The reality is that genes are complex, and genetic engineering is a messy technology. “There’s no way to really control where these artificial gene units end up in the genome,” explains Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network of North America, who will also be participating in the online discussion. “What we’re increasingly finding, in this really new and evolving science of genetics, is that genes have multiple and complex functions in an organism.” When foreign genes are blasted into a genome, unintended side effects can occur and plants can be impacted in undesirable ways.
“You can think of the genome like an ecosystem,” explains Michael Hanson, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union. “If you introduce a foreign species into an ecosystem, sometimes nothing happens, sometimes it wreaks havoc. That’s why you have to look (at safety) on a case-by-case basis. We haven’t been doing that, so we have no idea.” Dr. Hansen will also participate.
One thing we know for sure is that GMOs have increased pesticide use by hundreds of millions of pounds in the U.S. over the past 15 years–driving a “pesticide treadmill” that has farmers using more pesticides.
Most GMOs in our food–94 percent of soybeans and more than 70 percent of corn and cotton grown in the U.S.–are engineered to survive Monsanto’s weed-killing chemical Roundup, which kills everything green (and soil microbes too) except the plants engineered to resist it.
The weeds are becoming resistant too and farmers are using more and worse chemicals such as systemic pesticides that are harming bees. Dow Chemical is now seeking approval of GMOs designed to go with 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange.
“We’re going into more and more chemical-intensive agriculture, not away–not in the direction of clean, safe, sustainable agriculture which is really where we need to be headed immediately,” says Dr. Ishii-Eiteman.
Moms are at the forefront of a new healthy food movement
For Robyn O’Brien, it was when her fourth child became ill with food allergies. The former financial analyst began analyzing the data on allergies and investigating GMOs, and she wrote the groundbreaking book, The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick And What We Can Do About It. When Cheerios recently announced it was going GMO free, the Today Show called Robyn for her reaction.
For Kristi Marsh, a beast cancer diagnosis in her 30s led her to become a “reluctant eco-activist,” as she describes in her book, Little Changes. She switched her family to a mostly organic, whole-foods diet, found her calling as a public speaker and wellness educator, and became “the face of the new protest movement,” as Dana Milbank called her in the Washington Post.
Robyn and Kristi share their stories in interviews airing January 28. Moms are on the front lines of the new food movement and Monsanto knows this. In the past few days, many female bloggers have received e-mail pitches asking them to write about GMO farmers.
There’s a Better Way to Feed the World