Tag Archives: GMOs

How Can We Bring Real Change to Our Food System? Three Ideas

I try to write on here about the big issues and controversies, and after all that information, there is always the same question to ask: what can we do about it? So in this post I’ll give some of my ideas, which upon first look may seem a bit vague or open-ended but only because everyone must take these thoughts in their own personal directions. As I am constantly saying, there is no one easy answer to all the problems with our food system. So here are my thoughts on what we can do to reclaim this industry. It is after all our food system.

1. Choose a diet that reflects your personal beliefs about what defines sustainable agriculture. I won’t tell you to go vegan or to buy only grass-fed beef or to eat all the animal products you want. I won’t tell you to avoid GMOs or to support the technology. I will write about my own opinions but in the end, these are your beliefs and your choices. All I’m saying is that it’s important to apply your beliefs to your every-day life. Maybe you want to take a weekly trip to the farmers market or start a garden to grow your own food. Maybe you want to avoid factory-farmed animal products or anything with palm oil in it. But it is important to realize that our diet is defined by what we do eat and what we don’t eat.

We have to support the products and producers we trust and avoid the ones that we don’t. If we each start to eat based on what we know and believe, the food system will slowly start to change to reflect our choices. As big and powerful as they seem in comparison to us, these big food companies must adjust to what the consumers want. And it is easy to find real examples of this change. When Wal-Mart decided to source its milk entirely from cows not treated with bovine growth hormone, the decision was based on consumer demand. When organic farming grew from nothing to a 30 billion dollar industry, it was because of the individual choices of consumers. (See the figure below.) Clearly, we have real power in our hands.

Graph from the USDA

Check out this video to hear what farmer Joel Salatin has to say about changing our food system for the better. Though Salatin speaks specifically about eating locally grown food, his message about active participation applies to any     dietary or lifestyle choices. I agree with Salatin that in some ways the current problems with our food system are caused by a “crisis in participation.” But we are the participants and this is our crisis to fix.

2. Constantly share, learn, and listen to others’ perspectives. In looking for new thoughts and ideas on the big issues, we will find the information necessary to inform our actions and choices. When we start to think deeply about how our dietary choices affect the environment, we will then encounter new ideas and perspectives. It’s an awesome, self-reinforcing cycle.

Five years ago I didn’t understand why anyone would be vegetarian. I didn’t want to listen to the opinions of any vegan. After a gradual change in perspective, I now choose not to eat any factory-farmed animal products. I try to think of my current beliefs as only a step along a path. And I know that sounds cheesy but it’s one of my strongest beliefs. We can’t just say “Okay I learned that x is bad so I’m not going to eat x any more and that’s it. Now I’m done learning and have done all I can.” We are never done learning. We have to question everything until we understand it fully. It easy to look for a quick fix, but that may mean a simplification of the issues and a misunderstanding of the whole truth.

When we can sit down and have an honest discussion with others while both teaching and learning, we will all become better informed. We will become more aware, more educated, and in turn more motivated to enact change.

3. For some issues that may seem out of reach, contribute to organizations you believe in. As powerful as our every day choices are, they can’t cover everything. For whatever reason, it may be impossible to support a certain organization with our every-day purchases. I remember doing a research project to try to answer the question: how can US consumers support sustainable agriculture and land use in Indonesia? Indonesia is an incredibly biodiverse, fertile, and agriculturally important country: the US imports many of its crops (namely palm oil) that make their way into our food. Still, our consumer choices here can’t completely fix their food system. So how can we help? After doing some research, I discovered Seal Your Cup, a division of Rainforest Alliance which helps small farmers grow crops in a way that is more sustainable for the farmers and the land. You can also support the cause by buying coffee or chocolate labelled with the Rainforest Alliance seal (below). Of course donations still help if you can’t find those products at the store.

In order for a product to bear this seal, it must be sourced from a farm whose practices are approved by the Sustainable Agriculture Network.

While reading about the potentially sustainable use of GMOs in developing countries, I learned about AGRA . This foundation that is financed by Bill Gates works to educate, connect, and provide materials (like high-yield seeds) to farmers in different African countries. Like Seal Your Cup, the NGO essentially brings power and leverage away from distributers to the farmers themselves. If you’re looking for an organization that’s closer to home, maybe you want to check out FarmAid. If you want to support the humane treatment of farm animals, you could give to an organization like Compassion Over Killing. Whatever the cause, someone out there is working hard to do the things we wish we could if we had the time and commitment. They definitely deserve our support and appreciate whatever we can give.


