The average person may not know what the term GMO means but is certainly eating GMOs, and probably at every meal. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created when scientists take DNA from one species and insert it into another in a way that would never occur naturally. It's a complicated process, but award-winning filmmaker Jeremy Seifert aims to explain how chemical companies have quietly overtaken our food system, flooding it with unlabeled GMO ingredients, in the new GMO OMG documentary. It debuts this week at the Yale Environmental Film Festival.
Here are 7 takeaway messages from the film:
#1. GMOs are everywhere.
Almost all of the corn, soy, cotton, canola, and sugar beets grown in this country are genetically engineered to either produce a pesticide within the plant or survive being drenched in weed-killing chemicals. (Usually the weed killers would kill the plant, but by tinkering with the plant's natural DNA and inserting foreign genes, plants can withstand chemicals like Roundup.)
About 165 million American acres have been planted with GMO crops that likely wind up in everything from 80 percent of the processed food on store shelves to the sweetener you add to your morning coffee. You wouldn't know it, though, because in America GMOs aren't labeled. (The only certain exception is organic foods; organic standards ban the use of GMOs.)
#2. America's keeping secrets.
China, Russia, and about 60 other countries require labeling if a food contains GMO ingredients. Despite efforts on state and federal levels to require labeling in the U.S., at present GMOs do not have to be labeled here. And that leaves most U.S. consumers in the dark.
During the 2012 election, the megacorporations that produce both the GMO seeds and the chemicals used on GMO crops spent $45 million to defeat a labeling law in California. If GMOs are so safe, as the corporations say they are, then what's there to hide?
#3. GMOs have never been properly tested for long-term health impacts.
If GMO products are allowed on store shelves, they must be safe, right? Not the case.
The studies used for government approval of GMO crops are conducted by the very same corporations that create the seeds. Can you say conflict of interest? These studies generally are short-term and aren't reviewed by other scientists. The raw data used for approval generally isn't shared with the public. There are no independent, long-term studies investigating how this new genetic experiment affects human health, although some emerging research suggests the genetically altered foods could cause organ damage and food allergies.
#4. Chemical companies control what's on your plate.
Three corporations—Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta—control 53 percent of the proprietary seed market. They also create the chemicals used on the seeds, a huge moneymaker. Since their biotech seeds are used to grow food for most of the cows, chickens, and pigs in the U.S., these corporations control most of the food Americans eat.
#5. GMO technology can't outsmart nature.
Using billions of gallons of pesticides a year has created "superbugs" and "superweeds," pests and plants that have outsmarted GMO technology. (The same type of thing happens when we overuse antibiotics; hard-to-kill superbug infections occur.) In short, a technology that promised to help farmers is now causing never-before-seen pest problems, and ones that call for even greater chemical use. There are now more than 500 species of bugs resistant to pesticides, and global pesticide use has increased from 200 million pounds in 1945 to 5.1 billion pounds today.
#6. GMOs aren't necessary to feed the world.
While biotech companies are making a fortune selling the GMO seed-chemical package, they're focused on greenwashing the technology as the only possible means to feed the world. That theory's been debunked by numerous studies and reports, including ones from the United Nations. The Rodale Institute's 30-year farming systems trial found that while GMO crops may produce increased yields during the first few years under perfect conditions, organic methods produce similar yields over the long haul. In fact, during years of drought, organic outperformed chemical agriculture.
In actuality, GMOs threaten food security. As more farmers turn to the same variety of seed to grow, other traditional (also called "heirloom" or "heritage") seeds are going extinct. These seeds hold the genetic diversity that could offer traits to ward off diseases and better adapt to climate change in the future.
#7. Haiti would rather burn GMOs than plant them.
Did you know Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, chose to burn tons of GMO seeds donated by Monsanto after the earthquake rather than plant them for food? To the Haitians, the GMO seeds were a threat to their very existence as farmers. GMO seeds are patented, so farmers aren't allowed to save seed from their harvest to replant the next year, something that's been the cornerstone of farming for centuries. Once you buy into the GMO way of farming, you're bound to buy the chemicals and the seeds every year. In the GMO OMG documentary, farmers called it a "capitalistic enterprise," adding that Monsanto doesn't protect the environment, improve the quality of food, or protect life.
Eating organic is the best way to avoid GMOs because the certification makes it illegal to use GMO seeds or chemical pesticides. For more ways to keep GMOs off the menu at your house, read How to Avoid GMOs.
Published on: April 8, 2013
Updated on: October 30, 2013