This week has been super crazy for me. I’ve been cooking and baking nonstop for the blog while also juggling outside job opportunities and you know, figuring out the general direction of my life. No big deal. Despite my busy schedule, me and Netflix just have a bond that I can’t ignore. GMO OMG has been on my queue for weeks because well, I knew it was going to be good, and I wanted to give it the full attention it deserved.
It’s a documentary that follows director Jeremy Seifert as he looks for answers to how GMOs affect our health, our planet, and our freedom of choice. It’s fascinating, informative, funny, terrifying, and will really make you think about your food choices. I decided to focus on a few of the facts that I find most interesting from this film, but I highly recommend you watch it for yourself to get the full effect.
Before I begin, what exactly is a GMO (aka genetically modified organism)?
“Organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. “
-World Health Organization
There’s 2 types of GMOs:
- Pesticide Producers kill insects. Example – Monsanto’s BT Corn, where a gene from a naturally occurring bacterium is inserted into the DNA of corn. The modified corn produces a toxin that’s lethal to insects.
- Herbicide Resisters are weed killer immune. Example – Roundup Ready Soy, where the DNA is altered with a soil bacterium’s genes to make the plant immune to the weed killer called Roundup. Farmers douse their fields with Roundup to kill every weed and unwanted plant, but even when coated in herbicide, the soy plant remains unharmed.
The European Union first established labeling of GMOs in 1997. Several states in the U.S. have tried to make GMO labeling mandatory in the past, but Monsanto has threatened to sue them or has spent millions of dollars to defeat them. And now the Dark Act has passed, which blocks the USDA from implementing mandatory GMO labeling on foods. That means we as consumers will be in the dark about what’s in our food and how it’s grown.
Here’s 10 more reasons why GMOs suck and what you can do about it…
1. Haiti Knows What’s Up
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and suffers from poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. Their devastating 2010 earthquake didn’t help things, and yet when Monsanto offered the country 475 tons of GMO seeds, Haiti said thanks but no thanks. They lovingly refer to Monsanto seeds as “poison.” In one Haitian town that actually accepted some of the seeds, it ruined their crop and cost them money so they stopped using them. Protestors went as far as burning the seeds to show their disgust for Monsanto.
2. Don’t be fooled by the “all natural” label.
80% of all processed foods contain GMOs, and even Whole Foods hasn’t stayed pure. So when you’re food shopping, keep in mind that just because a food product is labeled “all natural,” that doesn’t mean it’s organic or non-GMO.
85% of all the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, along with 91% of soy, 88% percent of cotton, 90% of canola, and 90% of sugar beets. Most processed foods contain corn and soy, as do meat and dairy products because the animals are being fed GMO soy and corn, so be aware. There’s 165 million acres of GMOs in the the U.S. and 420 million acres worldwide. Scary.
3. Fun Facts
- The genetically modified corn seeds featured in GMO OMG were bright green and red, like little miniature Christmas lights.
- In 1860, farmers made up 58% of the workforce. Today they make up less than 2%. That means there are more prisoners than farmers in the U.S.
- The top 3 seed companies are DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta. They control over 53% of the worldwide proprietary seed market.
- Atrazine (herbicide aka weed killer) is the most common contaminant of ground water in the U.S.
- Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world.
- The world demand for pesticides to reach $52 billion.
4. GMOs Spread Their Cooties
A farm can be contaminated by either GMO seed or pollen. Insects & wind carry GMO pollen for miles, spreading it to non-GMO crops. The DNA of those crops are altered, giving them GMO traits like Roundup resistance. The contaminated farmer is now growing GMOs illegally, in violation of the chemical company’s patent. Monsanto alone has sued hundreds of farmers for this kind of patent infringement, and they have threatened thousands of others with lawsuits, bullying them into buying their seeds and using their chemicals.
5. Shoo Fly
Since the beginning of agriculture over 10,000 years ago, humans have struggled with pests. Up until 900 AD, we grew all of our food organically, then Chinese farmers began using arsenic sulfites. By the 1800’s, lead and arsenic pesticides filled orchards. After World War II, chemicals produced for explosives and nerve agents were reformulated as fertilizers & pesticides, then rained down on farmland around the world. In 1945, 200 million pounds of pesticides were used. By 2000, it was 5.1 billion pounds.
The result? Over 500 species of bugs are now resistant to pesticides. GMOs emerged in the 90’s as the industry’s most advanced weapon against nature. Weeds and bugs quickly adapted and this “cure” became a curse. Roundup resistant weeds are ravaging fields across the country and superbugs have evolved that are weed killer resistant.