PS: I know that in this post I have provided very little detail as to the specific work of these organizations (and I should definitely do some more research myself). For that reason, I strongly encourage you to research tons of organizations more deeply before deciding who you want to support.

The Potential of Golden Rice

First off, I realize I haven’t posted in a while but I have been working on this post for a long time and it got pretty long so please don’t be scared off by that. I promise it’s thorough! And now, for the information, thoughts, all that good stuff:

Golden rice is a variety of rice rich in beta-carotene (also written as β-carotene), a substance which the human body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is an important vitamin and helps with vision and immune function among other things. Beta-carotene gives carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes their orange color and is responsible for the color and name of golden rice.

A side-by-side comparison of golden rice and a more typical rice variety.

A side-by-side comparison of golden rice and a more typical rice variety. (Picture from this Forbes article)

A single bowl of golden rice provides 60% of a child’s daily vitamin A needs. The rice could potentially help children in developing countries where vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness and increased vulnerability to a number of diseases. Since many of these developing countries are in Asia where rice is often a staple, golden rice could be substituted for less nutritional rice to help alleviate vitamin A deficiency. According to a 2011 study, supplementing vitamin A can reduce child mortality of all causes by 24%. And golden rice can play a key part in alleviating vitamin A deficiency in the future.

At first golden rice sounds like an amazing solution to a number of problems, but unfortunately it isn’t that simple. Here comes the controversial part: golden rice is genetically modified. Scientists had to manipulate the genome of the rice plant to make it produce beta-carotene in its grains. (You can earn more about genetically modified organisms and my thoughts on them in my earlier post.) It is the genetic modification of golden rice that led a group of protesters to destroy a test plot of the rice in the Philippines earlier this month.

Though I disagree with the protester’s actions and reasoning, the event did have one positive outcome. It got people thinking and talking about golden rice in all its controversy. And people like Michael Pollan had a lot to say. Most of the scientific community strongly support golden rice. On the other hand, environmental groups like Greenpeace fight violently against the development of golden rice largely because of their dogmatic opposition to all GMOs. That said, I think they do bring up some good points that should be addressed.

First of all, is this solution effective and efficient? It’s true that golden rice doesn’t address the root problem that contributes to malnutrition in developing countries: poverty. But poverty is a complicated problem rooted in deep-seated political and societal factors. Long-term solutions to poverty are therefore complicated and require huge gradual changes. In the meanwhile though, I think that golden rice provides effective short-term aid, especially compared with other potential solutions.

Currently, some programs give vitamin A supplements (called mega doses) to children in developing countries twice yearly. Though this only costs $1 per child per year, there are several millions of children who need this help and it is a recurring cost. As economist/scientist Alexander Stein points out, many logistical problems arise when we consider the “lack of qualified medical personnel” in these countries and that “children in remote rural areas or in urban slums may not be reached and older children and adults are not covered at all.”

Golden rice on the other hand would be given to farmers for free. After that single first handout, the crop would likely spread naturally as the farmer replants the seeds the next season and distributes the rice and seeds to others. The technology gets to many people with little recurrent costs.

Some may make the argument that golden rice is just a marketing tool, something to help the PR of big businesses like Syngenta (the company that initially contributed intellectual property to the development of golden rice royalty free). It looks good to consumers that these companies seem to be working on such a admirable humanitarian cause. I agree that these companies may play the “we’re helping all the poor kids” card too often. However, the humanitarian intentions and origins of the golden rice project are undeniable. Golden rice was developed by two professors, the Swiss Ingo Potrykus and German Peter Beyer, not by any agribusiness giant with a stake in the American seed industry. The original idea for the plant came from a discussion in 1984 at the International Rice Research Institute (or IRRI), the NGO that is currently testing plots of golden rice.

The project has been in the works for 20 years or so. As Greenpeace estimates, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on golden rice, much of which game from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Many people and organizations like Greenpeace often doubt golden rice because of how long it has taken to develop. However, the project might be coming along faster if it weren’t from the harmful opposition of groups like Greenpeace itself.

