22 November 2011

GM. A ticking time bomb?

photo via www.urbansprout.co.za
Many people I'm sure, see the initials  GM and their eyes glaze over, or worse they ignore them and skip onto something more interesting. Why is that I wonder, why aren't people interested in knowing the origins of what they're eating - is playing around with genetics, or DNA,  something that many of us wish wasn't happening but feel helpless to do anything about, much like battery hens or mass commercial farming?

I've been thinking of writing about genetically modified food (GM) ever since I heard Alfie from Old Farm talking about it at this year's Food Camp at the Savour Kilkenny festival, but how do you encourage people to read about it with glazed eyes? More importantly, do I know enough myself to write about it accurately? Getting the facts straight is important whenever we write, but the more I've delved into the subject of GM over the past few days, the more bogged down by legal documents, political declarations and scientific research I've become. 

One thing I'm certain about however, is that I'm not happy that my personal choice over whether or not I wish to eat this contentious food source appears to have been taken away from me. Given that my housekeeping budget does not allow my family to eat a diet made up entirely of organic food, it would seem that we are already eating food that contain GM ingredients, like it or not.

Although I knew scientists have been messing around with genetics (cows producing human milk, come on!), it wasn't until I heard Alfie speak so passionately about it that the dangers of using human beings as living, breathing test tubes for this branch of science, and where it's potentially headed that it really struck home.

I've since brought the topic up in a couple of workshops and it seems that many people just aren't informed, or have never heard of GM.  So, rather than give you a detailed scientific list (which I'm not qualified to do anyway), the following are just a few points that I've gathered that we do know about. I'm sure this can be added to, and if you can and wish to, please do so in the comments...

  • Genetically modifying isn't just another word(s) for plant breeding. Natural breeding occurs when closely related species are reproduced e.g. a tomato and a potato, not by mingling the DNA of different species e.g. a tomato and a monkey.
  • Once created and planted, there's no going back. Genetically modified plants cannot be recalled, but as living organisms will multiply, passing any traits from generation to generation.We simply don't know enough about them yet to unleash them to the world.
  • The Irish Doctors Environmental Association are very concerned about the possible health implications of foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients. They express serious concerns about the results of animal testing, and the lack of publications of clinical studies on the human health effects of GM food.
  • Food containing genetically modified organisms is already on sale in Irish shops. In a survey of soya based foods undertaken by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in 2002, over a half of the products tested contained genetically modified ingredients. Such products included baby foods and soya products.
  • Although Ireland does not grow GM crops, we do import animal feeds that contain them, so we are already indirectly consuming products containing them.
  • The labelling laws aren't strict enough. Milk, eggs and meat from animals that are fed GM food do not currently have to be labelled.
  • The weedkiller Roundup (produced by Monsanto) which is routinely sprayed on GM crops, has been linked to human cell death, birth defects, cancer, miscarriages and environmental damage according to a report released by an international group of scientists in 2011.
  • 90% of genetically modified crops belong to Monsanto.
  • According to WikiLeaks, Monsanto have links with the US government and the US government have been putting Europe under pressure, threatening trade restrictions if they oppose genetically modified crops (just saying...)
This list could go on and on, but it wont. Instead I strongly urge you to watch the four minute video that Greenpeace Switzerland have created that explains very simply why we should be concerned about genetically modified food - it's well worth taking a few minutes to view it.

Then please take a look at the Irish GM Moratorium web site where there is a link to a petition urging the Irish Government to put in place a 5-year moratorium on growing GM crops and food in Ireland because not enough is yet known about GM crop effects. 

Also take a look at some of the links to the science and research from the web page and make your own minds up.

Whatever you do, please don't ignore the GM issue in the hope that it will just go away... it wont.


