Come get the inside scoop on the GMO question, with featured guest contributor Jodi Koberinski from the Organic Council of Ontario!
Jodi Koberinski has made a career of transforming food systems as an entrepreneur and as an advocate. A pioneer in small scale organic processing, Jodi has experience with product research and development, certification, organic sourcing, marketing and business planning. Jodi has served on numerous working groups and Boards including Certified Organic Associations of BC, Small Scale Food Processors Association, Food Secure Canada, and Sustain Ontario.
Recently, Jodi was invited to join the Organic Value Chain Round Table based on her diverse experience and contributions within the organic sector, and served as OCO’s Executive Director between 2009 and 2013.
She’ll be in store this month on October 25 in Vaughan & 26 in Newmarket, alongside members of the Organic Council team, sharing the importance of Organic food, showcasing products from Organic producers and helping you to make more informed decisions when it comes to the food you choose to nourish your body!
GMOs: A Solution in Search of a Problem
by Jodi Koberinski
October is Non GMO Month in Canada. Up until a few short years ago, most Canadians had no idea what a GMO was, let alone how ubiquitous the products of genetic modification are on mass retail shelves. Even with rising awareness due to years of education by civil society organizations, organic producers, and now various labeling campaigns, our collective understanding of the issues is quite tenuous.
Those who would have us go back to sleep when it comes to knowing our food suggest that voices opposing the GMO experiment are “fear mongering” and simply don’t have the background or credentials to speak knowledgably about GMOs. Afterall, the science of genetic engineering is rather complex.
[blockquote_right]Even with rising awareness due to years of education by civil society organizations, organic producers, and now various labeling campaigns, our collective understanding of the issues is quite tenuous.[/blockquote_right]
So just what do you and your family need to know about GMOs?
Let’s begin with the simple policy issues that don’t require any understanding of science to give one pause in blindly accepting the GMO experiment at face value:
Absence of “proof” is not “proof” of absence.
This experiment has been applied to virtually the entire grocery-shopping population with no “control group” we can measure that has not been exposed to GMOs and the chemicals upon which they rely. Nor has any of this “food” been labeled in Canada, so we can’t really track its impacts. So when someone claims we’ve had millions of GMO-based meals to no ill effect, we must acknowledge that there is no control population against which we would recognize a subtle shift in population health- and such a claim is specious at best.
As Dr. David Suzuki rightly points out, anyone telling you with certainty that GMOs are safe is either stupid or lying. We simply have not done the science to determine safety, we are not asking the right questions. We are not looking at intergenerational impacts (nor even lifespan impacts!), nor ecosystems impacts, nor are we looking for “unintended consequences” – if we are not looking, we won’t find anything, will we?
[blockquote_left]We are not looking at intergenerational impacts (nor even lifespan impacts!), nor ecosystems impacts, nor are we looking for “unintended consequences” – if we are not looking, we won’t find anything, will we?[/blockquote_left]
Science answers only the questions that are posed or hypothesized in a study design.
Yet the studies are done either by the companies seeking to register the GMO in question or after a patent is achieved, by third parties who must first receive permission from the “patent” holder – and these third parties can only access seed to experiment with if they agree not to publish results without said company reviewing the data. If the patent holder does ‘t like the results, the scientists are unable to speak about them- its all in the license agreements. The applicant shares only the data it chooses to share, and these “data packs” are not subjected to peer review nor replication by government scientists for accuracy.
When science is for profit, the truth is hard to find.
That isn’t to say there aren’t dozens of studies that claim GMOs aren’t harmful – in whose interest are these studies conducted, who is paying for them, and what agendas are served? What assumptions are made in the study design? How long are the studies for and what questions do they ask? What data is not submitted with the review materials for registration? And what studies or scientists are muzzled, attacked or “thrown under the bus” in an effort to discredit critical studies?
[blockquote_right] And what studies or scientists are muzzled, attacked or “thrown under the bus” in an effort to discredit critical studies? [/blockquote_right]
How can GMOs be “nothing really novel” and yet so unique as to be patentable?
What is important from a policy perspective is that a political (NOT a scientific) decision was taken in the 1990s that GMOs are “GRAS” or generally recognized as similar to non-GMO versions of the same seed, and this decision means that there is limited testing required before these experiments can be released into the food system. It is also a paradox: here are these “inventions” according to the patent office that are so unique as to be awarded a patent, and yet so similar as to not require a full safety audit or approval regime that would require more rigorous examination before being released into the ecosystem and the food web. Interesting…
What about the science?
