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.”

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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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The Century of the Self and the Importance of Questions

We interrupt this mass [media] hysteria for a public service announcement: Not everything you hear or read is true.

Your inner critic should immediately ask, well why should I believe you? You shouldn’t. Form your own opinion. Maybe you live in a magical land where no one can speak a lie and unicorns frolic with hippos and it snows but isn’t cold and no one ever gets sunburned and everyone is happy. Maybe you invented a pair of shades or a hearing aid that filters information so that all you see and hear is fact-checked, verified and valid. Or maybe you need to listen critically to information you get. You tell me.

Alright, sorry for the snark, perhaps I’m a little riled up. There are a lot of crazy and horrible things going on out there kids; I don’t have to tell you that. My heart goes out to those who are suffering with loss and pain and fear. Its completely natural that we want to know what happened. Who, Why? Will it happen again? Could it happen to me or my loved ones? A thousand questions. And I’m happy they’re being asked, no matter how crazy, or hysterical, or out there, or inquisitive, or relentless, or unlikely they may seem.

So you may see now why I’m feeling a bit perturbed. Amongst the reports from Boston, MA, I’ve seen and heard a fair share of questions…generally swiftly met by a barrage of labels. “Hysterical.” “Fearmonger.” “Conspiracy Theorist.” 

I was relieved to see that not everyone has gone around the bend, there was sanity in the facebook post of a friend of mine, which included an observation of people who have called for a swift death of the suspects, without trial: “some of these people would not trust the gov’t w/ healthcare policies, or with economic policies or gun control…. but they have let all honest skepticism fly out the window in the face of terrible event and an accusation.”

Well said.

So now seems like a great time to share a great documentary with you nice folks. It’s called The Century of the Self, and it’s fantastic. It’s broken down in 4 parts: Happiness Machines, Engineering Consent, There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads-He Must Be Destroyed, and Eight People Drinking Wine in Kettering.

This 2002 BBC documentary explores and exposes the way psychology has been used to manipulate the individual and the masses in order to create a consumer-driven society. You’ll see how the propaganda machine used as a tool for World War II found a new home in consumerism after the war was over. It explores both corporate and governmental attempts (and successes) at influencing populations. A little something for everyone. Check it out.

Oz Never Did Give Nothing To the Tin Man

“Don’t you just love it when artists write their own songs? Then you know it comes from the heart.”

If I Only Had a Heart

If I Only Had a Heart

Wow, isn’t that just neat-o? I overheard this while scanning the FM dial in my car yesterday. I think I was cruising past country at the time. There is so much wrong with this statement I had a moment of overload–First, I thought the radio host was an idiot, and I responded in disgust, “How can you call that an artist?” Then I thought I was the idiot for ranting at the radio, and caring about what this vapid host had to say.

I am sad and a bit angry that we live in a time and place where the term “artist” has been bastardized to be used to describe an actor hired by a corporation–a person that performs a lie created by someone else, designed to shape a consumer and sell a product (or ten).  In common parlance this person is a “bullshit artist,” in corporate parlance, this person is a “celebrity.”

In the music industry, men and women sit around a table and debate the finer points of mindless repetitive lyrics, and which “artist” would be better suited to sell a song. The end product is JLo or Beyonce or Justin Bieber or Brittany Spears. What’s even more sad is that it wouldn’t be done if it didn’t make money–we buy this product just like we buy “food” at McDonalds or Taco Bell.

The woman’s statement is an inadvertent confession–the music we’re offered on these stations is not “from the heart,” it’s not true….So if creative songwriting is “from the heart,” where does corporate song crafting come from?

