Monday, May 3, 2010

What's the Problem with GMOs?

I just stumbled upon the blog, "A Month Without Monsanto," by April Davila, and I highly recommend checking it out. April took on the challenge of going a month without using any products that could be traced back to agricultural giant, Monsanto. The blog is fascinating and a remarkable example of how consolidated modern agriculture has become.

She does a great job of illustrating the struggles of trying to avoid Monsanto products and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but maybe we need to ask why we should avoid them at all? Are we in the local food movement just a bunch of traditionalist Luddites? Are we missing the potential in what could be the next greatest human innovation? I don't think so. Here are just a few reasons why GMOs seem dangerous to me:

  • There is virtually no research on their long term health effects in humans (though they've been shown to cause organ failure in other mammals).

  • The increase in the use of GMOs has caused an increase in seed prices for farmers.

  • Because Monsanto owns the genes it alters, farmers can no longer save seed from season to season. This pushes family farms out of business and leaves us with corporately owned factory farms.

  • Genetic modification (and the ownership of genes concentrated in the hands of one company) creates a monoculture that is extremely susceptible to disease and pests.

These are only a handful of the numerous reasons to avoid GMOs, and Monsanto products in particular. April's blog demonstrates, though, as Monsanto's power grows, it will become harder and harder to do so.

Image courtesy of Jamblichus's Weblog


  1. At the federal nutrition summit last week, during a session on food deserts, I asked the USDA representative if anything was being done to address the influence of large agri-business, which provide unhealthy foods so cheaply that healthier alternatives are too expensive. Basically, the answer was no, but they are trying to "broaden the options" of healthy choices by making grants and loans to folks willing to start grocery stores in food deserts. I tried!

  2. Nice post Eileen. I totally agree with your points 2, 3, and 4; the way that GM crops are implemented right now are generally pretty unsustainable and profit driven. That said, there are some pretty sweet crops that could be distributed in a more equitable way but are often held up by a dizzying array of long-term studies that, while informative, can keep a really promising product from helping lots of people. Check out the golden rice project for a good example.
    Oh yes, and your first point... it's true that rats deriving 11 to 33% of their diet from GM corn exhibited altered physiology in some cases, but I probably would too if I ate that much corn. But seriously, not all GM crops are the same. The study you cited dealt with 3 Monsanto varieties that produce compounds toxic to weeds and/or some insects (this has benefits and drawbacks, but I won't address them here); can you really put that in the same category as a GMO made to produce an essential vitamin that is deficient in many people's diet?