Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Organic or GMO food?


I'll be examining the difference between, and definitions of GMO and Organic foods.

What is a genetically modified organism (GMO)?

The definition is kind of odd. Most horticulturalist and people who try and develop crops "The old way" use mutagens and look for (Screen for) mutations that are helpful in some way or another, but these aren't considered GMOs. When we hear GMO on the news or are told a certain food is a GMO, it is a very specific type of modification, usually an insertion of foreign DNA into a plant (or animal). This inserted DNA isn't completely synthetic or new to Earth - rather it is a clever arrangement of genes from other organisms that have useful properties. 

An example of a GMO that is currently being used in crops is one that takes place in corn. It's very clever, but the implications are, well, less than safe it seems. The corn plant usually is susceptible to worms eating a portion of the plant, thus suffering yield loss. However, scientists noticed that there is a certain bacteria that kills these worms, and on further analysis they realized a very specific protein within the bacteria was responsible for the death of the worms. Since DNA in all life encodes strictly for proteins, it seemed like a great idea to snip out the DNA that 'encoded' this protein, and stick it into the DNA of the plant. Voila, you have a plant, now, that produces a protein that kills these insects! 

So we see that this GMO corn is nearly 100% corn DNA, but there is a small snippit of DNA from a bacteria, in order to produce this anti-worm protein. Clever, right? Good thing we don't have to eat this protein when we eat corn..... oh wait, we do.

What is Organic food?

Unlike "natural" organic actually has a definition. When you read 100% organic - that absolutely has to mean all the ingredients are organic. When you read 100% natural, well... They usually are pretty good about it, but 'natural' has no legal definition.

Organic produce and food must not use synthetic or artificial pesticides or herbicides and cannot be genetically modified. There are other legal definitions but they aren't as important. 

So whats better, or what should you buy?

Both foods have the same nutrients. There are some exceptions, but they aren't worth going into. The majority of produce maintains the same nutrients from either method.

Pesticides and herbicides are incredibly destructive to the planet. Some of these chemicals used now have been linked to very serious damage to the body, and the people who apply these chemicals are required to use full Haz-Mat (Hazerdous Materials) suits. This fact alone should put you off a bit. 

The plants that produce these chemicals (and fertilizers) are some of the biggest polluters and energy-consumers in the entire world. An enormous amount of energy is required to produce fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. The by products can be toxic, as well as the products themselves! Many rivers near farm lands have been completely destroyed of fish habitat due to pollution.

Apparently (and I'm sure this is very controversial!) the GMO corn that has that protein in it - remember? - that has been linked to organ failure. This would be due, if true, to the proteins mechanism of killing worms; it basically destroys the stomach of the worms. This protein is touted safe by it's creators due to the fact worms and humans have very different stomachs... but I'll let you decide. 

The same GMO corn has been linked to creating "super worms" that have evolved (by chance) the ability to eat the corn, regardless of the protein! Now we have a real problem, worm populations are going to boom!

Other GMO plants are invasive, and can spread their pollen for miles of their original site, infecting all the local flora of the same species (and the organic farmer's land). This can cause diversity loss, and unknown consequences. It has been noted that in Oregon, where they test for turf grass, nearly all the grass within 1 mile of a stream near the test sites are GMO turf grass

The legal implications of infecting an organic farmer's land with GMO crops? Take a guess - do you think the organic farmer can sue the GMO farmer? No, the company that produces the GMO crops can sue the organic farmer. Pretty sketchy if you ask me.

Some have praised GMOs for their possibility of saving the world hunger problem. Technically we have enough food to save the world from hunger, there just isn't enough money in transporting it. Also it has been proven multiple times, in multiple places that intensive land-care can produce more fruit per acre than the traditional farming of today. It takes more work, but with the same amount of land you can get much better yield (and without any chemicals)!

The actual list of problems due to chemicals being dumped into agriculture is very long, and I've only touched on it here. 

Lastly, the companies in control of GMO foods have some secrets up their sleeve. The former head of Monsanto is now the head of the FDA (conflict of interest, much?). Monsanto has political power; when Europe was deciding whether or not to ban GMO's from supermarkets, Monsanto was deciding whether or not to completely withdraw all of it's exports to Europe, with the aid of the US government. They have also tried multiple times to take over the Indian farmer's economy with mixed results, due to India's more holistic approach and ideals. The last frontier is Africa, in which drought-resistant plants would become the norm, and, unfortunately, entire nations would be dependent on one company for their food supply. Due to the ties between the US government and Monsanto, this could easily result in some dissatisfying control of governmental structure (i.e. democracy & capitalism or you don't get any food, type of thing). This has already been seen in Ethiopia, where the government (which is a political minority) is described as a terroristic body, and therefore the entire country has, at times, been denied food relief - causing literally millions of deaths. Whether we want this kind of control to advance to other countries is pretty easy to understand.

But ! Be aware, not all organic is what it seems. Many organic farms are owned by Kellogg and other multinataional corporations. Not technically a bad thing, but something one should know when researching further. My advice is eat organic. There is less baggage.

Thanks for you time! Have a good day :)

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