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Do you trust genetically modified food?

"Engineering Food for All" in today's NY Times advocates limiting the regulations that raise costs and discourage utilization of GMF's. With rising populations, the author claims that GMF's are both desirable and necessary to deal with increasing demand. Further, she claims that despite extensive studies, there is no evidence of harmful effects. Are you comfortable with GMF's? Do you find the author's contention convincing?

Personally, I'd love to enjoy the benefits of this innovation and I have no knowledge of harmful effects, but based on the food industry's propensity to innovate for economic and marketing reasons, rather than healthfulness and quality , I'm still skeptical.


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    1. I'm no expert, but here goes...
      I don't believe eating GMF's will have any negative effects on my health, but I will do everything possible to avoid eating them.

      BUT, my reasoning for NOT eating GMF's is that they aren't part of what I see as sustainable farming practice. Their use encourages the practice of monoculture farming - growing only the same crop on the same soil, year after year, rather than growing a variety of crops and rotating them to keep the right mix of nutrients in the soil.
      I don't think we know enough about the long-term effects of this practice on the environment to fully embrace it at this time.

      I'd be interested to know the percentage of GMO's that are used for animal feed, ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup in North America. If we as a society decided to eat less meat, drive less and cut down on soda/soft drinks and processed/prepared food, the land used to produce these crops could provide more "real food", and that would be a big step toward feeding the growing world population.
      I also have concerns about the ethical practices of some of the producers of GMO's. It is my understanding that farmers are not permitted to use seeds produced by their GMO crops, and must continue to purchase them from the companies. How does that help a third-world farmer out of poverty?

      There is also the issue of GMO seed contaminating the fields of other farmers who have chosen to use conventional or organic methods. Google GMO & lawsuit, or Monsanto & lawsuit, and a bigger picture will present itself.

      I'd be interested to hear how others feel about this.

      1. I choose to stay away from GMF, and eat as much sustainably raised produce as I can. My own garden is from Heirloom seeds, and seeds collected from previous harvests. This is what nature intended and I plan on sticking with that.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JEN10

          No, people. using selective breeding gave you your "heirloom" produce. So many things we eat woudn't exist without human intervention- why stop now?

        2. As others have noted, the most significant negatives of GMO foods aren't the health effects of consuming that food, but their effect on the food system. They reinforce, big time, the growing corporate concentration, industrialization, and genetic uniformity of food production.

          The spread of GMO crops threatens the very possibility of organic, traditionally grown crops nearby, and the companies that control the technology (aided heavily by the US government under the last three administrations) have demonstrated over and over that they're out to crush independent farmers and those working to preserve a food system outside FoodInc.

          Large-scale planting of GMO crops designed to withstand application of herbicides have resulted in weeds resistant to those herbicides, massively speeding up the resistance cycle.

          Nina Fedoroff (author of the op ed linked in the OP) -- like many other top scientists in an increasingly corporatized academia -- is personally invested in the success of biotechnologies. E.g., She was a long-time board member of Sigma-Aldrich before resigning to take the State Dept. advisory job, and will probably return to that board once she steps down from the govt post. http://investor.sigmaaldrich.com/rele...

          3 Replies
          1. re: ellabee

            This is even more outrageous.
            "Percy Schmeiser is a farmer from Saskatchewan Canada, whose Canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically engineered Round-Up Ready Canola by pollen from a nearby farm. Monsanto says it doesn’t matter how the contamination took place, and is therefore demanding Schmeiser pay their Technology Fee (the fee farmers must pay to grow Monsanto’s genetically engineered products). "


              1. re: Rmis32

                "chemical tresspass" is just as strong an argument,granted most cave when the biggies wave a big stick
                BUT THEY DO NOT HAVE TO
                There are many cases where farmers have won the argument.Spray drift from a conventional farm to certified organic isn't OK.

            1. Slightly lean towards favoring.

              On safety.
              It's a guarantee that all of us have used GM products. GM bacteria and other organisms are used in production of a lot of drugs and supplements. There's really no debating the safety aspect.

