FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From the Kitchen of Dr. Frankenstein

by DEBORAH RICH

We Americans are eating a lot of genetically engineered food, and for no good reason.

Since the mid-1990s, when corn and soybean varieties began being injected with genes from bacteria and other unrelated species, we’ve been paying participants in a food experiment with potentially unprecedented effects on human health, the environment and food security.

By 2005, the Agriculture Department says, the vast majority of U.S. soybean acres and 52 percent of corn acres were planted with genetically engineered seed.

The bounty of these acres is in our candy, crackers and chicken pot pies, in our pizza and pasta sauce, in our Coca Cola and Campbell’s soups. Corn and soybeans are ubiquitous: tens of thousands of processed foods contain soy, and the typical consumer takes in 200 calories of high-fructose corn syrup per day. Alter the genomes of corn and soybeans, and you’ve altered the diet of most Americans.

Corn and soybeans are staples of animal feeds, so we’re also modifying the diets of our beef cattle and milk cows, our pigs and chickens.

Yet lending our grocery dollars and stomachs to this venture gains us little.

The price of modified seed includes a technology fee that effectively siphons off the bulk of any additional revenue farmers might gain from reduced pest damage or decreased management costs.

Many hoped that genetically engineered crops would help the environment by cutting pesticide use. We should have known that growing crops engineered to tolerate herbicides could lead to more chemical use. A 2004 analysis funded by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the introduction of engineered corn, soybeans and cotton caused a 122 million pound increase in pesticide use since 1996.

And because resistant crops have encouraged near constant use of one or two classes of herbicides, superweeds that withstand the chemicals have now emerged and will require ever more potent poisons to control.

Another hope was that gene tinkering would help end world hunger. But the dream of concocting drought-tolerant, insect-resistant, nutrient-dense supreme species ignores the reality of global markets already awash in food. Hunger and malnutrition result from poverty, not a lack of food in the world.

It’s unlikely that we’re getting health benefits from eating these crops. Scientists are studying their possible effects. Among the findings: abnormal white and red blood cell counts and inflammation of the kidney in rats fed genetically engineered corn, accelerated growth of stomach and intestinal tissues of rats fed engineered potatoes, and immune responses in mice fed altered peas. The findings are controversial, but they should, at the very least, give us pause.

Meanwhile, pollen from genetically engineered crops is on the move. In a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 50 percent of nonengineered corn and soybean varieties tested by one laboratory contained DNA from engineered versions. Chasing down and eliminating this freeflowing DNA from our seed supply, should the need arise, will require Herculean effort.

The only clear reason why we’re eating so much genetically modified food is that Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta, which together control over 25 percent of global seed sales, want us to.

In the United States, Monsanto dominates many a menu. It owns half of the American corn seed market, and its modified traits are present in roughly 90 percent of soybean acres.

Monsanto is tossing salads too. In January 2005, it bought Seminis, supplier of 3,500 varieties of fruit and vegetable seed to 150 countries. Monsanto now controls more than 30 percent of the world’s cucumber, hot pepper and bean seed sales, and more than 20 percent of onion, tomato and sweet pepper seed sales, according to the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration.

Now consider that Monsanto and its cohorts are free to undertake the genetic modification of any plant variety they own. The plant varieties they don’t modify, they can remove from the market. With one-fourth of the total value of the worldwide commercial seed market already coming from engineered seeds, our choices for unmodified crops and foods are rapidly dwindling.

As we relinquish control over our food to the gene engineers, we must ask: Does Monsanto really know best?

DEBORAH RICH grows olive trees near Monterey, Calif., and writes about agriculture for the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. She wrote this essay for the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail