An average Jane on health and nutrition

GMO (genetically modified organisms) is a term we’re hearing a lot about lately. Consumer advocate groups are pushing for mandatory GMO labeling, while companies like Monsanto fight against it. As of right now, Maine and Connecticut have passed regulations regarding labeling, but they hinge on other states following suit. Connecticut’s, for example, only goes into effect if at least two additional states also adopt such policies, and at least one of those states must be a neighboring state. (So, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or New York.) Connecticut is a little state, and I imagine the thought behind that is safety in numbers. It’s harder for Monsanto (or anyone) to apply pressure to an entire region than it is to a single state, though that hasn’t stopped them from threatening lawsuits.

Advocates and opponents of GMOs seem to be in agreement (at least for the moment) that genetically modified crops [probably] aren’t harmful to our health. Why, then, the opposition? Many argue it’s simply a case of transparency: that people deserve to know where their food comes from/how it has been grown.

For the purposes of the article I’m going to discuss, there are two types of genetically modified crops. There are crops that are modified to be resistant to pesticides or herbicides, meaning farmers can apply the chemicals that will kill weeds and bugs but not damage the crop; and there are crops that themselves exude a pesticide/herbicide. The goal in both cases is to defeat weeds and bugs, keeping the crops free from such pests. And it’s worked, for awhile.

But if the flu virus has taught us anything, it’s that nature changes. A lot. And sometimes rapidly. Enter “superpests.”

That’s right. Weeds and bugs are adapting to the pesticides and herbicides, and finding ways to feast on the crops anyway. They’re growing stronger.

Okay, maybe not stronger, but certainly immune-r.

So, what to do? Apply more pesticide. 10 times more, in fact, if they’re using the popular Monsanto herbicide Roundup on corn/soy/cotton. (From Grist, link below.) Additionally, even stronger chemicals are awaiting approval, though delayed over concerns for water contamination, higher levels of chemical residue in food, etc.

Is there any other option? Perhaps.. from the same article:

“But there’s an alternative to better living through chemistry: Farmers can simply stop planting corn year after year and learn to love oats and alfalfa. As one crop consultant told NPR, the simplest, cheapest, safest solution is just to switch to another crop for a bit. Rotating crops, i.e. growing different crops in sequence on the same plot of land, is an old technique for foiling pests. Very often, a bug that eats one crop won’t eat a different one.”

So, there’s the option to return to a more diverse method of farming. Outsmart the bugs and weeds simply by making their food source unavailable some years. Will it affect profitability, etc? “Recent research into crop rotations indicated that farmers won’t necessarily lose money since they’ll be spending a lot less on high-priced GMO seeds, chemicals, and even fertilizer.”


Well that’s great!  
“Even the USDA gets this. The agency has started to promote the adoption of what it calls “multi-cropping” for improved pest management and climate resilience. The problem is that the agency is also encouraging biotech companies to keep the herbicide-tolerant seeds coming.”

Oh. Well that’s less great.

With Monsanto execs having recently won the World Food Prize, I doubt we’ll see major shifts away from GMO and increased herb-/pesticides in favor of crop rotation soon, but maybe in the future.

I think the thing that gets me most is that we’re like “nature keeps adapting and finding better ways to beat our chemicals.. so let’s make STRONGER CHEMICALS!!” not “hmm.. maybe this system isn’t working, and we need a new (or reverting to an older) system, instead of tinkering with what isn’t working and bandaging it unendingly.”

Until then, fortunately I live somewhere with lots of small local farms and farmer’s markets. Not everyone is so lucky, and we shouldn’t be encouraging the introduction of yet more chemicals and altered food, especially when we’re not sure of longterm effects.


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