              On farming.
              Crop diversity has gone downhill way before GM crops. At the same time, we see new ones being cultivated, either through traditional methods or in the lab.

              On the farmer.
              Last I checked, it's still a choice for them. Use GM seeds and purchase seeds every season or use traditional methods.

              On the ecosystem.
              Just about every time human beings decide to release an animal into a new habitat, things end up going wrong. So, for that (very long history of human stupidity) reason, I really don't like the thought of GM animals that have an edge in reproduction, growth and development.

              On marketing.
              Why the *&%$ don't they spend some time creating a GM crop that just flat out tastes better/stronger than the produce we have now? If they were extra tasty, then there would be more support for the stuff. If GM resulted in quick growing bluefins and being able to cultivate truffles, then it's an easy prediction that support will grow.

              On necessity.
              Spare me. We already produce enough food to feed everyone happily. But, that's a different topic.

              1. Since the beginning of agriculture GMF has existed, without it we wouldn't have corn.

                12 Replies
                1. re: kpaxonite

                  Yes, we have been selectively breeding the food we grow since agriculture began, but that is different from manipulating the genetics of our food organisms.
                  Another scary GMO piece in this week's news:
                  (had to get it from a UK publication - I imagine it didn't make headlines on this side of the ocean)

                  1. re: hungryjoanne

                    Selective breeding is by definition manipulating the genetics of food organisms.

                    1. re: limster

                      I disagree... just think about animals. Zorses, bengal cats, and mules. The genetics have undoubtedly been modified of the original animals to the extent that they qualify as a different species.

                      1. re: kpaxonite

                        Er.....I think you meant to disagree with the post above, since we both consider selective breeding to be genetic manipulation?

                  2. re: kpaxonite

                    The issues revolve around who controls the modified material, who owns it, and how it's used, not primarily the fact of genetic modification itself.

                    1. re: ellabee

                      How are those issues different from the patent issues surrounding the software and hardware that we use everyday to post on this forum? How many of us are dedicated Open Source users?

                      1. re: paulj

                        Precedent, for one. Telling farmers that they have no rights to their own seeds goes against 10,000 years of tradition.

                        Also it's harder to enforce fairly and worse for the world at large, which has relied upon individuals 'modifying' produce since the beginning of agriculture. Processes very similar to modern genetic modification (in effect, if not in execution) have revolutionized our species' food supply again and again and allowed for the population our planet now supports (meaning your very existence and mine, most likely). Do we really want the rights to that process to be controlled by an aggressive giant corporate monopoly that legislates and litigates any competition into bankruptcy?

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Farmers have long been at the mercy of their seed suppliers, especially tenant farmers with little to no capital.

                          At the root of Monsanto's power in this area is the idea of intellectual property rights, i.e. their patents and licensing arrangements. They may be particularly skilled at exercising these rights, but I doubt if that use is unique. Just because you own a computer running Microsoft's operating system, does not give you the right to duplicate it, or write new software using their patented ideas.

                          Who's the primary competition to Monsanto? DuPont isn't closed to bankruptcy is it?

                          1. re: paulj

                            Being 'at the mercy of their seed suppliers' and having no rights to the seeds they themselves grow is a fundamentally and radically different state of affairs. And that's not to even mention farmers being sued out of business for accidental crossbreeding of seeds they obtained elsewhere. Find me examples of seed suppliers successfully suing individual farmers for patent infringement before Monsanto started doing so in the mid-90s. Timesaving hint... they don't exist.

                            Comparing intellectual property rights for software companies to intellectual property rights for a seed company is so fundamentally different that the analogy falls apart. For one, the software industry has no millennia-old precedent for patent-free development by individuals. For another, software is not a living organism that reproduces itself, leaving the question of rights quite murky when nature is left to do what nature does. If Microsoft Vista was able to form some unholy hybrid with Linux all on its own, and then infect home computers in Missouri, I'd feel a little different about Microsoft suing for patent infringement.

                            But most of all, farmers' free rights to their seeds has been one of the driving forces behind agriculture since the beginning of human civilization, and a great boon to mankind. We're seriously flirting with ending that just so a huge and already profitable corporation can sell more pesticide and herbicide.

