Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Book Review: Genetically Modified Foods - A Short Guide for the Confused

Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused by Andy Rees does a good job of illustrating the potential risks to consumers, farmers, and the environment if we continue to allow genetically modified products to be grown.

The book begins with an overview which gives a history of genetic engineering, who actually benefits from GE (and it's certainly not the farmers), as well as details on the testing and regulation (actually the lack thereof) of GMO's. Some of the key points for me were:

- There have been studies showing potentially negative effects from consuming GM foods. ANewcastle study showed GM DNA trasnferring to gut bacteria in humans after one single meal. Monsanto's 90-day study of rats fed MON863 resulted in smaller kidney sizes and raised white blood cell count. In a 1999 ten-day study, rats fed GM potatoes developed gut lesions; damanged immune systems; less developed brains, livers, and testicles; a proliferation of cells in stomach and intestines which signalled increased potential of cancer, partial atrophy of the liver, and more.

- Most of the animals for non-organic meat, fish, and dairy are GM-fed.

- According to the Grocery Manufacturers of America, an estimated 70-75 percent of products on US grocery shelves contain GM ingredients. And, of course, they are not required to be labeled as such.

There is a section describing "the players" involved in GM foods. The ones you would expect were the biotech and agrochemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, Cargill, etc. but there were a few surprises for me, for example, The World Bank (the world's largest multilateral aid organization) has been financing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of GM projects in developing countries - and guess who their project parners are: Mondant, Aventis, and Syngenta.

A very interesting section of the book is where Rees exposes the truth about the claims made by the biotech lobby.

- Have you heard the one about how genetic engineering is no different from the traditional breeding processes used for thousands of years? Give me a break! The transfer of genes from one species to another is totally different from saving seeds of plants that are strong in the qualities you want to preserve. Scientists have reported that there is no evidence that species have EVER crossed during the billions of years that life has existed on earth.

- Another argument - GM foods must be safe because we have been eating them for several years with no ill effects. (Of course, GM foods are not labeled so how could we know what effects they are having!) What we do know is that in the US, food-derived illness has doubled over the past 7 years - coinciding with the introduction of GM foods. In the UK, there was a 50% increase in soy allergies when GM soy imports began.

- How about this? GM crops will help feed the hungry of the world? Here's what delegates from 20 African countries stated in 1998 to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organizations: "We strongly object that the impage of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinatioal corporatons to push a technology that is neither safe, nor environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial to us . . . On the contrary, . . . it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves." Also, if the biotech corporations care so much about the poor, why are they patenting seeds making the farmers totally dependent on them - not to mention that GM yeilds are no more or often lower than sustainable agriculture provides - and sustainable agriculture is more accessible to the poor.

- Which brings me to the myth that GM crops will increase farmers' incomes. No studies have shown GM crops to yield more than non-GM crops - and they often give less of a yield. In fact, GM crops have been very detrimental to farmers - they often get lower market price for GM crops, GM seeds cost more, and many farmers have been hurt by GM contaminiation - and of course the big problem is that consumers don't want GM. Other countries don't want them and in every survey they have done, the American people don't want it either (hence the reason for no labeling of GM products).

And there's a lot more - like the myth that GM crops will reduce pesticide and herbicide usage, GM crops will help the environment, etc.

Then the book outlines the risks and dangers of GMOs - both to consumers, farmers and the environment. It talks about antibiotic resistance, new food toxins and allergens, the big L-tryptophan fiasco that killed 37 people, paralyzed 1,500 others, and disabled 5,000 in the US - and resulted in L-tryptophan being taken off the market altogether even though it was the GE version only that was causing harm. It talks about the possible effects on infants and children. Believe me - this section will give you nightmares.

And there's lots more - I highly recommend reading this book - or if you're not a reader, check out the video "The Future of Food" which is excellent as well.

Now - to be practical - how do you avoid GMO's.

- BUY ORGANIC - everything - grains, legumes, fruits, veggies, animal products - it's the best way to protect yourself.

- In the US, some chains are working to remove GMOs from their brand products: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats. Talk to them and find out if they have done that yet and let them know you support them.

- Be aware that GMOs are hidden in many products. Many types of dairy products, jams, juices, cereals, cooking oil, sweeteners, diet foods, wines, beers, etc. are produced with GM-enzymes. Many additives (e.g. vitamin B2 and Riboflavin) can be produced from GMOs and may be used in baby food, breakfast cereal, etc. Food supplements, vitamins, and medicines can contain GMOs. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer to find out.

- Print a GM-free shopper's guide from: http://www.truefoodnow.org/shoppersguide/

2 comments:

GMO Africa said...

Some people have been spreading all sorts of rumors and lies about genetically modified food. Some claim that GM food causes allergy. Others see GM food as a ploy by multinational biotechnology companies to dominate global food chain. To others, GM food is a weapon by Americans to colonize the world.

What all these people forget is that GM food is a real phenomenon that the world is learning to live with. Come to think of it, why are more and more countries embracing genetically modified crops? Is it just for the sake of it? They are doing so because they appreciate their benefits.

For special interest groups to try to instill fear in the public about GM food is unfortunate. As Norman Borlaug, the pioneer of the Green Revolution reminds us all the time, anti-biotechnology activists have never produced even a tonne of food. All what they are good at is politicking, without offering tangible solutions to menacing global food problems.

I would passionately appeal for a more rational debate about genetically modified food.
James
GMO Africa Blog
http://www.gmoafrica.org

Cathe Olson said...

What countries are "embracing" GMO's. According to this book, most countries are trying to ban it and the developing countries that are duped into growing it are having serious problems.