Global agriculture has received more changes during the last 60 years or so than it did during the preceding 12,000 years. If chemical-intensive agriculture represented the first wave of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) comprise its second coming.
There is a quite a bit of controversy over the issues concerning GMOs though. GMOs have had mixed results from testing and studies to laws of patenting and labeling. It seems that while GMOs can help in the mass production of foods and can be engineered with disease resistant proteins that there are underlying issues regarding the lack of laws and restrictions with labeling and farming of these products, as well as the long-term impacts they have and patents that forward the movement of only the financially beneficial GMOs.
Currently, GMOs production and distribution has been restricted to only crops and animal feed. However, late last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued for public comment a draft environmental assessment related to the organization’s review of an application concerning AquaAdvantage Salmon, which gives lead-way to eventually introducing genetically engineered animals into the food industry for production, distribution and human consumption.
The agency’s preliminary finding is that “an approval of this application, under the specific conditions proposed in the application, would not have a significant impact on the U.S. environment,” said the agency.
The native Atlantic Salmon, engineered by AquaBounty Technologies of Maynard, Massachusetts are all female, possess three chromosomes instead of the usual two, and grow at twice the rate with extra genes from two other fish species – one from the Pacific Chinook salmon (gives an added growth hormone that allows the fish to produce growth hormone all year long) and one from an eel-like species called the ocean pout (keeps the growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon active like an ‘on’ switch) – which together boost the fish’s growth hormones so it puts on weight all year round instead of seasonally.
AquaBounty Technologies, the company behind the fish, claim the risk of interbreeding with wild salmon is low because their fish are all sterile (up to 95%) and grown in secure containers on land-based fish farms.
It can also be reared on land-based fish farms, rather than in sea pens, which according to the company are less polluting as well as having smaller carbon footprints and lower transport costs because they can be sited nearer to big cities.
If the U.S. government gives approval to AquaBounty, which looks increasingly likely, it could change the economics of salmon farming. This could put pressure on Britain and Europe to follow suit, even though they and their consumers have little appetite for GM food.
Around the world, genetically engineered animals are being produced.
Earlier this year, scientists in New Zealand announced they had created a GM cow capable of producing milk which lacks a key protein which can trigger allergic reactions in children.
Scientists have also produced GM pigs which can digest phosphorus in their food more efficiently, cutting food costs as well as lowering levels of harmful pollutants in their manure.
Other researchers have created GM goats which produce milk with a protein that can reduce the risk of diarrhea in children by improving the bacterial gut flora.
Meanwhile, scientists in Britain are working on GM chickens that are disease resistant.
However, few people see the need for such developments in food technology. It is still unclear whether the U.S. public will have an appetite for the fish if it is approved. Although, it may not matter since consumers may not even know if they are eating them due to the lack of labeling laws.
Detractors were quick to react to the FDA move. In a press statement the Consumers Union says the Environmental Assessment is “flawed and inadequate”. Opponents of the ‘Frankenfish’ technology warn it could escape and interbreed with wild fish and that commercial production of the salmon could be the beginning of concerted efforts to concoct other GM animals for human consumption, raising concerns about animal welfare and human health. The lack of laws for restriction of farming for these GMOs and lack of labeling GMO products to inform consumers of its substance raise many concerns for advocates of health and food.
Wenonah Hauter, director of the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said forgoing labeling not only ignores consumers’ rights to know what they are eating, but “is simply bad for business, as many will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered.”
She urged members of Congress to block the impending approval of the fish. Congressional opposition to the engineered fish has so far been led by members of the Alaska delegation, who see the modified salmon as a threat to the state’s wild salmon industry.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, for Alaska, said on Friday she is working to convince fellow senators that approval for the fish should be stopped.
“This is especially troubling as the agency is ignoring the opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations,” she said of the preliminary approval.
Along with the concerns for labeling and environment are the concerns that remain about the lack of long-term testing from independent groups.
A new study published in the September edition of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology is the most damning indictment of GMOs carried out so far. Led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Caen in France, the research analyzed the health effects of GMOs on rats.
As rats are mammals, their systems should react to chemicals in a similar way to those of a human test subject.
Females rats fed GMOs, in this case GMO corn treated with Monsanto Roundup chemical herbicide, died two to three times more than controls (groups of rates not fed GMOs) and more rapidly. They developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than the controls. Liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5 to five times higher in males that were fed GMOs. Marked and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater. Males presented four times more large palpable tumors than controls.
By the beginning of the 24th month of the study, 50–80 percent of GMO-fed female animals had developed tumors, with up to three tumors per animal, whereas only 30 percent of non GMO-fed rats were affected. The GMO-fed groups showed the greatest rates of tumor incidence with 80 percent of animals affected.