                            On DuPont: you are correct. DuPont is doing just fine. They are not merely the primary competition to Monsanto; they are the only major competition. They are doing fine because two companies effectively dominate the market for agricultural seeds in the US (while also having substantial interest in various other agricultural and non-agricultural sectors both domestically and internationally). You think this entails real economic competition? I think it's exactly what antitrust laws are supposed to protect us against. These companies are as powerful or more so than those of the robber baron era, and probably have a great deal more influence on our government.

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              I share cowboyardee's concerns.

                              But I am even more worried about the longterm impact of unleashing these new forms of life into the wild.

                              The law and its interpretation are easily changed.
                              Not so easy to control plants and animals once they get loose from where they were originally intended to go.

                              This development may be irreversible, and we may well come to regret it once that genie's out of the bottle.

                              1. re: racer x

                                Quote Racer x: "But I am even more worried about the longterm impact of unleashing these new forms of life into the wild."

                                Quote, Me: "For another, software is not a living organism that reproduces itself, leaving the question of rights quite murky when nature is left to do what nature does."
                                Amusing thought: it occurred to me that we have a real-life version of Jurassic Park playing out. Except that when 'life finds a way' as it tends to do, rather than admitting fault, the responsible party just sues everyone in the affected area.

                      2. re: ellabee

                        There are abuses like this that don't involve large companies or GM crops. Take, for example the mayocabo or peruano bean. This is a light yellow bean that rivals the pinto and black for popularity in Mexico. But we are seeing it in the USA only recently because a seed producer in Colorado held a patent on a yellow bean, and was able to block the importation of this bean. After an extended fight, his patent was invalidated, basically on the argument that he could not have bred a new bean in the short time between when he bought some samples in Mexico, and when he filed the patent.

                    2. Selective breeding is genetic engineering. We have taken over the selection of traits, as opposed to the environment, and therefore created monstrosities that are perfectly wonderful for our needs. (Would a cauliflower survive in nature? I've seen heirloom Brandywines half the size of a football...would it be recognized by anything that would normally eat the pea-sized ancestral tomato? Most people don't think of selective breeding in this way, however. Its OK to selectively cross whole genomes, because its natural. Taking out a gene or 2 at a time and transferring those is unnatural, and therefore bad. Hmmmm.....viruses have been doing it for us for eons. Bacteria exchange genes like they were those silly bracelets you get at 7-11. Much of our DNA, and that of nearly all organisms, includes samples of DNA that were transferred to us courtesy of viruses. That said, though....I am definitely not in favor of unregulated use of transgenic foods. potatoes with Bt genes and glyphosate resistant genes give me the creeps. But would I take rice with beta carotene? That doesn't disturb me in the least.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: EricMM

                        There is a HUGE difference between doing classical genetics (cross breeding) of plants and injecting foreign DNA into them from other, non related species.

                      2. Nope.

                        I don't trust genetically modified food and I certainly don't trust the companies that make GMO's to care about either the safety of the food or my health and well being. For them there is only one concern and that is $$$.

                        1. pandoras's picnic basket aside,we already are
                          selective breeding,domestication,seed selection,hand pollination
                          corn has been under cultivation so long the definitive plant parent is still a mystery

                          how much inter/intra species genetic manipulation is too much????good question
                          if the cancer cure is OK,why not the tomatoe or pig

                          with a PHD in Bio-Chemistry,a past in public health all over the world, trained chef living on a 42 acre farm,THESE ARE NOT EASY QUESTIONS ,WITH ANY QUICK ANSWERS

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: lcool

                            The question you ask limits ing the focus to the genetic manipulation itself, when it is the system of ever-increasing concentration of corporate control of food crops in which GMO technology is embedded, and the way that it's being used as a tool to further that control, that makes it so dangerous.

                            Your varied, impressive credentials ought to assist you in taking a wider view of the issue.

                            1. re: ellabee

                              The long of it and the short of it should be informed choices.I won't pretend there isn't a problem with available information.Much is just as hard to find as they can make it,get away with.

