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!