GMO-a-No-Go: Part 1 – What is a GMO and Why Care?

food

GMO OMG. It’s everywhere nowadays. …. but what’s a GMO? Why should you care?

You may think that “organic” stuff is another gimmick for the “Whole Paycheck” crowd. But there is a lot more to this movement than meets the dismissive eye. It’s lies, cover-ups and manipulation. It’s your life span and your rising insurance deductibles and the future of the food supply of the planet you live on. It’s the cutting edge of Science. It’s David versus Goliath: Money versus Health.

Intrigued? Read on.

I recently listed to a podcast host wistfully pine, “I dream of a world without GMOs.” Sadly, that world was as recent as the Clinton White House, but GMOs have become so ubiquitous in our food that it’s hard to imagine life without them. 

You are eating GMOs. Americans live in a world where the majority of food sold is made with GMOs, and the majority of consumers don’t even know this. The top GE foods are corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola. Try to find something in your local grocery without them. You’re likely ingesting GMOs indirectly as well, through the beef you had for Memorial day that had munched on GMO soy, or through the milk you drink from cows injected with bovine growth hormone.

So what are all the court battles, activists on the streets, and cries for labeling or outright bans all about? There is no way to contain this beast of a topic in one post, so I’ll be posting a primer in serial form. Here’s a rough sketch you can look forward to:

  • Part 1 – What is a GMO and Why Care?
  • Part 2 – Scientific Studies – thinking critically, their relevance and trustworthiness.
  • Part 3 – Who are the people and companies involved?
  • Part 4 – Are there benefits to GMOs? Why do we plant them, why do we buy them?
  • Part 5 – GMOs in the courts and patenting life
  • Part 6 – Labeling Initiatives.

It’s a work in progress. I welcome your comments, questions and constructive criticism! Now let’s get to it:

What is Genetically Modified Food? GM-Fish-Strawberry

Basically, it’s food that would never ever happen outside of a laboratory. If a Salmon and a Strawberry had a one-night-stand after a few too many they wouldn’t have to worry about a little strawberryfish surprise. Another important fundamental about frankenfoods is modification happens instantaneously instead of over generations or aeons of breeding.

But let’s back up a moment and get the lingo down: GMO = GM = GE. An “O”rganism (plant or animal) is “G”enetically “M”odified or “E”ngineered. You may see the term “transgenic” in more scientific publications. The terms are interchangeable. Organic and GMO, however, are not interchangeable…Organics do not contain GMOs* but Non-GMO food does not have to be organic (think pesticide use). We won’t even get into the “Natural” advertisement on packaging-you can read up at Grist. You may as well eat products “Made with Real Cheese.”

farmers_market_inset3

Really, just go to your local farmer’s market and talk to the farmer.

But wait, you say, isn’t everything genetically engineered? We all learned about that dang monk with his pea plants in high school bio, right? Surely food has been bred for thousands of years to have the best qualities of flavor, disease resistance, and growth resilience.

Stick ’em up, Plant.

We’ve come a long way from the meticulous selective breeding of Mendel and generations of farmers. GM food is Frankenstein’s monster on the level of DNA. Selected parts of organisms that were never meant to go together naturally are forced together in a laboratory creation. This occurs at gunpoint. No joke. Most plant GMOs are created with a technique called “particle bombardment,” which means the target organism, say a corn plant, is shot with a .22 caliber “gene gun”. The picture to the left is not a parody; it’s a depiction of the process from a scientific laboratory.

Evolution happens over time, engaging natural processes like sex and cross pollination.  Natural organisms adapt to changes over time–it’s how species survive. But engineering happens instantly. Then, instead of an organism adapting to its environment the natural state of things is flipped on its head and the environment adapts to the organism. Genetically engineered organisms rocket past evolution and exhibit unexpected side effects…even if those effects aren’t understood for generations. cheshire cat on head

Why Do People Care?

I’ll give you two reasons: Health and Money.

Health

People care because they want to know what they’re putting in their bodies and what effect it will have. People care because they don’t want to be guinea pigs. They care because they believe the governmental agencies and actors that are in place to protect their interests in this respect have failed them by not properly regulating or testing these scientific creations. They care because diseases and disorders are skyrocketing over the last couple of decades… Remember how I mentioned the Clinton White House? The first GMO food hit the market about 20 years ago…coincidence? Perhaps, but people want answers, and that’s reasonable. The smarty-pants among you realize that correlation does not equal causation…but you also realize that correlation can be a flag worth checking out, right?

People care is because they’re eating it. Many people don’t know what GMOs are, and conservative estimates say 75% of processed food (read: it comes from a can or box) contains GMO ingredients. I’d bet even the majority of those that try to avoid GMOs have had that moment when they realize, well shoot I missed that one! (Like learning that the Whole Foods “organic” food sourced from China can still contain GMOs, or that PLUs don’t actually have an organic code number).

I will delve into this scientific debate in the next Part of this GMO-a-No-Go Series, so sit tight. But for the time being, riddle me this: how can a substance be so commonplace and similar to already existing substances that it merits no specific testing or labeling, yet so novel and original that it merits financial protection by the US Government?

Money

Author Gary Hirshberg illustrates an interesting contradiction. The US Patent Office sees genetically engineered foods as significantly different from anything in nature enough to grant patents to seed chemical companies for their creation. A patent is given out when a person or company creates something that is a product of their own vision that has never existed before. As a country we recognize and encourage creativity by granting that imaginative and productive individual or company exclusive rights to sell that invention for a certain period of time. In other words, novelty generates money to encourage innovation.

However, a separate agency under the federal umbrella, the FDA, treats these inventions as if there is no substantial difference between the engineered seed and the food we’ve been eating since the dawn of time. What? How could two federal agencies take such diametrically opposing views? This alone raises some eyebrows, and some flags for consumers.

We’ll delve into the money issues a bit later in the series, but suffice it to say, GMOs are big business.

Conclusion

There’s something for everyone in the debate about GMOs–whether you’re interested in the ability to play God in a laboratory, or want to feed the world, or sympathize with the 99%, or wonder why rates of autism and asthma and obesity are on the rise, or revel in government corruption…it’s here.

Stay tuned, and stay healthy.

Sources and More Information

Seeds of Deception, Jeffrey M. Smith

http://www.whatisgeneticengineering.net/

*Even “Organic” food, as certified by the USDA is not necessarily 100% non-GMO. For example, the label doesn’t prohibit indirect GMO introduction such as regulating feed of cattle which has been found to affect the composition of beef itself.

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