By Marsha Blackburn |
Buying food presents us with important decisions each and every day. But have you considered the wide reaching implications of genetic engineering?
Genetically engineered seeds are created in a lab by chemical companies; the process involves removing the genetic material from one organism and inserting it into the genetic code of another to create various characteristics or traits. The vast majority of GE seeds on the market are designed to withstand heavy, repeated spraying of increasingly potent herbicides, or to produce an insecticide in the crop itself, leading to extreme environmental pollution.
It used to be the case that weed killers were sprayed prior to planting, as they would, of course, kill both wanted and unwanted plants. So, if sprayed on crops, the crops would die too. That was until the development of genetically engineered seeds such as 'Round Up Ready' resistant corn and soy.
The resulting GE crops have the ability to withstand multiple herbicide sprayings, which means that farmers can spray the crop directly without killing it, throughout the growing season. This has added hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to our fields every year, polluting the air, water, land and our own bodies. Herbicides are now being consumed widely in our diets.
It doesn't stop there, however. Nature being nature, and far more resilient than today's science may credit, unwanted species of plants have become resistant to herbicides at an alarming rate. Herbicide resistant pigweed and other weeds now invade more than 67 million acres of American crop land. This resistance has led the chemical companies (Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Syngenta) - who now own and control the majority of our food supply through their domination of the seeds from which our food is grown - to ramp up their chemical arms race against nature.
You will no doubt have heard of 'Agent Orange,' used by the US military in its chemical warfare program in Vietnam. According to estimates by Vietnamese advocacy organizations, at least three million Vietnamese suffer serious health problems from Agent Orange exposure, including birth defects in children and grandchildren of those exposed.
What does this have to do with our food? Well, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now reviewing an application from Dow to approve GE, 2,4-D resistant corn and soy. 2,4-D was a major component of Agent Orange. If approved, millions more pounds of this hazardous chemical will be sprayed, polluting our food, water and air. Further, these companies are "stacking" genetically engineered traits of resistance to chemicals so that the seeds and the plants that grow from them can withstand not one, but many forms of toxic chemical applications.
The result? Hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals being applied to our fields and our food every year. And because our Food and Drug Administration seems to be more interested in catering to industry than protecting public health, none of this has to be labeled in the U.S.
Organic agriculture stands in complete contrast to this industrialized system of synthetic food production. In fact, from 1995 to 2011 organic agriculture was responsible for the offsetting of an estimated 62 million pounds of toxic, synthetic chemicals when compared to use on conventional and GE corn alone.
"Do I want to eat food that is …
1. Grown in harmony with nature's natural processes and designed to protect human, animal health and the environment? (Organic)
2. Grown with the intention of overcoming nature's natural processes by routinely adding toxic chemical inputs to the soil and to feed the plants? (Conventional)
3. Grown using artificially-produced seeds that have been altered at the genetic level in a laboratory, and that have been released for sale in the absence of proof of human health or environmental safety? (GE)
Organic is the baseline. It's time to defend the standard and evolve the ethic!
About Elizabeth Kucinich Policy Director at the Center for Food Safety
Robert Lawrence Professor in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health