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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Exposing the Truth About Genetically Modified Foods: Part 2 - The Politics

So are our governments doing anything about preventing genetically modified organism (GMO) foods from ever seeing the light of supermarket shelves? If there is anything I've come to understand, it's that most federal governments are corrupt. And this was confirmed at the speaker tour presentation I attended, where a scientist spoke of his personal story.

Dr. Shiv Chopra worked at Health Canada as a reviewer of applications for new foods entering the marketplace. He experienced undue pressure in his job, leading him and several colleagues to file grievances to the Supreme Court of Canada. He won the landmark case, leading to the banning of the use of the genetically modified drug recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in cows. However, since then the victory has not slowed the approval of GMO foods from being sold in our supermarkets.

Undue pressure is also coming from Canada's biggest trading partner south of the border. But they have their own problems to deal with. In the United States, approximately 83% of all corn, 89% of soy, and 93% of sugar beets are genetically modified. Somehow, over 80% of products on the shelves of the supposedly healthy supermarket Whole Foods contain GMOs, in the form of modified corn starch and other such byproducts. This is the shocking level of infiltration into the marketplace that GMOs have achieved.

After reading part 1, if you are not yet convinced that GMOs are bad, let me shoot down the final argument - it has been proven that organic crops produce the same yields, if not better, than GMOs. GMOs outperform in the short term, but, over time, as the soil is stripped of all its nutrients and biodiversity, it loses its ability to produce crops.

Certainly, the argument that GMO crops will save the world is a failed one, unless you consider that growing more crops for just a few years helps to feed the world.

Anyway, the world already produces enough food every day to feed 14 billion people, twice the current population. The food crisis we all hear about in the media is not due to food production, but food distribution, politics, and food wastage. Up to 40% of all food is wasted during and after production, much of it wasted in the household kitchen from our very own hands.

There seems to be some big conspiracy between Monsanto and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the proliferation of GMOs to occur. Indeed, it is suspicious when people like lawyer Michael Taylor have flip flopped back and forth between both entities throughout his career, slowly climbing one run higher on the ladder with every flip and flop.

Monsanto has its sticky fingers in more than just the honey pot of the USDA. When it's not threatening farmers whose crops have been taken over from Monsanto seeds, it is busy spreading false information. In order to be as truthful and unbiased as possible, I should disclose that the landmark Seralini study on the health impacts of GMOs on rats, which I mentioned in Part 1 of the blog, has been discredited by many health organizations, including the medical journal that initially published it. Form your own opinion on this one, but my gut tells me that Monsanto is behind these people discrediting the studies.

Despite the gloomy news, there have been some positive developments in the fight against GMOs. In the past, states have tried implementing GMO labelling policies, but cowered back due to threats from Monsanto to file law suits against those states. However, Connecticut recently became the first state to successfully pass the law... with one big caveat: that 4 other states in the northeastern US must pass the same law for it to fully come into effect. This is progress, if painful to watch.

Outside of North America, the story appears much different. Several nations and governing bodies have taken a firm stand by banning GMOs, including the European Union. It's time for us to follow suit.

If you are still sceptical, I urge you to use your common sense with the undisputed facts. Does it really make sense to eat food grown with synthetic chemicals sprayed on it? Does it make sense to eat food made up of components from known carcinogenic Agent Orange, used to kill trees during the Vietnam War?

Now think about the bigger picture, about life and how precious and precariously balanced it is. Is it really so easy to "modify" the building blocks of life with absolutely no consequences? Mother Nature has always taught the human race that it cannot control it. The Gaia Theory states that the earth is a self-regulating system. When humans try to exert too much control over nature, nature resists, pushes back.

