Genetically modified trouble

Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.
~Milton Friedman

I have a weird thing with GMOs. My knee-jerk reaction is to say “no.” Yes, we’ve been artificially selecting for desirable traits since gods know when. But this is something even more artificial than purposefully crossing one plant with another or breeding an angus bull with brahman cow. It makes me slightly nervous.

Granted, if GMOs make it easier to increase production per acre or to make production less intensive, I can’t argue with that. It’s still a bit worrisome to me, but if it reduces the amount of land in cultivation I’m all for it provided that the risks are worth the benefit.

There is one thing, however, about commercial agriculture in general and GMOs in particular that really bothers me and I can sum it up in one word: Monsanto.

This is the company that supposedly told Michael Pollan, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job.”

And safety isn’t the only problem with Monsanto. This is a company dedicated to becoming a monopoly. They have patents on their “products.” If you save the seed from a crop to plant again next year, as used to be common, Monsanto will sue your ass and the rest of you straight into debtor’s prison. They will sue you if pollen from your neighbor’s Roundup Ready crops accidentally pollinates your non-Monsanto crops.

They’re still trying to stop companies from advertising that their milk does not contain artificial growth hormones by arguing that it hurts Monsanto’s business. Thankfully, it seems they may lose this one both in court and in the grocery stores. Milk that advertises itself as not containing rBGH is becoming increasingly common. However, Monsanto has still stopped legislation that would require food and food products made with GMOs to be labeled…probably because GMOs have a piss-poor reputation with the public (be it justified or not) and such a requirement would throw Monsanto’s profits down the toilet.

And like every good corporation, Monsanto has numerous politicians in their pocket. Don’t blame the Republicans…Monsanto doesn’t put their eggs all in one basket.

GMOs and Monsanto are like a car and a drunk driver. GMOs are merely a tool. Given enough time and testing by the FDA and by third parties, I think we’ll be able to get the most out of GMOs while minimizing the risk. But put Monsanto behind the wheel and what was a leisurely Sunday drive just might become the death of a lot of people and livelihoods.

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3 Responses to “Genetically modified trouble”

  1. Dargon Says:

    When I saw the title and the first line, it seemed we may disagree, but by the end, it appears our views are quite similar.

    I have no qualms with the idea and the proper practice of GM crops, especially when they are used for things such as producing higher yields or surviving in harsher environments. Things like this have saved lives.

    However, it’s the politics and some of the foolish modifications where things get ugly. Crops manipulated to be resistant to herbicides have cross pollinated with the pest-plants, creating herbicide resistant weeds. Companies, especially the aforementioned Monsanto, have created policies designed to monopolize, including creating crops that cannot reproduce and suing those who end up having their crops accidentally cross-pollinated.

    Now don’t get me wrong, the company should make profit for their work, but their measures remind me of companies whose practices brought about the anti-trust laws, companies whose end goal was complete and total control of the market.

    In the end, I believe our conclusions are quite the same. Nothing wrong with GM foods when handled correctly, but the way it is going sure ain’t correctly.

  2. maloyo Says:

    What follows is purely anecdotal—my own “gut feel” if you will.

    I’m in my fifties. When I was a kid, I did not know anyone with a peanut butter/peanut allergy. Or sensitivities to wheat, soy, corn, etc. One classmate was allergic to strawberries. That was it.

    Today? Some schools actually ban peanut butter and any peanut products from the school, because the allergy is so common.

    How did we get from “allergies are rare” to “allergies are rampant”?

    My suspicion is GMO seeds, and much less diversity in the seed pool. The same seeds are used by all growers, and over exposure to a particular strain leads to eventual allergy. Or it’s an inherent characteristic of GMO seeds to have greater allergy potential. But when I was a kid, the seeds used for crops were more diverse—not every farm operation used the same thing.

    Just my musings, so take the above as such. Oh, and the documentary “Food, Inc” is well worth watching for anyone who has not yet seen it.
    maloyo

  3. Here is a fairly good compilation of pros/cons of GMOs
    http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/gmfood.shtml
    The most frightening impacts?
    Domination of world food production by a few companies
    Potential health & environmental impacts

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