Essay 3 Instructions
Read pages 407—417, in Writing Arguments, “Genetically Modified Food” by Arthur Caplan, “The Threats from Genetically Modified Food” by Robin Mather, & “Wrong-Headed Victory” Michael Le Page. Remember to read for ideas, not facts.
Caplan, Mather, and Le Page offer differing viewpoints of the same Issue. Adding your own thoughts, (being careful to support your thinking and not to assume that your experience is typical) into the discussion, utilize what you have learned from Caplan, Mather, and Le Page about the topic. This is not an autobiographical essay nor is it a research essay on GMOs It is an opportunity to discuss the ideas in the assigned readings!
You are encouraged to use your own insights, analysis, or perspective but only after demonstrating a thorough knowledge of the assigned articles. Indeed, if your approach is entirely descriptive in nature (for example, you just reiterate what the articles say), you probably will not receive an “A.” The length of your paper will depend upon the context you select, the amount of previous research, and so forth. I’ll be reading the papers, not weighing them, to determine grades. That said, It is hard for me to imagine that you could even begin to cover this topic in less than 750 words. To ensure a good grade you will want to write more!
Your writing should display your thinking ability; the ability to understand theories, grasp complex concepts, discover interrelationships, and generate your own insights. Naturally, you should proofread your paper for grammatical and syntactical errors. You should pay proper homage to published authors by citing their works whenever you refer to their words, ideas, or data. Your paper should conform to A.P.A. guidelines. Do you remember how to properly cite and refer to a chapter or selection from an edited book? I hope so! If not, don’t expect a good grade.
Although the content is going to be primary, organization, spelling, and grammar are also important. Ensure that they are all under your control before you hand in anything. In other words, I expect you to do College Level writing. You should use this as an opportunity to show off your ability to think clearly, precisely, and logically, & completely, as well as write elegantly!
To receive full credit for this assignment you must submit your writing by noon, on the day specified in the syllabus, to Brightspace. As always, ensure that your work is done in Microsoft Word format.
University does use turnitin.com
Bid will not exceed the amount offered.
(Reading context below):
Genetically Modified Food: Good, Bad, Ugly
arthur l. caplan
Arthur L. Caplan is a professor and head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. He is the author or editor of 32 books and over 600 papers in peer-reviewed journals of medicine, science, philosophy, bioethics, and health policy. He won the Patricia Price Browne Prize in Biomedical Ethics for 2011 and was chosen as one of the ten most influential people in biotechnology by both the National Journal and Nature Biotechnology. This commentary was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on September 13, 2013.
Genetically modified food has had a rough year in what has been a fairly miserable decade. In August, 400 farmers in the Philippines stormed a government-owned GM (as it is known) research field. The protesters destroyed 1,000 square meters of Golden Rice, a variety genetically engineered to cut down on vitamin A deficiency.A 2013 poll in the New York Times found that three-quarters of Americans have concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food; most are worried about health effects. Thirty-seven percent of those with worries fear that GM foods cause cancer or allergies.On the Web site Counter-Punch this summer, Katherine Paul wondered what happens when animals are confined in cramped, filthy environments and force-fed monoculture diets of genetically modified corn and soy. A lot, concluded Paul, who is with the Organic Consumers Association: “Calves are born too weak to walk, with enlarged joints and limb deformities. Piglets experience rapidly deteriorating health, a ‘failure to thrive’ so severe that they start breaking down their own tissues and organs—self-cannibalizing—to survive.”The article described animals with weak bones, dairy cows with mastitis, beef cattle with liver abscesses. “It all adds up to a lot of misery for animals unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of industrial agriculture’s Big GMO Experiment,” Paul wrote.5 A documentary, Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives, proclaims GMO “the most dangerous thing facing human beings in our generation.” And a headline in Pravda sneered at the decision to expand GMO agriculture in Russia, under the headline “Russians to proudly poison themselves with their own GM food.”But at the same time, the Times also noted that commercial farming of oranges and grapefruit is in dire peril from an insect-borne bacteria that causes a disease known as “citrus greening.” An uncontrollable fungal blight is destroying the banana crop around the world. Coffee rust is knocking out plants in Central and South America. Diseases like rice blast, soybean rust, stem rust in wheat, corn smut in maize, and late blight in potatoes destroy at least 125 million tons each year of the world’s top five foods. The damage done to rice, wheat, and maize alone costs global agriculture $60 billion per year. The effects are especially catastrophic in the developing world, where 1.4 billion people rely on these foods.There is a way to get rid of such otherwise unstoppable plant diseases, which waste scarce resources, bring about malnutrition and starvation for hundreds