GMO FOODS: A SLOW DEATH?

Have you ever wondered where the food we eat comes from? We all assume that it’s from the vendors or distributors who have collected these goods from the wholesale dealers. The answers revealed might shock you! Approximately 70% of the food items in supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients. The debate around GMO Foods (genetically modified organisms) is huge and heated on either side. One of the major considerations when arguing against the use of GMO products is the potential for environmental harm. What exactly are the environmental risks to consider in the matter to GMOs? It is a highly controversial topic to discuss.

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Golden rice is a variety of rice produced through genetic engineering. Photo source IRRI Photos.

DO YOU REALLY KNOW WHAT GMO FOODS ARE? 

You always keep looking at articles and videos based on GMOs posted on Social networking sites while scrolling through our news feed. But do you actually know what GMOs are?  The World Health Organization (WHO) defines GMO as organisms whose DNA has been altered in an unnatural way. GMO are the source of genetically modified food and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods. Other than food, there are organisms like genetically modified mammals(rats) and aquatic organisms (GloFishes). GM plants are usually changed to be insect resistant, virus resistant, or herbicide tolerant. With these changes come some potentially problematic environmental challenges like goods regulation, contamination of natural products and pesticide toxicity. In most developed countries, GMOs have been banned or placed under strict regulations.

After the introduction of GMO foods, chronic illnesses, food allergies ones have increased with time. It also plays a major role in digestive and reproductive disorders.

A big problem with GM crops is that they are difficult to contain, which means they could be extremely hard to get rid of if we later decide they are a bad idea. Monsanto is the largest producer of GMO food and has promised several countries their ‘safe’ produce. It is an American multinational corporation that was founded back in 1901 by John Francis Queeny. 90% of the world’s GM produce is provided by Monsanto.

ARE GMO FOODS DOING IT RIGHT?- EFFECTS AND IMPACTS 

Toxicity is a huge issue surrounding chemical pesticides and herbicides, used commonly in these GMO. GMO may be toxic to non-target organisms. Bees and butterflies are the most talked-about examples currently. Also, the permanent long term effects of GMO are not certain. Pests that are targeted by these agricultural methods can adapt to pesticides and herbicides, in addition to the DNA changes in GM plants to make them resistant to external agents. This means that they will not always be effective, but their toxic effects will remain. Genetically modified foods have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. Monsanto is claimed to be a profiteering, poisonous chemical company posing as agribusiness.

United States, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada are the five countries which cultivate 90% of GMOs of the world, 40% of which is cultivated by the United States ALONE.

Farming is always a gamble. If the crops fail, so does their livelihood. Due to a variety of other socio-economic challenges, suicide numbers among Indian and American farmers are staggeringly high (about 1,000 deaths per month). GM crops are making matters worse as desperate farmers borrow money at obtain rates to pay for “magic” GM seeds that, require twice the amount of water and don’t live up to their pest-free claims. It is extremely unfortunate. It is a worldwide monopoly and exerts vast control over many seed industries. Farmers of the United States have taken Monsanto to court regarding issues related to patents. The case seeks to challenge Monsanto’s aggressive claims on patents of genetically-engineered  seeds and aims to bar the chemical and biotech company from suing anyone whose field is contaminated by such seeds.

GMO Foods are also said to cause tumours and early deaths of consumers. Disturbing the environment’s natural genetic make-up can eventually result in major ecological shifts. Monsanto products have supposedly caused millions of birth defects and digestive disorders, usually leading to death of the affected. A new study called Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark? was written by eight experts from the fields of molecular genetics, agro-ecology, toxico-pathology, scientific ethics, ecological agriculture, plant genetics, public health and cell biology. The study showed an alarming rate of deaths and birth defects in animals that were exposed in some way to glyphosate.

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Land area used for GMOs by various countries. Photo source Wikipedia

GMO FOODS ARE DESTROYING BIODIVERSITY!

Biodiversity, while it is critical in all ecosystems and to the sustainability of all species is put at risk by GMO Food. Due to the planting of GM seeds, many heritage seeds are no longer used.

The use of GMO means fewer weed flowers and, resulting in less nectar for pollinators.

Toxins released into the soil through the plants´ roots mean fewer soil bacteria, which are integral to healthy soil for plants to grow without the use of chemical fertilizers.

Nutrients are not returned to the soil, meaning that soil is becoming dry and void of all nutrients, a very important part of the growing process.

According to recent reports Monsanto has destroyed millions of acres of soil and pollutes water in India, Argentina, Brazil and the United States to a large extent. In addition to soil issues, the irrigation used to grow GM foods naturally carries all of these problems into water sources and into the air. This exposes different bacteria, insects, and animals to the same problems.