The length of most all agribusiness industry tests to date has not been beyond a 90-day period. The results of Seralini’s research had not yet become evident in the first 90 days – perhaps why the industry has avoided longer testing periods.
Seralini’s was the first long-term independent study of the effects of a GMO diet on rats. It took place 20 years after US president George H W Bush gave the commercial release of GMO seeds the green light. Writer William F Engdahl notes that Bush did so following a closed-door meeting with top officials of Monsanto Corporation. GMO seeds were approved in the US with not one single independent government test to determine if they were safe for human or animal consumption.
In Europe, the Seralini study has exposed that, as in the US, the EU controls on GMO constitute nothing other than believing at face value the test results provided by the GMO companies themselves. It smacks of conspiracy between the GMO agrichemical cartel, EU commissioners, the GMO panel members of European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and several member governments of the EU.
The EFSA recommended approval and support of Monsanto’s Roundup-tolerant maize in 2009 without conducting any independent testing. In making its decision, the EFSA partly relied on information supplied by the applicant (Monsanto) – tests on rats that were for only 90 days.
But, long-term testing is not the last concern for GMO oppositions. Food patent laws create monopolies which create problems for competing companies and restrict scientists into developing only financially attractive inventions.
Take the case of Dr. Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant genomics at UC-Davis. Like many scientists, Dr. Ronald’s main motivation is not profit, but insight into the workings of nature. After working to decode the rice genome for a decade, Ronald and her team created a genetically altered version that resists Xanthomonas, Asia’s worst rice affliction. What better, more socially beneficial use for genetic modification could there be? Ronald and UC-Davis filed the gene with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, so that the genetic sequences for Xanthomonas immunity would become their intellectual property, and soon after that filing, Monsanto and Pioneer asked to license the gene.
But as the UC-Davis Office of Technology Transfer negotiated terms of the deal, Monsanto and Pioneer lost interest, and the commercial development of Ronald’s rice stalled. Disease resistance, it turned out, did not possess the same attractions for multinational food producers like Monsato as it did for Dr. Ronald and UC-Davis, perhaps because the potential profits of blight-resistant rice couldn’t compare to those of Roundup Ready corn. Pamela Ronald’s rice held the promise of saving lives in Asia—but because of legal strife her grains remained in the greenhouse.
Monsanto, the most reviled agricultural corporation in the world, has committed manifold ethical sins that have been widely reported in foodie media. What isn’t widely reported is that plant patent laws are the legal framework that enables these sins. It was utility patent protection that opened the door for Monsanto’s present-day global seed and insecticide portfolio, including rights to its infamous “terminator” or “suicide seed” technology (which effectively sterilizes second-generation plants and makes it not only futile but a legal violation for farmers to gather seeds for next year’s crop). Monsanto has prosecuted farmers who discover GM corn or soy sprouts growing on their land after the wind carries seeds over from neighbors’ GM fields. What’s the basis for such ridiculous lawsuits? Plant patent laws: These farmers are inadvertently violating Monsanto’s intellectual property rights. Worst of all, Monsanto has deviously developed an insecticide technology (specifically, a weed-killer known as “Roundup,” discovered and patented by a Monsanto chemist in 1970) that works best when applied to the corporation’s patented GM seeds. Patent laws, in essence, have allowed the corporation to establish a vertical monopoly—if you want Monsanto’s high-yielding Roundup Ready seeds, you’ll need Monsanto’s Roundup insecticide; and if you buy Roundup insecticide, you’ll need Roundup Ready seeds.
Opposition of GMOs argues that intellectual property laws need to be rethought. A copyrighted movie or book remains the same movie or book, but when food becomes a legal construct or an intellectual property right, it stops being food. Unlike an iPhone or a flatscreen TV, everyone needs food, and we need it every day. The world’s largest suppliers of industrial agriculture would like to convince us that the global food market is as free as the market as any other—even though no one can opt out of purchasing breakfast, lunch, or dinner for any extended period of time. Since everyone must participate in the food market to the tune of 2,700 or so calories a day, food property rights allow those who hold food patents a guaranteed portion of profits from a guaranteed purchase, which is fundamentally unfair. Why should agriculture possess privileges beyond any other sort of business on earth? The rules that govern patents for electronics and entertainment should not be the same rules that govern the most vital element of human life.
There are a lot of concerns that come with the advancement of GMOs. While they have the possibilities of producing large profit along with feeding the hungry, they create many other negative possibilities to be considered. We will continue to keep you updated here on Functional Independence Home Care on all these issues and more. So, stay tuned!