of millions, and cost the world economy billions of dollars. Genetically modified organisms.Specifically, engineering plants to resist the diseases. So why don’t the folks bearing the bad news about GMOs make a connection to the huge problems that could be fixed by genetic engineering? The answer is the bungling mismanagement of a potentially useful breakthrough technology by the GMO industry, alongside market forces that produce GMOs friendly to pesticides rather than hostile to fungi.On September 10, 1999, I found myself in Switzerland, on a mountaintop overlooking Lake Geneva. A pleasure trip? Nope, I was giving a talk to CEOs about the ethics of GMOs. I spent my time at the summit yelling, literally, at the CEO of Monsanto. He was yelling right back at me—neither of us calmed by the beauty of the setting. Or the horrified looks on the faces of other guests.10 The subject of the craggy debate was whether foods that contain GMOs should be labeled as such. The head of Monsanto said absolutely not. Since there was nothing unsafe about genetically modified food, there was no reason to label. I thought he was nuts.I argued that people had a right to know what was in their food, regardless of the safety issue. In a land where you can have a Slurpee and a couple of Slim Jims for lunch, and where E. coli, listeriosis, yersiniosis, and salmonella outbreaks are frequent occurrences, I was not too worried about the safety of GMO food. But safety has little to do with labeling. Plenty of foods are labeled “kosher,” “natural,” “halal,” “made in Vermont,” or all manner of other terms not connected to safety.By not labeling their foods, agricultural companies were creating an environment of suspicion and distrust. The CEO, however, was not convinced. Monsanto did not push labeling or lobby for labeling. No other companies in the GMO business did, either. Only restaurants and supermarkets that threw a “GMO-free” label around, to appeal to consumers made nervous by lack of transparency, bothered to label.Bad management thus turned a technology that should have been greeted as a way out of chemically based farming into a public-relations nightmare.I actually had crossed paths with Monsanto years before. When I was at the University of Minnesota, in 1994, the company introduced a genetically engineered form of growth hormone, rBGH, for use in dairy herds. The naturally occurring gene for making rBGH had been inserted into bacteria, E. coli, which went about merrily making as much hormone as anyone could want. Monsanto sold the artificial hormone to dairy farmers with the promise that they could get more milk from their herds.15 That product had driven me crazy. Why create more milk? My subsidized school lunches at Saxonville Elementary, in Framingham, Mass., in the late 1950s had been built on dairy products—a butter or cheese sandwich every day—since the federal government did not know what else to do with all the surplus. So had my younger sisters’ lunches, right through the 1970s. Consumers did not need more milk. rBGH milk is still sold throughout the United States. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a UN food-safety agency representing 101 nations, has banned it. So has Canada. Milk, butter, and ice cream remain abundant.Genetic engineering started out trying to create more of foods that were already abundant. It then tried to sell its products not to consumers, but to farmers. No labeling was involved, no explanation of the genetically engineered cow’s milk offered, no value added to what the consumer got on the plate or in the glass. The pattern of ignoring the consumer and selling to the farmer continued with genetically engineered soy, corn, canola, sugar beets, and cotton. No labeling. No value added for the eater.Even worse, Monsanto, and later DuPont, Bayer, and other big companies focused their GMO efforts on finding synergies between genetic engineering and their existing pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer businesses. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans, introduced throughout the world in the mid-to-late 1990s, made crops more resistant to herbicides sold by—Monsanto.The companies making lots of money from the pesticide and fertilizer revolution that swept through agriculture in the 1950s and 1960s were not ready to gamble on losing that business if GMO technology was used to make plants and agriculture greener, cheaper, safer, and more capable of providing nutritious food without their chemicals. GMO, which should have been the next major technological revolution in farming, making the Green Revolution even greener, instead was turned into a handmaiden for an outmoded, highly polluting, and increasingly expensive chemically based agriculture.Which brings us back to all those diseases and bugs that have figured out ways to defeat our herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, and microbicides while thoroughly enjoying global warming, war, and human deforestation. Chemical agriculture has no answer. Nor does organic farming.20 The only path toward a continuous supply of a variety of foods, more nutritious food, cheaper food, and an environmentally friendlier agriculture is the genetic engineering of plants and seeds. Critics of genetic engineering need to start to separate the technology from its miserable history. Altering genes, which is going on in medicine as a powerful tool against disease, has to be deployed in the same way in the plant world.The route to getting rid of chemical agriculture can run through organic farming. But it must also incorporate genetic modification, lest entire industries, such as those providing orange juice or coffee products—and their