Let's first understand what we are referring to when we say GM. Very simply scientists have taken a desirable gene (DNA) from one species and put it into a totally unrelated species. It is important to note that this means this differs significantly from selected breeding programs because what is created with GM cannot be created naturally in nature.
The reality is that GM food is one of the most highly regulated foods and to date there is no convincing evidence that it is harmful on human health. Science does however admit that the potential effects of GM are unpredictable and the science is still young. GM crops have only been commercially grown for the last 20 years, and on a large-scale for the last 7 years.
- As global populations and the concern for how to feed all these extra people increased, governments and agriculture turned towards science. GM agriculture has the potential to produce higher yield crops, resist seasonal variations, grow in adverse conditions, decrease food prices and have a longer shelf life therefore assisting with long-term food security.
- Some GM crops have been bred for inspect resistance and therefore have the potential for reduced use of pesticides and the associated environmental impacts.
- There can be economic benefits to farmers from higher yield, reduced labour from less plowing and reduced pesticide costs.
- Increased nutrients as some GM crops are bred for higher nutrient levels.
- The increase in awareness of the origin of our food and how it is produced.
- There are potential risks of genetic instability. Science does already know that genes don't function alone, but rather as part of a system (genome) and can both influence other genes and switch off and on yet other genes. Therefore it is mistake to assume that gene traits will act exactly the same when they are put into a completely foreign environment, the erratic behaviour of the gene can not be predicted. What has been created is not as nature intended and nature's own force to try to get back to homeostasis is strong. For example, creating a plant that is sterile in a lab is one thing, however the urge for nature to find a way to reproduce for survival is very strong. Focusing on creating a plant with a certain trait or un-natural increased level of nutrient, may lead to unforeseen other traits or deficiencies in other nutrients.
- Risks to ecosystems and the environment. The mass production of a relatively small variety of crops and the overuse of one or two broad septum pesticides leads to loss of biodiversity as fewer species survive in that area as food and shelter source for animals. Whole fields strayed with pesticides impact non-targeted soil micronutrients and other organisms leading to soil depletion.
Healthy soils are essential to maintain the quality of our food and our environment.
- Higher yield crop pull more nutrients from the soil resulting in more fertilisers needed. (Note: High yield doesn't necessarily equal high nutrition)
- If harmful effects are proven in the future, then it is impossible to 'recall' it. As us Australians know all too well with the introduction of the cane toad in 1935 to control the cane beetles, messing around with nature can have unpredictable results and can't be recalled.
- Already science has discovered the emergence of super bugs and super weeds that have developed to resist the herbicides and pesticides. This means that even stronger chemical will be needed to control them.
- Organic farmers are losing certification when GM crops contaminate their land.
- Herbicide resistance is one of the main traits of GM crops. Meaning, where once pesticides were strayed on the weeds, now these chemicals can be strayed on the whole area including the crop. There are multiple studies on the effects of Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) on human health as a potential endocrine disruptor.
"Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. " [source: National Institute of Environmental Health Science]
- Profit driven multinationals have a lot of control over agricultural resources, research funding and ultimately our food. GM farmers cannot save seeds; rather they must purchase new seeds each growing season, which is expensive and not empowering for third world farmers. Time has shown us that money is power and greed is consuming. The divide between rich and poor widens. Monsanto has demonstrated this by pursuing legal action against farmers unknowingly growing GM crops on their land. Corporations have patented genes, making life a commodity.
GM is still relatively new and long-term effects on humans and the environment are unpredictable. What is already known is that many crops have been 'designed' so pesticides can be strayed directly on them, in particular Gylophate (Roundup) with known risks to humans and the environment. World hunger is not as simple as a food shortage issue, as so much wasted food is dumped every year. Rather it's more to do with mismanagement, and lack of access to food issues brought about by social, financial and political issues. Multinationals with dollars as their compass will not make feeding the third world countries their priority. In my opinion the focus away from working with nature, and instead working against it and above it is not conducive to the long-term health of ourselves or our planet.
Whether you should or shouldn’t consume GM foods comes down to personal informed decision. Post your thoughts and comments below.
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