By Dick Durbin |
There's much debate about the healthfulness or risk associated with consuming GMO foods, and the long-term health effects are unknown. But even if these foods were perfectly safe to eat—and that's a big "if," because we can't conduct epidemiologic surveillance or long-term population studies without product labeling—there are plenty of good reasons to worry about these foods.
One problem is the dangerous precedent being set, whereby corporations are permitted by the government to sell these foods without labeling them. In effect, consumers are being denied their right to know what they are buying and eating and are thus unable to make informed decisions.
A second major cause for concern is the concentration of power in monolithic companies such as Monsanto and Dupont/Pioneer. These two companies alone control 50 percent of the global seed market. As these corporations monopolize seed production in the U.S., and increasingly around the globe, we'll see a big hit in low-income countries. Those nations that employ traditional plant breeding and cultivar selection lack the capital to start their own biotech industries. The top ten seed producers in the world are all located in the U.S., Europe and Japan. This monopolizing of seed production is driving seed prices up for farmers in low-income countries and will also affect struggling farmers in "rich" nations such as the U.S. In fact, it already has, but it will continue to worsen.
Third on my list of concerns is that as the monoliths dominate seed production, the seeds that they sell will dominate agriculture. As a result, we will lose many more species of plants, thereby accelerating the loss of biodiversity that is already creating environmental stress on our planet. Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy seeds have 94 percent market share in the U.S. In the face of climate change, we need more biodiversity, not less. The combination of species loss and climate change creates a perfect storm for long-term food insecurity for millions—or billions—of people.
A final cause for concern is exemplified by the recent discovery of GMO Roundup Ready wheat on an Oregon farm. The farmer who discovered it didn't plant it, and Monsanto ceased its GMO wheat trials eight years ago. So how did the seeds survive all this time and drift to an unintended plot of land? Until ecological drift is resolved, we need to be very careful about the unintended consequences of ecosystem disruption, already happening with the proliferation of Roundup resistant "super weeds" requiring every more toxic herbicides to control.
About Robert Lawrence Professor in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health