Monday, August 29, 2011

The Perils of G.M.O.

Originally August was to be dedicated to xeriscaping and in fact a few articles will be posted on this topic over the next few weeks to fill this void. But today I have an announcement, you can see me on TV! I was interviewed about my book "Southward Skies: A Northern Guide to Southern Gardening", on the Cumberland County Progressives TV show, the show is posted on the Cumberland County Progressives site at the link below.

The thing about Genetically Modified Organisms is that many do not understand the true scope of these creations and many are buried in the excessive hype surrounding them. For the record I do not support the propagation of GMO food in any shape or form. I would go so far as to say that the best legacy a Politician could have is the successful passing of a strict law or laws that force the clear and concise labeling of what is GMO and what is not on agricultural products and or chemicals.

One thing to clarify is the difference between a natural hybrid and a Genetically Modified Organism. A natural hybrid is normally the result of sexual reproduction between two naturally compatible plants within a similar genetic line. A good example of this can be found with the large varieties of tomatoes  for instance the brandy wine types. In a good heirloom catalog one can find pink, chocolate, green, red and yellow brandy wine all of which result from natural pollination.  A genetically modified organism is one that could not naturally exist  because it requires delicate removal and introduction of genetic material to produce a species that otherwise would not have occurred in nature. A good example is 'Golden Rice',  this variety of rice was altered to produce carotene in it's grains giving them a golden-yellow hue and additional nutritional value. Naturally rice comes in many colors but golden-yellow is not one of them  so the breeders had to insert genes from a vegetable that produced carotene under normal circumstances.  There is no way to tell how long or how many studies were made to ascertain the long-term health effects of this rice or if it was merely a white elephant of cereal grains.

Why are Genetically modified organisms bad? We do not know the long-term health effects of GMO foods for sure, Companies like Monsanto aren't exactly forthcoming with their study information and often will not allow independent third party investigations into their claims. Furthermore we have the problem of genetic aggression in GMO species. In central and South America, indigenous species of corn and maize are being bred out of existence by aggressive strains of genetically modified corn. For those who do not understand the biology of corn, it is wind pollinated, as such it's pollen can travel for many miles on a good breeze. This wind pollination means that if a neighbor a few miles up the road is producing starlink corn, and the breeze blows it's pollen onto your differing corn crop you now have genetically contaminated crops. This contamination leads to the destruction of numerous indigenous species of corn that have been cultivated for centuries.

Corporate irresponsibility and greed play a constant role in the proliferation of GMO species. A number of GMO food crops, particularly cereal grains are bred to be sterile. That is these crops produce seed but the seed will not germinate which forces the farmer to come back to the corporation yearly to pay high prices just to survive while likely going further and further in debt every year. Adding further insult to injury are the lawsuits over genetic contamination, which happens most in parts of the world where poverty is endemic and the local farmer can do little to defend him or herself against predatory multinational corporations. This sort of irresponsibility starts with a GMO crop that has not been fully tested, and then that crop produces pollen that is transferred in the usual ways to non GMO crops. When the farmer saves the seed of his crop for next year's planting he or she has no idea the seed is contaminated, and when and if it sprouts, the farmer gets a lawsuit for growing genetically copyrighted materials. When the farmer looses his land due to a legal battle for which he or she is often ill-equipped to fight, the corporation will often seize the farmer's land.  In short both the crop and the crop's designer are opportunistic, and if it means more control more profit why change it?

As a  last note the old saying 'You are what you eat' could not be more relivant today, because if you understand the digestive process, you realize that with every bit of vegetable or protein you eat, your stomach absorbs a bit of that food's DNA. How our body processes it on the molecular level is beyond my knowledge but I do understand that those materials don't just disappear.  A few dietary studies have linked excessive protein uptake with cancerous growth, and cancer is what happens when genetics break down and do damaging things. So with that line of logic what then happens when you constantly ingest say GMO salmon that has been bred to be bigger, and by effect have more meat and be more aggressive? 

Think about it, and tune in on Wednesday the 31st for the first of the xeriscaping series.

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