Under the guise of rescuing the starving world, Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience, to name but a few, some years ago developed a process to make seeds more resistant to insects, harsh weather conditions and various crops diseases. How? By modifying its genetic heritage. What does this mean exactly? Every living thing contains DNA which includes chromosomes and genes. Genes provide the blueprints for all living things and if you change one of the genes then you rewrite one of the instructions, creating a whole new species that never existed before.
Many international scientific organisations, including the International Council for Science (ICSU), claim that GMOs are neither a health hazard nor a risk to the environment.
Other organisations, such as the Committee of Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) in France, or the Independent Science Panel in the UK, say the studies are insufficient so far as determining whether there is a health hazard. They believe that for this reason GMO crops should not be allowed as long as we are not fixed on this point.
So who is right? – Is eating GMOs safe?
Potential health hazard –
Everyone, or here everything, is presumed innocent until they have been proven guilty, in accordance with the law – certainly, but this doesn’t really suit the case of GMOs. The lack of scientific proof confirming that GMOs are harmful should certainly not be used as a reason to encourage their cultivation while conclusive research is forthcoming. Speaking about law – In that case, the precautionary principle should apply. Why? Because if we realise afterwards that GMOs are actually harmful, it will be too late. As everybody knows we cannot turn back time and erase the mistakes committed in the past, but it is still up to us to be careful while there is still time.
As we can’t draw conclusions yet, those who are saying that growing GMOs are harmless are the same who claimed that asbestos was safe before we discovered it was dangerous: those who are serving lobbies and commercial interests. We don’t trust them.
Loss of customer freedom –
Then you may say: ‘well, we always have the choice between eating a genetically modified food and eating an organic one. Not true. As a matter of fact, GMOs have started to slip into our shopping baskets without many of us really knowing about it, and here is how: very large amounts of the corn and soya animal feed used in the UK comes from GMO sources, so if you choose to eat meat, you are eating GMO by default. What’s more, a large quantity of GMO products are not labelled as such. Yet, only a strict labelling process can guarantee consumer freedom to eat GMO-free products; however, the supermarkets fully know that they won’t sell them if they do it. This is why Monsanto is pumping cash into the anti-labelling GMO campaign running in the US, once more serving its own commercial interests before the general interest.
Environmental threat –
On one hand, growing GMO crops means massively reducing pesticide and herbicide usage in intensive farming. Indeed, GMOs do the job of pesticides by killing or repulsing insects that would feed on them. That sounds great for the environment; but, what would be the long-term impact on our global ecosystem? Well, if GMOs are bug killers, bees could be affected too. Bees are the most precious pollinator we have, ensuring that the whole ecosystem works well. Furthermore, how can we stop the natural broadcasting of GMO seeds, by animals, wind and rain, from contaminating neighbouring organic crops? We can’t. There can be no sustained coexistence between GMO and organic cultures.
Privatisation of living –
Beyond the health and environmental safety, GMOs raise an ethical stake: the patenting of living things. In 1972, the UNESCO convention declared plants as being part of the “common heritage of mankind.” However, with the development of GMO crops, globalised companies are able to patent their new hybrid genes as inventions. A patent allows its inventor to have exclusive commercial exploitation. If a company or individual wants to use a patented invention, they must obtain a license from the inventor and will pay royalties. The appropriation of living things has to be regarded as a new kind of intellectual property. As the name suggests, living things won’t belong to nature any longer but to the globalised firms whom had genetically manipulated the crops, leading those multinational companies to the control of the global food chain.
Loss of food sovereignty –
All of these contribute to the overall loss of food sovereignty and the right of people to define their own food system. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has found that worldwide, family farms are responsible for at least 56% of agricultural production, and that family farmers are more productive per hectare than industrial monocultures. Food sovereignty puts the people who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of decisions around food policy and practice, rather than the markets and corporations that have come to dominate the global food system. Local food empowers small-scale farmers, links producers and consumers, and provides a line of defense between consumers and international commodity markets.
Globalised firms don’t want that being possible. Once these firms have established the norm that seeds can be owned as their property, small-scale farmers will all depend on them for every seed they grow. If they control seed, they control food. Food is more powerful than bombs, than guns, it’s actually the best way to control the world. Already in 2005, according to The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), 8.5 million farmers were using GMOs. 90% of these were from developing countries. As a result, small-scale independent farmers were dispossessed of their lands and their own production.
World hunger issue –
We are often told that with a fast rising global population – The UN expects the global population to reach 11 billion by 2100 – we urgently need to produce more food and that GMOs can help us to reach this goal. This is a myth. Nowadays, we produce more than enough food to feed everyone with an adequate diet, but politico-economic and agriculture choices have allowed 805 million people to starve while 1.4 billion people grow obese.
Good food for thought – 30 years ago, Carl Sagan said: “We live in a society absolutely dependant on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power sooner or later is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it? The sword of science is double-edged.” Let us remind ourselves of this wise quote.
Take a stand against GMO now!