The understanding of how our food production system works is beneficial because it is relevant to the conversation about why organic is important for our health. I hope I have established that patents on living things are here to stay and GMOs are not per se bad. The important factors to consider involve what the end results of GMOs are. The unfettered and unregulated application of millions of pounds of biocides on our farmland is the most important and main concern and still there are people who will tell us that these chemicals are necessary.
One of the go-to marketing claims from the GMO industry is that GMO crops are feeding the world. But, really, is this a true statement?
The way our crop delivery system works today is vastly different from the way it worked just twenty years ago. When you search hard enough and think about it you realize it all starts with the agrochemical companies. Chemical companies sell chemicals. It’s how they make money and profit for their shareholders.
In order to sell more chemicals to be profitable, these companies develop gene sequences that can ensure plants survive being sprayed with plant killing chemicals. In order to produce seeds that they can sell with the paired chemical, the chemical companies partner with seed companies to produce and sell the seeds to farmers. Seeds are produced through partnerships with Universities and smaller seed producers who license the genetic technology and insert it into seeds and experiment until they find seeds that can be reproduced. Some farmers then produce the seeds and sell them to seed companies that then sell the seeds to farmers.
The prevalence of RoundUp Ready seeds to sell to farmers creates an abundance of crop production such as soy and corn which drives the price of soy and corn down. Cheap crops means farmers can’t stay in business. As a result of farmers not being able to stay in business, humongous corporate farms have grown by acquiring small farms and creating giant corporate farmsteads where profit can be made because of the amount of acreage farmed. Still the soy and corn are cheap which leads to cheap supplies for biofuel companies, factory farms and food companies.
Yes, these are the first consumers of GMO crops. These are not cheap crops for you as a consumer because this is not the soy that you eat as edamame at your local Japanese restaurant or that you find in the freezer section of your grocer. And it is not the sweet corn that you find at your local farm stand and eat off the cob (although in 2014 there were some 100,000 acres of GMO sweet corn planted, this is just a small drop in the bucket of total GMO crops). This is soy and corn used either for animal feed, for food processing or for biofuels.
But if we focus just on food for the sake of the argument that “GMO crops feed the world,” it’s interesting to start wondering who is driving our need for soy and corn. Is it actual population food needs? Or, perhaps the crop industry itself influences the amount of crops produced annually and it is the food industry that takes this cheap supply and runs with it. What we feed the world and how we feed the world seems very much up for discussion. When I think of food, I think of the outer aisles of my local grocery store. I think of the produce and meat sections (and yes, the deli section and prepared meal sections too!).
When I shop in the inner aisles I’m looking for sauces and soups and there are many aisles that I don’t spend time in. That’s because of food choices that I will talk about later. But suffice it to say that I often marvel at all of the choices for cereals and chips and sodas and the rows and rows of processed and boxed foods. It’s in these aisles that companies such as Monsanto are creating higher yields to feed the world. Take a look through your pantry to see how many of your boxed products contain corn and soy. Look further to see how many of them contain high fructose corn syrup. Then look further at these products and the myriad non-food substances and chemicals that are processed into the food to create texture, shape, color, flavor and shelf-life.
This is how we are feeding the world? We aren’t talking about putting 50 pound bags of rice in a home in Sri Lanka or Tangiers or a refugee camp in Jordan. We aren’t talking about corn meal being sent to Honduras. We aren’t talking about teaching a widowed mother in Guatemala how to create her own bucket irrigation system so she can grow her tomatoes and tubers.
No, we are talking about highly processed foods which we now know are linked to autoimmune diseases and deteriorating public health.
It’s time we start critically thinking about the prevalence of GMOs in our environment and food supply. It’s time we start saying no.