I have to admit, I’m a little bit late to the GMO (genetically modified organism) debate because, quite frankly, I’m lazy. Well, not only am I lazy, I’m also slightly preoccupied with the new MTV show, Catfish, which I sheepishly admit I started watching even before the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend situation came to light. But what I learned today about GMOs really knocked me on my ass: 70% of the items we buy in our grocery stores contain genetically modified organisms, which according to Forbes, are “ingredients that have been scientifically engineered in laboratories to enhance certain traits.”
A conversation about GMOs started in my house tonight when hubby brought home a box of Kashi from Whole Foods. When I saw it come out of the shopping bag, I gasped in horror. Multiple friends of mine had posted diatribes against Kashi on Facebook last year when the company got busted for using GMOs in many of its products. Among my more food-conscious pals, Kashi is now kind of considered the Devil’s spawn. When I say this to my husband, he mentions that the big food writer Michael Specter, someone whose opinion I respect, is fine with GMOs.
I find it very hard to believe that Michael Specter would support the use of GMOs, so I head over to the Internet. Lo and behold, back in October he wrote a short piece on NewYorker.com about how farmers have been modifying seeds for thousands of years and what companies like Kashi are doing now is no different. He goes on to say that the main issue for the public isn’t necessarily the use of GMOs, it’s our discomfort over the fact that big conglomerates own the seeds, most of which are used for only one round of planting.
Specter cites the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Academy, and what seems to be almost every other scientific body on earth, all of whom conveniently say the same thing: genetically modified foods are “are no more dangerous than other foods.”
Even Mark Lynas, the man who is credited with starting the whole anti-GMO movement, issued a mea culpa a few weeks ago at the Oxford Farming Conference, saying he was wrong about GMO’s. He states, “I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.”
Wow. Both Specter and Lynas sound convincing. But after observing all the concern and yes, hysteria, among my pals, I need to hear the other side of the story. So I search and soon find an article by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, who founded the Small Planet Institute. In the last twelve years, they’ve published prolifically about food, democracy and the environment. Right before Californians voted on Proposition 37, a state law that would have required companies to label GMOs in foods (it did not pass), Lappé and Lappé published an article on Huffington Post outlining the main reasons they oppose the use of GMOs. Here they are…
1. GMOs have never undergone standard testing or regulation for human safety.
2. But we know that GMOs have proven harmful in animal studies.
3. And the most widely used GMOs are paired with an herbicide linked to serious health risks.
4. The consequences of GMO technology are inherently unpredictable.
5. GMO makers intimidate and silence farmers and scientists.
6. GMOs undermine our food security.
7. GMOs aren't needed in the first place, so why would we take on these risks and harms?
Now I’m confused, even more confused than I was before I started reading up on GMOs. Here’s what we all know: Europe doesn’t seem to want our genetically engineered food. Neither does Russia. One company alone, Monsanto, controls 90 percent of genetically altered crops around the world and, along with two if its competitors, owns 70 percent of the global seed market. I don’t know about you, but that type of monopoly over the world’s food supply gives me the heebie jeebies.
So which is it, are GMOs the best thing to happen to humans since sliced bread or are we setting ourselves up for future food and health calamities? If nothing else, I'd love to know: is it safe to eat some Kashi cereal for breakfast or not?