So we finally got our seeds ordered this week for the garden. I’m excited, since it means spring is around the corner. And, because it’s the first time we’ve ordered seeds. We usually go to the local garden center, but their selection of organic, non-GMO seeds has been pretty limited in the last few years. And beyond organic, non-GMO is very important to us.
There has been a lot of buzz recently about GMOs. President Obama approved Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, Round Up Ready sugar beets and a new biotech corn for ethanol production. This is sad and scary news for all of us. Many of my readers know about GMOs and why they would want to avoid them, but I know there are quite a few people who don’t know anything about this issue. So I thought I’d shed some light and share my knowledge of the subject, which contributes to the reasons for many of our own food choices.
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and companies like Monsanto have produced and patented these organisms, mainly seeds. The seeds have been genetically modified to be able to withstand harsh herbicides like Round Up, so that fields can be sprayed with the chemicals which will then kill the weeds but not the crop. Sounds like a plan, right. Except they are seeds.
Let’s set aside the health effects of eating foods and food products made with these GMOs for just a minute and look at the idea of patented seeds. Currently there are patents on certain GMO grain crops like corn, canola, and soy. Think for a minute what that means – when these crops grow up, mother nature does to these seeds what she does to all seeds – throws them to the wind, feeds them to the birds, and mice, and squirrels. She doesn’t know these seeds are patented.
So Farmer A is growing patented GMO corn. And when his corn is ripe, a few birds come and pick at his corn, eating some. And they fly a few miles away, and poop out the seeds. Seeds that have been genetically modified, and those modification carry through the generation of seeds. But they poop on Farmer B’s land, he doesn’t know, and he hasn’t paid for GMO seeds.
The next spring, Farmer B tills his land and plants his non-GMO crop of corn from seeds he saved for generations. But those seeds the birds pooped out spring up too. The company that Farmer A uses to get his corn from, knows Farmer B is down the road. So they send out someone to take a sample of Farmer B’s crop (without his permission) and sure enough, his crop turns up as GM positive – their genetically modified corn is growing right there, in his field. He didn’t buy it from them – he must have stolen it. And then they sue the pants off Farmer B and win because they own the rights to that seed – to that genetic strain- and he literally loses the farm. Farmer A is not allowed to save seed, and Farmer B can’t steal it. The company owns all rights to that seed and it’s future generations.
This is not far-fetched. It’s happening today, in America. The problem with patented seeds is that we humans can’t control everything. Wind and birds and all of nature happens. For more info on this check out fooddemocracynow.org or watch the documentary, The Future of Food.
So back to health, and how this affects you, the consumer, the eater. Well, you can just read labels, right? No. Sorry. The USDA and FDA doesn’t require that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such. You’ve probably been eating GMOs for a long time now. But it’s not like you sit around munching nothing but corn all day, right? Well maybe, or maybe not. In this case, you can check the label – corn and soy are in everything these days. Really.
According to the USDA, in 2009, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 90% of canola grown is GMO, and there are also commercially produced GM varieties of sugar beets, squash and Hawaiian Papaya. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store.*
GMOs are used to feed cattle, to make soda, in your cereal, your bread… you name it. If it has high fructose corn syrup (and many other ingredients I can’t type or pronounce) it’s made from corn. So a fast food meal – the burger, the coke, the fries cooked in canola oil, all corn and probably all GMO at that.
With Obama’s recent approval of alfalfa and sugar beets, two crops along with corn, that feed the majority of America’s commercially produced meat animals, we are in for more trouble. And try keeping alfalfa seeds contained in a Kansas windstorm. Yikes!
Ok, ok, they are hard to avoid, right. But are GMOs safe? Well the Non-GMO Project web site states:
In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale.
A few independent studies have been done on the subject. Generally independent studies have been blocked by Monsanto and other producers of GMOs, but what has been found leads to questions over GMO safety. Here’s a link studying The Effects of Diets containing GM potatoes on Rats done in 1999, as well as an article siting many more recent studies that have been done.
It is possible to avoid GMOs, but it takes some research and planning and sometimes giving up a favorite snack. Especially helpful is the True Food Shoppers Guide (a download-able iPhone app or printable guide).
Here is an article that I found very helpful as well, concerning ways to avoid GMO foods. “Making My Family GO GMO Free”. One of the simplest steps is to buy organic, or direct from a local farmer, whom you can ask what he’s growing. You can also look for labels certifying that products are GMO free.
A while back I was told that the PLU codes on produce were used to indicate organic, conventional and GMO foods, however this is not exactly true, since using the five digit codes are optional. (see PLU Codes Don’t Indicate GMO Produce and The Myth of PLU Codes and GMO Foods).
If you grow your own garden, like us, please be aware that Monsanto recently purchased a number of seed companies, so you’ll want to know what to look for when buying the seeds you’ll use this spring. I found this resource most helpful: http://inspirationgreen.com/
I know this post is a bit preachy for me – but it’s a subject that I’ve been very concerned about for a while, and I couldn’t think how to share this info another way. I hope you look further into this subject and take action (write a letter or sign a petition to help ban GMOs in America).
For more ways to take action go to:http://www.nongmoproject.org/