Guess Who’s Controlling Our Food Supply

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.

4 responses to “Guess Who’s Controlling Our Food Supply

  1. Thank you, thank you!

    I’ve made mention of these problems inside the hallowed halls of our state land grant institution (South Dakota State University) and been shouted down by some employees of that system at the same time the producers around me were all nodding their heads in agreement.

    Additionally, I recently gave a presentation at an organic field days about economic benefits of sustainable farming practices because the workshop organizer couldn’t get an ag economist from the same institution to do it–and she works for them, too.

    They didn’t want to do it because they don’t have “hard data.” Yeah, no kidding–because the research dollars aren’t there–especially in the wake of the state university’s president joining Monsanto’s Board of Directors.

    Thanks for these posts, and keep ’em coming!

    –Rebecca

  2. Thanks Rob, for another excellent, thoughtful piece. The idea that we can “feed the world” has been twisted in every possible way. A good, hard conversation about exactly who we’re feeding, how, and at what cost may be just the thing to get things moving in the right direction.

  3. controlling the food supply includes animals…guess what I am going to have to do just so corporate ag can tell the beef/chicken they sell to Japan and other countries is safe…you will never guess. Give up. I will have you register my premises with the government, even if I own one animal, such as a horse, llama, goat, chicken, cattle, pet pot belly pig, parakeet, etc. (This step clouds title to private property.) All my critters must be microchipped and all births, deaths and movements reported into a database. This costs time and money. (Factory farms do NOT have to do this, they get one lot number per group of animals. Any animal in that group could be diseased and who would know.) But if animal disease is suspected in an area, the USDA can depopulate a 6 mile radius (140 sq. miles of dead healthy animals.

    NAIS is a business plan designed to benefit corporate ag, but the rest of us are dragged in to work and fund the program, while corporate ag gets a free ride by having one lot number per groups of animals.

    I am not in the same business as big ag, but because I own horses, I am forced against my will to be part of the business plan with none of the benefits nor profits but bearing all the costs and risks. Over 90% of the speakers at the USDA NAIS listening sessions on youtube are telling why they oppose NAIS.

  4. Melanie Schaures

    Are we surprised? The NAIS just goes along with the rest of the government/big business, take over of the constitutional rights of the citizens of the United States.
    And congressmen wonder why people are shouting at the town meetings on health care “reform”. There needs to be a grass roots uprising AND a new political party in this country, as both partys have been carrying us down this road on an ever more escelating pace. We must move and yell louder, and soon, before we lose all freedoms, and that time is close. I hear people say “That can’t happen to us in the US”. Well surprise it is happening NOW.

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