Genetic engineering. It’s a bit like nuclear power, pesticides, feeding cows on sheeps brains. You either think it’s a great idea, don’t care either way because it doesn’t affect you, or you think it is an extremely bad idea.
The other thing they all have in common is that I came across them in my days as a press officer for the UK civil service. However, as I signed the Official Secrets Act, you are not going to be treated to the disclosure of lots of gory scandal for which I could be prosecuted.
Genetic engineering, nuclear power, and pesticides all came under the aegis of the Health and Safety Executive. As did Industrial Air Pollution (Rechem anyone?) until it was stolen by the Department of the Environment. At the press conference for this transfer, it was presided over by the obnoxious Nicholas Ridley (Sec of State for Environment) who was ironically wafting smoke around the room while we discussed air pollution.
Feeding cows on sheeps brains came under MAFF. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I digress. Although perhaps not so much, because all these topics are linked – pollution and contamination of our environment and the food we eat.
The civil servant in charge of genetic engineering was an extremely bright and personable man. I can still remember his name. I didn’t particularly deal with the topic, but because we were allocated on a desk system, when my partner wasn’t around I picked up on some GE queries.
So switching into journalist mode, because as a press officer, you have to anticipate the questions, I asked the obvious. ‘Is it safe?’
Of course it was. It was very strictly regulated, licences, tightly defined areas for experimentation, careful monitoring of the sites etc etc. Our expert was very convincing in the way he said it, but I wasn’t happy with the theory. My press office colleague was totally happy with the theory. I kept my doubts to myself. Wasn’t exactly my job to say it sounded dodgy to me. A bit like nuclear power, burning polychlorinated biphenyls to release dioxins, and pesticides. My job was to promote the government line that everything was safe and well-regulated.
And to be honest, I wasn’t an expert on any of those subjects, it was an instinctive distrust of all of these highly controversial topics that could potentially cause major problems. Or were – allegedly – already doing so.
Fast forward into the nineties when genetic modification starts to take off. A tomato called FlavrSavr. What a name! Apparently it took longer to go off after it had been picked. [Daily Wail]
And in whose interests would this be? We can keep old tomatoes on the shelves longer because they don’t go rotten as quickly? Of course, that is good for my health and I am eating very tasty tomatoes. It has nothing to do with big AgroBucks. AgroBucks are closely related to PharmaBucks. PestiBucks. GreedyGlobalConglomerateBucks. They are all the same.
Then after that we get the fuss about GMO tomatoes being used to make tomato puree.
Quote from the BBC:
1996: First GM food goes on sale in UK
The first genetically modified, or GM, food goes on sale today in British supermarkets.
The GM puree has been produced by bioscience company Zeneca, which says the product has a stronger taste and sticks better to pasta than conventional sauces.
The new tomatoes have been modified to respond in a selective way to a colourless gas, ethylene, which triggers both ripening and rotting processes in fruits.
Fruit importers have used ethylene for 50 years to ensure a regular supply of tropical fruits to Britain. They are picked unripe and then ripened here by exposure to the gas.
Zeneca’s Nigel Poole said: “Everybody wins; the farmer has a longer window for delivery, there is less mould damage, the tomatoes are easier to transport and they are better for processing.”
Consumer groups have called for the mandatory labelling of products which are or contain GM products – at the moment labelling is voluntary.
And just where did Mr Poole point out the benefits to consumers? Benefits to Zeneca and farmers sure.
Tesco on the other hand:
However, supermarket giant Tesco said it would not be stocking the GM puree because the new product did not offer any additional benefits to customers compared to normal puree.
By July 1999 Sainsbury and Safeway had been forced to clear their shelves of the GM tomato puree.
More on tomatoes:
1. ‘Conventional’ Tomato Production
About seventy million tonnes of tomatoes were produced worldwide in 1993. Today’s global food distribution system involves food being transported many miles and hours between producer, processor, retailer and consumer. It is important that ripe fruit and vegetables do not perish on the journey due to their soft skins. In the US, the problem is solved in conventional tomato-farming by picking tomatoes while they are still green and firm, transporting them, and then spraying them with ethylene (the natural ripening agent) to artificially ripen and redden them after the journey. 80% of American tomatoes are managed in this way. However, artificial ripening does not produce the flavour that the fruit has if left on the vine, and they are usually quite tasteless.
You all do know that a lot of your fruit are sprayed with ethylene to artificially ripen them don’t you? It’s produced in the petrochemical industry by steam cracking. That’s very natural isn’t it?
Let’s move on from tomatoes.
And have a look at the pros and cons of GMO.
This is easy. GMO is about making big money for big companies. Monsanto comes to mind.
First company to genetically modify a plant in the US in 1982? Monsanto.
Five years later, first field trials of genetically modified crops? Monsanto.
That’s a pro for them. This is a total financial move. Not only do the developers of genetically modified seeds/plants/whatever get to flog their new products, they can also sell even more herbicides (weedkillers). Because these GMO crops are herbicide resistant.
Biggest seller of glyphosate herbicides in the US through its Roundup brand? Monsanto.
