There was a time when we relied on local farmers and butchers to provide the food we needed. Now that trust has shifted towards large corporate farms. It seems the newest trend with these companies is the sale and distribution of genetically modified crops. But why should these modified organisms circumvent testing for health risk, or go on the market unlabeled in the United States? GMOs are all around us, yet you don’t know it.
New York chef, Katy Keck and former co-owner of New World Grill, was asked to host an event at her restaurant for a press party. Katy Keck was to develop recipes using GMOs and to create a display table. However, she stated she would not personally attend the event. This was fine at first but then Fleishman Hillard public relations agency, representing Council for Biotechnology Information, asked her to be a spokesperson at the GMO event. When Katy Keck denied the request, her phone was then flooded with phone calls and messages begging her to advocate for GMOs. Katy said they pleaded her and if she didn’t agree they would be fired from their jobs.
A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is an organism that has a gene from another organism, with a specific trait, placed into its DNA sequence. One of the problems people have with eating genetically modified plants is the transferred “specific trait” allows the plant to withstand large quantities of herbicides, or produce the herbicides itself. Its hard for people to swallow the fact that there has been a 527 million pound increase in herbicide usage. The other concern people have is the looming threat of allergic reactions. What if the genes from a nut or wheat is placed into a strawberry for example. You have an allergic reaction, but you don’t really know what is causing the reaction.
Monsanto is the company that played a major part in spreading the use of GMOs. But Monsanto needed to go to the source of biotechnology, Calgene. Calgene had patents on the techniques they used to transfer genes. Calgene commercialized the first GMO, the Flavr Savr tomato, in 1994. The company was transparent when taking its product to the market. Calgene clearly labeled its tomatoes as “genetically modified” on the packaging, handed out brochures explaining the modification process, and had workers on a 1-800 number whose job was to explain the process used to create these tomatoes. Calgene was then bought out by Monsanto and is presently, using the patented technology that created the tomato, became the world’s leader in GMOs and herbicide distribution.
To anti GMO activists, Monsanto is widely known for suing small scale farmers and “infiltrating” government agencies such as the FDA and the EPA. Small family farms were being sued by Monsanto because they were caught growing Monsanto’s patented seed. The case often was that the pollen or seed of GM crop would naturally end up in the fields of the smaller farmers by means of wind, wildlife, and etc. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how the seeds ended up on their land, they were still guilty. The infiltration activists are referring to is Monsanto’s former employees working for government agencies. For instance, Monsanto’s former Vice President for Public Policy, Michael Taylor, was appointed to be the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Foods. There might be a conflict of interest when it comes to creating the regulations for genetically modified foods. People like Michael Taylor can ensure that genetically modified foods will not be label. Their reasoning is that if they label their food, people will portray GMOs as different and inferior and purchase less of it. However, the longer GMOs are refused to be labeled, the more people will get suspicious of it.
More conflicts of interests arise when the FDA’s regulations state that large food conglomerates can determine whether or not their own food is safe. This is where the term Generally Recognized as Safe, or G.R.A.S, comes in. Companies, such as Monsanto, can determine their foods are “GRAS”. Then they can put their “generally safe” food on the market without telling the FDA. Even the FDA’s own scientist believe there are unknown side effects and advocate for long term testing.
Many advocates for GMOs will say crossbreeding is essentially the same as creating a GMO and that we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. They will say people are afraid of GMOs because they don’t understand it or it is created in a lab. I am not afraid of the technological advances we will make. The problem I have is, not when a tomato gene is transferred to another tomato, but when genes are transferred from animals and bacteria to plants. When plants can produce or survive large amounts of herbicides is when I start getting concerned. The European Union has declared that all GMO products must be labeled. What does Europe know that the US does not? According a New York Times poll, 87% of the people in the U.S. want GMOs to be labeled. GMOs certainly have the potential to benefit mankind, but each GMO is unique and has unknown risk. The more Monsanto tries to hide GMOs, the more people will associate a negative connotation with it. So if food companies take a more open and transparent approach to selling their genetically modified food, people will have less of a tendency to be dubious or boycott the product.