Also, it is easy to understand why the process would take this much time and money. A lot needs to happen between the moment the idea is introduced and the moment people can start growing and eating the crop. It took about 10 years to find the right gene to trigger beta-carotene production in rice and to figure out how to implant this gene into the rice genome. In 2005, Syngenta introduced golden rice 2, with a higher amount of beta-carotene than the first prototype. After this, studies and tests must be done to see if the genetic engineering caused other changes in the plant’s nutrition, growth, or disease-susceptibility among other things. Lastly the palatability and effectiveness of golden rice as a vitamin A supplement must be tested. And it has been tested, with positive results.

One 2012 study on 68 children showed that “β-carotene in [golden rice] is as effective as pure β-carotene in oil and better than that in spinach at providing vitamin A to children” (Tang et al.). The children’s blood was tested to deduce the level of vitamin A  present after eating spinach, golden rice, or pure beta-carotene in oil. There are debates about the validity of this study because the children tested weren’t vitamin A deficient as the target population is. That said, I still find this early study promising as it provides evidence that humans can metabolize the beta-carotene in golden rice.

From my view, the time that it is taking to fully test the crop counters some of Greenpeace’s arguments about the unintended consequences of genetic modification on the genome of the rice plant, the environment, and the health of the people eating the food. In a 2012 Greenpeace report, Though some of these are valid scientific concerns, I have faith that the people at IRRI are doing all they can to ensure the safety of the crop before distributing it (which will likely happen in the next two years).

One of Greenpeace’s concerns is that golden rice seed and pollen could contaminate the stock of traditional rice varieties in nearby fields. Rice is wind-pollinated so cross-pollination is common and as the Greenpeace report points out, there are already records of rice contamination (from non-GMO varieties). This contamination is a real possibility. For me though, the potential for good (relieving vitamin A deficiency across developing countries) outweighs the potential for bad (the possible contamination of the seed of traditional rice varieties).

Overall, despite some downsides of the crop, I support the continuing study and development of golden rice alongside author Michael Pollan, scientist/economist Alexander Stein, and environmental activist Mark Lynas.

If you agree with me about the potential of golden rice, I would urge you to sign this petition to show your support of the crop. Whichever side you’re on, make sure to check out my sources at the bottom for more information. 

I find golden rice fascinating because it represents for me the positive potential of GMOs when they are developed in the right hands for the right reasons. I maintain my position against other GMOs because the majority of these crops are completely different than golden rice in every way: they were created with different intentions by companies with notoriously bad business practices. The place these GM crops hold in America’s pesticide-ridden large-scale agriculture and the industry that backs it is virtually the opposite of the place that golden rice could hold for citizens and societies of developing countries. Instead of paying the greedy, monopolistic seed companies (who are often the same as the pesticide companies) year after year as some American farmers do, farmers in developing countries could save their golden rice seed for free and they wouldn’t be under the control of any corporation.

In fact, my main opposition to GMOs comes from how they are used currently, not the process of genetic modification itself. And I believe that golden rice is being used in a truly beneficial way. It’s not perfect nor is it going to solve the root problems that cause vitamin A deficiency, but I think it’s a great crop, a great idea, and a great start.

I know I bashed the big seed companies pretty hard earlier so once again I would encourage you to check out my earlier posts on GMOs as well as other sources of information and different perspectives before forming your own opinion on GMOs. The issue is so complex and it is always best to hear from both sides.


The Alexander Stein writing I mentioned:

The Greenpeace writing I mentioned:

Other favorite articles:


All my other sources:

Genetically Modified Organisms, Revisited

Sorry for not posting on here for the last few weeks. I have been a little busy but I’m going to try and be as consistent as possible. Also, just a warning: this post got pretty long even though I was trying to be concise. I promise it will give you a better idea of the issues surrounding GMOs, though!

Right now, I’m reading this great book that counters some of the pro-local, pro-organic ideology that is common among people interested in food and farming (especially us in the Bay Area). I’ll be sure to write a full-fledged post about the book once I have finished it. For now, I just read the chapter on genetically engineered crops which brought up some new ideas about the issue and I figured it would be cool to revisit the idea of genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) that I talked about in an earlier post, here. While I am still against GMOs, I enjoyed hearing some of the author’s points which helped me understand the issue as a whole and consider the strengths of the opposing side.