jobs—disappear, and those who eke out a living trying to farm on a warming planet, short on water, with many blight-threatened crops, starve.There is plenty to argue about regarding GMO foods. Controlling the dissemination of genetically modified plants and animals needs a lot more thought. Getting farmers off monoculture farming and adding back more diversity to vulnerable foods are efforts that need more than a few seed banks. And we must figure out labeling. If it is not always feasible to label foods, trustworthy information should be made available on the Web. Even industry knows that—14 years after my shouting match on the mountaintop, Monsanto has launched a Web site, gmoanswers.com.That said, the push to make GM food a complement to farming rather than handmaiden to a rapidly failing form of polluting agriculture must become a priority for all. If industry cannot use the technology in an ethically responsible manner, then either government or a philanthropy like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ought to be urged to step in. (Full disclosure: I receive no support from food companies or agribusiness. But while at the University of Pennsylvania, I did participate in a project with DuPont to establish a code of ethics for its biotechnology business. That project goes on.)Genetic engineering is not yet solving the food challenges that face humanity. Despite industry bungling, market failure, and a lot of fearmongering, however, it is our last, best, practical, serious hope.
The Threats from Genetically Modified Foods
Robin Mather is a long-time food columnist and a senior associate editor at Mother Earth News; this article was published in the April–May 2012 issue. Mather has written about GM crops since the early 1990s, and is the author of A Garden of Unearthly Delights: Bioengineering and the Future of Food (1995), one of the first books on genetic modification written for the general public, and The Feast Nearby (2011).
Eighteen years after the first genetically modified food, the Flavr Savr tomato, came to market, the controversy about genetically modified foods rages. The call to label GM foods continues to build, yet the federal government has not responded. GM foods, illegal in many countries, have been part of the American diet for nearly two decades. As GMOs have come to dominate major agribusiness sectors, a handful of chemical/biotech companies now control not only genetically modified seeds but virtually our entire seed supply.“Genetic modification” refers to the manipulation of DNA by humans to change the essential makeup of plants and animals. The technology inserts genetic material from one species into another to give a crop or animal a new quality, such as the ability to produce a pesticide. These DNA transfers could never occur in nature and are not as precise as proponents make them sound.Some genetically modified crops have been engineered to include genetic material from BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural bacterium found in soil. Inserting the Bt genes makes the plant itself produce bacterial toxins, thereby killing the insects that could destroy it. The first GM crop carrying Bt genes, potatoes, were approved in the United States in 1995. Today there are Bt versions of corn, potatoes and cotton.Roundup-Ready crops—soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton, alfalfa and Kentucky bluegrass—have been manipulated to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broadleaf weed-killer Roundup.5 These two GM traits—herbicide resistance and pesticide production—are now pervasive in American agriculture. The Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service says that, in 2010, as much as 86 percent of corn, up to 90 percent of all soybeans and nearly 93 percent of cotton were GM varieties.You’re eating genetically modified foods almost daily unless you grow all of your food or always buy organic. Federal organic standards passed in 2000 specifically prohibit GM ingredients. Other genetically modified crops—none labeled—now include sweet corn, peppers, squash and zucchini, rice, sugar cane, rapeseed (used to make canola oil), flax, chicory, peas and papaya. About a quarter of the milk in the United States comes from cows injected with a GM hormone, honey comes from bees working GM crops, and some vitamins include GM ingredients. Some sources conservatively estimate that 60 percent or more of processed foods available in the United States contain GM ingredients, because most processed foods contain corn and/or soy products.Genetically modified foods are not labeled in the United States because the biotech industry has convinced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that GM crops are “not substantially different” from conventional varieties. The FDA, however, does no independent testing for human or animal safety and relies strictly on the research conducted by the manufacturers of the products. The main GM producer, Monsanto, makes it nearly impossible for independent scientists to obtain GM seeds to study. Meanwhile, many countries require labeling (the European Union, Australia), and some have even banned all GM foods (Japan, Ireland, Egypt).Genetic modification technology does have extraordinary potential. In the practice known as “pharming,” animals are genetically modified to give milk, meat or blood from which medicines are manufactured, as when GM goats produce milk containing a blood-thinning drug called ATryn. Research laboratories use GM mice to seek cures for diseases. Yet with minimal oversight on the crops and livestock produced, many people have serious worries about GMO technology. Many of us simply want the right to know what is in our food.
