Do you think GMOs are safe?

“There is no evidence that it’s more nutritious. There’s no evidence that it’s more safe. It’s not sustainable. It’s not any healthier, but it certainly is expensive.”

-Dr. Bruce Chassy, Dept. of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois, on the belief that organic foods are a safer alternative to GMO foods.

“According to [Monsanto], genetic manipulation has been thoroughly studied and there is absolutely no risk to health. This is not true: it has never been seriously investigated. We have no idea what consequences GMOs may have on human health in 20 years time."

-Marie-Monique Robin, French journalist and director of the documentary, The World According to Monsanto

...what do you think?

 

Comments

Yuting Lien profile img
Tue, 07/21/2009 - 09:17

Tough call! On one hand some GMOs are bred to have higher levels of the nutrients we need, which can be a good thing, akin to fortifying cereals. But it's true that we don't really know the long-term effect that GMOs can have on health. Shouldn't we worry?

As a consumer, what are the most relevant issues for you around GMOs and health? What are the most important facts for consumers to know before they buy?

Dana Frasz profile img
Wed, 07/22/2009 - 15:21

I think it is a really tough call.  GMOs haven't really been around long enough for us to tell how its impacting our bodies.  I do, however, think that GMOs pose a huge potential risk to to agriculture and food production.  I first learned about this from watching the "Future of Food" film a few years ago in college.  Among other things, the film brings up the issue of the "terminator gene" that was being developed by Monsanto (I think).  This gene would instilled in seeds so that they would only produce one crop.  We know, of course, that seeds are carried by animals, wind and cross pollonate - think of what this could do to entire regions if a terminator seed were to cross pollonate with other seeds!

Here is a link to the film, I think you can get it through Netflix:  http://www.thefutureoffood.com/, I find the resources link to be the most interesting

 

Wed, 07/22/2009 - 16:09

Since I'm not inclined to take Monsanto's word for it (nor, frankly, USDA's,  considering its cosy relationship with agribusiness), I don't believe there's enough information yet on any GMO's to draw conclusions about long-term health impacts.  I'm  sure the answers will be different for the different types of artificially created genomes (e.g. incorporating bacterial pesticides in grain vs. adding extra vitamins to rice).  It's a question of risk (never zero) vs. benefit.  If a nutritionally fortified GMO is the alternative to starvation or severe malnutrition it's probably worth it, but if it's a choice between a cosmetically perfect tomato and one with a scar or two...

But the real issue is that we shouldn't think of the "safety" of GMO's solely on the basis of what impact they may or may not have on a human being ingesting them.   The real and demonstrated risk for many GMOs are the potential impacts on the long-suffering ecosystem which sustains us.  Our collective health and security ultimately have more to do with the state of the big world outside our bodies than the little world inside.  As a species we've proven ourselves remarkably bad at anticipating indirect and longer term impacts, or more accurately, very bad at taking them into account when making decisions about technology.   Entomologists, ecologists and other life scientists predicted the negative consequences of  widespread use of chemical pesticides and of the "Green Revolution" from the beginning, but their cautions were ignored.  Decades later they have been vindicated but the world still has to deal with the consequences.  

Cammie Erickson profile img
Thu, 07/23/2009 - 14:42

You raise a really interesting point about the effect of GMOs on our food systems and on the ecosystem more generally. I haven't thought much about this before, focusing instead on the potential side effects on the individuals who consume them. How do you think GMOs will change our ecosystem? Will there be fewer crops because of the "terminator gene" (as Dana mentioned)? Or are there other risks? I am new to the GMO/food issue and am finding the topic quite fascinating. Can't believe how unaware the general public (me included!) is about all of these issues..hope we can start to change that.

Katica Kiss profile img
Thu, 07/23/2009 - 15:57

One interesting article I read said that many people argue that GMOS are the only way to provide for a rapidly increasing population. More people means more mouths to feed, and we need the higher crop yields, disease resistant gm food to provide for the projected 9.2 billion people in 2050. In this sense, GMOs could be part of the answer to a huge issue of community health and malnutrition.

 

However, another argument is that the problem is not growing enough food, but rather distributing it. See here: http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/nations-split-on-gm-role-in-food-crisis/2008/04/16/1208025282798.html

 

I think GMOs have some very interesting potentials – with really compelling health benefits (fortified and nutrient rich gmos to combat malnutrition etc.) as well as giving farmers, particularly in developing countries, a chance to produce more and better quality products. However, the downside to all of this is still unknown but as Agi said also currently overlooked.

