The topic of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and their impact on our health and the environment remains highly controversial. One side claims that GMO’s have not yet been proven safe, while the other side claims that it’s GMO health risks that have yet to be proven. Regardless of which side you’re on, it’s possible that you’ve been consuming GMO’s on a regular basis for years without even knowing it. Interestingly, the same people who claim that GMO’s are safe have also been working hard to keep their existence in many of the foods you eat a secret.
In the film GMO OMG, a filmmaker by the name of Jeremy Seifert sets out on a journey to learn what GMO’s are all about, and why the companies that make them have such strong lobbying power. This documentary is a must-watch if you’re hoping to learn more about what you may be putting into your body. I’ve long been interested in the subject of GMO’s but only watched the film for the first time just recently. This inspired me to do additional research on the topic, reminding me of what an important issue this really is.
I’ve decided to break down the most important points brought up by the documentary as well as other vital info that you need to be aware of. As GMO’s could have potentially serious long-term consequences for both our health and the planet itself, humanity needs to make a decision now as to whether genetically engineered food is something we really want or need.
What are GMO’s?
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, “A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal.” (1)
The makers of GMO seeds often try to portray the process as little more than an advanced form of selective plant breeding. “Humans were headed down this road already,” GMO advocates will tell you, “and we’re simply speeding up a process that farmers have been partaking in for millennia.” But is this really the case?
It doesn’t take an expert to realize that there is a major difference between farmers who save their best-performing seeds and selectively breed them, and scientists who splice genes in a lab to create a completely new organism.
The latter case comes with a whole slew of potential ethical and moral issues, not to mention environmental and health concerns.
Who Produces GMO’s and Why?
As the GMO OMG documentary points out, the GMO seed companies happen to be owned by major chemical companies. When you realize what the business incentives are for producing GMO seeds, this starts to make sense.
One well-known biotech company you may have heard of is the St. Louis, United States-based Monsanto. In addition to being one of the largest makers of patented genetically engineered seeds, they sell a large product line of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. One Monsanto brand you may have heard of is called Roundup, which is also known by its chemical name glyphosate.
Monsanto and similar companies have been creating their own GM seeds which are meant to be resistant to glyphosate and other chemicals. Ideally, this means that farmers can spray as much Roundup as they want, killing all those pesky weeds and insects without harming their crops.
Despite Monsanto’s claims that glyphosate is safe, health officials in the state of California have recently found that it can cause cancer. (2) While glyphosate in itself is not ‘GMO,’ herbicides and pesticides are a major part of the business model for these companies producing GMO seeds.
Other major biotech corporations include Syngenta, Dow Chemical, BASF, Bayer and Dupont. All of these companies produce both GMO seeds as well as pesticides and herbicides.
While advocates of GMO’s often claim that they will help reduce the need for external chemicals, both the biotech business model and real-world evidence shows that GMO seeds mean more, not less, of cancer-causing agents like glyphosate. This is just one of many potential health risks when it comes to GMO’s.
GMO’s and The Patenting of Living Organisms
The controversy surrounding GMO’s is not only limited to the potential health consequences in people who consume them. Many of the arguments against companies like Monsanto have to do with the fact that it’s illegal to replant patented seeds for harvest.
Yes, that’s right. Farmers cannot simply save seeds from plants and re-use them for future crops, as humans have been doing for pretty much all of human history. That doesn’t mean that GMO seeds are sterile, however. Farmers who buy GMO seeds are required to sign a waiver promising that they will not save any seeds, but buy new ones from the manufacturer each time.
What’s the big deal, then, if farmers knowingly sign waivers for GMO seeds that they’re purchasing voluntarily? One major issue lies in the fact that cross-contamination occurs when Monsanto seeds get blown around in the wind, thus infecting nearby organic farms with Monsanto’s patented specimens.
As GMO OMG points out, organic farmers who never wanted anything to do with GMO’s in the first place often find themselves being sued by biotech companies for patent infringement, simply because pollen from a nearby farm blew into theirs! (3)
Furthermore, consumers looking to avoid potential GMO health risks may be unknowingly consuming GMO’s, even when they’re buying produce labelled as ‘organic.’ The more widespread the use of GMO’s become, the harder it’s going to be for independent organic farmers to keep their seeds pure.
The Tremendous Lobbying Power of GMO Producers
One of the subjects brought up by GMO OMG is how powerful and influential companies like Monsanto are, especially in the United States. Another film I recently reviewed, What The Health, talks about how major government agencies and prominent health organizations receive tons of funding from the major food corporations. GMO OMG reveals another aspect of high-level government corruption – the revolving door policy.
