Genetically Modified Organisms in Food

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Over the last few years, the food we eat has changed drastically. One of the reasons for this change is because of the introduction of GMOs into the farming industry. Many people are lead to believe that GMOs are safe but upon further examination, it’s become very apparent that not only are they unsafe but that the impacts they have had on our world have been negative.

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This is important because of the fact that GMOs affect everyone’s daily life and people should learn to be aware of the effects GMOs have. The food we choose to eat impacts not only ourselves and the environment around us but also the businesses we choose to buy the foods from. Because GMOs have negative consequences we should refrain from using them in order to bring down the companies who produce them, help the environment, and stay healthy. Many people don’t know what GMO stands for, a GMO is a genetically modified organism. In the words of Rebecca Rissman, who is an award-winning author, “Scientists have discovered how to make small changes to the genes of different organisms. Doing this alters how the organisms grow, look and behave” (6).

The first GMO ever approved for human consumption was in 1994 and it was the Flavr Savr tomato, which was genetically modified to remain firm longer (Rissman 23). Since then GMOs have become more and more popular which has caused their negative impacts to begin taking shape. Many people actively try to avoid GMOs because of both the known as well as unknown effects it has. There has been very little research done about GMOs and we are in the processes of doing more research but the fact of the matter is GMOs are already affecting us in a bad way. America is the largest producer of GMOs (isaaa.org). According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications in 2017 America had 75 million hectares of biotech crops compared to China’s 2.8 million and Mexico’s 0.1 million (isaaa.org). From 2016 to 2017 the United States of America grew 2.1 million more hectares of biotech crops, proving that this is a growing industry (isaaa.org). But this isn’t good, we need to be slowing down the rate of GMOs for a large number of reasons, all of which are important.

Perhaps the worst damage GMOs have caused is by the companies who produce GMOs themselves. Monsanto is a chemical company that owns most of the world’s GM Food (Food Inc). According to Food Inc, they have a team of investigators that’s sole purpose is to find reasons to sue farmers that don’t buy from them and that use the seed saving process. In fact, they have a list of names of all the farmers they are after. A book about GMOs written by Andy Rees who is a scientist at PML, the world’s leader in the science of measurement, proves there are many cases of Monsanto suing innocent farmers (87-88). Percy Schmeiser was one of them. He’s a 73-year-old farmer from western Canada who uses the seed saving technique (Rees 87-88). He’s also doesn’t use GM seeds, meaning he’s a non-GMO farmer but his fields got contaminated with GMO seeds (Rees 87-88). Even after he tried to contain the GM contamination with considerable costs to himself by buying all new seeds, 20 percent of his harvest was still contaminated (Rees 87-88). Monsanto caught wind of this and took him to court where they won costing Schmeiser 25 years of research and his life savings of $600,000 (Rees 87-88).

This was because of the fact that they considered him liable regardless of his means of contamination deliberate or accidental (Rees 87-88). Meaning that all contaminated plants as if by some convenient corporate magic spell suddenly become the property of Monsanto the farmers have no rights (Rees 87-88). They later admitted that Schmeiser had not obtained the seeds illegally but said that wasn’t important (Rees 87-88). Food Inc pointed out that because of the fact that Monsanto is a huge company they are able to hire the best lawyers, compared to a farmer who can’t afford a very good lawyer. Rodney Nelson, a farmer in America commented on their unfortunate situation, “We were told that if a farmer represents a field of soybeans to be non-GMO and Monsanto finds as little as one plant that tests positive in that field they may consider that patent infringement” (Rees 89). He then continues on to talk about the fact that all of the major soybean supplies are going to be contaminated with Monsanto’s seeds (Rees 89-90). This means that Monsanto could easily have a case in the courts eyes against all of the non-GMO soy farmers at least within America alone (Rees 90-90).

There are many more cases like this, which sends fear into the farmers and scares them away from both telling the truth and using non-GMO seeds. Monsanto is slowly getting rid of the non-GMO farmers by either making them switch to GMO seeds or suing them. Farmers feel as though their only way of avoiding getting sued by Monsanto is to stop non-GMO farming (Rees 89). To do so the farmer has to be bound by a harsh contract that is hard to get out of where Monsanto can come in without their permission to check on them and make sure they are doing exactly as Monsanto wants (Rees 89). Not only this but GM farmers are having to pay more for their seeds, around 40-60 percent more (Rees 89). One of the worst parts of these cases is after it’s all said and done the farmers aren’t legally allowed to say anything, as Monsanto is (Rees 87). Monsanto then turns the farmers into the villains for the public eye even though Monsanto themselves are the true monsters (Rees 87). The number of environmental effects GMOs cause are shocking. Many people question their non-target effects.