In this chapter, McWilliams points out the stigma attached to GMOs because of misinformation or a lack of knowledge. Many people think of GMOs as unnatural, toxic, and dangerous. It would be just as easy to say that much of modern plant breeding is unnatural, involving radiation or chemicals that cause genetic mutations. While genetic engineering does involve directly combining or modifying genes, many people may not know the difference between modern plant breeding and genetic engineering. We might have a generally negative idea of GMOs based on vague ideas that it is “unnatural” without knowing much about the technology. It’s easy for this to happen with many harsh but vague ideas of GMOs floating around in the newspaper or on the internet. My point here is that we should stop with the unchecked extremism, avoid calling GMOs “frankenfoods” and the like, before we get to know the facts better. I personally don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with modifying an organism’s genome, especially if it can bring higher yields and pest-resistance that will have a positive affect on the world’s food supply.

Many people oppose GMOs because of their potential health risks and other uncertainties associated with a “new” technology. In this case, new means about 20 years old as the first commercial sale of GM crops began with the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994. Many argue that this is not enough time to evaluate the long term effects of the technology on the health of humans, other non-target species, and the environment. Many concerns have to do with the science behind combining genes. Frequently asked questions include: what if a certain gene causes unexpected and harmful mutations when inserted into a certain genome? What if certain “sleeper” genes with unseen, unknown traits are activated with genetic modification? Here, the approval process for GMOs would make us more sure that these mistakes aren’t going to happen. GMOs must be approved by the USDA, and often the FDA and EPA too, depending on the specific crop, but there is still a lot of controversy around this process. A critique of this process is that the biotech organizations themselves can conduct their own studies ( like environmental impact studies) without peer review, which the USDA will look at when considering the crop’s approval.

One potential of GMOs is a higher yield. With crops engineered for higher yields, farmers can produce more food on the same amount of land which reduces the necessity for expansion and habitat destruction. These higher yields are fitting for a growing population and for preserving biodiversity. Additionally, a crop like Bt corn (which is explained more deeply in my earlier post) can actually reduce pesticide use by essentially manufacturing its own pest-resistance. Many studies have confirmed this. However, this is just one crop and depending on who is doing the study and what crop is being studied, many people have drawn different conclusions about the effect of GMOs on pesticide use.

To get an idea of just how complicated the whole issue is, let’s look closely at Roundup Ready crops, which are engineered to resist Monsanto’s pesticide Roundup. Someone on the anti-GM side might tell you that this pesticide resistant crop encourages farmers to use excessive amounts of Roundup as a cure-all. It might also be said that the ubiquity of a single pesticide might breed pesticide-resistant weeds (which it has already done). Once these Roundup resistant crops pop up, a cocktail of other pesticides must be used to kill the new weeds. And since Monsanto sells both the seeds and the Roundup, farmers are encouraging the agribusiness monopoly of Monsanto, a company with a history of being zealous with their lawsuits and lobbying as well as other unethical business practices.

Recently, I was able to talk to two farmers who farm using GM crops. They pointed out that Glyphosate, the main chemical in Roundup, is not very toxic compared with pesticides such as 2, 4-D which were used more before Roundup.  Essentially, the enzyme which Glyphosate bonds to in plants is nonexistent in humans and animals and it therefore makes sense that it would not have drastic effects on our health. Pesticides are pretty much inherently toxic however, and if we consider the other ingredients in Roundup which might be even more toxic then Glyphosate itself, there are impacts on water and soil quality that we can’t overlook. These are valid points, but if all industrial agriculture uses pesticides, are Roundup Ready crops making it any worse? It depends on who you ask, whose studies you want to trust, and how you look at things. I’ll come back to this later.

On another note, one farmer explained to me how he was able to adopt closed to no-till practices (in which the soil is not plowed/tilled at all) because of Roundup Ready corn. Avoiding or decreasing tillage has innumerable environmental benefits including less erosion and run-off which maintains soil structure and quality while decreasing the amount of fertilizer and pesticide that ends up in water. Another huge benefit of no-till farming is that the soil holds carbon dioxide rather than releasing it when the field is tilled, doing its part to contribute less to global warming. While I don’t think these benefits negate the downsides of Roundup Ready crops or other GMOs, it was  good to hear from these farmers. I saw that the people using GMOs and monoculture don’t necessarily disregard the environment in the quest for higher yields. The people I talked to are farming in a way they truly believe is sustainable and productive. They try to take care of their soil and land and only adapt a practice when it agrees with their personal agricultural philosophy.