So what can you do about GMOs? You've already achieved the first step, which is becoming aware of the issue. Continue to take the blindfold off; get educated about what you put into your body. Talk about it, spread the word for the sake of the health of your peers. Make the most of your food, don't waste it. For example, beet leaves and cauliflower leaves can all be eaten. Tea leaves can be steeped twice, or even three times. Then vote with your wallet; what you spend your money on shows what you care about. Show that you care about what you put into your body. These are the little ways we can save the world - GMOs are certainly not the answer, and to be avoided at all costs for the sake of your precious health.

As my fridge magnet says: eat organic food... or as your grandparents called it - food!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Exposing the Truth About Genetically Modified Foods: Part 1 - The Science

Over the past century, North America's food system has slowly been compromised by the industrialization and commoditization of food. As food technology advances, the potential long term impacts worsen, like a slowly expanding bubble. For the sake of profit, food quality and public health is neglected, the environment is being destroyed, animals are being bred into lives of suffering, only to be relieved by slaughter. And transparency is at an all-time low so that the public is blindfolded from the enormous direct and indirect consequences of modern agriculture.

The next major technological advancement in food, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is pushing new boundaries in the global food system. Once again, the stakes are higher: corporate profits juicier, transparency worse than mystery novels, and not surprisingly, potential for environmental destruction and human disease have never been more catastrophic.

I was privileged to have attended two events that enlightened me on genetically modified foods - the documentary GMO OMG at the Justice Film Festival, and a speaker tour featuring two scientists, one an expert on the real impacts of GMOs, and another who spoke first hand about government corruption in its approach to approving foods for market. Here is what I learned:

Genetically modified organisms are created in a very sensitive controlled process, akin to a genetic lottery, by mixing the plant bacteria to be modified with bacteria that hold the desired traits, and allowing them to swap DNA. However, this complex process results in the creation of rogue proteins which alter the natural state of the crop, something Monsanto admitted in their studies.

Monsanto disregarded these results as having negligible impact on health, however, scientists were sceptical, and one boldly replicated the study and found scary results: over 2 years of feeding rats, Seralini discovered that GMOs increased the rate of autism, Parkinson's, diseases that spiked globally since GMOs first entered the market, as well as cancers. He also fed another control group of rats with foods exposed to pesticides and found high rates of diabetes and cancers.

If GMOs and conventional crops grown with pesticides are having such a deadly impact on rats, how is it affecting humans? It's no wonder that over the past 30 years, the heydey of pesticides and GMOs in North America that, despite being one of the wealthiest, it has dubiously achieved being the unhealthiest continent in the world, with the US in particular leading the way in obesity, diabetes, and cancer rates. It's also no coincidence that autism first appeared only in the 1990s and is now afflicting 1 in 50 newly born Americans.

Over 90% of today's GMO crops are designed to withstand pesticides. Thus conventional farms are blanketing their fields of GMO crops with a deadly soup of pesticides and herbicides to control pests and weeds. The smartest farmers will tell you that its greatest asset is its soil. Healthy soil will allow nature to work its magic and allow biodiversity to thrive. Monoculture farming with combined RoundUp ready GMO crops and pesticides depletes soil of its nutrients, forcing farmers to rely more heavily on synthetic fertilizers, resulting in a vicious cycle that eventually drains all life out of the soil.

Meanwhile, the targets of RoundUp, pests and weeds are evolving to survive against the pesticides meant to kill it. Monsanto, happy to accept the challenge, has recently developed newer, more deadly GMO crops to sell to its vulnerable and willing farmers. These crops actually contain components of the chemical Agent Orange, a known carcinogenic. Would you eat food knowing it will cause you cancer?

This dangerous game humans are playing with nature is having an impact beyond just us. GMO crops are an invasive species, meaning that once they are introduced, they will take over a geographic area, out-competing the native species. The use of pesticides has also led to the drastic reduction of the global bee population. Bees are delicately tied to the survival of the human species - they pollinate nearly three quarters of the world's crops.

So as you can see, the impacts of GMOs are all encompassing. And the instruments behind these silent killer crops are systemic, beyond just Monsanto. Part 2 exposes how our very own government, the entity charged to protect its people, has failed us.