For years corporations praised the cornucopia of innovative products consumers can expect with the latest agricultural revolution - namely genetically modified organisms (GMOs) making the arrival from farm fields to our dinner plates. Unfortunately, the hype has proven to be both misleading and dangerous. Consumers would do better to avoid buying GMOs altogether and join with farmers to reclaim control over the health and integrity of our nation"s food system.
When first introduced in 1996 the biotechnology industry touted GMOs as the economic salvation for grain growers. Thanks to multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, corporations persuaded many people to believe that "wonder crops" like "Golden Rice" and "Round-Up Ready Soybeans" will not only feed the hungry masses, but also improve environmental problems. If only such tall tales were true.
According to a recent USDA report, the reality is that 98 percent of all biotechnology tinkering in agriculture today is done to make food production and processing easier and more profitable, not to improve nutrition or quality for consumers. "(We) should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food," said Monsanto"s Director of Corporate Communications Phil Angell in a 1998 New York Times article. "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible."
Consumers should be concerned with our nation"s food supply and its vulnerability to GMOs serious contamination threats and questionable health standards. Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported experimental GMOs have a knack for finding their way into our food supply turning hapless consumers into guinea pigs. In Iowa, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the destruction of 500,000 contaminated bushels of soybeans found to be tainted with a previous biotech corn crop, grown to produce vaccines and industrial enzymes. The incident is reminiscent of an earlier disaster in 2000 involving Starlink (a biotech corn variety never approved for human consumption) which got into Kraft Foods" Taco-Bell Home Original taco shells as well as 300 other food items nationwide.
An even lesser known example is the covert sale of experimental milk to students, staff, faculty, and patients at the University of Wisconsin-Madison throughout the 1980s, long before the FDA"s questionable approval of synthetic bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in 1992.
As the first genetically modified organism brought to market, rBGH has yet to pass safety muster in any other industrialized country outside the U.S. Its use has many adverse side affects-both on the animals and the milk they produce.
Udder infections or mastitis increase by up to 50% with rBGH injections, leading to higher-often illegal-use of antibiotics that then contaminate both milk and beef. Milk induced by rBGH also contains elevated levels of insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) - a known carcinogen.
Fatal allergic reactions are another valid concern. An estimated two percent of U.S. adults and between six percent and eight percent of U.S. children have food allergies.
Yet a recent FDA spot check of bakeries, ice cream makers and confectioners in the Midwest (the New York Times reported in 2001) revealed that up to 25 percent of the company"s food items contained unlisted ingredients that could cause deadly allergic responses in consumers.
GMOs only make this danger worse as biotech engineers cross familiar species boundaries into the unknown.
Contrary to biotechnology industry rhetoric, people have even died due to GMO foods.
In 1989, a Japanese chemical corporation, Showa Denko, used genetically engineered bacteria for the first time to produce L-tryptophan-a common over-the-counter dietary supplement.
A bad batch, though, ended up killing 39 people in the U.S. and permanently disabling another 1,500 individuals with a painful blood disorder known as eosinophiia myalgia syndrome (EMS).
A class action lawsuit followed and Showa Denko ultimately paid a $2 billion settlement to its biotechnology victims.
As our digestive systems struggle to recover from Thanksgiving, take a moment to reflect on where your food came from, who grew it and how much time he/she put into producing the bountiful harvest Americans indulge in every day.
When it comes to consumer sovereignty and public safety, the biotech industry would rather have its cake and eat it, too. Consumers who value healthy food systems and responsible agricultural practices still have a chance to close the lid on this Pandora"s Box.
By rejecting GMOs at our dinner table, we can keep every meal-healthy and safe.