Bt Crops: Is Built-In Pesticide a Boon or Bane?
Monsanto has led the invasion of Bt crops, starting with corn, cotton and potatoes. Syngenta has developed Bt corn as well, as have Bayer, Dupont and other companies. Such crops are marketed to growers as pest-resistant.10 Some researchers have concerns about the effect of Bt crops on human health. Professor Emeritus Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that “there is evidence that [Bt] will impact directly on human health through damage to the ileum [the final portion of the small intestine, which joins it to the large intestine] … [which] can produce chronic illnesses such as fecal incontinence and/or flu-like upsets of the digestive system.”Bt may also harm beneficial insects such as honeybees and lady beetles.
Roundup is one of Monsanto’s powerful broad-leaf weedkillers. Because Roundup’s patent expired in 2000, a number of companies now manufacture products using Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate.Glyphosate is not made using genetic modification. Instead, crops labeled Roundup-Ready are modified to withstand drenching with this weedkiller.15 In a 2011 report called Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?, eight international scientists cited study after study linking glyphosate to birth defects in birds and amphibians, as well as to cancer, endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, and reproductive and developmental damage in mammals, even at very low doses. Moreover, the report said, Monsanto and the rest of the herbicide industry has known since the 1980s that glyphosate causes malformations in animals, and that governments ignored these studies. Here in the United States, the EPA continues to assert that Roundup is safe.Another concern is environmental damage. Roundup ends up in wetlands because of runoff and inadvertent spraying. In one study, the recommended application of Roundup sold to homeowners and gardeners killed up to 86 percent of frogs in one day, according to University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Rick Relyea. Roundup also damages soil. Two Purdue scientists, Professor Emeritus Don Huber and G.S. Johal, said in a paper published in 2009 that “the widespread use of glyphosate … can significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense to pathogens and disease and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use.” The pair warned that “ignoring potential non-target side effects … may have dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive and plants less nutritious.”Huber is point-blank about glyphosate’s dangers. “Glyphosate is the single most important agronomic factor predisposing some plants to both disease and toxins,” he said in an interview with The Organic and Non-GMO Report. “These toxins can produce a serious impact on the health of animals and humans. The toxin levels in straw can be high enough to make cattle and pigs infertile.”
No Independent Review
As the system now stands, biotech companies bring their own research to the government body overseeing their products.“We don’t have the whole picture. That’s no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically-engineered crops. They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options,” wrote Doug Gurion-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in a February 2011 Los Angeles Times op-ed.20 Concern about lack of independent review extends to university-level research, which is often partly funded and/or controlled by the agrochemical companies, which often gives agrochemical companies exclusive rights to academic discoveries—even though universities are taxpayer-funded.It seems unlikely that scientists whose research is designed and paid for by agrochemical companies would choose to conduct studies that may reduce or remove that funding, even if they could obtain the seeds they needed to do truly independent research. Moreover, the agrochemical companies refuse to release their own research, citing concern that “proprietary information” could be disclosed.Scientific American called on biotech companies to end restrictions on outside research in a 2009 editorial. “Food safety and environmental protection depend on making plant products available to regular scientific scrutiny,” the magazine’s editors wrote. “Agricultural technology companies should therefore immediately remove the restriction on research from their end-user agreements. Going forward, the EPA should also require … that independent researchers have unfettered access to all products currently on the market.”When scientists have obtained agrochemical companies’ research data, usually through freedom-of-information requests, they have found entirely different conclusions than the company did. Three French scientists analyzed the raw data from three 2009 Monsanto studies on rats and found that three genetically modified corn varieties caused liver and kidney toxicity and other kinds of organ damage. The European Food Safety Authority, at the request of the European Commission, reviewed the French report and said that it “does not raise any new safety concerns,” although other scientists continue to insist the French report is correct. All three corn varieties are now in the human food chain in the United States.