Nice move. Sell the crops and the weedkiller too. One of the websites I read said that since introducing GMO crops, Monsantos herbicide sales had increased. Double win.
But where is the pro for the rest of us?
We’re eating stale food that has been mucked about with, not tested over a long period of time, and consuming ever more quantities of poison (ie weedkiller).
I should also add that Monsanto was big on Agent Orange, DDT, and bovine somatrophin.
If you don’t care about any of this and you think GM has nothing to do with you then you probably think that the tooth fairy still brings sixpences, even for your wisdom teeth (didn’t happen for me), Santa Claus comes down the chimney even when you don’t have one, or it is blocked up because you don’t like dirty real fires, and Tony Blair and George Bush really believed there were weapons of mass destruction. In which case I have no idea why you are reading this blog.
Supposed pros are … see the links at the bottom because they all boil down to money at the end of the day.
Some cons about GMO.
• No-one knows or cares about the effects.
• Potentially even more dangerous chemicals in the food chain.
• Monopolisation of the agri business by big companies.
• Eradication of small local business.
• Contamination of organic crops and heritage seeds.
• Loss of choice, loss of variety, loss of control.
• Trying to alter nature – but haven’t humans always chosen to do that? And when has it worked?
Glyphosate exposure is associated with cancer, birth defects and neurological illnesses (including Parkinson’s disease), and it may be a ‘gender-bender’ that interferes with human hormone balances and function. Research shows that glyphosate can cause damage to cells, including human embryo cells. A 2012 study revealed higher cancer and death rates for rats fed GM maize and Roundup.
– Environmental impacts of glyphosate include damage to rivers and on the animals living in them, disruption of soil nutrients and contamination of drinking water. Of increasing concern is the spread of “super weeds” that aren’t killed either and are forcing farmers to resort to hand weeding vast fields at considerable cost and effort – exactly the opposite of GM’s promise [watch Farmer to Farmer: The truth about GM crops). There are now over 20 weed species resistant to glyphosate affecting over 100 resistant strains on some 6 million hectares of otherwise good farmland in Argentina, Brazil and the US. Monsanto recommends using even higher levels of even more toxic chemicals, including some that had been discontinued as too dangerous, to control superweeds.
So that’s a good idea isn’t it?
10 reasons why we don’t need GM foods
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
2. GM crops do not increase yield potential
3. GM crops increase pesticide use
4. There are better ways to feed the world
5. Other farm technologies are more successful
6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat
7. People don’t want GM foods – so they’re hidden in animal feed
8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers
9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist
10. We can’t trust GM companies
Full link to gmwatch. http://gmwatch.org/10-reasons-why-we-dont-need-gm-foods
An excellent site.
Where are GM crops produced?
Back in the 90s in the early UK field trial days, they were being tested near my parents’ home in a crop-growing area. I shuddered. At one point you could look up the sites. Seems not so easy nowadays. Wonder why?
The US produces the most GM crops in the world, around fifty per cent.
In Europe, sadly Spain is well ahead of the game, one of the main GMO growers. Out of a population of 44 mill, only nine mill are in a GMO free area. For some reason provincía de Málaga is included. Probably because they are still too excited about using as many pesticides under the sun as they can manage.
MÁLAGA, Spain, Mar 27 2013 (IPS) – Spain has more large-scale plantations of genetically modified seeds than any other country in the European Union (EU).
Based on the number of trials conducted and the area of land planted, Spain accounts for 42 percent of all field trials of genetically modified crops in the EU, according to figures from the European Commission Joint Research Centre.
I’ll leave you with this link:
The USM. The United States of Monsanto.
The one where a nice little number for Monsanto was tagged onto the federal shut down legislation. Rather like the anti-gambling law was tagged onto the Safe Port Act.
Really America, I love the way you add totally irrelevant legislation to some major acts just to sneak it through. Devious in the extreme.
And Mr Gates. Apparently vegetarian, or vegan or something. With 500,000 shares in Monsanto. Worth some 23 mill bucks. Or whatever depending on the rate on the day. It comes as no surprise that he considers GMO foods to be the saviour of the world.
The very same company that has been caught running slave rings in Argentina in which workers were forced to work 14+ hours a day while withholding payment, has used their massive finances to fund organizations that literally fake FDA quotes to support GMOs, and of course peddling through GMOs that have been linked to numerous health concerns.
This is not even taking into account the farmer suicides that occur around every 30 minutes due to Monsanto’s failing GMO crop yield bankrupting small-time farmers in India’s notorious ‘suicide belt‘
Oh and I haven’t started on GE/GM on animals …
The GloFish is a patented brand of genetically modified (GM) fluorescent zebrafish with bright red, green, and orange fluorescent color. Although not originally developed for the ornamental fish trade, it became the first genetically modified animal to become publicly available as a pet when it was introduced for sale in 2003. They were quickly banned for sale in California.
You want cheap food? There is a price to pay. And we are all paying it.
Credit for inspiration on this post goes to EllaDee, links to her two posts on GMO are below.
And on a related theme, my post on World Environment Day (5 June)
Some other links:
BBC- scientists highlight hazards of GM foods
BBC – GM crop impact lasts two years
golden harvest organics
Good list of pros and cons