Take Action Against Genetically Modified Food

Genetically modified food has long been criticized as an unsustainable and unhealthy option for human consumption all over the world. The process of genetically engineering food involves changing the genetic structure of a crop to make it resistant to viruses or pests or to add certain vitamins or minerals. Proponents of GM food argue that genetically engineering food could solve world hunger, particularly in poor areas where food production is limited. The main issue, however, is that GM food has a disastrous impact on the environment and is placing the responsibility of food production into the hands of large corporations. The United States government has recently begun taking steps to facilitate the widespread production of genetically engineered crops.

Last month, the Obama administration, as part of an effort to increase the nation’s exports, joined with the agricultural biotechnology industry to bolster the production of genetically modified crops. Hoping to shed light on the perils of GM food, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) responded to this by suing several government organizations to make the details of the agreement public. The Obama administration has been working to promote genetically engineered crops and to oversee their production by attempting to remove restrictions on growing GE crops, even on national wildlife refuges. Now, a new report by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in conjunction with the International Water Management Institute titled “An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security” has highlighted the unsustainable impacts of genetically modified food.

In the preface of the study, the authors point out that the problems of world hunger and water scarcity in a rapidly expanding global population is “a central challenge for this generation,” noting that of equal importance is keeping “humanity’s footprint within planetary boundaries.” The study goes on to note, “it is clear that enormous opportunities exist to increase food production in ways that make optimal and sustainable use of water and other resources. This means that we can feed a global population without massive and irreversible damage to our ecosystems.”

In the comprehensive study of food production, the UNEP examines the issue of a dwindling food supply as well as the globally rising price of food. The study points out that water scarcity has a direct impact on the global food supply. The study suggests that “maintaining healthy ecosystems to ensure water availability and other ecosystem services is essential for long-term food security.” The problem, however, is that many ecosystems have already been extremely damaged by the unsustainable production of food.

As a solution to the unsustainable growing methods of genetically engineered crops, the UNEP study suggests several methods to change the way food is produced around the world. The most important step is to “manage ecosystems as a continuum of agroecosystems that not only produce food, but also deliver a whole range of other ecosystem services necessary for long-term food security.” Other important steps involve proper management of water and land to promote crop diversity and integrity of habitats.

Even though the evidence is clear that genetically engineered crops are a threat both to health and to the environment, the government has chosen to ignore the ecological impact in an effort to increase exports. Whereas genetically modified food has recently been banned in at least some capacity in several European countries, the U.S. has yet to recognize the harm of GM food.

To voice your concern about the United States’ decision to support the production and export of genetically modified crops, sign this change.org petition. Another option is to protest the government’s support of GM food by choosing to buy organic and local produce, which is a healthier option for both you and the planet.

Photo credit: ers.usda.gov/amberwaves/March09/features/Photos/feature1.jpg

Genetically Modified Maize Trial in Mexico Prompts Debate

In a controversial move, the Mexican government has authorized transnational corporation Monsanto to conduct a field trial of genetically modified (GM) maize that could potentially lead to the crop’s commercialization.

Though Mexico has approved 67 permits for GM maize to be experimentally grown since lifting its ban on transgenic crops in 2005, this is the first venture that could lead to successful commercialization of the crop.

As part of the project, approved last month, the company will use less than a hectare of land in northern Mexico to assess maize unaffected by the herbicide glyphosate. If the test is successful, the GM maize will be commercialized, joining other market-ready Mexican GM crops, such as cotton.

Yet unlike other crops in the country, maize comes in a hodgepodge of varieties, notable for its centuries-long biodiversity. Monsanto’s pilot program, opponents warn, does not require containment measures, as it is not an experimental trial.

Not that Mexico’s taking any chances.

The Mexican Agricultural Ministry claims that the GM crop’s pollen will be controlled, noting that the project will occur “under the strictest biosecurity measures to guarantee the prevention of involuntary dispersion of the GM maize’s pollen.”

Yet other experts maintain that the move could potentially contaminate the thousands of maize varieties indigenous to Mexico.

“’This opens up the door to contamination of native species in the most important centre of origin [of maize] in the entire world,” said Elena Álvarez-Buylla, head of the Union of Scientists Committed to Society (UCCS).

Back in March, the UCCS released a statement censuring the risk attached to GM crops, as well as skepticism over their ability to tackle non-GM crop scarcity.

“’There are alternative technologies to address the non-GM maize shortage and loss of crops due to climate events,” said the group. “GM [crops] are not more resistant to droughts and plagues, and they threaten our food sovereignty.”

In fact, the UCCS bemoaned commercial GM maize production as early as September of 2009, stating in a written letter that they wished to “establish an official banning of any and all field releases of commercial GM maize varieties, and at the same time, support rigorous scientific investigation on the potential of diverse and alternative agro-technologies in Mexico, as well as the risks implied in their use in centers of origin and diversification.”

And the UCCS isn’t alone. Earlier this month, at the third-ever Mexican Congress of Ecology held in Veracruz, scientists cautioned against the mingling of GM maize with non-GM varieties.

Mauricio Quesada, an expert at the National Autonomous University’s Centre for Ecosystems Research, echoed UCCS qualms about using GM technology before researching alternative techniques involving natural biodiversity.

