I am not going to take a soft line on this. I have always been frightened of what the long-term consequences of genetically modified crops will be. I was convinced that we were going to have to live through these consequences as a society – to “wait and see” whether it would manifest as the loss of our pollinators, the increase in super weeds, the rise of allergies, diseases or long-term health problems, or other unforeseen consequences. In North America it seems we don’t have the ability to take a precautionary approach – or even just a slower, peer reviewed approach to adopting radically different life-based technologies (especially when it might affect the massive profits of Seed Companies).
If you have not already heard – some well-respected French scientists recently released a study that is causing many to rethink the assumption that GMO crops are “substantially equivalent” to non-genetically modified crops. (“Substantial equivalence” having been the reasoning to approve their use so quickly, without long term testing.)
If you have not yet learned the details of this study, here are 2 links:
Conveniently, the Seed Companies (namely Monsanto) thought it only necessary to study the effects and prove the “safety” of their seeds with 3-month trials; and Health Canada happily agreed, performing no studies of their own. Sadly, as it turns out, this new independent 2-year French study found that premature death, multiple tumors and organ damage all start after 4 months, with all the same study parameters. I doubt that the Seed Companies just missed these findings.
I wonder if we will see some population-level studies in North America that will test for correlation between the increase in breast cancer or other chronic health conditions with the introduction of GMO’s to our food supply. Perhaps it is too hard to tease out of all the other factors that affect population health? Or, maybe we just don’t have a long enough study period; after all, the young girls growing up on GM products are not yet old enough to be dealing with breast cancer (although they are almost there – as we have been growing them for 18 years!).
In the meantime, if we continue to permit this population-level experiment to unfold, I am not going to let my family be the guinea pigs. Unfortunately, right now, the only way to opt out of the GMO experiment is to seek out exclusively organic food; not always easy to find and it can be expensive and no fun if you like eating in restaurants or yoru kids want to eat at friends houses.
The first step in avoiding GMO’s would be to require labeling and tracking all GM products. This would help everyone understand how pervasive they are and also provide clear market signals back to producers and value chains. But we also know this would not allow everyone to know about the affects of GMOs or avoid them. Michael Pollan’s recent piece in the New York Times explains why we don’t see labeling of GM products in North America; he notes,
“…more than 60 other countries have seen fit to label genetically modified food, including those in the European Union, Japan, Russia and China. To prevent the United States from following suit, Monsanto and DuPont, the two leading merchants of genetically modified seed, have invested more than $12 million to defeat Prop 37. They’ve been joined in this effort by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose president declared at a meeting last July that defeating Prop 37 would be the group’s top priority for 2012. Answering the call, many of America’s biggest food and beverage makers — including PepsiCo, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and General Mills — have together ponied up tens of millions of dollars to, in effect, fight transparency about their products.”
European countries, which have already banned the production of GM products are now in the process of declaring a full moratorium on all imports of genetically modified animal feed. Hopefully, this will send an important signal to our producers, if they want to keep their European markets. Instead of fighting the moratorium, our governments should put that energy into helping our producers adapt and change their products.
Health Canada has agreed to examine the French study to see if there is a demonstrated risk to Canadians and has said that they will take “appropriate action.”
Lucy Sharrat of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network wrote this great post about the recent French GM study:
If you don’t have time to get to her full post, here is the important part (to me):
“The new study suggests that possible adverse health impacts may not be detected in animal feeding trials that end after 90 days. It suggests that government regulators such as Health Canada need to require feeding trials, and make sure that the trials are long enough to explore possible chronic health impacts. Health Canada currently does neither. In fact, not only does Health Canada not require animal feeding trials to assess the safety of a new GM food, all data submitted to the department comes from the proponent itself and is classified as “Confidential Business Information.”…
Ironically, the same year that Health Canada approved this GM corn, the Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology (commissioned by the government) published 58 recommendations for reform of the system. The Expert Panel recommended that the design and execution of all testing regimes for new GMOs be conducted in open consultation with the expert scientific community and that analysis of study results be monitored by an “arms-length” panel of experts from all sectors, and reported in a public forum…
Health Canada has said they will review the study and if they see a demonstrated risk to Canadians, they will take “appropriate action”. Demonstrated risk is likely to remain elusive however and replicating the Séralini et al. study alone would take at least two years. So what’s next? Thankfully, the most complex questions raised by GM have already been examined by The People’s Food Policy, which recommends that, “existing GM crops should be phased out and there should be no further approvals of GM crops and animals.”
I would go further than the People’s Food Policy recommendation:
If we found there was e-coli in our beef, we would be outraged that the company would continue knowingly, to sell it, and that we were allowed to feed it to our children (wouldn’t we?!). This new study clearly indicates that there are some serious and real “side effects” to GMO corn and Round-Up. It is time we stop this.
It is time we demand that Health Canada does its job: I expect nothing less than a moratorium on the production of all GM crops until adequate, independent testing is completed that proves there are NO health risks.
GMO’s are not life saving medicines that come along with some risks and side-effects. We do not need GMO’s to feed the world, especially if it means more cancer and chronic health problems. There are many other non-genetically modified varieties of all crops that can and are being grown. There are non-Round-Up based production systems that are, if not more productive in the very short term, are more resilient and sustainable and thus more productive in the long term. Scientist and farmers around the world are questioning and rejecting this GM technology and the associated chemicals as they witness their impacts on their agro-ecosystems.
So if we don’t need them – let’s throw caution to wind and just say it like it is:
While these patented GM seeds continue to make a great deal of money for the Seed Companies – for Society, the costs far outweigh the benefits of these crops.
If you want to convince me otherwise, you need to prove it.