Another thing I mentioned in my earlier post was pesticide resistance and the “high possibility” of superweeds. (I’m quoting myself there.) I think the destructive possibility of the Roundup resistant gene in the wild is an argument commonly employed by those against GMOs. From a scientific point of view, I was incorrect to say there is a high possibility of superweeds as there are many biological barriers which make the superweed unlikely. If you google “superweeds,” you’ll find many articles which explain how Roundup resistant weeds are increasingly occurring. For this reason, I want to clarify what I mean by superweeds. I am talking about plants which cross-pollinate with GM crops, take on the genetically engineered trait and become invasive, taking over local plants. The superweeds that the media likes to talk about because of the phrase’s catchiness and shock value are simply pesticide resistant weeds, which are indeed popping up more and more.

I’m not denying that pesticide resistant weeds are a problem in agriculture. They’re a huge problem for the farmer, who looks to grow the most of a certain desired crop. But we have to realize that in the wild, a gene for pesticide resistance is completely useless. There is no reason that a Roundup resistant weed would have any advantage over other plants outside a corn field and therefore would not out-compete them to become a superweed. All of a GM crop’s genes code for a plant that necessarily requires maintenance- water, fertilizer, etc. to survive. GM corn has been bred and manipulated to increase its yield and pesticide resistance given that it receives a number of inputs. In the wild, it will not receive these inputs and will not establish itself among much more competitive weeds. On top of this, there are many other very unlikely steps that must occur for superweeds to survive. For example, a GM crop can only cross-pollinate with a closely related plant and therefore a wild relative of the crop must exist nearby.  This doesn’t happen many places around the world. If you read McWilliams’s book, you can learn about further unlikelihoods of superweeds.

McWilliams adds that GMOs offer a potential benefit to third-world countries whose citizens may struggle to find a consistent source of food or income. After all, farming offers both of these (though we’re mostly talking about subsistence farming here). And GMOs offer the possibility of crops modified to survive in dry or nutrient-poor conditions and produce larger yields of nutritionally fortified crops. We are essentially zooming out to look at the place of GMOs in areas other than the United States. GMOs may have negative environmental impacts when linked with American industrialized agriculture, but they could be implemented completely different in third-world countries, where rural citizens would be farming on a small-scale and without pesticides. GMOs could potentially benefit these countries socially, economically, and environmentally. This potential adds a whole new side to the issue and makes it more complicated. As McWilliams acknowledges, GMOs are still controlled by agribusiness giants who are often interested more in their own monetary success than the welfare of starving Africans. But with the intervention of NGOs such as Bill Gates’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (or AGRA), GMOs can be successfully implemented in third-world communities. This implementation would help alleviate poverty and hunger while creating a trend of sustainable farming in these countries. This is the kind of company that is implementing GMOs in sustainable, mindful ways. At the moment however, American agribusiness companies by far outnumber these NGOs.

As McWilliams points out, many of the problems we have with GMOs are simply problems of agribusiness and industrial agriculture such as increased pesticide usage, resistance, and run-off. I want to say again that I am not against the idea of modifying an organism’s genome. I just don’t agree with the methods currently being used to employ GM crops. And for me, it doesn’t seem like Monsanto is suddenly going to die off so that tons of NGOs can take GM seeds to poor African communities and independent, sustainable farms can grow a few acres of GM veggies. Though I want to support organizations like AGRA as much as possible, I think that in our current situation, most GMOs are inextricably linked to corporate farming/agribusiness.

In many ways you could argue that GM crops aren’t making industrial farming any more environmentally harmful than it already is. Proponents of GMOs may make this point, but it doesn’t mean GMOs have a negligible affect on the environment. It only means that GMOs are bundled up in the environmental destruction of industrial agriculture, both of which I disagree with, both of which I reject when I avoid products containing GMOs. A connection with industrial agriculture isn’t an excuse or a reason to support GMOs, it is the reason to oppose them. And as with many other agricultural issues, it is important not only to avoid the unsustainable (from biotech companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, etc.) but also to support the sustainable (from non-profits like AGRA).

Here are some of my sources if you’re interested in learning more:






Otherwise, most of the post came from already known information or McWilliams’ book, Just Food.