In The Case For Regulating Intragenic GMOs by Wendy Russell and Robert Sparrow, they explain that introducing these genetically modified organisms may result in many unpredicted effects because it’s difficult to understand the impact it could have on a complex social structure. One example of this comes from a Bt protein that could have a non-target effect on a variety of different insects or even microorganisms that live within the soil (Russell, Sparrow 171). To build onto this, a fish that has been genetically modified to be bigger could then feed on larger prey and have fewer predators, changing the ecosystem and challenge other wild fish as well as beat out the competition and might cause extinction for other animals. (Russell, Sparrow 172). On top of that horizontal gene transfer may occur. Horizontal gene transfer, according to Russell and Sparrow is “genes that were introduced by gene technology into one organism being transferred to other organisms” then they go on to explain that horizontal gene transfer happens quite frequently in bacteria (171).

A good example of this is the “Daughterless Carp” Project. The goal of this was to reduce the number of carps by turning off a sex development gene which would prevent the carps from becoming female. This would work because they all start off as male and this particular gene is what causes some of them to turn female (Russell, Sparrow 157). By reducing the number of females it would, therefore, reduce the number of offspring, leading to fewer carps (Russell, Sparrow 157). The researchers involved admitted that this may be subject to horizontal gene transfer to native fish which would defeat the purpose of protecting the native species and the ecosystems (Russell, Sparrow 172). Also because of this horizontal gene transfer as well as cross-pollination between HT crops and weeds it creates weeds that are resistant to herbicides (Rees 61). This is causing farmers to have to use stronger herbicides in order to get rid of the weeds (Rees 61). This is then defeating one of the purposes of GMOs, which would be to use fewer herbicides and pesticides.

These weeds that are becoming resistant are called superweeds. Martin Entz, a professor of Agronomy at the University of Manitoba admitted that one superweed, GM canola, has expanded faster than they expected and that it’s no longer possible to control (Rees 61). It’s very clear that the environmental impacts caused by GMOs are not only overwhelming but they are simply inexcusable. GMOs are also dangerous to human health. In the documentary by Food Inc., Barbara Kowalcyk, a food safety advocate witnessed the damage GMOs can cause when her 2-year-old son Kevin got E-Coli from eating meat and died within 12 days. She went through a lot of trouble to be able to find out the cause of her son’s death, which was the meat he had eaten and the company didn’t end up recalling the meat until 16 days after her son had already died (Food Inc.). According to Barbara Peterson, E-Coli is a bacteria that lives inside of our stomachs but within the cloning process of GMOs, it can mutate to a new strand that’s harmful to humans and it can get into the plants that humans eat, such as lettuce, or plants (Mirchandani 1).

Also if an animal eats a plant with a GMO and then the human then eats that same animal with the gm meat they can also get E-Coli (Mirchandani 1). One of the problems with this is that if one cow has it from eating say, GMO corn, all the other cows will get it from that one single cow’s manure, contaminating all the cow’s meat (Food Inc). This problem needs to be addressed before even more lives are lost. Russell and Sparrow also touch on the risks humans are taking by eating GMO foods. When someone inserts or deletes a gene it changes the product which can do a number of things including increasing, “the toxicity, allergenicity, and/or carcinogenicity” (170). Building onto that, some of the new products being created may have not ever been consumed by humans and no one has any idea how this could affect us (Russell, Sparrow 170). Not to mention the problem that antibiotic resistance GMOs are causing within humans. There is an Antibiotic Resistant Marker (ARM) that is used in the creation of GMOs in order for the scientist to see which cells have the new genetic material (Rees 75).

