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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

GMO Arguments Addressed

I have made no secret of my support of organic gardening, and lately I have been seeing more and more articles regarding genetically modified (or "genetically enhanced" as the companies call them) organisms.  I came across one today discussing the concerns of an organic produce grower in Southern Oregon.  He had concerns about infection by GMO sugar beets in the area affecting his ability to get organic certification for his chard crop.

The two biggest arguments surrounding GMOs are labeling and contamination. 

Many people are fighting right now for GMOs in our food to be labeled; despite claims by their producers that GMO crops are no more dangerous than normal crops, that they are safe to eat and to grow; and that labeling products containing GMOs would reduce their ability to sell them.

I'm not a fan of mass hysteria, I don't buy my food based on the latest fashion for whole grains, low fats, organics, and whatnot.  I primarily buy what's inexpensive and tastes good because I have 4 people to feed on a small budget (that seems to get bigger every year).  I do make a point of supporting organic farms when possible, because I know the demand for organics of non-organics will swing the pendulum of demand toward organics being the norm and their prices will go down over time.  I grow my own veggies in the summer, visit farmer's markets, and buy organic milk, eggs, and veggies over the winter at the grocery store.  I want to know that within my limited budget I can still support farmers who are making an effort to provide healthier food, and raise healthier animals.

I have no doubt that the sale of GM crops will be more challenging if they are labeled, and I think that is an important part of how the market functions.  Until there is hard fact, and supporting evidence, to prove to the American people that GM foods are absolutely safe generation after generation at the levels they are being eaten every day, buyers want to have the option available to avoid them. 

My biggest problem with GM crops (and I have no proof that they are or are not healthy) is that I don't feel there was adequate testing done before they were introduced to our supermarkets to guarantee that they will cause no future health issues.  The second problem I have with them is that one of the reasons for GMO crops is to make these staple crops nearly indestructible.  Which seems fine at first, but over the long run this means farmers can grow more and more of them on the same piece of soil, which is detrimental to that soil.  As the soil becomes less fertile, more and more fertilizers will be added to it, and more of them will run off into lakes and streams.  If pests build up resistances to the genes in these crops we will lose a majority of our staple crops.  We also don't know what effect these GM crops have on soil microbial life, earthworms, birds, and beneficial insects.  For all we know the genes spliced into these crops are actually killing off all the things needed to keep plants healthy and protect them from pests.

There are already signs that pest insects are becoming resistant to GM crop protections. 

I don't want my dollars to support this industry; it's an industry built on making money, not on protecting the health of the environment, the people, and the future.  I want my store to label these products so that I can make an informed choice when I shop.

The other major controversy regarding GMOs is the contamination of non-GMO crops.  For a crop to be certified organic it cannot have any genetically modified material in it.  Some crops however can cross-pollinate from several miles apart.  While it doesn't seem like a big deal to some, the mixing of pollen between GMO and non-GMO plants could potentially be very serious.  What if it is discovered in the future that these new plants were toxic over time and they were outlawed?  All of the GM crops could be destroyed, but what would be left if the non-GMOs were carrying the same genes and had to be destroyed as well?  Genetic diversity in plants is nature's way of ensuring the species will survive.  When you narrow that diversity you increase the risk of a major loss and possibly even the complete destruction of that species.  If pests become resistant to these GM crops' defenses they could destroy them in no time, especially since lack of crop rotation in the big monoculture farms means ample opportunities for pests to keep coming back year after year for a guaranteed feast.  If we have no available alternative crops then we just may not have any corn/soybeans/sugar beets at all that year, or for several years afterward.

 Traditional organic growing methods have been proven over the centuries to be effective in managing pests, and in growing food that is healthy, safe, and environmentally friendly.  I don't believe there is any reason, other than to make more profits, to change those traditional methods.

One of the arguments made by proponents of GMOs is that they are necessary as a means to provide an adequate food supply for the Earth's ever-expanding population. 

To this I say three things: first, stop having babies! I don't mean ANY babies, but really, until the rest of the world figures out that population growth is out of control and slows down to replacement levels (that is 2 children per couple) we will have concerns over feeding the population.  I know, a lot of people will argue this opinion with me, but from a logical standpoint it just makes sense. 

Secondly, I don't honestly believe that GMOs are the way to sustainably provide for the human population.  Yes, they improve yields, and protect plants from pests and disease; but can they do this for the next hundred years? Or even the next fifty?  GMOs have been available for only a handful of years and already the pests are developing resistance, how can they expect to continue this way for generations?  Not to mention the damage of monoculture farms on the environment, we may not starve... we may be slaughtered by climate change long before we starve.

Last of all, it is long past time for people to stop living in a sheltered world where they have no contact with their soil, their growing food, and the balance of life on this planet.  We have removed from our forefathers so far now that I actually know people who won't eat meat if it LOOKS like an animal at all.  No chicken on the bone, no fish that isn't ground up and fried into a "stick", no ham hocks just deli meat "ham"...  What has happened to people?  Why is it so hard to grasp that plants grow in dirt full of bugs and bacteria, and meat comes from smelly animals that take years to grow just for you to have a pot roast?  It's time to go back to those roots and really understand again what it takes to feed oneself.  The time, effort, and sweat of it.  Maybe we'd stop wasting so much food if it didn't just come to hand with the swipe of a debit card; maybe we'd eat less meat and fat and sugar if we had to raise and butcher and preserve it, or grow and harvest and press and process it.  I think we'd have less reason to support GMO crops if we had to produce more of our own food. 

It takes about 5 acres of land to supply a family of 4 with food for a year.  We have 7 billion people on the planet (roughly), there are 7.68 billion acres of arable land on the earth.  That's just over 1 acre per person.

If we made worldwide efforts to do 3 things we could stop any worries about overpopulation.
1. Stop reproducing at such high rates.
2. Grow more food at home.
3. Create more arable land rather than destroy it.

If every family limited themselves to two children, put in a garden plot the size of a small balcony (4x8) and composted both plant waste and human waste, we'd be in much better shape.  Population growth would begin to reverse, we'd reconnect with our food and waste less; the gardens would relieve the burden of feeding the world from the farmer's shoulders, and from the already overworked soils.  Composting would not only reduce the strain on water treatment systems, but would provide nutrients for farms and home gardens.  And small gardens for each home would help increase the arable land and give more rotation time to other soil areas allowing them to recover more between plantings.  People with actual yards could even grow their own chickens for eggs and meat.  How much oil would that save?  How much water?  How many chemicals?  Now... how hard would it be?

Instead we flush away or throw out food for ourselves and our plants every day, we glorify couples who can outbreed rabbits, and we buy GMO processed foods from supermarket shelves with little thought about the food itself or the amount of gas, chemicals, and water needed to bring it to our door in that little plastic or cardboard package.

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