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Genetically modified madness

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By Terry Grayson

I have been living in rural Levy County for nearly four years, and I know precious little about farms and farming, but I am rather fond of eating. As a result I tend to follow issues that affect our food supply and support a number of groups that work toward making the food we eat safer for everyone. One area of major concern to me is the problem our country is facing with regard to genetically modified foods.

Genetically modified (GM) foods are crops that have had their DNA altered through a process called genetic engineering. This type of modification is intended to change something about the way the plant itself develops from seed to harvest to market. Typical reasons for these changes are to increase vitamin and protein levels of a crop or to accelerate its growth rate. As a result of genetic alteration we can now grow crops in harsh climates. Produce has been developed that can ripen on the plant and stay fresher longer. Crops today can be designed to be pest and weed resistant. Generally speaking, though, the changes that are manipulated in these foods are of the sort that would never occur naturally.

Commercial production of GM food began in the early 1990s. In 2007 statistics show the percentage of these GM crops grown in the United States are as follows: corn (61 percent), soybean (89 percent), cotton (83 percent) and canola (75 percent). These are the crops most commonly modified. The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate 75 percent of all processed foods in the United States contain a GM ingredient. This means that much of the food you are purchasing from your grocery store contains such a component. Reading the labels does not help because there are no laws requiring manufacturers using GM foods in their products to notify you.

The arguments in favor of GM foods include cost effectiveness, resistance to pests and other plants, the ability to thrive in harsh environments and claims that fewer chemicals are used to grow the crops due to built-in genetic properties. Many proponents of GM crops claim these products will reduce world hunger.

Those in opposition to GM crops argue that more pesticides and herbicides are used in their production simply because the modified crops have the genetic ability to “handle it.” Also cited are recent studies that indicate the overall yield from GM food crops is 10 percent less when compared to conventionally grown crops. Opponents also believe the answers to reducing hunger on this planet lie in political and economic solutions and have little to do with a lack of food in the world. A better means of transport and distribution are thought to be the key in this regard.

Critics of GM foods are now pointing out that the overuse of herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate) developed by GM food giant Monsanto has led to numerous species of “superweeds” with a resistance to the chemical. It is speculated that the emergence of pesticide-resistant “superbugs” is not far off.

Monsanto is a pioneer in the GM foods industry and the leading manufacturer of GM seeds. Founded in 1901 by John Queeny, Monsanto first produced the artificial sweetener saccharin. Other products once manufactured by Monsanto include: DDT, Agent Orange and NutraSweet (aspartame). Over the course of its largely checkered past Monsanto has steadily advanced, through research and development, timely acquisitions and heartless leadership to become the global agricultural biotechnology conglomerate it is today. It is widely believed that Monsanto was the inspiration for the evil corporation U-North in the 2007 film Michael Clayton.

A recent study conducted by France’s University of Caen has determined that an ingredient once thought to be inert—and found in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup—can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, umbilical and placental cells. The ingredient in question is polyethoxylated tallowamine; scientists have found that even at diluted levels it can have a toxic effect on human cells. Read this link at Scientific American for more details:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=weed-whacking-herbicide-p

In summary: Monsanto produces seeds that are genetically modified to survive large doses of their own weed killer Roundup. The crops that are produced from those seeds include the big four mentioned above: soybean, corn, cotton and canola. Monsanto is the leading worldwide producer of genetically modified seed. Monsanto’s weed killer has been linked to toxic damage in human embryonic cells. An estimated 75 percent of processed food in the United States contains genetically modified ingredients. What are the chances of finding an American who buys groceries yet has not ingested some of Monsanto’s poisons? One could more easily win the lottery.