RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

It’s Hard to Steer Clear of Genetically Modified Food

For the second year in a row, a group in mid-Missouri gave up genetically altered products for the month of May. Those are products changed by corporations that insert unknown genes into the genes of an ordinary plant or animal. These can be called “genetically modified organism (GMO),” “transgenic,” “biotech” or “gentically engineered (GE).” Among other names they dream up when the public catches on.

We call our month off “Nonsanto May.” And we find it’s nearly impossible to follow through completely.

It’s an interesting challenge. Pioneer seeds started selling and promoting GMO soy in 1996, so all the soy lecithin is now contaminated, unless it’s certified organic or marked “non-GMO.” 1997 brought GMO corn, so there goes corn syrup and corn oil. And the next year brought GMO cotton. I have an edge when it comes to avoiding GMO cotton as I own a lot of clothes made before 1998.

On Day 1, I started the diet that I would try to follow: Coffee, eggs and rice for breakfast. Organic wheat-flour bread and salad for lunch. Grassfed meat, salad and baked potatoes for supper. If nothing else, I felt I was on-track to lose 10 or 15 pounds.

But then I ran into some friends and we inspected each other’s clothing. I was busted by my cotton socks. Dang!

On Day 2, I put on my wool socks and went off to have breakfast at a meeting in town. The sympathetic wait staff, also in on the game, helped me figure out what to order. Nothing cooked in corn, soybean or canola oil, right? No meat fed with corn. Then one remembered that there was sesame oil in the kitchen, and the cook came up with some olive oil. It worked out.

Then came a car trip to Illinois. OK, I thought, I’ll take my own food. And I did—raw food crackers, grassfed meats, organic breads and so forth. It worked out pretty well and I had enough to share, but on the way home I ran out.

A more resolute traveler would have just bullied on, but I also realized that I had filled the car with a petroleum/ethanol mix along the way, so I’d blown that day already. Into the fast food place we pulled, to stoke up on onion rings that were certainly fried in corn or canola oil. It’s fast food, right? What do you expect?

The thing is, this GMO stuff is everywhere. It’s in our food, in our gas tanks, in our clothing, and its pollen is in the air. Kids are buying glow-in-the-dark fish at Walmart, injected with bits of DNA from fluorescent sea creatures. Kickstarter is offering shares in a company that might or might not create glow-in-the-dark plants and trees.

Here in Missouri and in other states as well, a group called ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — is dreaming up ways to keep you, dear consumer, from learning that GMOs may be endangering your health and your planet. ALEC manufactures model legislation that lawmakers, corporate ones, can copy to insert in laws and state constitutions. Here in Missouri, we’ve had introductions of bills guaranteeing “modern farming practices” without regulation. What does that mean? Robot tractors spraying chemicals on the land? “Smart” buildings feeding antibiotics and hormones to confined animals? We don’t know.

What we do know is that if one of those bills passes, it would guarantee full employment to a battery of lawyers for lifetime but it doesn’t help ensure public welfare at all. A quick read through ALEC’s model bills reveals language to guarantee overuse of antibiotics and even a guarantee for fracking. The bottom line is that if corporations can make more money by using these anti-planet strategies, even if the results are untested and harmful to the public, Alec is for it.

In the GMO arena, the lack of regulation is allowing for more and more wacky introductions. Within a year, we could see GMO salmon in restaurants and grocery stores, the first GMO animal to be approved for human consumption. And within two years, farm fields could be planted with crops resistant to 2,4D, a major component of Agent Orange.

Corporations like Dow and Monsanto are combining forces to come up with more and more sinister combinations of seed and chemicals. Dow and Monsanto, the world’s biggest chemical company plus the world’s biggest seed company, respectively, announced a “cross-licensing” deal that would stack the world’s largest chemical company and the world’s largest seed company in a ruthless “next generation” coalition. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch lined it out: “The deal is the latest move in an emerging pattern that has seen major rivals in agricultural biotechnology license technologies to one another. The existing SmartStax corn product, for example, already contains eight biotechnology traits developed by Dow, Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.”

What’s really crazy about all this is that nobody has tested the “traits” on consumers, so if you buy these weird products, you’re ingesting the “traits,” whether they’re good for you or not. And, to make matters more complex, scientists can’t get permission to run tests on lab rats or even on worms or bugs because the “traits” are protected by patents.

So who are the lab rats? Well, if you’ve eaten anything today made with corn, canola, soy, sugar beets or cotton seed, you can raise your hand now.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2013

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2013 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652