6. You Can’t Patent Nature
Unless you’re the Supreme Court. In 1980, they ruled that living organisms could be patented. Some might say that the genetically modified seed itself may not be dangerous – but what about what’s being sprayed on it? If that plant is resistant to Roundup and Roundup is being sprayed on it, does any of that Roundup get into the grain and therefore into our body? Most GMO studies on the health effects were only 3 months in length and done by the same company selling the GMOs. The studies aren’t peer reviewed and they refuse to release the raw data to the public. Sketchy, huh? According to a professor in France that has studied the health effects of GMOs, Roundup can kill human cells at very low levels.
“These [GMO] foods can create new allergens, they can make a non-toxic food toxic, they can lower immune response, they do lower nutrition…”
-Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director, Center For Food Safety
Roundup, the most prevalent herbicide in the world, is found in our soil, streams, air, rain, and recently, in human urine.
7. Land of the Free, Sort Of…
Directly behind the White House is an organic garden, yet inside the walls they’re promoting chemical food. The government has become captive to one industry. The Biotech industry spent $547.5 million lobbying Congress from 1999-2009 (Food and Water Watch). Over 300 former congressional and White House staff members are now employed by Biotech firms as lobbyists (Food and Water Watch). Therefore, a few companies will control what the farmers grow and what you have on your plate.
“GMOs involve almost everything you can think of — world hunger, international trade, the patenting of life, the rights of corporations now defined as people, the corporate takeover of government and universities, the loss of independent research & science, anti-trust investigations, the multi-billion dollar farm bill and our tax dollars essentially subsidizing this whole mess, the future of food and seed, peak oil and climate change, labeling and the right to know and choose as free people — but what it all really boiled down to was one thing…” MONEY.
8. Feeding the Hungry
Companies like Monsanto spend millions on advertising to convince us that what they’re doing is the only way to feed all the starving people in the world. They’ve created the perception that organic farming is slow and unsustainable, but that’s just not true. According to studies done by the Rodale Institute, organic corn and soy can yield just as much crop as conventional GMO seeds. In the beginning, the GMO outperforms – it does really well in perfect conditions – but there’s no longevity to it. And in times of drought, organic corn yields 31% higher than GMO corn.
Organic fields increase groundwater recharge and reduce runoff. Conventional systems emit nearly 40% more greenhouse gases per pound of crop than the organic systems (Farming Systems Trial). In Iowa, for every bushel of GMO corn they produce they’re losing 44 pounds of topsoil. It’s essentially trading short term production for long term unsustainability. It’s a tradeoff we can’t afford to make for future generations.
9. Smarter Countries
Over 60 countries around the world require labeling of GMOs, including Russia, India, and China. But that doesn’t include one of the most powerful, innovative, forward thinking, advanced, rich countries in the world… the U.S.
GMOs are banned in Norway, which is where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located, on a remote Arctic island (it’s less than 1,000 miles from the North Pole!). The vault preserves a wide variety of plant seeds to ensure against the loss of seeds in case of global crises. As of 2015, the vault contains 840,000 seed samples. You know, so we don’t starve.
Studies are now showing that common pesticides are a culprit in the declining bee colonies. What’s ironic is that without bees pollinating plants we would have no food, and these GMO products that Monsanto claims are feeding the hungry are actually killing off the one natural element that we depend on to feed us. There are nearly 100 new GMO fruits and vegetables in the pipeline, waiting to be released. GMO eucalyptus trees are already being grown, spermicidal corn, salmon that grow four times faster, and other science experiments altering the world around us, mostly for profit.
Historically, the greatest threat to crop diversity has been the modernization of agriculture. As we lose genetic biodiversity we lose traits that could be the key to saving a crop from diseases or pests or the changing climate. Loss of diversity threatens our very survival on this planet.
“In the defense of the seeds of life, the greatest symbol we can offer is to burn the seeds which symbolize money, symbolize death. In defense, to defend the seeds of the peasants is to defend the seeds of life.”
-Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, Leader of the Peasant Movement of Papaye in Haiti
I also love the following quote from the director of GMO OMG because it really rings true not only to the development of GMOs, but I think it’s something we should ask ourselves as human beings:
Just because we can do it, does that mean we should?
So what should we do instead, you ask? Make an effort to buy organic and non-GMO food whenever possible. When you do, you are voting yes for the local and organic farmers. When you don’t, you’re telling the GMO producers to keep pumping their toxins into the planet. Cut down your intake of processed foods and look for labels that are non-GMO verified. Look at the ingredients list of any processed food you buy so you know what’s in the food you are eating. You can also support state and federal labeling initiatives, and most importantly, educate yourself and others.
Visit the GMO OMG site to get more information and ideas on how to get involved and make a difference in the world. And watch the documentary!