What’s all the fuss about GMOs? A lot, for starters

Hand of God GeneticsA friend of mine, who’d recently been vacationing in a highly educated and upscale part of New England, told me many folks in that area don’t know what GMOs are.

This prompted me to sit down and write, in a very simple way, just what all the fuss is regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). 

Humans have been modifying plants to enhance their genetics for thousands of years. In fact, since the dawn of agriculture we’ve intentionally selected plants that are stronger, sweeter and more productive. We’ve saved the seeds of preferred plants and created new strains by mixing the pollen of two of the same species.

What is so different about GMOs?

The primary difference is that genetically modifying a plant usually means inserting the gene of one species directly into the gene of a radically different species.  Crossing strawberries and fish or spiders and ferns has already been done.  This creates something that is entirely different, a new species that has never before existed on the planet.  The bio-ecology we have on this blue globe has been developing in perfect harmony for billions of years. We do not have the science or the history to understand how these brand new species will interact with traditional plants and animals.

What happens when entirely new species begin breeding and mixing pollen with the natives?  Nobody knows this answer.

These new entities can have different properties and different reactions with humans, animals and bees. Our bodies have been evolving for years, and until very recently, we’ve never before encountered GMOs.  Some studies show the introduction of these new organisms could have very toxic consequences.

The saving and replanting of seeds has been a human custom for thousands of years. This is what set us apart from the hunter gatherers. It guaranteed our food supply and gave us the calories needed to make tools and create art.  Saving seeds is at the very nexus of agriculture, and I would posit that our entire civilization wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for saving and replanting seeds.

As a result of GMO production, the biodiversity of our seed base is in grave jeopardy.

GMO seeds are patented by large chemical companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta. Legislation in the 1990s gave these patent holders complete ownership of the new species they created. They own the original seeds, any offspring seeds from the next generation and the right to conduct any testing. They even own the pollen.  If the pollen drifts into your non-GMO field and mingles with your crops, they can sue you for stealing their patent.

As my earlier blog, Sending You and SOS, highlighted, three of these corporations control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market. This seed consolidation has led to market control resulting in dramatic increases in the price of seeds. One of the largest patent holders, Monsanto, alleging seed patent infringement, has filed 144 lawsuits involving 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in at least 27 different states.

In the U.S., 90 percent of soy and 88 percent of corn is GMO, and it is hard for a farmer to find a non GMO seed base. The supplies aren’t commercially available anymore. Additionally the patent holders can breed a terminator gene into the seeds making them sterile and impossible to replant. If this terminator pollen ever contaminated native strains of corn and beans in developing countries the consequences could be catastrophic. Our right to claim seeds as a basic human tenet and to replant them for future generations is in danger of being taken away entirely.

Research and Development of most seeds are now being conducted for the most part by these patent holders. The lion’s share is for developing new forms of GMO entities for large scale agribusiness. The native seed genetic pool is being lost and disregarded. New strains of traditionally bred seeds are not being developed. With radical climate change upon us, which seeds have the eons of history on their side for adaptation? Will this reliance on GMO seeds create havoc as the planet changes?

There are so many questions and not enough real answers. As I mentioned, no one but the patent holders can conduct any research on safety and productivity. For this reason, 64 countries including China have bans on GMO products until more real science can be done.

GMOs are one in a long line of examples of new technologies that are being developed and marketed before proper testing has been done. Additional examples of emerging technologies that currently have no oversight are Nano-materials and synthetic biology.  We must call a halt on the rapid and haphazard emergence of new materials and technologies until we develop guidelines and protocols for science and transparency on those materials.

As we take on the role of god with genetics, let’s protect the genetic pool that has naturally developed over millenniums.

It’s time to get real.

13 thoughts on “What’s all the fuss about GMOs? A lot, for starters

  1. Thanks so much for this comprehensive and insightful piece, Melody. I’d just like to add that these GE seeds have been created by the Big Six pesticide/biotech companies in order to sell pesticides. Nearly 100% of GE seeds on the market today have been engineered to either contain a pesticide (Bt) or be used with proprietary herbicides, or both. The massive increase in sale and use of RoundUp in conjunction with cultivation of Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready crops over the past 16 years has brought tremendous profit to Monsanto; it has also led to the evolution of herbicide resistance and “superweeds” covering over 60 million acres of cropland in the U.S. What’s next? More of the same. Monsanto and Dow have developed a new suite of GE herbicide-resistant seeds, engineered to be used with 2,4-D and dicamba, powerful chemicals prone to drift, with a track record of destroying most broadleaf plants including fruit, nut and vegetable crops (tomatoes, grapes and almonds are very susceptible), jeopardizing the livelihoods of family farmers and the health of rural communities (2,4-D is particularly dangerous to kids’ health). In 2012, 15 herbicide-resistant seeds were in USDA’s “GE Pipeline” awaiting approval. 5 have since been approved by an agency that responds readily to industry pressure, rather than to public concern. Find out what you can do at: http://www.panna.org/current-campaigns/24D

    • Marcia
      Thank you for the comments! You are spot on calling out the herbicidal consequences of GMO seed production. It behooves everyone to stay tuned to the campaigns on your website.

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