Posting these “Food Politics Friday” posts on an actual Friday has been a humorous challenge. I’ll consider changing the series name to “Food Politics (on anything but) Friday.” Gotta keep that consonance in the series
I think GMOs are a really important discussion topic in food politics; but, sadly, I’m pretty clueless when it comes to the topic. What I’m not clueless in, however, is research! So, here’s the gist of what GMO even means and some resources to people and books that are clearly more versed on the topic than I am.
So, a little history. GMO stands for genetically modified organism (I almost wrote orgasm – now that would be interesting ). Now from my very basic understanding of science – there is nothing intrinsically wrong with genetic modification. Genetic mutations occur all the time. The difference between genetic mutations and genetic modification is who’s doing the manipulation. One is nature and the other is a scientist. And, as we all know – when you get people involved, especially people working for biotech giants like Monsanto – things get a little…hmmm (how to be politically correct)…
Why do people modify crops at the genetic level in the first place? Well, for a long time people have claimed that we could engineer certain crops to be more efficient (use less resources) and resistant (to weather, bugs, etc.) and have a longer shelf life. One of the biggest arguments of GMO proponents is that GMOs (such as “golden rice“) will help us save the world from hunger (this has not yet proven to be the case; and even in 2003 at a time of crisis, African nations declined to accept GMO food stuffs from the U.S. oy.).
When did the general public start caring (do we care?)
While GMOs were a hot topic amongst scientists in the 70s, the term “GMO” didn’t become part of the lay person’s vocabulary until the 1990s when the term was everywhere, including on the cover of Time Magazine and throughout consumer news when Taco Bell shells, manufactured by Kraft, were found to contain GM corn that had not been approved for human consumption.
So what’s the big deal? If we’re eating Taco Bell shit to begin with, should we really care about a little GMO thrown in for good measure? That is a good question (is it okay to compliment myself for a good question? lol); and one worth considering. I think the main issue with GMOs is that no one can agree whether GMOs are really safe for human consumption or not. And, while this is still being determined (though from my basic research, I’m finding more people who say it’s already been proven to be unsafe – such as the CSPI – than those who say it’s still a tenuous case), there is one simple thing that any government agency should do when something is possibly detrimental, and possibly not, right?
Unfortunately, we rarely know when something we’re eating has been genetically modified or not. Our labeling laws here are super lax. Some organizations are trying to change that, including the NonGMO Project which has formulated a screening process and label to disclose which foods do not have GMOs. But we really should know those that do, right? Unlike the U.S., the EU has the strictest regulations in the world for presence of GMOs in food and feed. They require labeling food and feed where the level of approved GMO exceeds 0.9% of “unintentional adventitious presence” [source]. This doesn’t mean they’re opposed to GMOs, but that they are clear about where they exist. We’re still fucking around here in the U.S. by letting everyone and their mama label foods with “natural” without many standards. See ConAgra’s GMO cooking oil, for example. Then there’s the fact that Monsanto is introducing GMO sweet corn into the market. Without labels required, of course.
Here’s a better summary of the problems with this ish, as written by one of my fave food politics writes:
“‘Upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves — from soda to soup, crackers to condiments — contain genetically-engineered ingredients.’ [CSPI] While it’s unclear how many of these products also claim to be natural, given all the greenwashing going on these days, it’s likely to number in the thousands.
Specifically, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered, as are 91 percent of soybeans, both extremely common ingredients in processed foods. Numerous groups, including the Center for Food Safety, have been calling attention to the potential hazards of GMOs for years” [source]
Should we care?
I think that whenever the EU has stricter guidelines on something as important as what we put into our bodies, and when the U.S. denies transparency in favor of profit and political alliances, then yes, we should care. We should also be pissed and maybe a little worried.
Good video by Jeffery smith, GMO activist, founder of the Institute of Responsible Technology and author of Seeds of Deception.
The video is a little (non-gmo) corny, but still good info.
Some Cool Books on GMO Food
- Hart, Kathleen. Eating in the Dark: America’s Experiment with Genetically Engineered Food. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.
- Kneen, Brewster. Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology. Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers, 1999.
- McHughen, Alan. Pandora’s Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
- Nelson, Gerald C. (ed.). Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: Economics and Politics. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2001.
- Pence, Gregory E. Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.
- Ruse, Michael and David Castle (eds.). Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002.
- Smith, Jeffrey M. Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating. Portland, ME: Yes Books, 2003.
- Thompson, Paul B. Food Biotechnology in Ethical Perspective. London: Blackie Academic and Professional, 1997.
- Weasel, Lisa H. Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food. New York, NY: AMACOM, 2009.
Anyone got info. to share on GMOs? Did you know that when you eat corn or soy you’re pretty much always eating GMOs?
The Cranky One