Friday, May 14, 2010

Neglecting My Blog, Neglecting Our Environment

Sorry kids, I just started a part-time job which has taken over my life the past week. I forgot what it is like to have eight work hours (plus bike commuting and running/yoga time) stuffed into a 16-hour day - Yes, 8 hours of sleep is compulsory! Other than adjusting to life with a job, job-hunting, and athleticizing, I have no excuse for neglecting the upkeep of my blog.

I have but a few baking ventures to share, so those will wait until a later post. Recently, my interest has been piqued by the recent press on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), as well as the ever-growing body of literature on the controversies surrounding the use of these crops. While this topic appears often enough on the Slow Food Blog, Grist, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, I was surprised to see such a prominent article in the NY Times the other day!

This article touched on one of the criticisms of the use of GM technology, and specifically pertains to the inclusion of herbicide resistance in certain crops. Monsanto (one of the major seed/agricultural chemical companies) introduced the first "round-up ready" varieties in the late 1990's - soy and corn being the big ones. These crops allow farmers to apply herbicides liberally to their fields in order to kill weeds, without damaging their crops. Sounds beneficial in theory, but as the NY Times article points out, this eventually gives rise to what we call superweeds - those resistant to the effects of herbicidal chemicals. Not to mention that herbicides have health consequences for humans, as well, particularly those workers who come in close contact with the toxic chemicals.

But there is more controversy surrounding these genetically engineered products. A few studies have shown negative health implications from consumption, not to mention the potential for allergic reactions if your corn happens to contain a gene from a peanut or whatnot. While GMOs have been touted as the cure for hunger in Africa, much criticism (UCS, among others) about the effectiveness of their use has come to bear. Will the developed world continue to introduce technologies that necessitate a reliance on inputs of chemicals and machinery into the developing? But big names like the Gates Foundation are in support.

One of my biggest problems with GMOs has to do with intellectual property rights. Ever since the ownership was claimed on an oil-eating bacteria in the 1970's, patenting our planet's organism has become common-place. In fact, Monsanto holds the patent to over 90% of corn and soy in the country! This presents a burden for small and organic farmers, who are held liable if a Monsanto gene is found on the field, despite all efforts to exclude it. Many stories exist documenting the woes and lawsuits of renegade GE seeds.

For more background information on Monsanto and its rise to agricultural dominance, check out The World According to Monsanto documentary.

And still the debate rages. While we struggle with our domestic agriculture policy, our European neighbors have taken a more stringent stance. Up until recently they were banned entirely, and explicit labeling is still required. Another reason Europe wins.

I welcome any thoughts on this tough issue!

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