FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From the Kitchen of Dr. Frankenstein

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:

December 19, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russophobia and the Specter of War
Jonathan Cook
American Public’s Backing for One-State Solution Falls on Deaf Ears
Daniel Warner
1968: The Year That Will Not Go Away
Arshad Khan
Developing Country Issues at COP24 … and a Bit of Good News for Solar Power and Carbon Capture
Kenneth Surin
Trump’s African Pivot: Another Swipe at China
Patrick Bond
South Africa Searches for a Financial Parachute, Now That a $170 Billion Foreign Debt Cliff Looms
Tom Clifford
Trade for Hostages? Trump’s New Approach to China
Binoy Kampmark
May Days in Britain
John Feffer
Globalists Really Are Ruining Your Life
John O'Kane
Drops and the Dropped: Diversity and the Midterm Elections
December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail