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    Numbers Game: Answer

    edamame_podIn the year 2000, approximately 51 percent of soybeans grown in the United States were genetically modified.  This year , 91 percent of US-grown soybeans are of the genetically modified variety.

    Keep in mind that genetic modification is very different from traditional breeding practices.  With genetic modification, it is possible to introduce a gene from a chicken into a wheat plant.

    While proponents of genetic modification point to a genetically modified crop’s ability to be immune from disease, herbicides, droughts, and low temperatures, there are plenty of questionable consequences.

    From an environmental standpoint, for instance, it is possible for pollen from genetically modified crops to combine with weeds and create herbicide-resistant weeds.  This, in turn, requires the development and use of new herbicides, which often have a detrimental effect on wildlife (both flora and fauna).

    Looking at the issue from an economic angle, a higher amount of genetically modified crops means that a small handful of companies now own a larger number of patented seeds.  Consequently, small farmers can be run out of business simply by being charged much higher prices for these seeds.

    That’s not all.  There are already plenty of notorious cases where biotech companies like Monsanto have sued farmers for “growing” their patented seeds (I say “growing” because most times the patented seeds are simply blown onto another farmer’s land by the wind.)

    The most troubling aspect of genetically modified foods is that biotechnology companies are not required to test their genetically modified crops for safety.  Many submit laboratory tests, but on a completely voluntary basis.

    It also doesn’t help that many of these tests aren’t very effective at evaluating the safety of consuming genetically modified crops.  If companies choose to conduct “consumption studies”, they are short-term and done only on animals.

    There are no studies examining the long-term effect of consuming genetically modified crops on humans.

    Unless a product specifically mentions the use of non-genetically modified soybeans, you can assume any soy product you are eating has been genetically modified (this includes products made with soybean oil or soy protein isolate).

    Current food labeling regulations do not require that genetically modified foods be identified, so consumers are mostly playing a guessing game.

    If you are an avid carnivore who has never touched a soybean in your life, don’t be too quick to assume you aren’t affected.  Genetically modified soybeans are fed to the majority of cattle in the United States.

    Many biotech companies dismiss safety concerns about genetically modified crops as “hippie hysteria”, apparently ignorant to the fact that organizations like the British Medical Association have expressed concern.

    While the BMA acknowledges that there is no reason to believe genetically modified crops are inherently dangerous, they point out “there is a lack of evidence-based research with regard to medium and long-term effects on health and the environment.”

    They also note — and I love this point — that “there should be an end to assumptions that GM crops are necessary to feed the starving, given the complex food distribution, social and economic factors that lie behind such hunger.”

    Adding to that are many studies which have concluded that genetic modification does not always result in higher crop yields.

    To summarize, our current knowledge of the long-term effects of genetic modification on human health is minuscule.

    On that note, I highly recommend you read this interview conducted by the Organic Consumers Association with Dr. Judy Carman, director of the Australian Institute of Health and Environmental Research.


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