GMO’s and the Future of Food

I recently went to a friend’s birthday celebration and ran into a bunch of old chums from high school.  Conversation ensued and we found ourselves talking about food, which probably happened for two reasons.  First, we were surrounded by food, as most people are at large social gatherings (which tells us what about our special relationship to the things we eat?) and, second, because one of our friends has also been working on an organic farm.

He told us about the work he has been doing as a farm hand on a small organic farm just south of Olympia, Washington.  This is Shane’s third year working on the farm, which is a “vocational horticulture therapy program for people of all abilities.” As he told us more and more about the farm he works on, another one of our friends chimed in and started telling us about his parents’ piece of property outside of Oregon City and how they want to make it into a more successful hobby farm.  The only problem?  Time.  His parents both work in the city and lack the time to tend to the Earth.  He practically implored us to go out and farm their small plot of land, something which I must say resonated within me.  I must say that I, too, lack the time myself, but after getting my fingers dirty with my summer garden there is this urge, which feels rather ancient, to grow my own food.

Our varied conversations about food jumped around from subject to subject: the clay rich soil beneath areas in the NW, how much farmers’ markets are getting for organic eggs, the ease with which a salad can be made from one’s garden, and on and on.  At one point Shane and I split off from the others and started talking about the cost of land in the area.  We talked about how expensive acreage can be and how our region’s burgeoning wine industry is probably the reason for most of that costliness.

Then, and I cannot recall how it happened, we changed subject to genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  Shane asked if I had seen the film, The Future of Food, and when I told him that I had not, he recommended I watch it on Hulu.  Martha and I recently sat down and watched the film, which I am recommending you do as well.  It has been said that ignorance is bliss, but, to paraphrase what Joel Salatin said in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it doesn’t make sense that people spend all this time finding the right contractor to build their house or fix their plumbing but never think to ask, “Where does my food come from?”

When Martha and I finished the film we hopped online to try and find a list of GMO-Free Foods.  We found a Non-GMO Shopping Guide, which lists brands of food that are known to not contain genetic modifications.  I was shocked to discover that the majority of corn, soy, canola and cotton are all genetically modified.  I scribbled down a number of notes throughout the film, but two questions in particular have really stuck with me this morning.

First, if genetically modified organisms are not labeled as such, nor are they labeled with what genes may have been inserted into the plant, then how are people with severe food allergies to know if their food is safe and that their ear of corn hasn’t been genetically modified with a peanut gene because it enhances the corn product’s shelf life?

Second, if caterpillars die after eating corn that has been genetically modified to produce its own pesticide, and if the USDA and FDA have never really conducted extensive research on the effects of GMO’s on human beings, then how much genetically modified corn must I eat before I have my chromosomes damaged or die?


– Jacob S.

3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    konaka237 said,

    Yes! Non-GMO guide; I always wondered if the products that said non-GMO were the only products that didn’t contain GMO. I was incredulous at first when a coworker was telling me about Monsanto some years ago. He was telling me how they were patenting seeds, and coming up with the Genocide seed that failed crops from producing seeds that can’t germinate, so they have to come back to buy more each year. Wow, if I thought I was displeased in reading about it on Wikipedia then, does not compare to my anger now after seeing the documentary in class. I was thinking about just another corporation infringing upon the civil rights of other independent business owners. I had no idea about how much of their products are exploiting our livelihood each day! It seems everywhere you turn you cannot escape this terrible industry of what food has become in America. I mean if The European Nations care enough about whether food is genetically modified so that their government require labels to list that they are, then why can’t our country? Instead it is up to the companies whether they want to list that they are non-Gmo. But since it’s not regulated, who’s to know? Before I knew about it, I liked the way that some of my products I bought listed that they were non-GMO, because frankly, it just sounded good to me. It was like there was some secret conspiracy out there that this product was letting me in on, and that it was helping me to go against the man. Well, it turns out to be not so far from the truth. Though I have my vices in what I put into my body, food has been the biggest choice that I have been able to make to counteract those vices. If I don’t have that, then I don’t have anything. Food is my health plan. It is what helps me moderate the bad choices that I make. But it seems in the future that I will not have that choice. It is a real crime and something should be done about it! I still don’t understand why our judicial system went on the side of Monsanto against those small farms when they didn’t even want their seeds in the first place! How backwards is that?! And Mexico! I’m going to stop their because this is just too maddening!

    • 2

      shermanj said,

      Anne-Marie, a couple of things about your comment stuck with me. First, when you asked why our government doesn’t require the labeling of GMO foods, in 2002 citizens from our lovely State of Oregon tried to push for labeling, but failed. Here’s some detailed ballot info about what they tried to do: I know they faced massive resistance from the food industry, but I don’t know why people have not tried to run this campaign again, learning from their mistakes.

      Second, I like what you say about food being your health plan. How is it your health plan? Why? Can you explain this more?

  2. 3

    konaka237 said,

    I wish I had been around for that year, it would have been interesting. I’m with you in wondering why it hasn’t been proposed again. As much as money is a factor, it should not even be debatable. It seems to me that people’s priorities are a bit askew when they are putting financial wealth ahead of physical health. Wealth means nothing if you’re not around to enjoy it.
    There’s a passage in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” where Pollan talks about the cows on Salatin’s farm having sensitivity to what their bodies are lacking in nutrients, or feeling the need for plants with antibacterial properties. They seek out certain plant life to medicate themselves through what they eat. I strongly relate to that and that is exactly what I mean by food being my health plan. Food is the most effective medicine we can take, and we need to learn about the properties in order to take advantage of the many benefits it can give us. Unlike pharmaceuticals which I see as just a cheap cover up of inflictions, the nutrients in food are readily absorb-able by are bodies, with its own set of natural enzymes to help digest, without causing side effects. I’ve been without a health plan for the last ten or so years of my life until recently through school, so I have used food to keep me as healthy as possible. And just in case I need to mention, I mean food in its natural state, or processed without chemicals or additives. Everything should be in moderation of course because you can have too much of a good thing. Not to say that I don’t take anything in excess because I do. But even the dreaded fats are something our bodies need to run smoothly. I’m no doctor or scientist so I won’t claim to know exactly how they are good for you, though I have my ideas. But I will end this in saying that food is something we can’t go without; because it gives us the elements to sustain our physical functions; you strip away those elements, then we are eating food for nothing. Then our bodies will start to fail us. Is that our future?

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