Similarly, Andrew Stephenson, an ecology professor at Pennsylvania University, expressed concern over the essentially unknown effects of GM maize coexisting with non-GM maize in Mexico’s complex environmental conditions.

Yet, both sides have been churning out criticism, with Monsanto’s Latin American President, José Manuel Maduro, blaming government restrictions on GM maize production for elevations in Mexican corn imports in a recent press conference.

“Mexico’s decision to not move forward [on transgenics] has led to the importation of ten million tons of corn,” he said, “a situation that demands a swift response.”

Monsanto has been leading a public relations campaign to bring GM maize back into the commercial equation, though critics have dismissed their efforts as inane sound bites and propaganda. Even worse for the agricultural giant, many experts maintain that transgenics don’t increase crop yields.

But the public relations push may just boomerang on Monsanto.

Amidst cries of “No to transgenic corn! Monsanto out of Mexico!” from the National Union of Regional Autonomous Campesino Organizations (UNORCA) eco-minded experts continue to demand government support of small-scale producers, communal landowners, and alternative technologies – not transgenics.

Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corncobs_edit1.jpg

FDA Panel To Continue Review of Genetically Modified Salmon

[img_assist|nid=194824|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=150|height=145]Sep. 21, 2010 (GreenAnswers) – The FDA panel tasked with reviewing a request to permit genetically modified salmon to be sold in the U.S. decided on Monday to not vote on the matter. ABC News reports that several members of the panel were concerned that there was not enough data presented to allow a determination to be made regarding the safety of genetically modified salmon.

Ron Stotish, the CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, indicated that the panel was confused by the large amount of information presented during the eight hour hearing.

The non-decision is a temporary setback for AquaBounty Technologies, which is hoping to introduce a salmon egg which includes a growth hormone gene that causes salmon to grow twice as quickly.

Opponents have argued that the potential health and environmental effects are too great to permit genetically modified salmon to be produced and consumed.

Genetically Modified ‘FrankenFish’ Headed To Your Table?

[img_assist|nid=194725|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=156]Sep. 20, 2010 (GreenAnswers) – Over the next few days, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will be conducting hearings regarding a proposal to allow genetically modified salmon to be sold to U.S. consumers.

Termed “FrankenFish” by its critics, the genetically modified salmon eggs are produced by a company called AquaBounty Technologies. The eggs include a hormone gene that cause the salmon to grow twice as quickly as regular salmon. AquaBounty is hoping the FDA will approve this product for sale and distribution throughout the country.

However, critics contend that the potential health and environmental risks are too great to justify allowing the genetically modified fish to be produced and sold. Among many theorized risks, one obvious concern is that the engineered fish escape into the wild and breed with regular fish. The effects the resulting offspring could have on native fisheries could be devastating.

The FDA panel will be making four determinations, including: whether genetic engineering is safe for the fish; whether there is reasonable certainty the fish are safe to consume; whether the data really does indicate the fish grow faster; and the potential environmental impacts the production of these fish could pose.

If the genetically modified salmon is approved, it would mark the first time that American’s are fed genetically modified animals. Until now, the only genetically modified foods approved for human consumption in the U.S. have been soybeans and corn. Approval of genetically modified salmon could usher in a new era of genetically engineered super animals on American’s dinner plates.

FDA May Approve First Genetically Modified Animal for Consumption

By: Nick Engelfried 

September 7, 2010

A genetically engineered salmon, developed by the company AquaBounty, could become the first type of genetically modified animal to be approved for human consumption in the United States.  Last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it is about to begin the process that might end in approval of the new type of salmon—which has been engineered by AquaBounty for faster growth. 

At the same time that other companies experiment with genetic engineering of pigs and other livestock, AquaBounty has been developing its strain of genetically modified salmon over the course of the last fifteen years.  The company claims its new salmon variety will be harmless to eat and represents scientific progress at its best.  However groups like the nonprofit organization Food and Water Watch say insufficient information is available to tell how eating genetically engineered fish might affect human health. 

Food and Water Watch claims the FDA has been reluctant to share information about genetically engineered salmon, and that studies the agency relies on for determining the risks are unreliable.  Rather than conduct its own scientific assessment of the health implications, the FDA has chosen to rely on AquaBounty itself for information about the impacts of genetically engineered fish species.  “The process for evaluation and testing of genetically engineered animals is one humongous question mark,” says Rich Bindell of Food and Water Watch.

Another concern of health and consumer groups is that companies selling genetically engineered salmon would not be required to label their products as genetically modified.  This is a problem that has long plagued activists concerned about genetically engineered varieties of plants, like corn and soybeans.  Because US law does not require labeling of genetically modified organisms, millions of US consumers almost certainly are consuming modified plant products without even being aware.  Now activists are worried similar problems will arise with genetically modified animals.

As one of the next steps in the approval process for genetically engineered salmon, the FDA has announced it will hold public hearings on September 19th, 20th, and 21st.  The agency is also taking written comments from the public, and Food and Water Watch has urged consumers to use the public comment period as a chance to object to genetically modified salmon.  The nonprofit says it is pushing the FDA to extend the public comment period and not to approve the modified fish strain for the market.

Photo credit: Dan Taylor