  1. Dear Dee:
    Bravo at your first attempt at tackling this very controversal and tricky subject. I too heard Alfie speak at Foodcamp and I've been trying to figure out how to address this on my own blog. I do not feel that I can let it go without comment. I think you've introduced the subject well and I truly believe that each of can do our part in educating people about this. It will not change overnight and like you I feel trapped in a small food budget that does not allow me to buy all organic and I have no land so I cannot even grow or raise my own - I find it frustrating and scary. Small steps make for big progress it's a matter of helping spread the word and gaining momentum.
    Thank you for your contribution!

  2. Thank you Lisa - you're right re convroversal and tricky, but it is important that people know about it. I took a phone call this morning while I was writing it & mentioned the topic to the caller - they had no idea what GM was. People need to be informed at the very least about such an important topic. Best of luck with yours (& let me know when it's published!).

  3. Great piece on GM Food production. I am sorry I missed hearing Alfie talk about this at Savour Kilkenny. I will share the link to your blog. It does astound me how little people know, or care, about the food they eat or feed their animals. Great work and thanks for sharing this.

  4. Dee I think this is all very worrying......It is so hard to get people to question things they are currently so wrapped up in their own survival. Well done for posting this I think you have started a conversation.....this is very well written and moderate:~))

  5. Thanks Mona and Catherine for your kind words. I first came upon this when looking for chicken pellets and had to search high & low for some that didn't contain GM ingredients (since found in Carlow for only a couple of euro extra). Hopefully the post will help to to raise awareness.

  6. It's such an important issue at the moment. I attended IOFGAs ATM on Sunday where there was a lot of discussion on the topic. I have also found that people don't seem to get the implications of GM food on our health. As regards animal feed the government is concerned with mass production of food for the foreseeable future and will be supporting large farms to achieve this. I am so concerned and the more people we inform the better. Loved the article, hope more people like you keep writing about it....

  7. Well done Dee. As with so many environmental an health issues, the thing that concerns me most is that I remember hearing the same concerns 15 years ago. That was when GM crops came in bigtime in the UK, and here in Ireland there was a petition against the growing of GM test crops here. Thousands of us signed, and we all got a nice letter from the EPA telling us that GM was fab, they were going to plant it anyway, and we could all F*** off. I wonder how many test plots have been grown here since? And with GM issues constantly in the news ever since, I wonder how anyone can honestly say they haven't heard of them? Selective deafness, pehaps?

  8. Thanks Orla and I agree about the health implications. So much of the research is showing huge allergy (and much worse) spikes where GM crops are routinely grown and eaten that it shouldn't be ignored.

    Lilly I'm shocked to hear that we've been here before with it. Reading some of the links from the GM Moratorium site, fields have been 'accidentally' planted with GM crops already in Ireland, and yes I think you're probably right - if we can't see it or hear it, it doesn't exist.

  9. When I was training in the US in 2009 I saw a movie that was exposing Monsanto and other GM related companies and their behaviour. In it a woman lost her 4 year old son to e-coli due to cattle being fed processed feed instead of being fed grass. She went onto the speaker circuit to talk about the damage that GM cows could do to humans (apparantly letting the cattle eat fresh grass for 2 weeks before slaughter kills off all the e-coli) and she was legally gagged with the threat of losing her home and being imprisoned for 30 years.

    Monsanto at the moment are in the process of trying to trade mark animals, which means they will come after anyone owning an animal that fits their trade mark if (and it's looking likely) it gets passed. They apparantly tried to trade-mark a breast cancer gene but were refused that as it is a human gene at one point.

    Bear in mind they really don't care - it is purely business to them and they have both republican and democrats on their payroll, along with many high-ups within the World Health Organisation. The also have their fingers in the pharmaceutical industry too :(

    BTW from what I've heard most multi-national fast food chains use genetically modified foods, both meats and vegetables.

    Seriously scary stuff!!

    1. I saw that documentary around the same time as Alfie's talk and like you was completely shocked by what goes on. I think people are very uninformed and hopefully the recent discussions on GM in Ireland will highlight it.


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