It’s no secret that I have a difficult time accepting genetically modified (GM) foods at face value. My primary concerns have to do with what we know, and, more importantly don’t know about how this “promising” technology may or may not be impacting human health and our environment.
For those who prefer to avoid serving as human lab rats, myself included, our non-GM food options, according to advocates of GM food, boil down to eating USDA Certified Organic, which do not allow any genetically modified seed or crops to be used on such labeled food products. Their idea of severely limiting consumer choice, since they are adamantly opposed to “GMO Inside” labeling, goes against their own argument of freedom to choose, which also goes against the very fabric of what makes America’s version of capitalism work so well.
I couldn’t imagine the situation getting much worse, but it just did.
The latest issue of Scientific American Magazine includes the chilling article “Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?” The magazine’s editors take readers beyond initial “government” approval of GM food, which reportedly utilized industry-sponsored research rather than independent government research, to the current state of independent research on genetically modified seeds and crops:
Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.
It would be chilling enough if any other type of company were able to prevent independent researchers from testing its wares and reporting what they find—imagine car companies trying to quash head-to-head model comparisons done by Consumer Reports, for example. But when scientists are prevented from examining the raw ingredients in our nation’s food supply or from testing the plant material that covers a large portion of the country’s agricultural land, the restrictions on free inquiry become dangerous.
It is hard to understand how a handful of companies have amassed so much control over food ingredients found in an estimated 75 percent of processed foods in America’s supermarkets. Making matters worse, and as the Scientific American editors point out, we are talking about a basic physiological need – food, which joins water, shelter and a handful of other needs defined by Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs.
Without extensive independent research on GM foods on how they impact human health and the environment, the distinct possibility exists that we’re setting ourselves up for significant and potentially irreversible problems down the line.
To keep the mainstream in check, we get slick multimillion dollar advertising campaigns from company’s like Monsanto claiming they have the solution to feed the estimated 9 billion people expected on the planet in the not to distant future, among other claims. Who cares if these claims have not been independently verified. Who cares if the Union of Concerned Scientists have released a report on GM crop yields debunking industry claims of significant yield improvements.
Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.
The ongoing debate is not about stopping public relations (PR) efforts by these companies. Companies market products and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Nor is it about whether I or anyone else thinks GM foods are good or bad. Making such claims today are mostly opinion, since independent research is not available to properly inform discussions.
The debate needs to be about how our regulatory structure has sold out to industry, which is represented by a highly concentrated, centralized power structure that controls our conventional food system. It needs to be about holding the food system and our government accountable. Most important, it needs to demand companies and the government do what is right, just and fair.
We are a long way from that, it would seem, which is why initiatives like Pro Food and Slow Money are gaining steam. These efforts actively engage everyday citizens in developing and supporting transparent sustainable food systems, building on unique competitive advantages in comparison with today’s industrial food system players.
Let’s just hope that a sustainable food economy is not far behind.