus we get huge amounts of chemicals being sprayed on the fields and consequently drained into the Gulf of Mexico depleting oxygen levels and destroying marine life, not to mention quality of life issues elsewhere.

If It Hits The Fan said...

Chris, glad to see you back! This is a great post about GMOs. I really like the statisitics and real numbers you include.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I really dislike GMO foods and avoid them at all cost. I'd rather pay more for the organic food, but also buy from local farmer's markets in the spring,summer and fall. All these chemicals are hurting our children and making them bigger and more sickly. Good Post Chris!! ...debbie

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