How To Make Smart Choices About GMOs

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Stacy Malkan | en*theos

The Top 10 Big Ideas

 1 | GMOs Are A Giant Experiment On Our Health

Americans are the guinea pigs, along with Canadians, Argentinians and a handful of other countries that have allowed staple food crops (corn, soy, sugar beets, canola) to be genetically engineered with little to no regulatory oversight. The U.S. doesn’t require labeling or safety studies for most genetically engineered foods, leaving it up to the biotech companies to vouch for safety.The companies insist GMOs are safe, but there are warning signs in the science. Numerous studies by independent scientists, as well as industry studies, have raised concerns including links to allergies, immune system problems, organ toxicity and nutritional changes to the food.“There is obviously something that needs to be investigated but it has not been investigated in the USA,” says Dr. Thierry Vrain, a genetic engineer and soil biologist who headed agriculture Canada’s biotechnology program for 30 years. Now retired, Dr. Vrain is raising serious concerns about the GMO technology he promoted for decades, as he explains in an interview to air Jan. 27.
 

 2 | Genes, Like Ecosystems, Are Complex

 “You can think of the genome like an ecosystem,” says Dr. Michael Hanson, senior scientist at Consumers Union. “If you introduce a foreign species into an ecosystem, sometimes nothing happens, sometimes it wreaks havoc.”While genetic engineering is often marketed as a precise technology, “in fact it’s a very imprecise and messy technology,” says Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “There’s no way to really control where these artificial gene units end up in the genome. What we’re increasingly finding, in this new and evolving science of genetics, is that genes have multiple and complex functions in an organism ... You can end up with impacts in the plants that are undesirable -- changes in nutritional content, novel proteins implicated in allergies, sometimes reduced yield of the plant.”“That’s why you have to look on a case-by-case basis,” Dr. Hanson explains. “We haven’t been doing that, so we have no idea.” Hear more from Dr. Ishii-Eiteman and Dr. Hanson about the science of GMOs in interviews airing Jan. 27.
 

3 | GMOs = More Pesticides

One thing we know for sure is that genetically engineered crops are driving up pesticide use in the U.S. by hundreds of millions of pounds. Most GMOs in our food – 94% of soybeans and more than 70% of corn and cotton grown in the U.S. -- are “roundup Ready” crops engineered to survive monsanto’s weed-killing chemical Roundup, which kills everything green except the plants engineered to resist it. The weeds are becoming resistant too, and farmers are using more Roundup, as well as systemic pesticides called neonicitinoids that are harming bees.“Sales of pesticides have gone through the roof. It’s a perfect market strategy for those chemical companies,” says Dr. Vrain. The biotech/chemical companies are now seeking approval for “2,4D Ready” crops designed to go with the older pesticide 2,4D, which was a component of Agent Orange.“We’re going into more and more chemical-intensive agriculture, not away -- not in the direction of clean, safe, sustainable agriculture which is really where we need to be headed immediately,” says Dr. Ishii-Eiteman.
 

4 | GMO Means God Move Over

“Genesis 2 says we're called to keep and tend God's creation,” says Jaydee Hansen, secretary of United Methodist Caretakers of God's Creation, a nonprofit network of churches working on environmental stewardship issues. "That doesn't mean clear-cutting forests, wiping off the top of mountains or advocating pesticide-promoting plants that are genetically engineered."As he puts it, “God designed it right in the first place.”The United Methodist Church, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the country, has a policy calling for labeling and regulation of GMOs. "Because of the effects of genetic technologies on all life, we call for effective guidelines and public accountability to safeguard against any action that might lead to abuse of these technologies,” the policy states. “The risks of genetic technology that can hardly be calculated when breeding animals and plants and the negative ecological and social impact on agriculture make the use of this technology doubtful. We approve of modern methods of breeding that respect the existence of the natural borders of species." Hansen is also senior policy analyst for the Center for food safety, focusing on issues related to nanotechnology, animal cloning and animal genetic engineering. As he explains in our interview to air Jan. 30, experiments are now underway to genetically engineer animals including pigs and cows for human consumption – and nearly all are focused on engineering animals to grow faster in confined conditions.
 

5 | There’s A Better Way To Feed The World

GMOs aren’t the only problem with industrial agriculture, but they are a core strategy the biotech companies are using to concentrate ownership of the food system and advance a system of chemically dependent monoculture crops, and abusive animal feeding operations.

Gopal Dayaneni, founder of Movement Generation, calls biotechnology one of the “central false solutions” being promoted to address food security. “It’s predicated on very well held, firmly believed lies. Lie number one is, we absolutely need it to feed the world,” he says. “That’s just fundamentally not true. The vast majority of people on this planet still get their food from short-chain and known-chain food systems. Small farmers still feed the majority of people on the planet with a smaller percentage of the land.”
The food movement tends to focus on the impacts of GMOs on consumers, but Dayaneni says, “the most fundamental aspect of the problem is that it is, as a form of economy, facilitating global land grabs, it is displacing farmers, it is eradicating diversity in the food supply.” Exactly the opposite of what we need for long-term food security.

It’s time to support what we love and put our labor toward meeting our needs, Dayaneni says. The good news is that each of us has an opportunity to support a healthier, sustainable food system through the choices we make every day. ---

It’s not easy to avoid genetically engineered foods in the United States, but it’s possible and powerful to do so. Here are five strategies for advancing our own health and a healthy food system.
 

6 | Buy Organic Or Non-GMO

The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods and support a healthy food system is to buy usda certified organic food – preferably from a known source and grown locally. Foods certified by the Non-GMO project are another good option, though they don’t offer as many benefits as organic foods, as Arran Stevens, CEO of Nature’s Path, explains in our interview to air Jan. 30.
 

7 | Shop The Perimeter

If organic or non-GMO foods aren’t available – and in many areas and for many budgets, they are not – a good rule of thumb for avoiding GMOs (and supporting your health) is to shop the perimeter of the supermarket. Avoid processed foods and go with whole fresh foods. Most whole foods are not genetically engineered, with the exception of papaya, sweet corn and crookneck squash (buy organic). Animals are often raised on GMO grains, so choose organic, free range or grass fed meats when possible.
 

8 | Help Win Our Right To Know

Most Americans agree that we have a right to know about genetically engineered foods, and choose for ourselves whether we want to eat these foods. GMOs should be labeled, as they are in 64 other countries. Get involved with local labeling fights that are moving forward in many states right now.
 

9 | Get Your Hands Dirty

Grow your own garden, make sure it’s bee friendly, and reap the rewards of your own good food. My gardening mentor is my six year old niece, Chloe, who knows much more about garden plants than I do – which I consider to be a very good sign for the future!
 

10 | Share The Love

Food is life, food is love, food offers so many opportunities for us to connect with others, share what we are learning, be leaders in our communities and take a stand for a healthy future. These activities can take us outside our comfort zone, as grandmother Pamm Larry experienced when she jumped in her car and started organizing people across california for became the 2012 ballot initiative to Label GMOs. She tells the inspiring story in an interview to air Jan. 28.If one passionate woman can have such a powerful impact, imagine what we can do together. To the food revolution!