GM Milk: rBST
BGH (“bovine growth hormone”) is produced in cows’ pituitary glands. “Recombinant bovine somatotropin,” or rBST, is a genetically modified version of this hormone. Injecting the GM hormone causes cows to produce about 10 percent more milk. The FDA approved the GM hormone in late 1993, saying there was “no significant difference” in milk from injected and uninjected cows. Its ruling meant that dairies could not label their milk as coming from uninjected cows, because doing so, the FDA said, suggested that there is a difference.25 There is a difference. Injections of rBST in cows raise levels of the naturally occurring IGF-1, (insulin-like growth factor 1), a protein that stimulates cell growth. The IGF-1 in milk from injected cows is easily absorbed in the small intestine. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor Emeritus at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, has warned for more than 20 years that high levels of IGF-1 raise the risk of cancer, especially breast, colon and prostate cancer. He has said that rBST milk is “super-charged with high levels of abnormally potent IGF-1, up to 10 times the levels in natural milk and over 10 times more potent.”Monsanto began selling rBST in 1994. Later, in 2003, the FDA charged several dairies with “mis-branding,” and Monsanto sued Oakhurst Dairy in Maine for labeling its milk from cows not injected with GMO hormones!As many people reacted to rBST by reaching for organic milk instead, American retailers began to pledge not to sell rBST milk in response to consumer demands. The synthetic hormone is illegal in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and the European Union banned it permanently in 1999.In 2008, a group of rBST-using farmers formed a group called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology, or AFACT, with help from Monsanto. AFACT tried to ban no-rBST labeling claims in many states, but dropped those efforts in most—except Ohio, where the ban effort ended in a lawsuit. An Ohio circuit court found in 2010 that there is a compositional difference between rBST milk and milk from untreated cows, and that the FDA’s position was “inherently misleading.” The court found higher levels of a cancer-causing compound, lower-quality milk because of higher fat and lower protein, and higher white cell counts, which makes milk spoil faster.Injecting cows in the same places over and over increases the chance of infection, plus rBST-injected cows frequently suffer from chronic mastitis, an infection of the udder. Mastitis causes the cow’s udder to swell and makes it painful. Both of these infections must be treated with antibiotics.
GMOs Feed the World?
30 Fans of GMOs assert that their use in crops and livestock can help end hunger. They also claim that GMOs can help stop climate change, reduce pesticide use and increase crop yields.Are these claims true? We conclude no.The international report The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes outlined evidence gleaned from many sources. The report is available free at goo. gl/52wuq.GM crops do not produce more food or use fewer pesticides, the report said. As resistant weeds and bugs develop, farmers apply ever more herbicides and insecticides. “The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture, and we need to be going in the opposite direction,” says Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety.If GM crops don’t increase yield, don’t reduce pesticide use and show no significant promise for feeding the world, why do government and industry promote them?35 If GMOs fail, shareholders in Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and other companies will see their investments plummet. According to Yahoo! Finance, more than 80 percent of Monsanto’s stock is held by institutional holders such as Vanguard and funds such as Davis, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price.If GMOs don’t benefit the farmers who pay more to buy GM seed, and if they don’t benefit the customers who eat them unknowingly, who gains from GMOs?Stockbrokers. And you, if you have investments that own stock in Monsanto or other biotech companies.
Monsanto now controls so much of the world’s seed stock that the U.S. Justice Department launched an “unprecedented series of public meetings” into the company’s business practices as part of a formal antitrust investigation in March 2010. “The price of a bag of soybean seed, for example, has roughly quadrupled since Monsanto began licensing genes,” the Wall Street Journal reported.The Seed Industry Structure chart (available at https://www.msu.edu/~howardp/seedindustry.html) demonstrates how tightly consolidated the seed industry has become. That’s one reason why Monsanto’s name comes up again and again in any conversation about GMOs: The company is far and away the largest involved in GM patented seed.40 The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes also includes an appendix detailing Monsanto’s long corporate history of misleading research, cover-ups, bribes, and convictions in lawsuits covering a range of issues, from Agent Orange to toxic waste discharge to GM soybeans.
