It’s weird, isn’t it? I can buy a box of cereal, a bottle of soy sauce, a soft drink, or a loaf of bread and the labels will tell me almost everything there is in the product — salt, sugar, fat, cholesterol, caffeine, Vitamins, minerals, artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, and emulsifiers. The FDA requires it. But there’s one thing the Feds say I don’t need to know — whether the food contains GMOs. And that makes me grumpy.
For the benefit of those who have been living inside a bank vault for the last 15 years (those gold coins are mine, by the way), GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.You create one when you transfer a gene from the DNA of one organism to the DNA of a totally unrelated organism in order to achieve a desired result. For example, if I could somehow insert a cotton gene into my DNA so that I would grow denim instead of skin, I would be a GMO. And totally, totally cool.
Hasn’t This Been Going On For Ages?
Some people don’t see what the big fuss is about. After all, haven’t farmers and horticulturists been mixing plant genes for centuries? Why, yes, they have indeed. In hybridization, they transfer the pollen of one plant to another plant of the same or different species to hopefully come up with a new color, better disease resistance, larger size, faster growth, etc. The key is that cross-pollination is a natural process that can occur with or without human intervention.
Not so with GM plants. To make them, you take a specific gene from a totally unrelated organism and insert it into the DNA of your target plant using either a device (a gene gun) or microorganisms (bacteria, viruses) to do the transfer. This is could NEVER happen on its own.
What Foods Contain GMOs?
Sad to say, but thanks to Big Ag (especially one company whose name must not be mentioned), almost everything we eat and drink nowadays is a product of artificial genetic manipulation.Two prime examples are corn and soybeans, which received a gene from a bacterium to make them immune to the herbicide glyphosate (better known as Roundup). Roundup Ready crops don’t die when sprayed with Roundup, but the weeds competing with them do.
Just about all the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are Roundup Ready. So if you’ve enjoyed cereal, bread, beer, whiskey, grits, tofu, soy milk, or anything sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, you’ve been ingesting GMOs. And that cotton shirt you’re wearing? Probably made from genetically engineered Bt cotton, created when a gene from a bacterium was transferred into cotton to produce a toxin that kills cotton-pickin caterpillars.
So What’s the Problem?
Problems associated with GMOs can be divided into two groups — creation of superpests and human health concerns. Let’s discuss superpests first.
When farmers spray Roundup Ready crops for weeds or plant Bt cotton, they do so in a big way, not once, but over and over again. Inevitably, as we learned when the miracle insecticide DDT was used to “wipe out” malaria-causing mosquitoes during WWII, a few target pests don’t die, prove resistant, and reproduce to create a new population of resistant superpests. Today, Roundup-resistant superweeds such as horseweed, pigweed, and giant ragweed infest more than 60 million acres of U.S. cropland. And Bt-resistant pink bollworms are now attacking Bt cotton. Shocking!
When it comes to human health problems, the dangers are far less clear. People blame GMOs for headaches, allergies, ED, and lots of other maladies for which they can’t find a cause. But as yet, no reputable scientific study has proven a definitive link between GMOs and human illness. This doesn’t mean such evidence won’t surface. We just don’t have it yet.
But That’s Not the Point
The point is we have the right to know what’s in our food. If GMOs are indeed harmless to people, why is Big Ag and its Congressional lapdogs fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent GMO labeling? Here’s the answer.
Money. Big Ag thinks that Americans won’t buy GMO food, so they’re desperate to hide the truth. But that’s just dumb. See, farmers use GMOs because these crops are cheaper to grow. That means food made from them is less expensive for consumers. If food labels contained GMO info, the vast majority of consumers would buy exactly the same products they do now. On the other hand, consumers unwilling to consume GMOs could be given the choice to buy “premium” non-GMO food at a more expensive price — just the way organic foods are marketed today.
Big Ag only needs to examine the near-death experience of the U.S. auto industry if it doubts this. Back in the 1960s and 70s, Detroit built cheap, crappy, unsafe cars. It fought every proposed safety feature — seat belts, side-view mirrors, air bags, and anti-lock brakes. Only price and profits mattered.
But then a funny thing happened. It turned out that consumers placed safety and reliability ABOVE price. They stopped buying crappy, unsafe American cars in favor of better, safer foreign cars. And they were willing to pay more for safety. Today, U.S. automakers trumpet safety as much as performance when selling cars. And they’re making lots of money.
So let’s get GMO labeling on food. It’s the right thing to do. And we have a right to know.