If you don’t yet know of the war being waged within our food industry, now is the time to become informed.
On Jan. 10, Maine became the second state to require genetically modified organisms — more commonly referred to as GMOs — to be labeled on food packaging. However, like Connecticut, Maine’s bill will not go into effect until five neighboring states pass similar laws. Bill backers claim this provision was necessary in both states in order to create larger support for the legislation.
Citizens aren’t just concerned about GMO labeling; they’re also worried about food production. Last November, Kauai County City Council in Hawaii passed legislation requiring large agricultural companies to disclose pesticide use, specify GMO crops and to create buffer zones between pesticide-sprayed fields and public areas such as hospitals and schools. The law is set to take effect in August. Merely two months after its passage, the three largest agribusinesses in Kauai — DuPont, Syngenta and Agrigenetics Inc. — filed a lawsuit against the legislation, citing it as unconstitutional. Spokespeople for the companies claim the ordinance is arbitrary and the county has no jurisdiction in the matter.
These recent laws and ordinances have propelled the discussion surrounding pesticides and genetically modifed foods. GMO dissenters urge the public to act swiftly and precisely in the ensuing debate. In particular, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine claimed GMOs have the potential to be harmful to the environment and humans based on animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal issues, immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility. They advise the nation to proceed with caution. Similarly, the American Public Health Association and American Nurses Association condemn certain genetically modified growth hormones due to the fact that some cows treated with the products have been found to generate milk containing a dramatic increase in a hormone linked to cancer.
The public has viable reason to be distrustful of this new technology. Biotech giant — and perhaps one of the biggest bullies in the corporate world — Monsanto previously manufactured controversial products such as Agent Orange, PCBs and the insecticide DDT. Today, it possesses a large stake in the GMO and pesticide market. Monsanto was the first corporation to successfully patent a genetically modified seed under intellectual patenting laws. It has become notorious for filing lawsuits against patent infringement and has succeeded in creating many obstacles for small and independent farmers.
With this corruption and ambiguity in mind, it would be easy to dismiss GMOs altogether and rid our world of their toxins. However, we shouldn’t be so quick to jump the gun.
Several GMOs have been successfully created to improve food quality across the globe. In the 1990s, devastation and desolation marked papaya groves throughout Hawaii, where farmers were plagued with the vicious ringspot virus. Plant pathologist Dennis Gonsalves soon stepped in to lead a team of public-sector scientists in genetically modifying the papaya fruit to resist the deadly virus. This modified papaya, known as the Rainbow, effectively helped the papaya farming industry live on and thrive. Today, three-quarters of the papayas harvested in Hawaii are the genetically modified Rainbow plant. GMOs have also been constructed to aid preventions in world hunger. Golden Rice — genetically modified to withstand herbicides sold by Monsanto, resist insect attacks and provide a new source of vitamin A to impoverished people — is looking to be approved for production in the Philippines during the next couple of years. If approved, Golden Rice will be sold at the same price as other rice and will remain unpatented, giving farmers free reign to save and plant their seeds from year to year.
It’s hard to decide where to stand in the whole GMO debate. The technology is relatively new, and like all new technologies, it faces unabashed criticism and praise. Both sides have marketed their reasons so intensely that it’s hard to decide which information to trust. There are many qualms surrounding genetic modification in the food industry and no easy solutions in sight. The public should proceed with caution, remaining skeptical but perhaps also retaining a sense of optimism.
Aarica Marsh is an LSA junior and senior editorial page editor.
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