By Jason Price, Seattle, Washington
So, would you eat one? Your first reaction is probably – no way. It conjures up mental images of Chernobyl or the after effects of runoff from Fukushima. But what if that cow was advertised as a new ‘Super Cow.’ It would be the tastiest cow ever bred by man where all of its parts taste like filet mignon. And what if there was nothing on the label telling you that this Super Cow had been created genetically in a lab somewhere? It just had a label with a happy, smiling cow on the front and it tastes so darned good when you cook it?
I bet you millions of dollars that you, and everyone else would eat it. All the while being blissfully unaware of the genetic engineering the cow underwent in a laboratory in order to create that beautifully tender meat at an affordable price.
So what is a Genetically Modified Organism anyway?
GMO’s are defined by the Non-GMO project as “plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.” Yes, this means that your Labradoodle (1/2 Labrador Retriever, 1/2 Poodle) is not a genetically modified organism. It wasn’t created in a laboratory and it did naturally occur without help (other than putting the Lab and Poodle in the same room at the right time).
Animal, Mineral or Vegetable?
Now, let’s shift gears and take a look at a more benign organism – corn. Corn is known as one of the most common genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) for both human and animal consumption. Close your eyes and think about the last time you had a delicious ear of sweet corn off the grill. The succulent taste of the buttery corn melting in your mouth. Mmmm, mmm, good! Well, there’s a good chance that the very same corn you were eating was a GMO. And you probably wouldn’t have known because no seller of corn, or anything else for that matter, needs to tell you about it.
Feel duped? Concerned?
According to a recent article posted on Discovery.com – every state in the USA is growing genetically modified corn today and the numbers are growing. This is further substantiated by the Non-GMO Project Standard report on commercial GMOs which outlines that as of 2011, over 85% of Canola, Corn, Cotton, Sugar Beets and Soy grown in the US is genetically modified.
The reason: GMO corn is pesticide free because insects die from eating it. That’s right – the corn kills pests which ingest its kernels. On the good side – no more pesticides and runoff harming water sources, etc. The bad – ???Who knows at this point??? One could imagine that if something kills living organisms by ingesting that thing, it could potentially harm other living organisms in the near to long term.
People = Guinea Pigs?
The main issue here is that we just don’t have the data. Humans are literally acting as guinea pigs while eating food that has been tested in lab settings but not over time. Now I’m not on a witch hunt here – but I have to ask myself why it’s necessary to eat something not created naturally when there are perfectly good non-GMO foods out there? Why would I take that risk? And what’s wrong with regular food? Do I need to eat cloned animals? Do I need to eat GMO anything? Probably not.
Don’t Grow Downwind…
Another big issue in the GMO vs. Non-GMO world is cross pollination. Nature does start to have an effect when pollen from GMO crops is carried by insects, wind, hands/feet, etc. to Non-GMO pastures. The result is the Non-GMO crop becoming contaminated by the GMO crop and weird hybrids being created. Farmers trying to grow Non-GMO, organic or natural crops are exasperated by the prospects of their efforts being negated by cross pollination which is nearly impossible to protect against.
OK, I Care – So What Do I Do?
The first step you can take is deciding to care about what you eat. Since you can’t read labels in the US to find out if something contains GMO vs. Non-GMO inputs, you have to get smart. By buying fewer processed foods you greatly reduce your chances of accidentally ingesting a GMO. By knowing your farmer, you can know your food and where it comes from. Shop at local farmers markets or retail stores where food sources and farm practices are labeled. If your purveyor doesn’t know where the food in their shop comes from ask yourself – do I really want to be shopping here?
This debate will continue to evolve over time and more information will come to light for certain. But before waiting for that to happen, or for corporations to be completely honest – take matters into your own hands. Buy local, eat local and get to know your local farmers.