 

To me, the underlying issue is an incredibly flawed food distribution and information system. Pumping money into GMO research, while recognizing its risks and benefits, is not going to address this problem. These investigations into safety and health need to be within a larger context – who is receiving this food and who isn’t? And as Cammie mentioned, who as consumers, farmers and policy makers actually know about it?

 

 

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 12:11

The main risks to the ecosystem are probably "escape" or "leakage" of genes and gene products nto the environment.  There is constant transfer of genetic material between agricultural systems  and the natural environment , through insect and wind cross-pollination.  It's almost impossible to prevent completely even if growers  were willing to pay the costs of serious preventative measures, which is in itself unlikely.  No crop could be commercially successful if it can only be grown in high-security containment greenhouses.  Anyway, such environmental impacts are classic economic "externalities" which are notoriously hard to get anyone to pay for.  "Terminator genes" are just one of many genetic time bombs which could wreak havoc if they were introduced into natural communities through hybridization.   

As for gene products, we already have demonstration of examples such as toxins which are intended to increase plants' resistance to pests getting into the plants' nectar, where ithey poison nectar-feeding insects such as bees and butterflies.

Another impact which people tend to overlook is the development of resistance due to over-exposure.  Formerly effective and useful chemicals are thrown out into the environment in huge quantities when they become incorporated into crop seeds and lose their effectiveness because the pest organisms develop resistance ... already documented in the case of the natural pesticides produced by the soil micro-organism Bacillus thuringiensis (thanks a lot, Monsanto).

Tyler Spalding profile img
Thu, 07/23/2009 - 16:14

I was reading my local newspaper (from Midland, MI) and was shocked to see that Dow Chemical (whose world HQ is in Midland) is teaming up with Monsanto to "increase farmers' corn yield through a new seed technology they say will provide the most comprehensive insect and weed control on the market." (http://ourmidland.com/articles/2009/07/23/local_news/1968986.txt)

They cite increased productivity for farmers, but fail to mention the increasing skepticism that we need more corn.  Instead of trying to produce more and more of this cheap product, shouldn't we be supporting local farmers, creating a healthier food supply, and making it more accessible to everyone?

I can't believe that Dow -- a company in my community that has recently been making strides to improve its image around the world -- is choosing to work with this monopolistic company.

Gaston Wright profile img
Thu, 07/30/2009 - 20:21

This is really interesting, thanks to the use of agro-chemicals and the use of GMO soy seed Argentina went from 20 million tons of soy to 50 million tons in 5 years. The use of GMO soy seeds is turning the Argentinean agricultural landscape into a mono-cultive jeopardizing the production of other cereals and significantly reducing meat prodcution.

Fri, 07/31/2009 - 10:20

The basics of GM appear to be ignored.

Almost all commercial crops are still the same traits commercialised almost 15 years ago. Ht which is herbicide tolerant or Bt where the plant produces its own insecticide.

The most popular is the Ht Roundup Ready which is made by isolating a gene from the soil bacteria found in the chemical sludge ponds of Monsantos Roundup factories as this bacteria had favoured mutations that naturally developed resistance to the continual exposure to the chemical glyphosate (Roundup). This gene is added to plants such as soy which then carries resistance to glyphosate allowing farmers to spray the crop with glyphosate without the crop dying.

Ironically, this trait is occurring naturally in our weeds and farmers are desperately trying to prevent it occurring as glyphosate is a popular chemical and weeds are naturally mutating to be more resistant and then continual use of the chemical favours these mutations. It only took a year for enterprising drug barons to develop non-GM glyphosate resistant drug plants when aerial glyphosate spraying was used to kill illegal coca plantations. They just bred the naturally mutated survivors.

Bt is developed by a similar method from a gene from a bacterial based insecticide that has been commercially sprayed for decades. It does not lower the pesticide use as promoted as the plant continually produces far higher doses of insecticide than what would be applied if Bt was sprayed externally on the plant.

The attraction of GM is that it is very different to conventional breeding and the GM crop and all its GM progeny (a dominant gene so 100% of outcrosses result in GM) are covered by a patent. This means companies such as Monsanto own the crop and farmers become contract growers for a single supply chain.

Monsanto's stated strategy is to own a patent over 100% of the seeds grown and they are doing this by forming alliances with plant breeders where they allow the plant breeders to use their patented technologies free of charge in exchange for confidential contracts and partnership which result in a GM gene being added to all new varieties produced. Luckily this is only occurring in soy, corn, cotton and canola as these are the crops that escape labelling and do not face the massive consumer rejection of labelled products as they are primarily used for stock feed, oil or highly processed foods.