The false assumptions made by proponents of the GMO experiment would have you believe that GMOs are simply an extension of the dominant “Hybrid” approach to breeding that speeds up nature; that GMOs are precise and predictable; and that GMOs are needed to deal with today’s realities.
Manipulating seeds in a lab with virus insertion, transgene insertion, and DNA or RNA level lab interference is not a “natural” extension of sexual reproduction. Gene manipulation techniques often result in genes showing up in places along the DNA strand besides the “target” location of said material. The process also presumes “one gene one trait” – a notion that has long been dismissed by thinking geneticists. Our understanding of genes is still in its infancy- it is arrogant to act otherwise.
And what of the claim we need GMOs to “feed the world” in today’s climate chaos reality and dwindling access to farmland? GMOs are a solution looking for a problem. Such a conceit is only possible in a world that deems export-focused monocultures as necessary and desireable. And yet so much of what we now know about soils, about pollinators, about ecosystems generally, tells us that we need more – not less – biodiversity.
[blockquote_left] Such a conceit is only possible in a world that deems export-focused monocultures as necessary and desireable. [/blockquote_left]
The “science” of GMOs assumes that a given plant’s expression is determined only by genetics, not by the farm ecosystem in which the plant is grown. To some extent, the monocultural approach to farming does its level best to make uniform the environment regardless of where a GMO is grown as the system is dependent on chemical “inputs” and “crop protection” –icides of various kinds. But even in this monoculture the soils, the water availability, the presence or absence of pollinators/ beneficials/ pests, the time of year, the temperatures, the longitude and latitude of the farm all conspire to impact the seed’s expression as a plant!
But it is NOT just about “science”….
First and foremost, however, the conversation about GMOs we ought to have is not restricted to the realm of reductionist, linear, mechanistic science. As Brewster Kneen argued in his 1998 book “Farmageddon”, the conversation we ought to have about GMOs is ontological, not scientific. “Ontology” speaks to our way of knowing. When we leave a conversation like whether or not to manipulate life at the level of DNA to “science” we ignore other “ways of knowing” that ought to inform our decision-making.
What ways of knowing are given up, disregarded, or discounted when we discuss GMOs in agriculture only in the realm of the lab? Cultural wisdom, local knowledge and indigenous knowledge is lost or disregarded. A plant is no more the sum of its genes at the level of seed than a human being is the sum of its genes in utero when in adulthood. No one thinks that the adult’s expression (size, weight, interests, likes, dislikes, lifespan, career choices, communicable disease response, and so on) are formed and determined as a zygote. How the child is born, how they are raised, what they are fed, how they are educated, what access they have to clean water and basic medical care, what culture they are in all determine the outcome for the human.
[blockquote_right]No one thinks that the adult’s expression (size, weight, interests, likes, dislikes, lifespan, career choices, communicable disease response, and so on) are formed and determined as a zygote.[/blockquote_right]
What broader contexts are required in which to evaluate the ‘science’?
First generation approaches to GMOs have increased, not decreased, reliance on agri-toxins. More than 95% of GMOs in the market are crops that tolerate poisons (RoundUp Ready crops) or crops that produce pesticides for the entire life of the plant (bT crops), or both. They have also resulted in “superweeds” and “superpests” which require even more toxic applications of –icides.
GMOs are a commitment to water intensive, fossil fuel intensive, debt-based monocultures that ignore the local conditions, deepen corporate control of our food system, and strip soil of its water-holding capacity and fertility. Monocultures ignore the role of beneficial insects, birds, and soil micro-organisms in a healthy agro-ecosystem. And the further remove farmers from the act of farming.
[blockquote_left]GMOs are a commitment to water intensive, fossil fuel intensive, debt-based monocultures that ignore the local conditions, deepen corporate control of our food system, and strip soil of its water-holding capacity and fertility.[/blockquote_left]
The organic sector determined that this experiment is far too risky with so many unknowns – and organic approaches deal with the “problems” GMO proponents identify by reducing niches for “pests”, by working with ecosystems to ensure healthy environments for producing healthy plants, and by feeding the world!
You can get involved!
For detailed information on the concerns we have about GMOs, please visit www.cban.ca and explore the Canadian Biotech Action Network’s in depth analyses. And visit www.organiccouncil.ca to learn about ways YOU can support organics!