Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Future of Food - Part 2

This post concludes the review of the movie, The Future of Food. To read Part 1, go here.

The second part of this film deals mostly with the risks of GMO food, namely the health risks and other unforeseen risks.

An example of a health risk with GMOs is the allergic reaction to StarLink corn, which contains Cry9C, an insecticidal protein. This protein does not seem to agree with some of the people who ingest it - they go into anaphylactic shock. Unfortunately, the StarLink corn wasn't tested before it was unleashed on the public.

Why, you ask? Because they didn't need to - it wasn't approved for human consumption. But, as we saw in the Part 1 post, cross-contamination of crops is rather prevalent. Or, in this case, many farmers may not have been clearly instructed not to sell the corn for human use, or were told that the unapproved variety would be approved by harvest time.

Part of the problem lies with the fact that the USDA doesn't require any environmental assessments with GMO crops. And the EPA regulates insecticides, but not food. Since insecticides are genetically engineered into all GMO crops and this is considered classical breeding practices, it is not regulated. Yet companies want to patent it without regulations. In other words, GMO falls through the cracks of all the agencies supposed to protect the consumer.

And if this doesn't make your blood boil, none of this fiddling with the food stock requires labeling. Polls show that 80 - 90% of people want GMO foods labeled, yet the manufacturers are still not required to do so in the U.S. The corporations want to make money by using GMOs but they don't want the responsibility when things don't work out.

Yet, biotech offers nothing for consumers. If offers no more nutrition (save for Golden Rice, and even that's debatable). Globally, starvation has nothing to do with quantity of foods. Farming is not a production problem, but an access problem and the U.S. subsidies prevent subsistence farming in other countries.

The U.S. farmers are overproducing crops like corn even when they can't cover production costs. So, we subsidize crops, undercutting the developing countries. For example, in Mexico it's cheaper to buy U.S. corn than the corn grown there (and our GMO corn is cross-contaminating the stock there, too). This system of subsidization has benefited U.S. corporations and not the developing countries.

Something that is also an issue to both U.S. and global farmers is the introduction of what's called terminator technology or the suicide gene. What this means is that farmers can't save the seed from generation to generation because it's sterile. So, they have to buy new seed each year. There are 15 patents on this suicide technology. What will happen if this gene pollutes crops around the world? Promoters say there is no out-crossing that can happen with GMO, but this is not true. And how do you switch off the terminator gene? Well, you need to spray it with a proprietary chemical to get it to germinate.

And last but not least, another issue to consider is the consolidation of food retail: Kraft and Nabisco own a huge market share; 80% of beef is processed by only 4 companies; and the vast majority of seed comes from four clusters of companies. In the next 10 years, all our food supplies will be controlled by a handful of companies, only one being from the U.S. - Walmart. Talk about a biosecurity risk.

So, what do we do about this? Well, you can start by supporting sustainable agriculture and avoiding big box grocery retailers and the national brands. CSAs create relationship with local families and create a connection with the community and provide a wide variety of produce rather than the monoculture of agriculture. Farmers markets also provide the community connection where you can meet the person that grew your food as you are purchasing it. You have the opportunity to discuss with the growers their farming techniques and philosophy. Consumers can't exercise their rights if GMO foods don't need to be labeled, but we can do so with our dollars elsewhere.

In other words, support your local farmers.

Disclaimer: This review is my account of the movie and may be highly fraught with inaccuracies. If you have any comment to add or to help clarify, please feel free.


Brad K. said...


I had read, and saw last year with my own birds, that chickens are rejecting some GMO corn - in their feed.

Perhaps the egg industry needs to get into the act, and take ownership of just what is going into that "incredible, edible" egg. 'Cause corn with insecticide makes for a different egg content.

I bought some 'Wild Bird Seed', and tossed some to the chickens (one hen, one rooster - the neighbors have dogs, don't you know). The hen eagerly waits at the feed pan - and leaves the milo seed. The sparrows and chickadees leave the milo seed as well. This could be nothing - but "grain sorghum" ads sometimes include "GMO free" - which implies that there is GMO sorghum out there.

The problem with animals rejecting all or part of their feed means that there is less growth, longer time to market, more cost to the producer - and potentially less food (eggs, meat, mild) at market. I expect shortages and rising prices to continue. Because when costs increase and sales don't, producers will cut back or quit raising those cows, those chickens, those hogs.

It might turn out to be that brewing ethanol is the only safe thing to do with GMO corn.

I remember growing up that formers posted signs on what variety of crop they planted. Right there in the fence row was "Pioneer xxx" or
some such. It might be worth while for local farmers eschewing GMO tainted crops to be posting those signs of what they are planting, along with "No Trespassing" and "Not GMO". Or even "Open Pollinated on This Farm". Gardeners might do the same, those that are aware of the difference.

Lizzy Hanley said...

I know that organic food is supposed to be free of GMOs but I always wonder... how do they prevent cross-contamination? I mean, really, it's not like we can isolate our food from the outside world. I wonder if a suspicion of organic corn and soybeans is well-founded, or if it's just my paranoia. ;)

Rebecca said...

Interesting and yet disturbing. I never heard of this film before but have watched Food Inc and King Korn which are fantastic and eye opening. We have partnered our first year and pledged in a local CSA this year. Can't wait for harvest and to meet other folks who twitch at the mentioning of GM foods. Just wrong. We also partner with a local meet grass fed farmer. So wonderful that we have these advantages as I know not everyone does.

Mrs Mallard said...

This film started a revolution in our home. It was our tipping point--we can trace all our giant lifestyle changes back to us on the couch at the end of the film. We were already on the way, but this was our kick in the pants. The global ramifications of our nations' actions are made very clear--it's not just our population that's suffering for the profit of a few companies. It's a great companion to both Food, Inc. and King Korn and I can't recommend it enough.

Carmen said...

We just joined a CSA for the first time this year. I'm very excited to see how it goes.

Supporting local farms is one way to help. But, really, we need to lobby the government in its rule making. We should not allow companies to patent genes. We have to speak with our wallets here, but also wiht our votes.

Kristen said...

This is disturbing. I dont like the corporate takeover of our food. In the area where I live we have a grocery store chain that buys its produce/dairy/bread, etc from local producers. I wish this was a more normal practice because, lets face if, far more people are going to buy local if they can do it at their grocery store than if they have to join an expensive CSA or make a special trip to the farmers market or co-op.