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GMO - Crossing the species barrier

Genetically Modified Organisms are NOT produced by cross-pollinating two wheat varieties in order to create a type of wheat that is hardier, nor by breeding two kinds of horses in order to encourage off-spring with certain desired traits such as speed or hauling ability.  Cross-breeding or hybridization also happens naturally without human help, as the wind and insects carry pollen, and well, animals will be animals.  But dogs and cats cannot interbreed, corn cannot hybridize with rice, and fish can't produce offspring with sunflowers.

Genetically modified, genetically engineered or transgenic organisms are creations made in the lab, where genetic material from one plant or animal is inserted into a totally different species in order to "improve" the species in some way, and to give the company the ability to patent and control the new life-form.   Patenting genes is a huge business which threatens biodiversity, and gives power to the food companies to control the production and distribution of the food supply.  The benefits of the genetic modifications are questionable. For example, GE soybeans were altered with the genes of brazil nuts in order to improve the taste of the soybeans.  The idea sounded good until those with nut allergies unknowingly ate them. (Nut allergies can be fatal).  In North America, there is no labeling of GE foods, so consumers have no way of knowing whether or not the food they are eating has been altered, and if so, in what way. The only way to be certain that you are avoiding GMO food is to choose organic.

Many farmers initially believed that they would benefit from higher crop yields by switching to GMO crops, but found that any marginal benefit they may have gained was wiped out by the fact that instead of being allowed to save seed from the previous crop, they were forced to re-buy GMO seed each year. Monsanto, the major player in GE foods, also created a "terminator gene" in 1998, which would stop a crop from producing viable seed.  If this technology gets to market it will ensure the farmers need to re-buy each year.   I am embarrassed as a Canadian to say that Canada is pushing hard to forward this technology. Canadian government to unleash terminator bombshell.  As you have probably observed, crops tend to be grown outside, with access to wind and insects.  I find it frightening to think that this "terminator gene" may naturally hybridize with non-GMO crops.  We don't really know what might happen, but it seems at least possible that we may accidentally destroy our food supply if this gene were to get out of control.

Genetically Engineered food is a huge experiment in which we are the unknowing guinea pigs.  Of course those involved will say it is safe - they have a vested interest.  But the bottom line is we simply don't know how safe it is for us or the planet. GMO food is a complex topic encompassing many important ethical issues. For more information, see the movie The Future of Food, and to look up GMO issues in your part of the world, go to www.gmcontamination.org to research by country, crop and year known GMO incidents caused by contamination, illegal release, or negative agricultural side-effect.

The most common genetically modified foods are corn, soy, canola and cotton.  Unless the label says organic or non-GMO, any product that contains derivatives of those foods, such as corn starch, corn syrup, soy lecithin, soy flour etc. can be assumed to contain GMO ingredients.  Even popping corn is usually genetically modified unless otherwise indicated.  Avoiding packaged foods will also help you avoid GMO foods.

Chek, Paul; How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy!  Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2004.
Garcia, Deborah Koons; The Future of Food DVD, Cinema Libre Studio, CA, 2005.
Greenpeace International