Genetically modified foods are everywhere in the United States, but exactly where are they and are they safe? I honestly never thought about them until I watched Deborah Koons Garcia’s “The Future of Food,” a documentary attempting to highlight the biological, economic, social, and political implications of biotechnology in the food supply. Have you ever looked at the ingredients list on food packaging and seen this?:
The FDA and the USDA have not mandated that genetically modified ingredients be labeled on food products, so there is no way for the consumer to know if he is eating a genetically modified food. I think we consumers deserve to have the information to make educated choices about what we are eating. However, having the information might reveal just how little choice we have. The percentage of genetically modified crops grown in the US increases each year. In 2010, 86% of corn crops and 93% of soybean crops grown in the US were genetically engineered.
Opposing the genetically modified methods are the organic growers, who need to protect their crops from contamination. They face a powerful competition, with the FDA and USDA regulation weak and the biotechnology industry strong in size and in financial means. Organic foods make up just 3.7 percent of American food sold, while major GM biotech companies like Monsanto seem to have control of not only the production and sale of their GM seeds, but also the U.S. Government regulation of the agricultural industry. Garcia’s film mentions many former Monsanto employees who currently hold or have held positions in U.S. Government Agencies – in the FDA and EPA, for example. How can the same people who worked for the GM industry be in the power to regulate it? Furthermore, government subsidies on corn, wheat, soy, and cotton take away power from the farmers, since they become financially obligated to grow GM crops for their yield and return on investment.
In contrast to the extensive use of genetically modified organisms in the US, the European Union has been much more reluctant in allow genetic modification into its food supply. Regulation is much stiffer there, and labeling genetically modified ingredients on food packaging is mandatory. However, the recent food price increases have brought a more open perspective of GM foods to the EU.
I came across a BBC documentary called “Can GM Food Save the World?”, and although it is quite biased, not unlike Garcia’s documentary, I found it interesting to see a piece highlighting the possible advantages to GM technology including increasing the nutrition and health benefits of our produce, providing more yield in the same amount of land, bringing the cost of food down, and reducing hunger around the world. The BBC documentary gives the example of Uganda’s bananas as a crop that could be improved with bioengineering. These staple bananas are susceptible to the banana Xanthomonas wilt, which reduces yield and contributes to starvation in this developing country. GM plants may be a solution to the problem of hunger in developing countries. However, promoting more genetically modified crops in developing countries does bring up issues of commercial interests of the GM product companies. Are they out to ensure global food security or to expand their market of clientele dependent on their products?
While I would like to think that GM foods could assist a global food crisis, it remains to be seen if this biotechnology will become the food security solution or threaten our food safety and biodiversity.
To watch “The Future of Food” : http://www.thefutureoffood.com/onlinevideo.html
To watch “Can GM Food Save the World?” : http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/can-gm-food-save-the-world/