I was also saddened at the easy way this woman mused about creativity as if it’s a novelty; as if it’s not the norm…is she right?  I can remember when I liberated myself from Top40–I went to college when Kazaa and Napster hit the scene. Suddenly I was exposed to so many types of music and so many artists that my mind exploded. In a good way. It was something old, something new, cover songs borrowed and a bit of the blues. (And contrary to popular media reports, I ended up buying much more music than I did before and venturing to shows I would have shied away from previously, not simply downloading songs.) I have very fond memories of staying in on a Friday night with some crappy pizza from the college kitchen and doing nothing but listening to music with a friend or two and searching for ways to expand my auditory horizons. And then being inspired to try my hand at strumming a 6-string…I did go to a small liberal arts college, I think that was an unofficial graduation requirement anyway.

Hey, I’m not going to say mass-produced songs aren’t catchy, and that I don’t rock out to Lady Gaga from time to time, but it’s always good to keep the source in mind, and remember that there is so much out there beyond what’s spoon fed on the radio dial. Perhaps “you are what you eat” is not limited to foodstuffs.

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The Value of Money–More Trouble Than It’s Worth

A coin clattered to the floor as a young man at the bar pulled his hand out of his pocket. From a corner booth I saw his ears perk to the sound but he didn’t turn his head until a voice–my own–knee-jerked “Oh you dropped…” I glanced at the ground to see a quarter, “…money.”

He made a sound between “meh” and “yeah” as he waved it off with a flick of his wrist and an eyebrow shrug and turned away again to his beer and hockey game on TV behind the bar.

I stared at the quarter on the floor, wondering how long it would stay there, wondering if I should pick it up, wondering if an unsuspecting server would slip, banana-peel-style with drinks and hot wings flying. Then I realized how long I had awkwardly been staring at the floor and I looked away. But I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that things are not as they should be.

The Fugio Cent was designed by Benjamin Franklin and known as “America’s first coin”

As the paramour of a person who has recently taken up coin hunting, I was taken aback by this man’s dismissal of that dull metallic disk. For those unfamiliar with coin hunting (as was I only three short months ago) this is a hobby that is both more fascinating than it sounds, and just as dull as it sounds. One aspect that is really engaging (for nerds) is engaging in history to pinpoint the best locations to find coins in the ground with a metal detector. You can search historical records online, hit up local historical societies, view areal photographs to see how the area around you has changed and where buildings or fairgrounds or whatever used to be, and ponder the activities of those that lived in other eras: What were they doing? Where would they have amassed and dropped things? And what about the coins themselves? What years are they from, where minted, how did the metal composition change due to current events like war? What about different designs or printing flaws and how did they come to be? For example, that failed experiment of a dollar coin–the Sacagawea-well, a number were made in gold and shuttled on the Columbia into space as an intended gimmick for collectors, but a dispute arose between the US Mint and Congress as to whether the Mint was authorized to do so, and most were melted down, though some were kept for display; and some Sacagaweas were minted early for a Cheerios prize-in-a-box, and it turned out to be a real prize as the mold was subsequently altered. That’s some fine numismatic nerdery right there.

So one begins to realize that what’s printed on that coin or piece of paper is not necessarily always its “value”. Coins from 1964 or older, for example, are worth more than their face value in silver content. I can put it in a parking meter or I can keep it in a safe as an investment. So how do we really know what something is “worth”?

At this point, it seems, we believe what we’re told. There’s this agency named the Federal Reserve that isn’t really “Federal” at all that makes up the “value” of money and we believe it. But why?

It wasn’t always like this. If you really want to have your mind boggled, start reading about how the modern day banking system began, how we moved away from the gold standard, and how the precious metals and stock market is manipulated…it seems like the stuff of conspiracy theories, but this is on the record. I won’t even begin to try to explain this because I’m still wrapping my head around it. You can start with this video if you’re interested:

How the Markets Are Manipulated, James Corbett.

