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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.

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