According to the documentary, over 300 former congressional or White House staff members are now lobbying for major biotech firms. One example is Michael R. Taylor, current Deputy Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who’s also held high positions at Monsanto. In fact, he’s switched back and forth between Monsanto and the US government multiple times!
And what do companies like Monsanto do with all of this political influence? One thing they love to do is help ban the labelling of GMO’s in grocery stores across the US. In fact, as shown in the documentary, Monsanto has even sued a number of US states that have attempted to introduce GMO labelling laws, thus preventing the laws from getting passed.
Monsanto then likes to play the victim, whining that consumers are simply misinformed about GMO’s and that if they stopped buying them, it would be “unfair” to the biotech industry. Monsanto and other biotech firms know that the common people’s real power lies in not how they vote in elections, but how they vote with their wallets. It’s unsurprising then, that Monsanto makes every effort to subvert the voluntary free market, keeping us in the dark about what it is we’re really buying.
Herbicides and The Emergence of ‘Superweeds’
According to the film and plenty of other sources, long-term use of herbicides has resulted in chemical-resistant ‘superweeds.’ These weeds are much larger and tougher than the original weeds that products like Roundup were made to get rid of.
This is similar to how the prevalence of antibiotic consumption in humans has resulted in the rise of ‘superbugs’ which continue to evolve and grow stronger, no matter how powerful new batches of antibiotics become.
Speaking of bugs, widespread pesticide usage has also resulted in bigger and badder insects. ‘GMO OMG‘ cites studies which indicate over 500 new species of pesticide-resistant insects have been showing up over the last couple of decades.
This goes to show the potential dangers of pesticides and herbicides in the long-term. While these chemicals may solve large-scale commercials farmers’ problems for now, what’s going to happen in the future when these new strains of weeds and insects become nearly impossible to kill?
As many are beginning to realize, the prevalence of GMO means more toxic chemicals sprayed on our food and not less. In addition to Roundup ‘resistant’ GMO seeds, another type of genetically modified seed produces its own insecticide without needing to be sprayed.
The manufacturers, of course, will tell you that this is all safe. But does that sound like something you want to be putting into your body?
It should be noted of course, that not all farmers using pesticides and herbicides are using GMO seeds. This issue is one that goes beyond whether the seeds are genetically modified or not. However, it’s a safe bet that any GM crop you’re eating has been thoroughly doused in chemicals. Not only is this unsafe for humans, but it threatens long-term sustainability as more and more chemical-resistant weeds emerge.
The Problem With the Anti-GMO Position
I’ve read through several reviews of GMO OMG and was not surprised to see that most mainstream reviewers hated the film. Considering the backward nature of our mainstream media these days, this is the expected reaction when someone dares to question the practices of biotech or big pharma. If I were the filmmaker, I’d see these one-star reviews as more of a badge of honor than anything else.
A lot of the negative reviews, however, do bring up a point that those in the pro-GMO camp mention time and time again: while GMO’s haven’t been proven safe, they haven’t really been proven “unsafe” either. Wait, is it really true that there have yet to be any confirmed GMO health risks?
The end of the documentary focuses on the study done by Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini of France. Dr. Seralini believes that GMO’s are unfit for human consumption after studies he conducted on rats. He gave one group of rats Monsanto-produced, glyphosate-resistant maize as well as some Roundup. Compared to the control group, the GMO-consuming rats developed large tumors. Furthermore, estrogen levels in the male rats doubled.
Seralini’s studies faced widespread criticism from various institutions. This is to be expected these days when a scientist dares to go rogue, potentially harming the profit margins of major corporations that also possess tremendous lobbying power. Some aspects of his study, however, really should be called into question.
One major criticism is that Seralini used a certain type of rat called Sprague-Dawley. These rats are known to develop tumors at a higher rate than other types of rats. The small sample size of Seralini’s study has also been criticized. (4)
This means that when the pro-GMO crowd says that there have been no credible studies done which prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are health risks associated with GMO’s, they kind of have a point.
On the other hand, those advocating for GMO’s have yet to show any evidence of how GMO’s can make the world and our lives a better place.
We already know about things like the dangers of glyphosate, or the risk of superweeds, or the planet’s ever-decreasing biodiversity. Any of these reasons alone should be enough to make us rethink the use of GMO crops.
But those on the pro-GMO side continue to repeat the same mantra over and over again to defend their cause: With GMO’s “we’re feeding the world,” they often say. But could this really be true?
Why The “Feeding The World” Mantra is Bogus
It may sound like satire, but Monsanto and other biotech companies love to portray themselves benevolent humanitarians, feeding the poor and ending world hunger. Without their superior genetically engineered technology, they tell us, poor farmers and their local communities in third world countries will starve and die.