When GM food is eaten though, this cell may be able to pass into the host’s system (Rees 75). While this may not seem like an issue, at first sight, the ARM gene is antibiotic resistant, which could result in diseases within humans that are resistant to treatment (Rees 75). This is a concern for many doctors like Dr. Michael Antoniou, “The possibility is that someone who picked up antibiotic resistance through food and then fell ill… a medical antibiotic might not be effective” (Rees 75). Not only this but GMOs aren’t good for animals either, and animals don’t like GM food. According to the Soil Association, animals try to avoid GM food, “If a field contained GM and non-GM maize, cattle would always eat the non-GM first” (Rees 66). On top of that pig breeders found a steep decline in pig’s contraception rates after feeding their cows a genetically modified food called Bt maize (Rees 67). Furthermore, when one breeder decided to stop feeding their pigs the Bt maize and the pigs fertilization rates went back to normal (Rees 67).

GM animals are also abused in the way they are treated. Food Inc showed the way they are treated within their documentary. The animals lived in such a cramped space they died often (Food Inc). Chickens for example are being modified to grow faster and be fatter (Food Inc). Their bones and internal organs then aren’t able to keep up with how fast they are growing, causing many of the chickens to only be able to take a few steps (Food Inc). GMOs aren’t good for not only the humans eating them, but also the animals as well. The other side of this debate would try to insist that GMOs are helping feed our world’s population but this, simply put, isn’t true. Vaclav Smil, a University of Manitoba analyst, explained that we already have enough food to feed everyone the problem is that the richer countries are overproducing and the poor counties are under producing (Fromartz par. 8-14). If the food was better distributed to the poor countries there would be plenty for everyone. Working at Tim Hortons has been an eye-opening experience for me personally.

Tim Hortons is one of the slowest fast-food restaurants in America, and our store, in particular, is amongst the slowest of them all. Because of this, we make less food every day than the average fast food chain and at the end of the night are expected to throw away less food than a busier store. This makes sense because a busier store can afford to take more risks in overproducing than a smaller store that makes less money. Even with this being considered every night I throw away three large garbage bags so heavy they have to be double bagged so they won’t break. On top of this, I can hardly lift the bags into the dumpster. This is just one single restaurant compared to the millions within the U.S. alone. There is no reason to be making so much food only to let it go to waste. If rich countries were less wasteful it is very clear they would have plenty of food to feed the masses. Many people are curious as to why changes aren’t being made within our system but the answer is actually quite simple. According to Food Inc. changes aren’t being made because many of the people in the government work for these messed up companies.

For example, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was a Monsanto attorney and he was in charge of writing most of a case that allows companies to prevent farmers from saving those seeds (Food Inc). This is why there hasn’t been very much of a much political debate because for the last 25 years our government has been dominated by the industries they are supposed to be critiquing (Food Inc). But this doesn’t mean we can’t make a change. Food Inc compares the current situation to that of the Tobacco industry. Tobacco companies used to be in control until the consumers began to rise up and that’s exactly what the consumer needs to do in this situation. They need to rise up and voice their opinions by not buying foods that contain GMOs and instead buy from local farmers. If something isn’t done before it’s too late everyone will be sitting in a disaster they created for themselves with no escape. At the top of the food chain will be Monsanto, looking down with swarms of money at the stupidity of the human race and laughing . Just the act of making well-informed purchases and thinking about where your money is truly going can help save the world from this crisis. We need to end GMOs before it’s too late.

Works Cited:

Fromartz, Samuel. Genetically Modified Foods Will Not Help Address the Global Food Crisis. , 2016.

“Pocket K No. 16: Biotech Crop Highlights in 2017.” Labeling GM Foods – Pocket K | ISAAA.org, 2016, www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/16/.

Rees, Andy. Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide For the Confused, Pluto Press, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.libproxy.umflint.edu/lib/umichigan/detail.action?docID=3386239.

Rissman, Rebecca. Genetically Modified Food. Abdo Publishing, 2016. EBSCOhost, libproxy.umflint.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e860xna&AN=978901&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Mirchandani, Aneela. “GMO Crops Produce Poisonous Gut E. Coli? Many Faces of an Important Bacterium.” Genetic Literacy Project, Genetic Literacy Project, 12 Jan. 2018, geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/09/30/gmo-crops-produce-poisonous-gut-e-coli-many-faces-of-an-important-bacterium/.

Kenner, Robert, et al. Food, Inc. Magnolia Pictures, 2009. “Pocket K No. 16: Biotech Crop Highlights in 2017.” Labeling GM Foods – Pocket K | ISAAA.org, 2018, www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/16/.

Russell, A. W., and Robert Sparrow. “The Case for Regulating Intragenic GMOs.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, vol. 21, no. 2, 2008, pp. 153-181.

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