GM – horrifying food for thought
It was a very simple question leading a recent column: ‘‘Is our food healthy?’’ It sprang from the worrying results of research described as ‘‘striking and statistically significant’’.
Now there’s more evidence – a different research source, this time in New Zealand with more worrying findings on the commercial viability of GM. First, recapping on that original worry over health from Dr Judy Carman, adjunct associate professor at Flinders University, Adelaide.
She told us: ‘‘A groundbreaking new study shows that pigs were harmed by the consumption of feed containing genetically modified (GM) crops. GM-fed female pigs had, on average, a 25 per cent heavier uterus than non-GM-fed females, a possible indicator of disease that requires further investigation showed severe inflammation in stomachs was markedly higher in pigs fed on the GM diet. These results in real, on-farm conditions, not in a laboratory, have with the added benefit of strict scientific controls not normally present on farms. Pigs with these health problems end up in our food supply. We eat them. Pigs have a similar digestive system to people, so we need to investigate if people are also getting digestive problems from eating GM crops. The new study lends scientific credibility to anecdotal evidence from farmers and veterinarians who have for some years reported reproductive and digestive problems in pigs fed on a diet containing GM soy and corn (Booth column for week of July 9).’’
Now from another scientific source, another simple question with a worrying answers: Do GM crops equal better yields? University of Canterbury researchers say ‘‘no’’. They have found that North American crop production has fallen behind Western Europe through American farmers using genetically modified (GM) seed and more pesticide compared to non-GM use in Europe. The Canterbury research team, led by Professor Jack Heinemann, compared data on agricultural productivity in North America and Western Europe from the last 50 years. The two regions were compared as they are similar in terms of the crops they grow, latitude and access to biotechnology, mechanisation and educated farmers.
‘‘We found that the combination of non-GM seed and management practices used by Western Europe is increasing corn yields faster than GM-led packages chosen by the US,’’ Professor Heinemann says.
‘‘Our research showed rapeseed (canola) yields increasing faster in Europe without GM than in the GM-led package chosen by Canada and decreasing chemical herbicide and even larger declines in insecticide use without sacrificing yield gains, while chemical herbicide use in the US has increased with GM seed. Europe has learned to grow more food per hectare and use fewer chemicals in the process. The Amer- ican choices in biotechnology are causing it to fall behind Europe in productivity and sustainability.’’
Professor Heinemann says this raises the question whether New Zealand should adopt US farming techniques – including GM-led biotechnology – or should follow the high-performance agriculture demonstrated by Europe.
‘‘Agriculture responds to commercial and legislative incentive systems. These take the form of subsidies, intellectual property rights instruments, tax incentives, trade promotions and regulation,’’ he says. ‘‘The incentive systems in North America are leading to a reliance on GM seeds and management practices that are inferior to those adopted under incentive systems in Europe.
‘‘The decrease in annual variation in yield suggests that Europe has a superior combination of seed and crop management technology and is better suited to withstand weather variations. This is important because annual variations cause price speculations that can drive hundreds of millions of people into food poverty. We need more than agriculture; we need agricultures, a diversity of practices for growing and making food that GM does not support, we need systems that are useful, not just profit-making biotechnologies – we need systems that provide a resilient supply to feed the world well,’’ he says.
The research results have been published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. I have read the full report on its website. The statistics involved pinpoint major changes in world farming with GM as the latest tool – for better or worse! Example: Of the nearly 10,000 wheat varieties in use in China in 1949, only 1000 remained in the 1970s ... In the United States, 95 per cent of the cabbage, 91 per cent of the field maize, 94 per cent of the pea and 81 per cent of the tomato varieties cultivated in the last century have been lost.
From column reader Ida Short: ‘‘Independent scientific research has shown the harm caused by Genetic Engineering/Genetic Modification (GE/GM) on the environment, soil, animals and human health. Why are Monsanto and similar corporations able to thrive despite the enormous harm caused by their GM food, feed and chemicals? It’s no secret: Monsanto controls US government along with the regulatory bodies by bribing them.
‘‘In New Zealand, we see emerging local Monsantos, like the AgResearch (GE animals), the Scion-ArborGen (GE pine trees) and Te Teko – Fonterra (GE ryegrass for the pastures).
‘‘The National Government has poured tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars into useless and harmful trials with transgenic pine trees, grasses and other plants and animals. There is already enough evidence confirming dangerous consequences from such trials and GE products for the environment and the public health. At the same time, the Government stopped funding of the New Zealand organic sector in June, 2011. Some government officials and most regulating bodies lean towards multi-nationals and these companies and their profits, rather than protecting our environment and people. New Zealand Soil and Health Association information points to widespread use of GE feed for dairy cattle, pigs and poultry – basically soy, corn, maize and cottonseed. In 2012, New Zealand imported about 200,000 tones of GE soy, basically from Argentina, the main producer of GE crops.
‘‘Thousands of tons of poultry manure are spread on the pastures, contaminating them and soil the soil with GE toxins. Severe adverse effects of GE feeding go through the food chain and affect humans. People consume cattle meat, poultry and dairy products with GE toxins – having no idea about their presence in the food without correct labelling.
‘‘In New Zealand, at least 70 food lines use GE ingredients such as soy, corn, maize canola oil and others. The public consumes the toxic processed food every day because GE ingredients aren’t disclosed on the labels. The Government allows hiding data about GE ingredients in food. Government officials stubbornly ignore multiple public requests for fair labelling, dangerous GE trials and other GE issues. Probably they forgot that they are the public’s servants but not the public’s arrogant bosses.’’
Ida suggests following websites: gefree.org.nz, organicnz.org, respon sibletechnology.org/faqs, prorev.com/genetic.htm.
I’m worried – are you?