By Julia Kohn | As I was driving to pick up some wine and munchies for a Memorial weekend party, I couldn’t help but notice the large mass of people protesting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at all four corners of the PCH and Second Street intersection. I’d heard about the protest from a neighborhood friend who’s involved with the local Occupy movement and was pleasantly surprised at the sizable crowd they assembled.
So what’s the big deal with GMOs? We hear all sorts of conflicting information from major media outlets, various political groups and product advertising, so allow me to cut through the clutter and special interest agendas and outline a few truths I’ve discovered about GMOs through my own independent research and personal experience.
GMOs are Everywhere
Current genetically modified foods on the market are corn, soybean, canola, alfalfa, cotton, papaya, yellow squash, zucchini and sugar beets. GM apples are coming soon. You may also see the following commonly used ingredients listed on processed food labels, which are derived from GM crops: aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, monosodium glutamate, sucrose, xanthan gum, vitamin C, citric acid, amino acids, sodium ascorbate, and more. GM foods are also used in animal feed, so mass-produced meat, poultry, dairy and egg products likely contain GMOs as well. GMOs are also a common ingredient in infant formula; on April 26, Abbott Laboratories shareholders voted against the adoption of a non-GMO policy for its products, which include the popular infant formula Similac.
GMOs are so prevalent it’s safe to assume that every processed food and animal product contains GMOs unless the company has taken the time and expense to label their product USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. I also tend to trust my local food growers and producers more than publicly traded companies that have political clout, free speech rights, and armies of lawyers, accountants and lobbyists at their behest. So for me, the entire label argument is moot. I used to go about my life blindly buying, eating, drinking and trusting that our government and the agrichemical/biotech industry were looking out for our health interests. I’m here to let you know they are not.
The Reality of GMO Health Risks and Policies
Previously, GM foods were hardly tested by anyone other than the agrichemical/biotech companies that produce and sell them. Even though the FDA has questioned the risks of GMOs on numerous occasions, federal regulators continue to maintain the status quo. Independent studies challenging GMO safety claims are finally getting noticed, so the word is out that GMOs can cause a multitude of modern western diseases such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, autism, immune problems, gastrointestinal disorders, Alzheimer’s, liver damage, allergies, and reproductive issues. GMOs are also causing significant and destructive environmental problems for our lands, oceans, indigenous plants and animals, not to mention all the “food miles” that GM and other processed food products must travel to get to our plates.
The large agrichemical/biotech businesses have been obtaining new patents and USDA approvals of new GM seeds and foods since development began in 1981. During this time, our society has moved farther away from local agriculture towards a more centralized global food production and distribution system. Like rats in a cage, we’ve also become a more obese and sedentary society, not just in the United States, but also in developing countries where the availability of GM foods is increasing. Our food costs are constantly on the rise. While correlation does not equal causation, it’s impossible to ignore the trends.
The corporations that develop, market and sell GMOs dictate the federal policies that all 300 million of us must live with. The revolving door of agrichemical/biotech executives job-hopping from private to public sector work is no secret. Senior Advisor to FDA Commissioner on Food Safety Michael Taylor previously directed public policy at Monsanto. USAID Director Rajiv Shah previously served as agricultural programs director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a non-profit Monsanto supporter.
Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the US Trade Office Islam Siddiqui comes from CropLife, a lobbying firm that represents the six multinational corporations that control 75% of the global agrichemical market; before that, Siddiqui worked for the USDA during the Clinton Administration. The Department of Justice is not immune to playing favorites either. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has previously supported Monsanto against organic farmers and recently ruled in favor of Monsanto in a case against an Indiana farmer. Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto lawyer. A few weeks ago, Wikileaks issued new cables exposing Monsanto and the State Department’s cozy relationship. The list goes on.
Monsanto and the other mammoth global food businesses have essentially created a food monopoly, as the majority of the food sold to the public is developed, produced, centralized and regulated by a small handful of people and corporations. These multi-billion dollar businesses get tax breaks, subsidies, offshore asset protection and FDA approvals without objective, third party research with our tax money. Regardless of what the politicians and mainstream media tell us, these businesses and government agencies are working for their interests, not ours. And I’m done with depending on politics to help solve the global public health problem.
Creating our own Solutions
The good news is that we don’t need to wait around for government and big business to improve the policies that affect our health. Independent studies and government policies aside, we have the power to make our own choices. We can do our own research. We can educate ourselves, our families, our friends and our neighbors. We can think for ourselves instead of relying on labels. We’ll get our labels one day, but in the meantime there’s nothing stopping us from empowering ourselves and creating our own solutions.
It takes a concerted effort to change a lifetime of conditioned eating habits, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Stopping my own consumption of GM foods two years ago wasn’t easy, but it improved my health dramatically. Over two-dozen random symptoms I’d been quietly living with for decades improved or disappeared within the first two months. Anxiety, depression, skin problems, excess weight—even a few wrinkles—went away as I detoxified a lifetime’s worth of processed foods from my body. I began to feel light, free, positive, happy and clean. I was in control of my diet and my health for the first time in my life.
Fortunately, the local food and agriculture scene is alive and well and growing in Long Beach. We’ve got several farmers markets, local food businesses, urban farms, community food pioneers, grassroots advocates and edible gardeners amongst us, working tirelessly to increase access to fresh local food and improve the health and prosperity of everyone in our community, one bite at a time.
Julia Kohn is a freelance writer, editor and marketing consultant. She lives in Alamitos Beach with her macaw Pepper and serves on the board of the Harbor Area Farmers Markets.
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