The legal battle raging over labelling genetically modified food should be the clearest warning for us that there is something wrong with this product. After all, if GM food is truly safe, then why does Monsanto object to labelling its products, which simply provide people with a choice? What have companies like Monsanto got to hide?
As the world’s population grows, given the limited resources of the planet and the likelihood of reduced production due to the effects of climate change, producing enough food is looming as a major concern for our future. It is a complex problem that includes such factors as health, economy, environment, trade and human rights. These sectors of society often have competing interests, making issues of sustainable food practices difficult to agree upon or legislate.
The global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. This means the world will need 30% more food and 40% more water than is currently available. Genetically modified food has been presented as a solution to these problems. The argument goes that to feed this increased population, we are going to need high yields not low yields; we are going to need genetically modified crops; we are going to need pesticides and fertilizers and other elements of the industrialized food processes that have led mankind to be better fed and live longer than at any time in history. This approach is toted as being serious about the world’s needs, and believes we should trust monitoring agencies that ensure pesticides are used at safe levels.
Alternatively the solution offered by the Organic Foods Movement is maligned by these food corporations as a fable of a pampered elite living in countries with food security and something like the hippy movement of the 1960’s – a romantic and comforting notion.
But to suggest such a one sided approach to solving the world’s looming food security crisis avoids the real issue of sustainable population growth. It perpetuates the myth that we can continue to live on this planet in an irresponsible way, using whatever we want without acknowledging the truth about the limitations of the planet. We need to consider such things as working to curb population growth because we have already gone beyond the carrying capacity of our planet. We need to look at better agricultural methods that move away from industrialised cheap calories and toward organic, small-scale production, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Rather than the Organic Food Movement being elitist, to say that humanity is better fed and longer lived now than at any time in history reveals an elitist mentality. Billions of people go to bed hungry every night, with no relief in sight. Mortality statistics are also skewed heavily in favour of wealthy countries. Those of us in industrialized nations are, depending on class standing, living longer and eating better than in the past, but only at the cost of tremendous draining of resources from other parts of the world.
Trusting the monitoring agencies is also somewhat of a romanticized view. The current system of ‘safe levels’ established by organizations like the EPA or FDA in fact cannot be categorically considered ‘safe.’ Thousands of chemicals enter the market without sufficient testing. The current standard is based on a ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty’ philosophy where to be proven guilty first people must get sick and die.
Monsanto’s GM corn and soybean seeds have already produced a new crop of ‘superweeds’ that have evolved to resist strong herbicides. On the 6th of September, Aviva Shen wrote an article in ThinkProgress about the EPA’s review of one of Monsanto’s corn strains engineered to produce the natural pesticide Bt. due to mounting evidence raising concerns that insect resistance is developing in parts of the corn belt where Monsanto’s corn dominates the fields. Root worms exposed to the corn’s toxin seem to have become immune to it, breeding an unprecedented colony of superworms that are bound to spread throughout the entire Midwest.
Monsanto recently spent $4.2 million trying to kill a November ballot initiative in California that would require labelling on food products containing genetically modified ingredients. Proposition 37 would bring the state in line with Japan, China, the European Union, and Australia, which already require labels on genetically modified foods. It is interesting to note in Shen’s article that 91% of Americans support GM labelling on food. Should companies like Monsanto win the right to keep people in the dark about the food they are eating, it would truly call into question whether the US truly is a democracy or a corporation.