By Seana Sperling (written in 2001)
If you are what you eat, then this morning I was transformed into organic Soy Milk, genetically altered Raisin Flakes and a banana. GMO, the genetically modified organism, is found in everything from cornflakes to that processed snack you can’t put down. And, how about that banana? In the produce aisle in most stores there is usually a modest section labeled “Organic,” but there are mounds of unlabeled produce that surround it. Today you don’t know what you’re buying, but you can assume that if it’s not labeled “Organic,” it is genetically engineered.
For those that aren’t familiar with genetic engineering, this is one example of the process: Scientists take a trout gene and splice it to the genetic code of a tomato plant. These scientists work for big companies like Monsanto. This enhancement will increase size and shelf life, so that retailers don’t end up with over-ripe or spoiled produce. Initially, scientists were attempting to develop hardy, inexpensive plants that could feed the world, however, Corporate America latched on to this worthy intention and distorted it. This has resulted in untested products being thrust on us without our knowledge or permission.
According to Trudy Bialic, Editor/Manager of Public Affairs for PCC Natural Markets in Seattle, “There is no policy on the labeling of genetically modified food. “GMO food is never labeled.” Bialic said. “If the biotech industry believes it’s so great, why wouldn’t they want to shout it out loud and clear, “Genetically Engineered!” Without mandatory labels identifying foods containing GMOs, it’s impossible to know what we’re eating and to make informed choices. Two-thirds of all processed foods are estimated to contain GMOs and we have a right to know,” said Bialic. We do have a right to know. So why are majority of us remaining idle while our cold cereal becomes something fit only for the Bionic Woman?
In the early 1990s, chefs in San Francisco began protesting the lack of labeling of genetically engineered food or “Frankenfood,” as they were calling it. This drew some mainstream media attention for a while, but as the ratings dropped, so did the reports. The proliferation of gene alteration in mainstream agriculture is an important issue, however, it’s not one that gets a lot of publicity.
Many people seem to think that we no longer have any control over Corporate America since the FDA doesn’t regulate GMOs. The truth is, we are losing control. According to Bialic, “There’s been a revolving door between the government and the biotech industry ever since the U.S. policy on GE (genetically engineered) foods was written.” She said the former Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner, Michael R. Taylor had written the FDA’s 1992 policy on Transgenic food. Taylor had worked for Monsanto for seven years before being employed by the FDA and he returned to Monsanto after finishing his appointment with the Food and Drug Administration, Bialic said.
I left several messages for the FDA in Seattle. When they finally responded on my answering machine, I was given a wrong number (someone’s residence) to call for further information. I was in Boise in April 2002 and I tried calling that branch of the FDA during my stay. I was thrilled to hear a human answer since I was so used to automated menus. The man (unidentified) I spoke with told me that there weren’t any requirements for labeling genetically engineered food, but that they really hadn’t run into many problems in that area. “Genetic alteration of food isn’t all that bad,” he continued, “There was a situation with enhancing corn products, but that was later used only as animal feed.”
From: “USDA Toughens Rules on Biotech Crops,” By PHILIP BRASHER, Des Moines Register Washington Bureau, 06/14/2002
“The biotechnology industry was rocked in 2000 when anti-biotech activists discovered StarLink corn in taco shells and other products. StarLink, one of several varieties of corn developed to produce its own pesticide, had never been approved for human consumption because of concerns about its potential to cause allergic reactions. The discovery prompted massive food recalls, forced processing plants to shut down, and reduced U.S. corn exports.”
Scary as this may sound, the biotech industry has cultivated even more dangerous creations. Some food supplements have been modified with disastrous results.
“Already a genetically engineered food supplement, GE tryptophan, has killed 37 people and permanently disabled 1535 others.” From: Unnatural Harvest: How Corporate Science is Secretly Altering our Food, by Ingeborg Boyens
Even with the inherent dangers of GMOs the mainstream media either ignores the issue or creates propaganda to support it. There was a commercial in 2000/2001 about a genetically engineered product called “Golden Rice.” The commercial claimed that it would benefit the future of children in the world because it was rich in Beta Carotene. According to studies from the Environmental News Network, a vitamin supplement is cheaper and much more effective for this deficiency. Children would practically have to eat their weight in Golden Rice daily for the same benefit, according to the study. Not all commercials are propaganda, however, and General Mills is telling it like it is with their appropriately named Frankenberry Cereal.
I didn’t notice the change in food until about 1993 when I returned from Peace Corps. I had been in the ex-Soviet Union where fruit and vegetables were not always plentiful, but were definitely not enhanced. There was a lack of pesticides there, which was evident in the wormholes in the apples and bug-infested greens. What they lacked in beauty they made up for with great flavor, especially the tomatoes. They would go bad within a few days as opposed to their U.S. counterparts that could languish in the fridge for two weeks.
A student of mine from France said he was always surprised when he went into the supermarkets in the U. S. because of the remarkable size and beauty of the produce. However, he compares it with plastic fruit because of its lack of smell and flavor.
At this point scientists are still unsure of the long term effect that genetically altered food will have on our bodies, our planet or other animal life. A trout gene linked with the DNA of a tomato plant is an amalgamated animal. In reality, it is a new species. At least they didn’t cross it with a Piranha gene. There are warnings and taboos in many religious tomes about this type of amalgamation. Even though I’m not religious, I’m a little wary of creating new species or pathogens. Besides, I like to eat the four food groups separately.
From: The British Medical Journal April 17, 1999, David Freed:
Many lectins (a carbohydrate binding protein found in most plants, especially cereals, potatoes and beans) are powerful allergens and prohevein, the principal allergen of rubber latex is one. It has been engineered into transgenic tomatoes for its fungistatic properties, so we can expect an outbreak of tomato allergy in the near future among latex sensitive people.
Unfortunately, even our organic farms can become infected with genetically altered seeds. Crosswinds carrying seeds from Frankenfarms ensure that someday all crops will become tainted. There was a case several years ago when an organic farm in the U.S. attempted to sell corn flakes to a country in Europe. This country refused to buy because they found that the product was made from genetically altered corn. (Many countries in Europe are very conscientious about analyzing any imported food.) This alerted organic farms to the problem of cross-pollination. The bee carries a little pollen from the Frankenfarm over to their neighbors. Also, what will contact with this mutated pollen do to the bee? Is Attack of the Killer Bees prophetic? What about the recent disappearance of the Honey Bee?
Several years ago some friends and I were passing through the California/Oregon border and officials stopped us and asked if we had any fruit or vegetables. California is very careful about checking for possible new plant-life or pests coming in to destroy their vulnerable fruit crops. Nobody’s looking at the big picture.
*Thanks to Trudy Bialic for her comments and research.