I had a conversation with my father years ago that stuck with me. My father was generally quiet about his thoughts but occasionally he opened up. On this particular night, I was ranting about money and wealth, as I was wont to do in my teenage and college years as “What do you want to be when you grow up” came to fruition, and I fancied myself quite the do-gooder. I therefore had/have a challenging relationship with money. He asked me “What is money?” I immediately and smartly answered “Power.” He shook his head and asked again, “What is money?” I was deflated and perplexed. I didn’t know where he was going. “It’s paper…?” He was nodding; he said “Money used to be necessary for survival.” I pointed out that salt used to be currency. Yes, he said, it was essential in society. Now what is it? It’s obsolete.” I had the light bulb moment: “It’s an idea.” Exactly. And having been in the oil refining business for three decades, he continued “And the most tangible equivalent today is oil. Without it the world would stop. We need oil to survive–to run our cars and use our computers and wear our clothes…”

The value of money is mutable in our increasingly global society. Lacking a solid foundation of tangible items to back the promise of paper causes more trouble than its worth, perhaps. We rarely even use the bills and coins nowadays to remind us that money is supposed to be something–most of it is transacted with the swipe of a plastic card as we become increasingly flippant about its value. I will never forget the moment in law school I acquired $10,000.00 more debt in a matter of minutes. I was walking across the center of campus on a bright sunny day from the financial aid office to my next class, with my cell phone attached to my ear. I had called my student loan provider to let them know I needed additional money for the semester. Those Stafford loans don’t cover tuition, you know. I was put on hold for only a couple of minutes and the voice came back and said, “okay, can I help you with anything else today?” That was it. I hadn’t even gotten from one building to the next yet. I remember thinking about how that was way too easy, and it felt like it meant nothing.

All these thoughts went through my head as I was jarred from my reverie by watching the dude at the bar get up from his stool, toss down some tip money as he tossed back the bottom of the glass, and walk out. My curiosity and sense of duty to my coin hunting partner wouldn’t let me leave that coin on the ground. And it was now officially abandoned. I got up from my seat and snatched it up: A 1995 quarter–no silver to speak of, but I get another hour in the parking meter.

Nothing Funny About It–Comics, Politics, and Propaganda

dc-green-team-movement

It’s no secret that comics and graphic novels are a forum for discussing politics, social policy and propaganda  On one end of the spectrum, we have creations such as Maus, a Pulitzer prize-winning exploration of Holocaust survival, and Persepolis, a depiction of growing up during the Persian Gulf War of the 80s. And on the other end we have characters such as Superman and Captain America, WWII propagandists extraordinaire. Somewhere on that spectrum lies series like V for Vendetta and The Invisibles, each having to do with common man rising up against authority, be it governmental or corporate.

No stranger to social and political commentary for profit or provocation, DC Comics is at it again, hedging their bets with a double release in May 2013. In this increasingly divided world of haves and have-nots, DC is releasing two companion titles in May 2013, inspired by current events: “The Green Team” and “The Movement;” Meet the 1%, and the 99%.

The Green Team will explore such questions as “Can money make you happy?” and “If you had unlimited wealth, could you use that to make the lives of people better?” I wonder in what issue Female Force Ayn Rand will make a cameo? SuperWealth/SuperPower  is a common theme, popularized with the likes of Batman and Iron Man. So what’s different about the DC Universe now?

According to the creator of The Movement, which is supposed to follow the adventures of the 99%, Power is not one single entity, but nameless and faceless masses that may not even know each other. Read what she has to say in an interview with Big Shiny Robot:

The Movement is an idea I’ve had for some time. It’s a book about power–who owns it, who uses it, who suffers from its abuse. As we increasingly move to an age where information is currency, you get these situations where a single viral video can cost a previously unassailable corporation billions, or can upset the power balance of entire governments.

And because the sources of that information are so dispersed and nameless, it’s nearly impossible to
shut it all down. I’ve been in countries where the internet is heavily censored, but they can’t possibly keep up with millions of users from every corner of the world.

The previous generations of superheroes were not created to address this, it’s a legitimately new frontier, both for the real world and for storytellers.

The thing I find fascinating and a little bit worrisome is, what happens when a hacktivist group whose politics you find completely repulsive has this same kind of power and influence…what if a racist or homophobic group rises up and organizes in the same manner?

