Join me as I dig for a place to stand about GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
Let’s get underneath the “frankenfood” and “fish in your tomatoes” positioning of the fight against GMOs. GMOs aren’t the devil.
Actually, compassionate people, trying to solve real problems for farmers and hungry people, went into their lab to see if they could create crops that survived pests and droughts, that produced more per acre (and unit of labor).
And curious people – like we always do – pushed the edges because we wanted to see further and deeper.
It’s not a given, though, that the next stop for such research is corporate profit. Once our food system gets into the hands of the profit system, then the fight begins. Once food is a traded commodity on global markets we the eaters have lost control of what’s on our plates.
Now, back to the problems with genetically modified food entering our food system.
1. “Transgenic” means that genes from animals go into vegetables. Fish that tolerate cold provide genetic material for tomatoes we’d like to tolerate cold as well. Why in the world! I’ve read very reasonable arguments about the need for faster prototyping than traditional plant breeding affords us. Given that climate change will rapidly alter our agricultural map, we can’t afford the 10 years traditional plant breeding takes. GMO’s will be our way of surviving. Yet there is something that makes us uneasy about fish in our tomatoes. But could this simply be like when the automobile came in and people thought the human body could not tolerate speeds over 20 miles per hour?
2. Allergies and preferences: If I could die from eating peanuts, how can I be sure there are no nuts in my corn? How can I be a vegan with fish in my tomatoes? For now, buying organic guarantees that my veggies are veggies. However, this is one front line of the movement. We barely kept a provision out of the organic standards that allowed GMOs. The battles isn’t over.
3. Precautionary principle: this is the simple notion that if we don’t know whether an action will do long term damage, better to wait than to barge ahead. GMOs are a very new kid on the genetic block. Twenty years. We might know what the first and second generations of the altered seed do, but we do not know how these plants and animals, once “in the wild”, will affect the unaltered stock. We don’t know if GMO salmon will mate with wild fish, and how that will spread around the world, and if those salmon will be coded to self destruct in 10 generations. Putting GMOs into our own bodies is one thing. Putting them into nature is another.
4. Viruses: How do we “shoot” genetic material through a cell wall, a clever structure designed to protect the innards from foreign bodies? Viruses – fragments of genetic material – know how to do that so we use virus material to escort the new codes into the original DNA. For me the precautionary principle says that we mustn’t aid and abet viruses, even as slaves.
5. Traditional agriculture: to the degree that GMOs allow industrial scale farming to financially outcompete diverse, small and mid-scale farms, they are a problem This is the sovereignty issue, an important one for me. We do not want to turn over our most basic need and right – to feed ourselves – completely to corporations. Then we truly are serfs.
Food affects our health, our children’s children, our freedoms, our security, our ethical ground of being. And so we need to be vigilant about how our food system is altered. We need to check innovations against our values, common sense and science. We also need to check them against our fears and our prejudices. It’s hard work, which is why most of us want to just cook dinner and be done with it. It’s not been easy for me to sort this out, and I’m not sure yet I see the whole picture with clarity.
However unclear we are, though, we have to agree that labeling GMO foods is essential to preserve our ability to make a considered choice. This is where the might of corporations comes in. In Europe when labeling came in GMOs went out. Monsanto knows this, and their legal department is ruthless in squashing all demands.
If we care, we need to support labeling campaigns. Prop 37 in California died in part because of Monsanto’s firepower and ability to seed doubt in voter’s minds. In part, though, it’s because the food movement wasn’t as aligned, focused and mobilized as it needs to be. That means you and I need to sign on to such battles, knowing simply that we do not want to risk corporate control of our food system. Next up: Prop 522 – GMO labeling – in Washington State.
I’m still finding my way in this broad food movement. I am not going to be overly cautious, though. I’ll put out what I think and see what you think and together we’ll learn.
And by the way, all this is another reason why i think that regenerating regional food systems is important, which in part means eating my neighbor’s kale – and paying them for it.