Rice as an Indicator Species

I was reading this Grist article on the arsenic content of rice and found that it had a lot to say beyond just the levels of this toxin in our rice. To me, this article shows the cyclical nature of all our actions in agriculture, and toward the environment in general. To quote the article directly, the new study “illustrates what a long shadow industrial farming practices can cast over the entire food system — and the way some chemicals can cycle through our food and water, for literally generations… even rice grown organically is impacted because of what you might call the legacy of the soil.” There is arsenic in the soil because we used pesticides containing arsenic on cotton crops and because we put arsenic in our animal feed. We can see from this Consumer Report chart that on average, rice that we know comes from Asian countries has less arsenic per serving than rice that comes from the US. This is evidence that the history of cotton growing (and therefore heavy pesticide use) in the southern states has increased the arsenic levels in the rice grown there. As the article points out, the arsenic-based pesticides are mostly used to kill a weed that has developed a resistance to the pesticide Roundup, which is ubiquitous because of genetically modified “Roundup Ready” cotton, among other crops. These products didn’t seem harmful at the time, but now we see that they have long term consequences on the land that will sustain future generations. These products have effects beyond the present and local environment.

I think the most successful way to farm is to imitate nature, so that everything is a closed loop. In nature, there is an input for every output and a producer for every consumer, so nothing is wasted. When we look at the newly discovered arsenic content of rice and consider its sources, the issue of a toxin in our food quickly becomes an issue of pesticides, pollution, and our entire farming methodology.  Some amphibians, because of their sensitive and permeable skin, are used as “indicator species” of water quality or climate change. To me it seems that rice, which happens to be particularly active in absorbing arsenic, is an indicator species of the wasteful pollution of industrial farms. The rice plant has shown us that the environmental harm caused by industrial farming will come back to hurt us in a direct way. And as this problem of health and sustainability becomes more complicated, so do the solutions. The diagram included in the article recommends some regulatory policy changes in agriculture to decrease the amount of arsenic we are putting in the soil for the future. It also suggests adjustments in our daily diets to help us stay healthy. We can only implement a few of these changes in our own lives, but all of them start with simple awareness.


CA Prop 37

In November, we will be voting on proposition 37, which would require the labeling of any products which contain GMOs. It would also not allow any products containing GE (genetically engineered) ingredients to be labelled as “Natural”. (Some background information and my opinions on GMOs can be found in an earlier post here: https://eat-for-the-earth.com/2012/04/07/gmos-29/.) The proposition is important because California is a very populous, powerful state. A law passed in California has a very strong chance of being passed in other states and nationally.

When I heard about this proposition I supported it immediately and wholly. I was wondering what a possible counter-argument could be. The proposition supports the simple idea that we have a right to know what is in our foods. Though it would be nice if it were that easy, the issue is of course more complicated. Those who oppose the proposition (companies like Monsanto and General Mills) have many points. They point out that the companies would have to spend a lot of money to repackage their products. However, many companies whose products can be found in the U.S. also sell to some of the 40 countries which require labeling for GMOs. Kellogg’s came up with a brand new package for the Olympics but they don’t want to do the same thing so the public can know what is in their product?

It is also said that the GMO label would possibly scare many people away, especially those who don’t know much about GMOs, and cause a massive drop in sales for companies whose products contain GMOs. Nothing could be worse than the public being afraid of the food in our stores without knowing about it. At the same time, maybe this will inspire the public to learn more about GMOs and what is in their food. They would be able to make more educated choices, even if it means supporting a company whose products contain GE ingredients. Products without GMOs would most likely continue to do okay. They would be required to start keeping records if their products are not labelled as Non-GMO or Organic. (Organic standards prohibit genetic engineering.) This could be initially costly. Even if many companies collapse, which I doubt will be the case, it may be beneficial in the long run, the kind of start we need to major change.

Another criticism is that the proposition includes many seemingly random exceptions to the labeling requirement, such as food sold in restaurants or meats: http://noprop37.com/uploads/1343839588-NoonProp37ArbitraryExemptions.pdf. Foreign food companies must only state that their food is “GE Free” to avoid putting the new label on but American companies and farmers must start to keep records to guarantee their products contain less than .5% GE ingredients by weight, starting 2014. Were the proposition to pass, this would be the strictest tolerance standard of any country. After 2019, the standard would go down to 0%. This scares me because it could mean the demise of many good-hearted companies that happen to have products contaminated by GMOs, which are so ubiquitous nowadays.