The Right to Know
The FDA and GMO supporters say that labeling GM foods would be cumbersome and costly, ultimately raising food prices.Labeling proponents point to the European Union, Russia, Brazil, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, all of which require labels for GM foods, and report costs are far lower than the industry and the FDA claim.Survey after survey and poll after poll have shown that consumers overwhelmingly favor labeling.In October 2011, the Center for Food Safety filed a petition demanding the FDA require labeling on all food produced using genetic engineering. The center filed the petition on behalf of the Just Label It! campaign, a coalition of more than 350 organizations and individuals concerned about food safety and consumer rights. The FDA’s governing rules require it to open a public docket where citizens can comment on the petition. See more about the Just Label It! Campaign in the box below.45 FDA officials have openly criticized efforts to label GM crops and food. In 2002, when Oregon voters considered Measure 27, a mandatory GMO labeling law, FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford said in a letter to the governor of Oregon that mandatory labeling could “impermissibly interfere” with the food industry’s ability to sell its products, and could violate interstate commerce laws.The Oregon initiative was soundly defeated, and money was the reason why. “Monsanto took the financial lead against Measure 27, with contributions totaling $1,480,000. Next was Dupont, with $634,000,” said Cameron Woodworth in Biotech Family Secrets, a report for the Council for Responsible Genetics. Biotech companies Syngenta, Dow Agro Sciences, BASF and Bayer Crop Science, plus the Grocery Manufacturers of America (a trade organization), PepsiCo, General Mills and Nestle USA contributed $900,000 by the reporting date, Woodworth wrote.Other high-ranking federal officials have lobbied against labeling. “If you label something, there’s an implication there’s something wrong with it,” said Jose Fernandez, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs.The assertion that labeling somehow implies inferior quality is transparently specious.Fruits and vegetables labeled “organic” made up the highest growth in sales of all organics in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association, up 11.8 percent from 2009 sales.50 If the facts in this article anger you, see the steps in the box below to help you opt out of GM foods.Have thoughts on genetically modified foods? Post your comments on the online, expanded version of this article.
What You Can Do About GMOs
■ If you think GM foods should be labeled, sign on to the Just Label It! campaign. Send letters to the FDA and your congressional representatives to urge them to require labeling of GM foods and products. You’ll find sample language and a petition at www.justlabelit.org.
■ If you grow your own food, buy your seed from companies that have signed the GMO-free pledge. See the Safe Seed list, maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics, at goo.gl/TOePN.
■ Buy organic whenever possible, and look for foods labeled “Non-GMO verified.” The Non-GMO Project is an independent nonprofit that requires independent, third-party verification before awarding its label. Find more at www.nongmoproject.org.
■ Help combat seed industry monopolies and build local food security by supporting local growers who refuse to use GM products, and work to pass food sovereignty laws in your community. Learn more from food sovereignty expert Dr. Vandana Shiva’s blog at goo.gl/4aXUr.
■ Finally, if you have investments, consider moving out of funds that invest in biotech stock. If you are unable to do so, write letters to your fund’s managers to object to this investment strategy.
michael le page
Michael Le Page is the environment features editor at New Scientist magazine, where he covers issues ranging from climate change to genetics. This opinion piece appeared in New Scientist on November 17, 2012.
