Hidden Genetically Engineered Food Crops
This fall, Washington voters will be asked to decide whether foods containing genetically engineered plant ingredients must be labeled. Initiative 522 calls for clear labeling so consumers can choose to avoid such foods. Just as nutritional information became required to help guide eating choices, Initiative 522 asks for similar guidance for GE ingredients.
Though the terms GMO and GE are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Genetically modified crops (GMO) are as old as hybridizing, because hand pollinating to get a blue rose or a disease resistant spinach is exactly that. Such deliberate crosses are called “cultivars” of everything from apples to zucchini. When breeders hand-cross different cultivars of tomatoes or whatever, the offspring will be genetically modified.
The Natural Way To Make Changes
Bees and other pollinators do this randomly, but humans are usually attempting to improve the crop in specific ways, perhaps to increase flower size or drought resistance. Some GMO plants, such as seedless watermelon, can only be replicated by repeating the cross (no seeds, right?). Others mate edibles from the same family, such as pluots (plums and apricots) and Black Tuscan kale (kale and cabbage).
Thus, most folks aren’t really worried about GMO crops; it’s genetic engineering (GE) that raises concerns. The term GE refers to gene splicing, the transfer of genetic material from a source that is sexually incompatible with the recipient gene and could not occur in nature. Most of us have been unknowingly eating GE foods for at least a decade. Nearly all corn chips, for example, contain GE corn (exceptions are brands containing organically grown corn).
Why Are GE Crops So Dangerous?
Why? Pesticide-resistant crops such as Roundup-Ready corn, alfalfa, canola, cotton, or soybeans are genetically engineered so that famers can spray pesticide on field crops and only kill weeds (at least in theory). Bt-corn is genetically engineered to include a strain of Bacillus thuringiensis, normally a soil-dwelling bacterium commonly used as a pesticide. Since dozens of weed families are now resistant to Roundup, Monsanto requested FDA permission to register 2-4-D corn. An ingredient in the infamous Agent Orange, 2-4-D exposure can damage the liver, kidneys, white blood cells, sperm, and the neurological system. Children and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk, along with people who are frequently exposed to 2-4-D in the work environment. Want some in your vegetables? I sure don’t.
Today, 64 countries around the world require GE labeling of food crops, as do Connecticut and Maine. National polls show that 93% of Americans want mandatory GE food labeling, so why is this issue not a no brainer? An outspoken ad campaign is encouraging Washington voters to vote against Initiative 522. The claims are that the initiative is not simple, but will be costly and complicated to implement. Similar claims were made when nutritional labeling was proposed but today, it is an accepted industry standard. Although the coalition behind Washington’s NO campaign claims to represent farmers, the top five financial supporters are Grocery Manufacturers Association, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences LLC, Monsanto Company, and Bayer CropScience. Hmm.
Coming All Too Soon To A Garden Near You
Gardeners have another reason to be concerned. Until recently, all GE crops were grown by farmers. Now home gardeners can grow “insect-protected” and Roundup Ready GE seed corn (sold as the Performance Series and the Obsession Series). This financially insignificant market is probably designed to promote acceptance for GE crops. To protect home garden crops, similar labeling information has been requested for garden seeds, especially those sold by Monsanto-owned companies.
What Can We Do?
Vote YES on Initiative 522. Then vote with your pocketbook.
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