But according to GMO OMG, studies have shown that organic yields typically match non-organic yields. Even typically pro-GMO The Guardian admits in an article: “When farms switched from conventional crops to the engineered varieties, there was no substantial change in yields.” (5)
Furthermore, the documentary also points out that long-term GMO use is not good for topsoil. Topsoil is the layer necessary for plants to grow. Healthy soil contains an incredible variety of microbes in it which are vital for normal plant growth. But genetically engineered crops are causing irreversible damage to topsoil around the world. And that could have disastrous consequences for our future.
Dr. Mercola helps explain how the process works:
“Special genetic elements (vector DNA) are present in all GE plants. This vector DNA enables unrelated microorganism species to mate, but can also be transferred to soil microorganisms. Soil fertility depends on the presence of a diverse blend of microorganisms, all serving different roles in balancing and optimizing the soil. But when unrelated species mate, the soil ecosystem loses diversity, which is proven to damage fertility.” (6)
Additionally, a shortage of fresh water is an issue we’ve already known about for a long time, and the degradation of topsoil will result in even more fresh water needed to grow crops normally.
As much as the big seed companies like to talk about “sustainability” on their web sites, their products actually greatly threaten sustainability for the entire world, and could eventually result in large-scale famine and a loss of vital resources.
So are there any valid arguments that the pro-GMO crowd has left, other than criticizing Dr. Seralini’s rat study?
No, not that I could find.
And to take matters even further than the documentary, I want to bring up another important topic that was not touched upon at all in GMO OMG. It is yet another reason why the big biotech and seed companies are not to be trusted and why we should be very weary of potential GMO health risks.
Biotech Companies, Agent Orange & GMO Health Risks
During the United States’ war against Vietnam, the US government commissioned biotech companies such as Dow Chemical and Monsanto to produce an herbicide commonly referred to as Agent Orange. The US military used this chemical across massive areas of land in an attempt to destroy the local forests – thus destroying the hiding spots of Vietcong guerillas.
The chemical not only resulted in horrible consequences for the local population, such as debilitating birth defects and cancer, but they also harmed the United States’ own military personnel. And the devastating effects of this product continue to haunt the local Vietnamese population to this day.
High levels of dioxin have remained in Vietnamese soil around the areas where Agent Orange was sprayed. The U.S. government has finally started to admit their role in the horrible defects still plaguing Vietnam, and they have even begun efforts to decontaminate some of the soil containing high traces of dioxin.
The chemical companies who produced Agent Orange, on the other hand, continue to play innocent. A quote from Monsanto’s official web site reads:
“While a causal connection linking Agent Orange to chronic disease in humans has not been established, some governments have made the decision to provide certain medical benefits to veterans and their families even though there has not been a determination that an individual’s health problem was caused by Agent Orange.” (8)
It’s been revealed, however, that Dow Chemical and the other manufacturers were aware of Agent Orange’s harmful effects as far back as 1965. Leaked internal memos show that they had conducted a study which revealed severe liver damage in test rabbits. It was also revealed that they wanted to keep these test results from reaching the public. (7)
If the major biotech companies were lying and covering up their findings back then, are we really supposed to believe that they’re not covering anything up today?
What We Can Do
The easiest solution to fight back against the companies producing GM seeds would be to buy organic whenever possible. However, “going organic” is not nearly as simple as it sounds.
For instance, lots of food that’s labelled as organic has been proven to contain pesticides and other chemicals. On the other hand, true organic produce is sometimes left unlabelled simply because the certification process is just too costly for the farmers.
And some organic products such as meat and fish are partially GMO because that’s often what the animals are fed.
Therefore, it’s up to us to diligently research what it is we’re buying and eating, as well as study the local laws pertaining to GMO labelling wherever we reside.
One thing you may want to consider is downloading an app that you can use to scan labels at your local grocery store. These can help show you whether what you’re buying is GMO or not. Here is a fantastic list of apps, but some of them might not work outside of the United States.
Foods to Avoid:
If you’re a fan of soy products then you might want to find an alternative. As GMO OMG points out, 93% of soy grown in the United States is genetically modified while 88% of corn is GMO.
And remember, GMO soy and corn make their way into a whole bunch of other products which often have buzzwords like ‘All Natural’ on their boxes.
Other foods that are commonly genetically engineered are papaya, canola oil and sugar beets.
I hope this article has helped answer some of the questions you may have had about GMO’s and their health and environmental risks. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly urge you to find a copy of GMO OMG. Also, keep researching and learning as much as you can on the internet or from books. It’s imperative that we take a deep look at what it is we’re really buying and eating, making sure that no more of our money ends up in the hands of the $414 billion biotech industry.