May 29-June 1, 2017
The technology behind genetically modified organisms (GMO) is fascinating. How the scientists place a particular gene of one species into the double-helix chromosome string of a totally different classification of life at precisely the right place to effect the expected change is nothing short of amazing. Miraculous biological beings are being developed to perform all manner tasks for the medical industry. Algae reproduce rapidly to produce everything from oil-eating microbes to artificial grapefruit flavor. Virologists see great potential for human health. The vast majority of all livestock feed grown around the world employs gene-transfer technologies, too, to ward off insects and disease, improve drought tolerance, provide a modified nutrient density, etc. More recently, this technology is creeping into the foods we consume directly, for our own good. Or is it?
I have no idea if consuming genetically modified sweet corn is harmful to me or not. We are waiting to make sure the scientists don’t find something wrong with eating GMO foods mode, and I really hope they don’t, since the genie is out of the bottle.
In the early days of the development of national organic standards—the late 1990s—the standards’ founding mothers and fathers were unanimous in their repulsion at the thought of a trout gene in a tomato, ostensibly for cold tolerance, so GMOs have been, from the beginning, called “excluded methods” in organic production. This is placed right into the definitions of the regulation. Now, GMO refers to a multitude of genetic-manipulation methods—some say better, but still excluded from organic production—and here’s why.
The GMO crops began as an answer to mounting pest pressures. As the use of synthesized chemical “-cides” became more widely used, scientists discovered these products became less effective over time. The molds, fungi, insects and weeds the scientists thought they were controlling with their chemicals mutated to adapt. So somebody figured out how to manipulate the genetic code of the plant itself, to carry the detrimental material to the field. No need to spray. Viola, problem solved.
Prior to the availability of gene-transfer seed products, the gene pool lived in the public domain. But these gene-transfer technologies were developed by corporations, therefore, their seeds contain “intellectual property” and belong to the corporations, not to the people. This has proven problematic. Corn is complicated but resides at the epicenter of the debate and is a good case study for this discussion.
Corn has a pollen problem: It can’t keep its genes zipped up, as it were. This is the case with all corn—GMO and non-GMO—as its pollen drifts far and wide. An organic farmer growing non-GMO corn to meet increased consumer demand must have a buffer from any source of potential contamination, which decreases the land available to grow the crop. If the organic corn does become pollinated by the mutant genes, it cannot be sold as organic, effectively eliminating the premium in the marketplace that it deserves. Additionally, if nearby GMO corn pollen drifts in to insinuate itself into virginal corn silks and the farm keeps the resulting kernels to plant next year—an ages-old practice called seed saving—the farmer can be sued for stealing the GMO-seed company’s intellectual property. The courts have upheld this ruling many times.
The short-sighted view that Mother Nature can be manipulated and managed is dumbfounding. The ability of plants and insects to adapt to their environment is known as “gaining resistance” in the science circles of academia, be it climatic-environmental condition or the introduction of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.
The most widely used GMO technology today is known as Roundup Ready corn or soybeans. Roundup is Monsanto’s commercial name for glyphosate, a chemical herbicide that kills anything that is green and growing, except the plant that has been genetically modified to withstand it. Now, 20 years after Roundup’s introduction, farming periodicals are peppered with articles about super weeds that are no longer killed with this spray and what can be done about it. Some suggest growers pull their tillage equipment out of the fencerows, because that is proven technology. Funny, it’s the technology that organic farmers have used all along.
A similar situation has arisen with corn earworm control, too, and insect resistance to the naturally occurring Bacillus thurengensis (Bt) bacterium is also well under way. What are they going to do now, and then the next time?
No Thanks, GMO
So, I’m not sure if eating mutant gene combinations is bad for me or not. I am sure I don’t like the way the owners of the GMO technology do business. I am concerned about the arrogant attitude of their intrusion into Mother Nature’s genes. I am concerned about chemical-resistant mutant insects and weeds proliferating, unlike anything ever witnessed before. I have grave concerns about the consolidation of the seed industry and their stranglehold on the food genetics we have access to. Because of these concerns, I’m not willing to support the practice of genetic manipulation with my food dollars.
No GMO technologies are allowed in organic foods, period. This is scrutinized by the organic certification agencies with diligence. This is one reason why we are organic farmers. We can sleep with a sound conscience and eat in peace. Thanks for joining us. —Mac Stone
In Your Share
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