We grew up in innocent times. Our parents or grandparents put food on the table and we ate it. We experienced the wonders of home gardening and produce grown completely naturally.
We weren’t concerned with size or colour – it was the taste of the fruit or veggie that mattered.
But today, things are very different. The high levels of pesticides and chemicals in our food mean that we have to be extremely careful about what we eat, especially over time. We can
no longer trust that the food we get in the market is safest for our kids. And increasingly, theproblem is not just limited to chemicals; it’s also becoming foods that are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
What are genetically modified crops?
Non-organic farmers utilize the latest advances in science and agricultural technology for better efficiency and output – from tractors and chemical and synthetic pesticides to hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers and genetically modified organisms.
These are plants hybrids, whose DNA has been altered to give them greater resistance to herbicides and pests or higher nutritional content. After World War II, these foods were developed to reduce diseases in crops, and thus lead to larger output. And it’s truly ironic that organic foods have higher standards to match than GM foods, which in some countries like the US, aren’t even required to specify that they are modified.
Are GM foods truly unsafe?
It seems unbelievable that decades of research can be proved wrong. Till recently, we believed that genetically modified (GM) crops were safe to eat and could be the answer to the world’s food problems. But according to scientists like David Williams, ““Thirty years ago we didn’t know that when you throw any gene into a different genome, the genome reacts to it. But now anyone in this field knows the genome is not a static environment. Inserted genes can be transformed by several different means, and it can happen generations later.” That’s the problem in a nutshell. We don’t know. We can’t be sure. Through the ‘50s and ‘60s, people believed that smoking was fine and almost a healthy habit. Men smoked, women smoked, pregnant women smoked, mothers smoked around their children – one has to only see a single episode of Mad Men to know that this was fairly commonplace. And yet, we know today that smoking is the cause of innumerable evils, the least of which is nicotine addiction. In 1988, at the 12th Scientific Conference of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), over 60 countries voted, unanimously, against GMOs in food production and agriculture. Even recently, African nations like Kenya have completely banned them, despite lower costs, more output and widespread malnutrition. Almost simplistically put, they’d rather starve than eat GM food.
Why are GMO still being propagated as good?
According to David Walliams, biologists who point out the risks, health and otherwise, associated with GM crops, even if they are merely reporting or backing up experimental findings that say there might be risks, find themselves on the receiving end of vicious attacks on their credibility. This means that not only must you risk your time with an experiment, you also risk being defamed when your results are not aligned with those of the companies promoting GM foods.
In humans, GM foods are assessed for nutritional content, toxicity levels and any allergic reactions that might occur from eating them.
The risks associated with GM food
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine urges doctors to advise patients to follow non-GMO diets. Animal studies show organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility due to the hybrid DNA. Human research has shown that genetically modified (GM) food might leave DNA material inside us, causing possibly long-term problems.
- Research has also shown that health issues like food allerigies, autism and digestive disorders are on the rise after the introduction of GM foods. For example, genes in GM soy can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside humans. Toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.
- When a GMO is introduced into a new space, it causes many detrimental effects. Either it leads to the proliferation of superbugs, who are now immune to antibiotics and pesticides, or it leads to the endangerment of natural plants and regional crops.
- GM plants also contaminate other plants as their seeds travel. It is theorized that the effects of self-propagating GMO pollution will outlast even nuclear disasters.
- GM plants also need more herbicides and pesticides as they are engineered to be chemical tolerant. Which means the rise of parasite superweeds as well, equally resistant to herbicide, needing newer formulations or greater quantities, all of which bring their own risks like sterility, birth defects, and cancer.
- Birds, bees, butterflies, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems and soil organisms are also threatened by GMOs with their increased herbicide use and resistance. Let’s face it – for nature to thrive, the natural system of bugs and insects also need to survive. But with GMOs, not only are we changing the rules of the game, we’re wiping the other players off the board.
- GMOs also end up polluting the soil due to their increased need for herbicides, their hybrid nature which might end up needing less water, thus upsetting the water-table balance and by making crop rotation obsolete. The soil gets more and more fallow, needing more fertilizers and herbicides with each cycle.
- The high costs of GMOs are making farming unviable, while the promise of greater yields stops farmers from returning to their organic routes.
The way forward
As consumers, you have the power to speak up and make your choice clear. Refusing to buy GM food or GMOs, or choosing organic, will be a clear indication of what you want for your health, your children’s health as well as the environment and world around you. Governments and biotech companies seem to be playing games amidst all of this, and diverting funds that should be used for coming up with cleaner technology and seeds. It’s up to you to make your choice, and voice, heard.