GMOs: Things I didn’t know

Upwards of 90% of people think GMOs (genetically modified foods) should be labeled. Big Ag (including our own Cargill and General Mills) is strongly pushing back, insisting GMOs are safe, and have been found to be safe by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and pretty much everyone who counts.

FC9780802123466Now I have been skeptical of GMOs all along, but I did believe that the government had probably tested and approved them. But I found out while reading World Hunger: 10 Myths by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins, that that may not be true.

According to Lappé and Collins (in discussing Myth 3—“Only industrial agriculture and GMOs can feed a hungry world”), the FDA has not formally approved a single genetically modified crop as safe for human consumption. The review process for new GMO plants in voluntary. The FDA relies on the producers to do their own safety and nutritional assessments. In addition, no long-term studies are required for approval. Hmm.

Two decades ago, “the FDA acceded to the industry’s requests and declared GMOs ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM-bred crops. . . ignoring the strong doubts of some of its own scientists.” Wow. I had no idea.

Nor is there a scientific consensus that GMOs are safe (note lack of long-term studies, above). Lappé and Collins report on numerous studies (with detailed endnotes and references) and statements that are cause for caution if not concern.

  • One study found pigs on a GMO diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs.
  • Another found evidence of kidney and liver damage, hormone disruption, and more and earlier tumors on rats fed a GMO diet.
  • Nearly 300 scientists and academics signed a statement emphasizing the lack of scientific consensus on GMOs and called for long-term independent research.

And let’s face it. Big Ag is a powerful industry. Consider this:

A review of ninety-four published studies on the effects of GM food or feed products found that of the studies in which an author is affiliated with the biotech industry, none revealed either health-related risks or lower nutrient values associated with consuming GM food or feed. By contrast, almost a quarter of the studies with no author affiliation with the biotech industry did find problems associated with consumption of GMO products.”

Another supposed advantage of GMOs is that they produce higher crop yields and with fewer pesticides. But in 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that after 15 years, GMO seeds have NOT been shown to increase yield potentials and pesticide use has remained steady (one study) or increased slightly (a different study). Huh.

I have also heard on occasion that farmers are choosing GM seeds over non-GM, suggesting they prefer them. Maybe, maybe not. I have also read stories of farmers looking for non-GM seeds but unable to find them. Some farmers have faced a problem with exports as many countries ban certain GMO foods/commodities, and 64 countries require GMO labeling.

You don’t have to think they’re bad to support GMO labeling. A lot of people aren’t sure. (Of course, a lot of scientists aren’t sure either.) I like to know the ingredients in my food. I like to know how many calories, how much vitamin C, and if there are trans fats. I’d also like to know if it’s genetically modified.

September Reprise

September was mostly about not having a working computer (also part of August and much of October). Not having a computer makes a lot of things different. Sure, I could check email and get the internet on my phone. But I mostly use email for lengthy correspondence, and small screens don’t work so well for that. I found myself sending more things through the mail.

I missed my morning email update from the Washington Post; I missed reading news in general (again, not as fun on the small screen). I started reading the newspaper in the morning. I find it a fine start to the day and even just paging through the paper for 15 minutes I realize I am gleaning a lot more than I do when I catch the news online. All those inside stories.

I missed blogging but I didn’t miss blogging. I got a lot done around the house. I slept better.

We have a new computer now, and I’m starting to learn at least some of the new gadgets that have been added in the many years since my last computer purchase. It’s a mix of annoying and fun. Annoying if I’m in a hurry or it crashes (still some glitches to work out) and fun when I have the “aha!” of “Oh That’s how that works!” Whether I’ll be able to figure out pictures for this post remains to be seen.

We also took our first vacation in several years in September, to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. Highlights: Northshire Books, a new independent bookstore in downtown Saratoga Springs (it earned several visits); a drive through the beautiful Catskill Mountains; a few hours wandering around a relatively deserted state park, where we lost ourselves in a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies; and a most wonderful dinner with the in-laws (sister and husband) which was a perfect blend of banter and laughter and serious talk, and everyone had a second drink. I bet we sat there for three hours. It is very rare for me not to want social engagements to end, but this one I would have liked to extend for an hour or two.

As for the rest of life in September, I read fewer books than average (only 9), but it was a bit unusual in a majority (5) were nonfiction and none were poetry. The huge standout of the month was Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit. Who hasn’t had this experience? The experience Solnit relates was particularly egregious (but oh so funny): She was a guest at a party in Aspen, and the host said he heard she was a writer and asked what she had written. Solnit mentioned her most recent book at the time, River of Shadows: Edward Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. He cut her off and asked if she had heard about the Very Important Muybridge book that had come out recently. He then proceeded to tell her about her own book. When he finally realized she had written the book he was lecturing her about, he at least had the grace to turn ashen. Punch line: He hadn’t even read the book; he had merely read a review of the book! Men Explain Things to Me is a slim volume, easily read in a day. I recommend it to everybody.

Much of the rest of September was about being outdoors. Harvesting, pruning, weeding, and just hanging out. We also finished the seventh (and final) season of West Wing, which I found to be a most excellent television series that I missed when it was airing. Perhaps not as good as Star Trek or Buffy or Xena, but still probably in the top five.

Oh. In the kitchen I made crabapple sauce and it was a total disaster. So much work with those tiny apples, for just a little amount of sauce, that was way too sour and crunchy. I also made my first batch of applesauce from the apple orchard season, even though it was a bit early in September. I now have Honeycrisp and Haralson apples, which will make the most excellent applesauce of substance.

Finally, we celebrated the equinox. The balance of light and dark, the start of autumn. The trees are beautiful here. The maples are flaming. The trees turn early in the Mississippi River valley, so I am happy to experience a really long autumn.

More soon I hope!