                              They don't call it AGRI-BUSINESS for nothing.Just because I don't approve of the concept doesn't mean I know where to draw the line and would admit it.My personal choices don't include electrocuted chickens or any other large factory model that delivers all for the sake of cheap.With a USDA that is without teeth and woefully understaffed you have a recipe for ? during a recall rather like sitting on a tablesaw and wondering which tooth got you.Who to blame?Is the US Congress qualified to write or legislate rules change?

                              We grow,raise,consult and teach from soil to table and happen to be old enough to remember the older,good and bad.

                              My wider view would include most if not all monopolies or near enough monopolies to control a crop or product can be problematic.Pineapples,cane sugar are two that come to mind that most people I know simply don't think about.A list of irrational crops because of pesticides,herbicides,human rights or just plain monoculture stupidity would be how long?

                              Then there is the stuff you never get to say where an advertiser can pull the plug.Therefor the media stance is unlikely to change.

                          2. Of course I trust GM foods.

                            I don't, however, trust GM food companies.

                            1. The crucial point that those who equate the time-honored traditions of selective breeding with modern lab-based genetic modification of food miss is that we have had generations upon generations to observe the effects of selective breeding on our well-being. Such is not yet the case with the kinds of genetically-modified foods that the author of the article is advocating. How can she claim that "now the evidence is in. These crop modification methods are not dangerous," when it might take decades before serious ill effects of genetic manipulation arise and longer still before they are recognized for what they are?

                              And let's also remember that the new varieties of food produced by traditional methods of agriculture and animal husbandry have always been slow to disseminate across the reaches of humanity. If a particular new variety were to cause a problem, the effects would be relatively limited geographically. There would always been some isolated areas that were untouched.

                              But the world is a much smaller place today than even 50 years ago. The author freely admits that "in 2010, crops modified by molecular methods were grown in 29 countries on more than 360 million acres." Like other skeptics in this thread, I worry about the disastrous effects the global food supply could suffer if serious defects of certain genetically-modified foods weren't recognized until after the genetically-modified foods had replaced traditional foods.

                              1. I believe lab-based genetic modification may hold great promise.

                                However, I completely disagree with the author's assertion that "it is time to relieve the regulatory burden slowing down the development of genetically modified crops. The three United States regulatory agencies need to develop a single set of requirements and focus solely on the hazards — if any — posed by new traits" and that "above all, the government needs to stop regulating genetic modifications for which there is no scientifically credible evidence of harm."

                                By all means, scientists should continue to try to develop new varieties of food using genetic modification. But the process must absolutely be tightly regulated, and all the effects of introducing these products into the food supply must be carefully studied -- not just effects that are thought to be hazards. What might not seem to be a hazard today might be recognized to be a hazard in the future. If no one is looking for problems, it will be harder to spot them when they occur.

                                It wasn't all that long ago that medical researchers were fined for lapses in the conduct of a gene therapy experiment that led to the death of a patient volunteer.
                                When the stakes are so high, and the financial motives so overwhelming, allowing innovators to police themselves is just foolhardy.

                                As for the problem of being able to find food for all the hungry mouths as populations grow, there are other potential solutions.
                                We (humanity) already know how to safely control reproductive rates. The question is whether we have the collective will to do it.

                                1. Another concern I have is that the few real choices we currently have when we buy foods will be further limited in this new era.

                                  We read of widespread fraud in the labeling of fish.

                                  How will we know whether the foods in the market are traditional foods or are genetically-modified foods? Just because the grocer claims a food is non-genetically-modified does it make it so? How will the grocer or his/her supplier even know, especially with foods being imported from the other side of the globe (I saw South African oranges in the local Costco here in Miami today!)?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: racer x

                                    1) No such thing as traditional foods.
                                    2) Deal with it. Or grow and raise your own food.

                                    (in response to your second post..i agree with the first one)

                                    1. re: kpaxonite

                                      "Traditional foods" in that sentence means food produced without using the kind of genetic modification that the author of the article was discussing.