GM food, is it for you?
Our farm is thriving with life. From the myriad of different birds, to the hares, and butterflies. There is life everywhere, biodiversity, and this is the richness of what a mixed organic farming enterprise helps create. It is not just the animal and plant life either, there are the team of harvesters and planters, out in the fields tending the crops and it is quite extraordinary that a business such as ours, which is relatively small can support so many different people.
This is the essence of sustainable local agriculture. We have waited some time this spring for the harvest to begin, but finally after a slow start we are embracing all the land and the hard work has to offer. The bounty is beginning to roll in, beautiful fresh organic produce. The list is increasing weekly, cucumbers, salad, rocket, bunched beetroot, cabbage, scallions, kale and spinach and much much more to come.
This is the amazing time when the taste and the freshness of what we do here can leave a lasting impression, something deep and meaningful with us as producers and you as consumers. The food we eat, our health and the health of the fragile earth are so and indisputably linked, if we respect this link then I think we will find that we can live a happier and healthier existence.
It is with this backdrop that I turn my gaze this week to the movement that is trying to make genetically modified food part of our life, without our consent or awareness. There can be little doubt that the recent panorama programme shot by the BBC was pro GM.
As an organic chemist having worked in the biotech industry, I have a healthy respect for science and the vast improvements and privileges it has brought to our lives. There is no question that scientific progress has led to deceased disease and improved standards of living across the developed world.
There certainly is much fear and propaganda on both sides of the GM debate and it seems to me that you can make up your own mind by standing back and looking at the facts.
However the panorama programme did not stand back and look at all the facts, it did not give a balanced view of the situation, it did not discuss the three major crops that are genetically modified, soya, corn and cotton. The rights to the first two are owned by Monsanto and their growth has not conferred any benefits on farmer or consumer.
The facts are:
- The use of GM crops has lead to a great use of herbicides rather than a reduction in the use of chemicals as claimed. GM Corn and soya now require a greater volume of roundup to control the weeds, due to weeds developing resistance to the very chemical they are supposed to be susceptible too.
- Are GM foods safe to eat: The pro-lobby will tell you they have not been proven to be harmful. However there is very little evidence to show that they are safe, they have been deemed safe without the same rigourous trials that a new drug to market would be required to undergo. So the proven safe is a moot point. There is evidence that the DNA from genetically modified organisms can be absorbed through the intestine. Also how long was it before “smoking” originally thought to be safe, was considered a major health risk.
- There has been noted claims of Non GM crops becoming contaminated with GM crops. This means that once release into the wild there will be no way to stop the progression of GM agriculture, and therefore the power of these mighty corporations. Once released into the wild and if cross contamination occurs then farmers will have no choice but to switch to GM crops or risk losing their farm as has happened in Canada, due to patent rights infringements.
- GM crop seed is protected by patents, and can only be used by licence between the farmer and the seed producer. The reality is that Monsanto amongst others make huge corporate profits off the back of their Round ready seed and the use of round up. (Incidentally it has been shown that round up is “probably” carcinogenic.) Last year Monsanto posted profits of nearly 4 billion dollars on sales of 16 billion, a healthy 25%. Most conventional farmers struggle to break even.
- GM crops have NOT been shown to increase yields and be more amenable to growing in extreme conditions such as drought conditions as argued by the Pro-GM lobby.
- The agri companies such as Monsanto control much of our food supply and the percentage is growing annually. In 2011, GMO maize, soybean grain and cotton were valued at about $160 billion. The top three seed manufacturing companies - Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta - accounted for nearly 48% of the market in 2012.
- In 1996, when Monsanto began selling Roundup Ready soybeans, only 2% of soybeans in the US contained their patented gene. By 2008, over 90% of soybeans in the US contained Monsanto’s gene.
- Organic farms lose their right to certification when they get cross contaminated with GM seed, though no fault of their own.
This is a very serious business, with vast sums of money at stake for major corporate players. Yes from a scientific point of view we can respect advances in science and put them to use to help produce a fairer and more sustainable future for all. But the argument that GM is required to feed the world is simply not a valid statement.
Genetically modification technology has helped us learn a huge amount about disease and human biology, its uses and application in medicine and diagnostics are well documented and will continue to yield massive benefits to human kind. However the whole principle of GM crops is built on a foundation of sand.
“Claims for the safety and efficacy of GM crops are often based on dubious evidence or no evidence at all. The GMO industry is built on myths” author Claire Robinson
But we can choose to grow organically in our own gardens, and not to use insecticides and herbicides. We can choose to buy organic and locally produced food when we can and when we can afford to.
Here’s to healthy eating.
PS: if you are interested in scientific information related to GM please look here