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We are part of an agricultural experiment. Are we okay with this?

March 12, 2014

We are all part of a health/environment/economics experiment. Does the use of geneticially modified foods and pesticides maintain or improve our health, increase our food supply and decrease our costs as consumers?

Last year, California voters decided that labelling of genetically modified foods was not important. What is perhaps most interesting about this is that the opponents to GMO labelling (industry and agriculture) spent more than $ 45 million opposing labelling (http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/08/health/california-gm-foods/index.html). An article suggested that “a collective discussion on GMO labelling is not just about labelling, but more  importantly about food democracy: giving consumers a chance to make  well-informed choices.”  (http://www.theprovince.com/life/time+intelligent+discussion+about+GMOs/7531531/story.html#axzz2C6pYZhaN).  I agree with this conclusion, we in Canada should be invited to make well informed choices. After all, more than 50 countries in the world require genetically modified foods to be labelled!

The argument against labelling was that California households would have had to pay $ 400 more for food per year if genetically modified foods required labelling.  Do we really know this? Some will suggest that we will never be able to feed the world without genetically modified plants, or without pesticides. Is this true? On the other hand, there are many who believe that we do not require genetically modified foods to feed our world. There are also many who believe that we can reduce our pesticide use as well.

There is a recent documentary called Bitter Seeds demonstrating the economic experimentation associated with the use of geneticially modified seeds in India.  This documentary shows how Indian farmers were to gain more profits and live a better life if they switched to genetically modifed cotton.

This movie documented that yields were not as high as promised, and farmers required more fertilizers and pesticides. Net revenue actually decreased to the point where the farmers were losing their lands to the money lenders, and that one farmer in India commits suicide every 30 minutes from the shame of losing their land. Interestingly, most of the suicides are by drinking pesticides. In this area of India, the geneticially modified seeds experiment did not work in the farmer’s favor!

In a following post, I will discuss the concept of agroecology, which is becoming more recognized as being able to feed our world for future generations in a manner that engages and benefits local farmers, and reduces dependency on GMOs and pesticides.

The agricultural experiment is about our health. Does the use of genetically modified foods, and the increasing use of pesticides that seem to go along with it, increase or decrease  our  health? There is the suggestion that “to suggest genetically modified ingredients pose a threat to consumers is  scientifically precipitous. Most studies that draw this conclusion are either  methodologically unsound or contain flawed data sets. Thus far, science has  demonstrated that products containing GMOs are perfectly safe for human  consumption. Since they have only been on the market since 1994, however, more  research is obviously warranted.”  (http://www.theprovince.com/life/time+intelligent+discussion+about+GMOs/7531531/story.html#axzz2C6pYZhaN). We have an acknowledgement that more research is obviously warranted – that we are indeed part of an experiment.

I agree with David Suzuki on this point. He stated: “Because we aren’t certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.” (http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2009/09/more-science-needed-on-effects-of-genetically-modifying-food-crops/).

I am not against genetically modified foods in principle. However, as a scientist, I understand that the insertion of gene sequences is very different and has a much greater risk level than producing hybrid seeds, which is also suggested to be genetic modification. I am also not against the use of pesticides. As with genetically modified foods, science is showing that there may be long term health risks.

The fact that we have to spray increasing amounts of pesticides including insecticides on our food is concerning to me. We know that insecticides are more potentially dangerous than herbicides. We know that there is a greater risk of insecticide risks if the ripe fruit needs to be sprayed during harvest, as we are now seeing with our blueberry production in the Fraser Valley.

We are part of a large agricultural experiment with both pesticides and genetically modified foods. Are we okay with this? Do we understand potential impacts of producing our food on the health of the planet and the health of our children? We need to keep encouraging open and honest dialogue between our food suppliers and our food consumers. Who drives the process?

We should all be involved in this discussion. The discussion is already beginning in a couple of  different ways, although it is indirect. One way is that our consumers are looking at urban agriculture as a way to be involved with local healthy food production. Another way is the increasing involvement in runs/bike rides etc for cancer or other illnesses, which is about personal health. Eating healthy food is about personal health as well. The momentum is building!

We are part of one large experiment that we all have indirectly consented to! We do have a voice!

Post note: I was in Pakistan on August 12, 2014, only to find an interesting article in the Pakistan International News that was placed at my hotel door. An article entitled “A Poisonous Lifestyle” written by Najma Sadeque mentioned the following:

“For the past 40 to 50 years, we have been easting poison…not enough to kill us in one go, but building up enough to cause a whole range of diseases, some incurable like cancer….today, most of our problems, including that of poisoning ourselves unknowingly, are due to the blind faith most of us are taught to have in science….Science was never a fixed library of information to be readily accessed. Nor has everything in existence been discovered or fully understood….”

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