It makes you wonder where the next battlefield will be.

Frankly, by the middle of the interview I forgot she was writing The Movement, and instead thought she was sympathizing with the 1%. Maybe DC isn’t hedging as much as it appears.

Interestingly, DC’s release date is right in the ballpark of another publication, created by individuals sympathetic to the 99%.Though no official release date has been announced, those supportive of the Occupy movement, have been hard at work on a collection of essays, art, and comics have planned to release an Occupy Comics Anthology for Spring 2013.  I’m sure the timing is just a coincidence. The contributor list for Occupy Comics is lengthy and peppered with veterans of the comic book world. It includes none other than Alan Moore, of V for Vendetta fame. Alan Moore’s work inspired millions of the 99%, to the iconic point of putting an anonymous face to the Occupy Movement. Interesting he’s not working with DC on this one, eh?

There are some that think comics have moved away from meaningful social commentary. In common parlance, comic publishers have “sold out.” Perhaps that’s true. A glance at the list of contributors to the Occupy Comics Anthology, as compared to those creating and contributing to DC’s latest attempt at art-influencing-life would certainly support that notion.  It could be interesting to see what the creators of each series do with their opportunity to speak to current social unrest…or it could be yet more encouragement to drink the Kool Aid.

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Links of Interest

About Occupy Comics Anthology 

Alan Moore Occupy Comics Teaser 

Facebook, FISA, and the End of Privacy

Excellent report by the Corbett Report–full of twists and turns, come-uppins and Alanis Morissette-irony, slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.

But, for serious, watch Mark Zuckerburg get schooled on privacy, and learn about what your government is doing while you’re busy living life, in a holiday frenzy, doing laundry, taking care of your kids, on facebook, reading email…(Hint: you’re not the only one reading your email.)

When Fear Begins

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I am blessed with a five month old son. I am also fortunate to have a 22″ deep soaking tub. This is an Olympic sized pool for an infant. When Son was first born we would get in the bath together. I would clean him and he would float around in my arms, and seemed completely unphased by the experience, even cozy. I held him on his back and he would float in the water with my support. Eventually as he was able to hold up his head, I’d hold him under his chest and he’d kick his feet as I sailed him around the tub. He’d chase down the “temperature turtle” water thermometer this way, and immediately put it in his mouth, as is the fate of anything he can get his hands on at this point in his life. Recently he’s discovered the joy of splashing.

The discovery of splashing has been part and parcel of his discovery of the world around him. Within the last month it’s like a switch was flipped, and he is engaging in everything he can see, touch, taste, hear and otherwise experience. He watches the cats walk by and tries to grab them (and put them in his mouth). He grabs for his toys (and puts them in his mouth). He found his toes (and..you know.) He’s also trying out all sorts of new noises.

I noticed today however, something I’ve had a growing suspicion of. It was much more pronounced today. He’s developing fear along side curiosity. He is now very anxious about floating on his back, despite the support. He held his head above the water as much as he could, scrunching his little ab muscles and clenching his tiny fists. He furrowed his brow and closed up his eyes and mouth. Sure, he’d gotten water on his face in the past, but it was never more than a splash–there were no tears, and in fact he’d laugh if he ended up sneezing. He had felt so comfortable and confident that he was almost floating on his own.

As his sense of “me” versus “not me” develops, his external expansion into the environment is hand in hand with an internal contraction, even without provocation. I’m surprised by this development because I assumed that if he was comfortable then, he would be comfortable now. There has been no negative experience to change his mind. Exposure was experience, and it had been all positive. Yet he developed a fear of something he had been doing regularly since he was born.

It really is a fascinating window into how the imaginary prisons we build for ourselves can develop. I found myself reassuring him, “Relax! The more uptight and anxious you are about it, the harder it will be to float!” Five months old and he’s already teaching momma by example. With lots of smiles and support he did calm down…but still not to the point he was as a newborn. Perhaps this will pass as he learns to trust himself. His momma certainly has his back on this one 🙂