Genetically Engineered Food Is Not What Mother Nature Intended

ELIZABETH GUARDIA

The opposition needs to stop claiming that pro-GMO labeling folk are anti-science. To question the effectiveness of a technological solution, based on concerns for human health and the natural environment, is not “anti-science” — it is very much in line with the spirit of scientific inquiry.

The real conversation that we are having, the one that drives many of us to oppose the use of minimally tested genetically engineered food products, is a question of whether they are anti-nature. There are many concerns with health, pesticide and herbicide usage, nutrient content, and a slew of other issues, but personally, the biggest concern is the threat to the ecological diversity of our planet and the fragility of our ecosystem that is already hanging on by a thread.

Genetically engineered (GE) material is patented and owned by a company. (An interesting aside: Whenever we ask a company where they got the seed that they manipulated in the first place, they will never answer. This is biopiracy at its finest.) Patented material is irrelevant to nature, it will prevail with or without our destructive decisions, which is why I wonder, are we clearing the path to our own downfall with GE seed and animal?

I have been to many hearings for labeling bills and listened to the opposition continually reference GE practices as being exactly the same as what takes place with farmers and select breeding through seed selection. This is simply untrue. In an unparalleled brief amount of time, GE scientist are able to do things with seed and plant varieties that farmers would take thousands of years to recreate, if even possible at all.

With nature, no one seed or person is created exactly the same. That is incredible. This genetic diversity makes populations resilient to disease and environmental stressors, and keeps them competitive within their ecosystem — a greater science, far beyond our understanding, that we shouldn’t be meddling with.

Not only have GE organisms been introduced to the dinner table, but also into the animal world: GE salmon, GE pink bollworm, a GE medfly, GE apple codling moth and GE mosquitoes, to name a few. Doesn’t it seem that often times in the United States, we operate on the “oops principle” rather than the precautionary principle? How many times must we learn that we must thoroughly vet procedures and applications before we introduce them to the consumer market? Or worse, the open environment!

Long-term outcomes should far outweigh quick, short-term solutions. We don’t know if in a few decades or a century, whether our action may threaten the food system as we know it. This is a risk for our children and grandchildren that we can’t afford to take.

GE crops and insects are still related to their conventional counterparts. This means that they can cross-breed with like varieties. GE seed, by design, are engineered to create consistency and abundance in uniform. With too much uniformity, it makes crops vulnerable to drought, new disease and any climate differentiation that is out of the norm. GE contamination is unavoidable and will happen no matter what through nature, because farmers can’t control rainfall or wind; pollen is free to be spread in nature without consent of patent owners or even the folks who are trying to avoid contamination. Once contamination has started, it’s nearly impossible to stop.

This has been mostly the case for the top GE crops: corn, soy, canola and sugar beets. There are, however, many patents in the pipeline. If a company owns seed, it owns life, and it seems that slowly their goal is to own all seed. The biotech advancements — and I use that word with hesitation — are also coupled with scary things such as the California Seed Law AB-2470. This law would make it illegal for a farmer to “offer for sale, expose for sale, possess for sale, exchange, barter or trade” their seeds beyond an arbitrary 3-mile limit from their farm to “neighbors,” unless they adhere to a strict and onerous packaging process or without jumping through the same regulatory hoops designed for giant commercial seed retailers.

The law creates unfair competition and threatens the distribution of organic seeds, favoring, of course, genetically modified seeds.

As slow of a process as this all seems, the proliferation of these crops and the resulting environmental damages are happening quickly. Pesticides and herbicides are killing off surrounding pieces of nature bit by bit, and the cross-contamination and monoculture are dwindling our capacity for biodiversity, creating an extremely fragile environment for food security and evolution.

With all due respect to science, because it certainly does have it’s place, we shouldn’t be meddling with the biodiversity and accumulated evolution of nature.  After all, it has been here for more than 4.5 billion years — 22,500 times longer than we have. Nature doesn’t need people, but people need nature. If nature thrives, we will thrive; if nature falters — at our own doing — we will surely falter as well. Our actions will determine our fate, as we watch, hope and pray that our decision makers will act on our behalf.

When it comes to the on-package labeling request from the people of the United States, raising awareness and providing information will show the true desires and demands of the American consumers. A label is the least we could ask for whether the concern be health, or simply not wanting to support this practice.

Legislative decisions should be based off of the overwhelming support for labeling and transparency, not from industry-influenced propaganda and money.  If we win this battle, it’s a small step in the direction of corporations no longer being able to dictate the needs of our “free market.” As people lose faith in our legislative process because it’s so clear that the industry has strong influence, our elected officials have this beautiful opportunity to take a stand for the people who elected them.

Please call your state senators and ask them to support S2458 and S2459 for mandatory on-package labeling in Rhode Island, so we can join the 64 other countries who require labeling and the three states that have already passed laws — Connecticut, Maine and Vermont.

Providence resident Elizabeth Guardia is an activist, farmer and soon-to-be mother.