Grand Forks Herald
Published Monday, November 24, 2008
By Kristine Mattis
GRAND FORKS — The new presidential administration would do well to ignore the not-very-impartial advice of Art Brandli (“Obama must lead on biotech,” Page A4, Nov. 15).
Biotechnology may have produced exponential economic growth for large agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont and Dow, but it has done little to help people.
There exists a world food crisis, but as Francis Moore Lappe and others have noted, we do not have a world food shortage. We have a problem of growers forced to produce monocultures for export while not being able to feed themselves and their own communities.
We have enormous distribution problems and tremendous waste. The United Nations recently estimated that at least 50 percent of food produced ends up as garbage, while billions of people around the world go hungry.
A three-year study by the University of Kansas showed that genetically modified soybeans produce 10 percent less yield than their non-GM counterparts. So, even if there were shortages, biotechnology is not the solution.
Moreover, the safety claims of biotechnology are dubious at best. GM foods do not undergo comprehensive health studies before being released to the market. Dr. Arpad Pusztai of the United Kingdom conducted the world’s most thorough research on the health effects of GM foods. He found evidence of autoimmune problems, allergic reactions, underdeveloped organ growth and cancer resulting from the ingestion of genetically modified food.
Is it any wonder that farm animals and wildlife feeding on agricultural crops avoid GM crops at all costs?
Furthermore, genetic modification of crops has the potential to alter the genes of, and consequently the health of, entire ecosystems. Pollen from GM plants can travel far and wide, creating a “genetic pollution.” GM crops also create a seed dependence for farmers, which often ruins their prosperity and their lives. More than half a million farmers in India have committed suicide as a result of losing their livelihoods to the endless cycle of dependence on seeds and chemicals that biotechnology produces.
Finally, the unknown and potentially irreversible consequences of such technology are innumerable. GM crops are treated with extreme caution in Europe. Starving nations on the African continent even have banned the import of GM food aid from America.
Another biotech example, recombinant bovine growth hormone, was introduced by Monsanto in 1994 to increase milk production in cows, even though America was already producing far too much milk. Monsanto hoped increased milk production would drive down milk prices, thereby putting small dairy farms out of business while huge agribusiness corporations could absorb the costs and take over the market.
But the real results of rBGH use were not just financial. It produced severe impairment and infection in dairy cows. That infection and the antibiotics used to treat it are passed down to the milk consumer. Other health effects from ingesting dairy products made from rBGH: higher risk of colon, prostate and breast cancers, possible role in pediatric bone cancer and implication in lung cancer.
No wonder countries such as Canada, New Zealand and all of the European Union have long ago banned rBGH from even being introduced.
President-elect Obama should be curtailing the use of biotechnology and implementing the precautionary principle within our current regulations. The rest of the Western world is light years ahead in consumer protection and the use of sustainable agriculture, while the American government remains under the influence of agribusiness giants who are on a mission to control the entire world’s food supply to the peril of us all.
Mattis is a graduate student in Earth System Science and Policy at UND..