Governments are supporting GM crops as they own the public plant breeding institutes that are forming these alliances. As Australia's CSIRO stated "Its best to get into bed with these companies". This is why the GM companies are allowed to write their own rules and segregation protocols are designed to fail and farmers will not be able to sell as non-GM as it is too difficult and too expensive.

In order to pay all those with a vested interest, costs are astronomical but choice is denied due to contracts with industry. The reason why increased yields is misleadingly promoted is because at around 20% extra yield is needed to pay for the additional costs involved.

Companies such as seed companies, storage and handlers and marketers are also forming alliances as they are worried that they are either "in" with companies such as Monsanto or "out". If they are out and the GM push continues, they risk losing the ability to source food in the future as the intention is that all crops and food will be GM.

So if one corporate company such as Monsanto controls the worlds food supply through contracts, what choice will consumers have in the future?

If pre-packaged meals make a corporate company with total control of the food chain the most money, will fresh food and vegetables be an unaffordable option in the future? 

GM crops is nothing to do with feeding the world, it is all about feeding the hungry corporates.

Dana Frasz profile img
Fri, 07/31/2009 - 11:38

 

You bring up some really interesting points:

 

"So if one corporate company such as Monsanto controls the worlds food supply through contracts, what choice will consumers have in the future?

If pre-packaged meals make a corporate company with total control of the food chain the most money, will fresh food and vegetables be an unaffordable option in the future? "

 

This was the primary question/fear running through the film "The Future of Food" - whoever controls the seeds controls the food.  Do we want all of our food owned be a few major companies?  

I encourage you all to check out this article: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2004/05/63555 - a heart-breaking case of a farmer saving seeds who was accussed by Monsanto of having one of "their" seeds and thus his farm was shut down.

 

 

 

a. b profile img
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 13:14

Every Seed/Child Must Grow!

Plant & then look back on history with the answer in your hands and not Monsanto hands.

Education, through Changmaker-competitions, happens when we 'take' action & not wait for the big businesses to pull the veil over the global eye. No one can control what does not belong to them. Our (your) seeds will evolve & be stronger when confronted by GMO stocks in the future. If not, THEN, nature has a way of correcting things far beyond the understanding of mankind. FEAR is what is used to control the mind. When we think & confirm with our words, that we depend on companies to feed us, we deserve what happens in the long run.

We walk away from the garden & enter the death fields, buying anything we did not grow! 

The GMO story is as OLD as the Bible. Genesis spoke of the same issues when humanity let influences choose the way we edify our children, by e: Man was thrown out of the (proverbial - if you wish) garden once before. WHY? When education is not taught by the parent(s), there will always be problems with the SEEDS/CHILDREN [at home/country] creating a difference of values. When we look at our children & eat from the seed harvest we did not invest in, both take on the nature of manipulation

Sow some SEEDS at home today & see(ds) how it feels when you know you raised their good tastes, nutrient/intellect & thier ability to produce [socially] healthy children one day. You will never turn back.

Question is, what made our ancestors turn away from raising our HEALTH/CHILDREN? Childcare & healthcare are ONE issue. Figure it out! Ask (pray) beyond the known! Be aware!

Pace your Peace within Patience~! a.

Tue, 08/25/2009 - 19:16

Are GM foods safe? Who knows. The testing to prove these foods are safe for consumption is practically impossible. Even in the best circumstances there will always be confounding factors that are impossible to rule out. For example, if certain illnesses were to become more prevalent in populations who consume more GMOs, who could say that it wasn't some other factor causing the illnesses, (ie: pesticide use, pollution, etc.) Prolonged and controlled animal research might help with this. I suppose most soy is being feed to cattle.

Most countries, including Canada, require only the developer to conduct research. Who's to say how many studies are disposed of when the results conclude negative effects.  

With the release of GMOs into the environment, it is inevitable that some of this foreign genetic material moves into the genome of other wild plants.  Pollen can fertilize plants within the same species. Viruses can transfer genetic material between different species. There may be no way to stop this. The consequences of are not known. 

Since the risks cannot be really known, I think that the question becomes do the risks outweigh the benefits?

The benefits go mostly to the corporations developing the patented seeds and accompanying chemicals. Farmers may have higher yields, but the costs of seeds and chemicals can be very high. 

Some GM crops allow for the increased use of glyphosate (in Round-Up). The safety of Round-Up  is still unknown. 

A few GM crops (rice and corn) have been developed with high levels of vitamin A. If these prove to actually help people live healthier lives, are they worth an unknown risk? Or, as Green Peace says, are they a Trojan horse to open the door to all GMOs?