Imagine there are two plates of food in front of you. One is labelled “natural”, the other “genetically modified”. Which would you choose? I know what I’d do. Regardless of what the logical side of me knows, I’d feel more comfortable eating “natural” food.In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be a problem. If people don’t want to eat GM food, they shouldn’t have to, regardless of whether their reasons are rational or not. Food is about so much more than just stuffing down nutrients, after all, and how we feel about what we eat really does matter.Trouble is, the world is far from ideal. Nearly a billion people go hungry because they cannot grow or buy enough food. And there are problems with the food we do eat. An estimated 2 billion people suffer from a lack of iron, causing everything from tiredness to premature death. Around 250 million preschool children are short of vitamin A, leading to blindness in the worst cases.The outlook is grimmer still. There will be ever more mouths to feed, and ever more challenges facing farmers. Fuel and fertilisers are becoming more costly, soils are eroding or becoming saline, pests and diseases are evolving to outwit our defences. To add to our woes, the climate is changing and the weather becoming more extreme. In fact, farming is a massive part of this problem—it contributes more to global warming than all the world’s cars, trains, ships and planes put together. Rising food prices not only cause suffering, but also threaten political stability.5 So the world desperately needs better crops. The good news is that they can be improved dramatically. We know it’s possible to boost yields by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, for instance, because some plants have already evolved this improvement. Similarly, there’s no doubt we could create crops that need less water, grow in salt water or make their own nitrogen fertiliser, for instance. As for making grains and fruits richer in iron or vitamin A, it’s already been done.So why aren’t people in poor countries already eating healthier food, richer in iron and vitamin A? Partly they can’t afford to pay for it, so commercial companies have little incentive to develop such crops. Instead, such work has to be funded by public money or philanthropists such as Bill Gates.A big part of the problem, of course, is the vociferous objection to GM foods. While the line between conventional breeding and genetic engineering is increasingly blurred, it is generally only practical to produce crops with complex new properties by deliberately modifying their DNA, rather than inducing random mutations and hoping a few will have the desired trait (as in conventional breeding).The opposition to GM crops is making it much harder to get funding to carry out the necessary research and to get over all the regulatory hurdles. Earlier this year, for instance, campaigners attacked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding the development of nitrogen-fixing crops that could boost yields without boosting emissions of the highly potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Simply not needed, apparently. Greenpeace, meanwhile, tried to halt field trials of vitaminA-rich “Golden Rice” in the Philippines, on the ludicrous basis it would deter the consumption of vegetables.The Monsantos of this world have the economic muscle needed to get crops approved despite protests, but for cash-strapped universities, it’s a different story. Their development of the crops we so desperately need is being impeded by anti-GM protesters.10 How can this opposition be overcome? Not by rational argument, that’s for sure. Even for those who understand that nature is the ultimate mad scientist, and that plants are riddled with all kinds of genetic modifications, from mistakes made during DNA replication to insertions of viral DNA, it doesn’t make existing GM crops any more appealing.Rather, we need to win people’s hearts as well as their minds. And the way to do that is to make GM foods appealing. Instead of crops designed mainly to boost the profits of large corporations, we need a new generation of GM crops that offers clear benefits to consumers, from looking better to tasting better to being better for us. Scare stories about cellphones causing cancer didn’t stop them taking off because they are so useful. Similarly, scare stories about GM foods will lose their power if GM products that help prevent cancer or heart disease can be bought in supermarkets.The very last way to win hearts is to trick people to eat GM crops by not telling them what’s in their food. Californians may have voted down the proposal for mandatory labelling of GM foods—Proposition 37—after food firms spent $45 million on TV ads telling them it would raise food prices, hurt farmers and spark legal wrangles. Few consumers will be any keener on eating GM food, though—quite the contrary.Prop 37 was flawed, and many of the arguments for it were nonsense. Its opponents argued that the science says there are no ill effects of eating GM, so labelling, which might deter GM consumption, is unnecessary. A triumph for science over anti-science then? No. The argument against Prop 37 really boiled down to something more disturbing: “If we tell people what’s in their food, they will make the wrong choice, so we shouldn’t give them one.”Why is the US of all places protecting GM foods rather than letting them sink or swim in a free market? Companies should instead persuade people that their new products are better than the alternative.15 If all countries insisted on GM labelling, corporations would be forced to convince consumers of the benefits. As it stands, in California the companies who have helped engender such rabid distrust of GM foods have been let off the hook. Prop 37 could have been a catalyst for change. Instead the status quo remains—and we’ll all be the losers in the end.
Harley, I’m Worried About Gene Transfer
John Hambrock draws the syndicated comic strip The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee, a character who is a ten-year-old inventor obsessed with politics and the ironies of life. This strip was published on July 2, 2013.
Monsanto’s Reasons for Fighting GMO Labeling? It Loves You
Joe Mohr draws environmentally themed cartoons for publications including Yes! Magazine, Greenpeace, the Center for Media and Democracy, PBS’s Urban Conversion, and other publications. He is also the creator of the comic strip Hank D and the Bee. This cartoon was published on October 24, 2013.
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