The proposition would bring a lot of change to grocery stores, food companies, what the public sees and knows about their food. There are some inconsistencies and I would no doubt change a few things were I to have written the proposition. For example, products from animals injected or fed with genetically engineered ingredients would not require the GMO label. But considering the proposition as a whole, I say yes, somewhat tentatively, until I have a chance to give it more thought. It seems to me the long run benefits would outweigh the initial troubles.

Here are my sources. I encourage you to learn more than I’ve said here.










This past week in my Environmental Issues class, we discussed and debated about GMOs (genetically modified organisms). The majority of GMO crops today are commodity crops such as corn and soy. A very large majority of these crops grown today, I think 80%, are genetically modified.

Currently used GMOs include Bt corn and Roundup Ready soy. Bt corn was created by transplanting genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which lives in the soil and creates a toxin that can kill corn borers, a common pest for corn plants. The genes which code for the formation of this toxin were implanted into the corn to create a plant that essentially grows its own pesticide. Roundup Ready soy has been modified to resist the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup. This means that farmers with Roundup Ready crops (the gene has been used in many other plants like cotton and sugarbeets) can spray tons of Roundup on their crops and kill everything green but their soy. Higher yield and drought-tolerant plants provide a potential for increased productivity with less resources and energy needed, however the predominance of Roundup Ready crops means that even more pesticides are being sprayed on crops nowadays with the appearance of GMOs.

There are many pros and cons of growing GMOs and for a while it was hard for me to decide if I agreed with the implementation of GMOs in our food system. It is largely a theoretical issue because the technology has only been around for a few decades and there are many long-term still to be seen. Also, there are many potential benefits and ideas for crops that have yet to be fully developed.

After a lot of thought, I have come to disagree with the idea of having GMOs in our food sources. I am not against the idea of genetically modifying organisms and I can definitely see the potential. Modifying plants to be more heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant can help us to produce food for a growing world. These plants even offer a possibility for those in poor and developing countries to get a steady source of income. They have the ability to survive many conditions and even restore damaged land. Many crops can give higher yield and productivity, another plus for those using agriculture to start developing a community and searching for economic stability.

The reason I object to GMOs is the way that they are currently integrated into agriculture. A court case decided that it is now legal to patent a certain set of genes, known as the “patent on life.” This decision means that a seed producing company like Monsanto can own a certain genetically modified crop seed and sue anyone found with that seed who didn’t pay for it. The monopolization is harmful to a small farmer’s way of life as Monsanto will often sue anyone who has had GM seeds blow onto their property and accidentally saved them. This also means no saving seeds if they are genetically modified, because Monsanto owns the seed and reproduction of the seed would be infringing on their patent. This is one of the issues I take with GMOs. The concept of buying new seed does not allow for the kind of sustainable cycle necessary for a farmer to be in harmony with nature.

Thinking back to the TED talk I shared earlier about fish, I think that the most sustainable and productive farms are the ones who work with the systems of nature, not against them. The idea of GM crops is scary because it may lead to a future of low biodiversity, potential pesticide resistance as well as a high possibility of contamination of the environment with super-seeds which could take over. If we want a truly reliable future for our food system, the best possibilities lie in farms like the fish farm in Spain from the TED talk (here), which don’t interfere with nature. GMOs may be cheaper economically given their higher yield, but they are not cheaper in the resources they use or the farms they put out of business.

Even the promise of helping developing economies is tainted by the monopolization of GMOs. When Monsanto helps communities by giving them seed to buy, they are often in it for the money and may end up exploiting the community. The adoption of GM crops can result in an Americanization and loss of culture for these countries. Many countries have cultural ties to the very crops they grow and won’t want to adopt new ones.

GMOs have promise outside of our food, though. Certain plants have been genetically modified to be able to absorb toxic substances such as TNT and convert them into less toxic ones, known as phytoremediation. I think that these plants  can no doubt help with clean up after wars or chemical spills, but the patent on life has no place in our food system. It harms small farms and grows monopolies. GMOs as they are currently implemented cause the use of more pesticides and breed the kind of farming that is low in economic cost, but high in environmental cost.

Though GM crops allow us to plant more in new places, I don’t think this is the answer to food shortages and I don’t think it is breeds a sustainable way of farming. GMOs as they are currently produced expand the kind of industrial agriculture that will cause problems with energy and resources, not solve them. I think it is impossible to integrate GMOs into the kind of independent, low-impact farms which will help get everyone food without damaging the environment.