Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Advocacy groups urge caution concerning GMOs

This is the second segment of a three-part feature on genetically modified organisms. The third, and final, portion of the series will be centered on a tour of the Monsanto facility in Gothenburg, Nebraska later this month.

Dozens upon dozens of advocacy groups have sprung up across the world in opposition to the inclusion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food sources. These groups claim that there is no evidence to support the claim of biotechnology companies such as Monsanto that such foods are safe for human consumption.

“The biotech lobby has spent millions to mislead the public into thinking genetic engineering is the same as traditional breeding,” said Caroline Kinsman, Communications Director for the Non-GMO Project. “The experimental technology of genetically modifying organisms forces DNA from one species into a different species. The resulting GMOs are unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional breeding.”

According to planting statistics from the USDA, 90 percent of all U.S. corn is of a biotech variety. Furthermore, GM soybeans have grown in usage over the past 15 years, from 17 percent in 1997 to 93 percent this year.

The biotech industry is seeking to combat world hunger, combining the various genes into crops in order to increase crop yield. This includes reducing the reliance on herbicides and insecticides, which now are integrated into the crops themselves.

“Contrary to industry claims, GM foods are not properly tested for human safety before they are released for sale. In fact, the only published study directly testing the safety of a GM food on humans found potential problems.”

A feature article on WebMD recently delved into the pros and cons of the technology, as well as the impact it has had on the lives of those around the world, including Americans.

Researchers from the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers’ Cook College reported that just over half – 52 percent - of Americans realized that genetically modified foods are even sold in grocery stores, and a mere 26 percent believed they had ever consumed GM foods.

This is one of the primary concerns. At least, that’s what the proponents of GM labeling say. Experts point to the fact that the regulation system of the United States is what sets it apart from its European counterparts, which have stood against GM foods firmly.

The European Union has stated, repeatedly, that organic foods are preferred. They claim that the risk of genetically modified foods to both human health and the environment far outweigh the purported benefits. Furthermore, it only squeezes out traditional farmers in favor of large corporations such as Monsanto.

Here in western Nebraska, farmers have near-unanimously switched to GM seeds in recent years. According to Frenchman Valley Co-Op in Pine Bluffs, all but one of its customers has switched to GM corn seed each year, in hopes of higher crop yields.

However, despite what farmers have transitioned to and what these biotechnology firms claim, several studies have emerged that state just the opposite; according to the results, GM crops do not produce any higher yields than their natural counterparts.

A 2009 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as a peer-reviewed study by the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability provided further evidence to those who say that the large corporations in control of the products overblow the purported benefits of GM seeds.

The International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability showed, in fact, that conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering, is responsible for the yield increases in major U.S. crops.

While companies like Monsanto continue to grow not only domestically, but across the globe, the claims from these groups stating GMOs may not be safe for human consumption are no doubt concerning. However, for the time being, GMOs are rampantly common in the United States, despite the fact, worldwide - 64 countries have banned them.

“The root cause of hunger is not a lack of food, but a lack of access to food,” said Kinsman. “The poor have no money to buy food and increasingly, no land on which to grow it. Hunger is fundamentally a social, political and economic problem, which GM technology cannot address.”

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