Thursday, February 12, 2009

Musings: Wise to Wait

It started raining hard about midnight and the downpour leaked over into the day, breaking briefly for a golden haze at sunrise, then resuming again when the next batch of clouds crested the horizon. Koko thought she wanted to go out, but when she saw the deluge, she backed away from the open door and decided she could wait.

It would have been wise for the biotech industry and Food and Drug Administration to take a similar approach before introducing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into our food supply and nature. But when there’s big money to be made, there’s no time to waste.

So now we’ve got these engineered organisms, which move genes not only between species, but between taxonomic kingdoms, in foods being eaten by some 1 billion people — including you, unless you’re really, really akamai and careful. Because it’s in virtually all the corn, soy, canola and sugar beet products, which means almost everything on the supermarket shelves, unless it’s organic.

“GMOs expose the public in a way that no other technology has,” said Jeffrey M. Smith, author and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, in a talk in Lihue last night. “It was introduced long before the science was ready, if it ever was ready.”

The GMO issue is multifaceted, and none of it is pretty. You’ve got multinational corporations trying to control the world’s seed supply. You’ve got dramatically increased herbicide and pesticide use associated with the herbicide resistant crops that have been developed. You’ve got an estimated 125,000 peasant farmers in India committing suicide because they were financially ruined by their foray into GMO crops. You’ve got livestock dying there after feeding on genetically engineered cotton crops. And you’ve got GMO crops cross pollinating with other plants.

Smith decided to focus on the issue of GMOs in food because he thought it was the most effective way to stymie the spread of this stuff. After all, consumers have a lot of clout, and their resistance is already prompting major food companies to drop their use of milk from cows injected with a genetically altered bovine growth hormone.

The point that Jeffrey makes is we really don’t know what health effects GMOs might be causing because the studies just haven’t been done. The FDA doesn’t require such testing, having decided — with a biotech-friendly executive who is now a VP at Monsantoin charge of policy — that GMO foods are substantially no different than the real kine. The agency scientists who disagreed were systematically silenced, along with independent researchers who have produced reports unfavorable to industry.

In fact, very few animal studies, and none of them long-term, have been conducted. But when they were, the animals demonstrated problems ranging from infertility and low birth weight to allergies, digestive problems, weakened immune systems and even death. “Many animals, when given a choice, refuse to eat GMO foods,” Jeffrey said.

And in the only GMO feeding study done on humans, scientists found Round-Up Ready genes in the gut bacteria of participants, disproving industry claims that the genes are destroyed during digestion. So how is this affecting us? No one really knows. It's a giant uncontrolled experiment, and we are the unwitting lab rats.

Anyway, since Hawaii has more open field tests of GMO crops than anywhere in the world, with much of that research being done right here on Kauai, it’s a pertinent and pressing local issue. Councilman Tim Bynum popped by last night to check out Jeffrey’s book, and Councilman Derek Kawakami sat through the presentation. It was good to see they’re at least curious.

If you are, too, I’ll be on Katy Rose’s talk show on KKCR from 4 to 5:30 p.m. today interviewing Jeffrey on this issue and taking calls. You can listen live on line.

Moving on to other troubling topics, I’ve been doing a lot of research lately into the management and condition of Hawaii’s fisheries. I’ve got a story in this week’s Honolulu Weekly that starts:

Isaac Harp is a fisherman who does not fish, a Native Hawaiian who is hesitant to eat the fish that are a staple in traditional Polynesian diets. That wasn’t always the case. Read the rest here.

It’s another example of the free-for-all that develops when an industry that just doesn't want to wait pressures those who are in charge of managing a public resource to make some unwise choices. Enjoy!

15 comments:

Andy Parx said...

After reading about the greed-based corporate destruction of all the first land and then sea based food “Enjoy” might be the funniest single word I’ve read in weeks.

Sandhya said...

Thank you for your in-depth reporting on two crucial issues for Kaua`i and, ultimately, for all of us. It's amazing to me how much content you pack into your blog, along with the poetry of each and every sunrise.

Anonymous said...

"The GMO issue is multifaceted, and none of it is pretty. You’ve got multinational corporations trying to control the world’s seed supply. You’ve got dramatically increased herbicide and pesticide use associated with the herbicide resistant crops that have been developed. You’ve got an estimated 125,000 peasant farmers in India committing suicide because they were financially ruined by their foray into GMO crops. You’ve got livestock dying there after feeding on genetically engineered cotton crops. And you’ve got GMO crops cross pollinating with other plants."

oh and no forget; get kids sick at school from overspray on the westside.

glad to hear TB and DK showed face. would drop dead if kaipo made it out.

Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting last night and all that information made me physically sick to my stomach. I had no appetite to eat dinner when I came home, not knowing what if any GMO was in my food. I was so outraged that here on my beloved island of Kaua'i, we are guinea pigs for the corporate GMO pigs. What is worst, on the Westside, the industry has replaced sugar as the only industry and the community will be divided because of the jobs Pioneer and Syngenta provide. The greed of some have no limits and void of all moral integrity.

Anonymous said...

You might want to go easy with the 125,000 suicides remark.

This figure is extrapolated and then estimated based on remarks by Sharad Pawar who is India's Agriculture Minister; but, he is also the leader of the Nationalist Congress (Political) Party.

Prince Charles has expressed alarm about an average 1000 suicides a month in one province; but, there were none there before 2006.

The 125K is a circular (quoting each other) blog quote or without any sources at all. Another figure further back (a year ago) was 25,000 between 1993 and 2003.
Add to this the many variables in rural Indian culture and I think you will agree that there is much to sort out in the way of facts.

Anonymous said...

'You might want to go easy with the 125,000 suicides remark.'
irregardless of the numbers, it's telling that the impact that this type of agro-culture cor-pirate impact can be devastating. not in my backyard, please!

Joan said...

The source that Jeffrey Smith cited for the 125,000 farmer suicides, which I have now embedded in the post, was a story in the UK's Daily Mail newspaper.

But even if it's "only" one-tenth, or one-one-hundredth, that amount, doesn't that give you some cause for concern?

Anonymous said...

Of course there is cause for concern; but, the issue gets sidetracked or derailed when inflated info is used. That doesn't necesarily happen in other countries...so they do it...it does happen in ours.

Right now, the UK Daily Mail source is the solitary source and, like I reported, the reporter used an extrapolated estimation based on his own single source - Sharad Pawar - after spending just 4 days in India.

A "fact" this emotional needs more support than a single source that doesn't even tie the suicide rate to GMO activity.

Joan said...

I agree that inflated figures can derail or sidetrack the discussion on this issue.

But if the Indian Ministry of Agriculture is not an acceptable source for you, who would be?

Anonymous said...

so if some people in japan kill themselves b/ they default on a bank loan we need to boycott japanese banks or lobby them to change the banking regs?

anyways

Bakshi, A. Potential Adverse Health Effects of Genetically Modified
Crops. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part B: Critical
Reviews, Volume 6, Number 3 / May-June 2003, pp. 211-226

http://www.lib.cau.edu.cn/zjy/a141.pdf

the above is just science, so i dunno how interested people here will be

or just take a peek at other works:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=genetically+modified+crops++%22health+~risk%22&hl=en&lr=&safe=off&as_ylo=2001&as_yhi=2006&start=30&sa=N

Andy Parx said...

I’ve followed this story for a year or so and 125,000 may even be a low estimate. I was surprised to learn it was that low. This is and has been a huge story over there and in Europe although we don’t get news from abroad from our corporate US media unless we have a war there. Whole villages of people are devastated by GMO companies.. Suicide is extremely common especially among the patriarchs and next generation. And the kids leave. And Monsanto takes over their farms.

Anonymous said...

As for Indian farmer suicides, that’s a complex situation. Some did not understand the deals they made, which unlike normal crops that you can cull seeds from and replant the following year, the GMO crops required them to buy new licenses. To blame that for all the farmer suicides though is a blatant example of confirmation bias. Farmers in MP state were committing suicide because of bankruptcies mostly the result of drought in the region and low prevailing commodity prices at the time. Look at the state now though, and you’ll see many farmers happily enjoying the higher yield GMO crops in a time of higher commodity prices. For something that was supposedly devastating, those poor farmers are embracing it enthusiastically.

That really is the story. This technology will help the third world farmer increase productivity, and the third world consumer get something to eat, if the technophobes who see a corporate conspiracy around every corner will just get out of the way.

Anonymous said...

there be science links up there..

Joan said...

Oh yeah, just keep chasing those higher yields, like the stock market and hedge funds, and see where it gets you. The higher yield myth has already been disproved in the US where farmers using GE crops initially had greater yields but now are having to buy more and more herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer to keep production up, which destroys the soil and so productivity and on you go.

As for the "corporate conspiracy," it's not imaginary or hidden. The biotech companies themselves already stated their goal of wanting to control 95% of the world's commercial seed supply and Monsanto is busy buying up small seed companies, often using strong arm tactics. A friend in Illinois said her brother sold the family seed corn biz to Monsanto after they told him, either sell out to us or we'll drive you out of business.

I personally do not feel comfortable with the idea of a handful of corporations controlling the world's food supply.

Anonymous said...

i hope nobody just said that no GM crops have ever regularly allowed for less expensive higher yields

b/ that would just risk overall credibility