Globally, 79% of soybean crops, 70% of cotton crops and 32% of maize are now GM crops. Imagine the drastic effect on our environment! GMOs are distracting us from healthy, environment-friendly technology.

All of these impacts must be taken into consideration in the larger picture; GMOs DNA may end up in soil, compost, animal feed and by-products, and other living organisms from insects to larger pests.

GMO FOODS TO BE LABELLED?

Every consumer has a right to know what they are eating. Wouldn’t you want to know what goes into your body? It is your health after all!

Reports done on breakfast cereals, chips, soy infant formulas, and other popular products found that GMOs lurk in many packaged foods—including some that carry labels suggesting that they DON’T have these controversial ingredients. Is that fair to any of us? Also, it is illegal!

Strict rules and regulations must be made when it comes to the labelling of foods. It is a clear fact that GMOs have become dangerous to human health. Producers, processors, and retailers may choose voluntary labelling of these attributes, may be required to label by government regulations, or may use a combination of these approaches.

It’s shocking to know that the federal government of the United States has not mandated that genetically modified organisms be proved safe before they’re used in your food. However, safety assessments are mandatory in other major developed countries like China, Japan, and the countries of the European Union.

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The Right to Know March for GMO Labelling in USA. Photo by Daniel Lobo.

Taking everything into consideration, many countries have decided to ban GMO Foods for good. A majority of European countries like Italy, Austria, France and Germany  have already banned GMOs. This was done a few years ago and now Europe is almost GMO-free. Japan and Australia are a few more countries that have taken bold steps towards banning GMO seeds. However, India and Thailand are just 35%-40% free of GMOs.

The United States and South America are the largest producers of GMOs currently and distribution of non-labelled food items is allowed.

The largest provider is none other than the company, Monsanto. The United States talks about safe food and then signs the Monsanto Protection Agreement. This issue has taken over the internet like a raging storm where people are voicing opinions on social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Monsanto also refuses to label GMOs.

GMOs are the topic of social and ethical debates as well. It goes without saying that we live in an inter-connected world, where the way we interact with nature can cause a complex array of consequences.  Although GMO Foods have broken many barriers in the field of science and technology, it is obvious that it has had more of a negative impact than a positive one.

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March against Monsanto. Photo by Die Grünen Kärnten

LOOK BEFORE YOU EAT GMO FOODS! 

With so many claims and accusations against GMO food and other products, we need to think of a way to curb this problem. One of the solutions to avoid GMOs can be  ORGANIC AGRICULTURE. It is a sustainable and practical way of farming. Both the farmers and the land can be benefited using this technique. Organic farming keeps the soil replenished with nutrients and organic products fetch farmers good income, thus improving their livelihood.

Being informed on the food you are consuming, and the way modern agricultural techniques are affecting the environment is one effective way of consciously interacting with the world. Consumers are increasingly considering information on the safety and process attributes of food in making their buying decisions. Activists like Vandana Shiva and Mike Adams are actively fighting for the people to gain access to the patents that Monsanto and other companies producing GMOs are publishing.

WHO has classified glyphosate, a pesticide sprayed on GM crops as CARCINOGENIC to human beings. One  study in 2013 found glyphosate in 60-70% of all US air and rain samples tested, indicating that glyphosate pollution and exposure is now omnipresent in the regions within which it is applied.

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WORLD stands up against Monsanto ‘Over 400 cities protest GMOs’

A video showing protests against Monsanto.

GMO FOODS: WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS?

GMO food might have solved the food crisis in countries like Argentina and Canada, but it is evident that GMOs are more harmful than beneficial. The promises to supply the population with healthy products by Monsanto is something which is questioned by scientists and food experts across the world. GMOs are and will be a threat to us and the environment. You should get involved.

Use your citizen rights to know about the circulation of food and health products in your area or country. Social networking sites have started pages like the ‘GMO Eradication Movement’ to spread awareness and conduct campaigns. You must participate and solve this issue. Let’s hope to see a complete eradication of the deadly GMOs in the near future! Everyone must be aware of everything they eat or use, as this will impact human lives the most in the long run.

Cover Shot by Charles Haynes

Ayesha Mehrotra

By Ayesha Mehrotra

Ayesha is currently pursuing her 1st year of Bachelor’s in Science from St. Joseph’s Arts & Science College, Bangalore. She is also part of AIESEC and has interned with an NGO providing for underprivileged children and women. Her future aspirations are to be in research and development in Science and to open a home for the underprivileged. At Earth5R she is responsible for building projects for Bangalore and write for EarthJournal.

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