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The False Promise of GMOs


GMOs Are A Pandora's Box

Genetically modified plants contain genes and traits that completely cross species barriers, and even entire Kingdom barriers (such as tomato plants that contain fish genes). They contain traits that would never appear in the species under normal conditions. Since these new organisms have potential competitive advantages, they also have the potential to become new pests.

In Canada, where "Roundup Ready" canola has been grown for several years, farmers have already seen the plants become a pest in other crops and in native areas. Its herbicide resistance makes it especially difficult to control—in effect, a "superweed."

Of even greater concern is the crossbreeding potential of these GMO plants. It is possible for plants to cross-pollinate with close relatives. Corn has many relatives especially in Mexico where maize was originally cultivated. The Starlink gene has already been found in wild corn plants in Mexico. Since most of our important crops have wild relatives, it is only a matter of time before introduced genes escape into the wild—with unknown and possibly disastrous consequences. This alone is a compelling reason to put tighter controls on the great GMO experiment.

Not only do GMO foods have unpredictable effects on ecology, they also have potentially dangerous consequences for human health. The transfer of genetic material from one food to another can potentially trigger life-threatening allergies, or create new toxins in food. The artificial vectors that transfer genetic material across species barriers present unprecedented opportunities for new viral and bacterial pathogens to develop with drug and antibiotic resistance.

Intellectual Property Rights Trump Farmers Rights

Far from our heritage of small family farms, we now have a few giant companies controlling most of the world market. Genetic engineering appeals to these companies because patenting genetic material offers them even more control.

Under typical GMO seed contracts, farmers cannot save seeds from one year to the next—curtailing a historical practice that has allowed poor farmers to survive. But GMOs even impact farmers who never buy the seed in the first place. Corn and canola are wind-pollinated, so GMO traits easily transfer to non-GMO fields, even at significant distances.

GMO contamination is the biggest risk that organic farmers face today. They risk losing markets that demand GMO-Free foods, or even decertification. Adding insult to injury, farmers whose fields are contaminated with GMOs may forced to pay for the patented genetic material. The agribusiness giant Monsanto even hires "GMO Police" to test fields that are suspected of cross contamination. Farmers with contaminated fields are actually sued for patent infringement.

So how does a more expensive product requiring specialized inputs and expertise benefit the poor in developing countries? It does not.

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