Imagine a Pharmaceutical company wants to conduct a giant testing experiment involving the whole world, and imagine that rather than deliberately choosing to sign than up for this test (and getting paid for it), it is conducted upon you without your knowledge or consent. And imagine that you’re also expected to pay for the privilege.
As a free thinking, non-mental human, I expect your response to this hypothetical scenario would be a very firm “thanks, but go f**k yourself”.
Except, if you live on certain bits of the planet, this is not a hypothetical proposition, this is your life right now.
The experiment I’m talking about is the consumption of genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) and whether or not they are safe.
What exactly is a GMO and where will I find them?
A genetically modified organism is a living thing which has had its essential DNA make up (nature’s code for how it’s put together) messed with in order to make it more productive or efficient.
A great example of a food which has been prolifically messed with is corn. Basically it works like this:
Back in the day, around the time of the industrial revolution, farmers started to grow food differently. Rather than using animals and the sweat on their own backs to work the land, they started using machines. This meant that instead of managing relatively small plots of varied crops, they could produce ruddy great massive fields of single crops, also known as a monoculture.
Still with me? Great.
So with these huge plots came huge problems: blight, pests, and soil degradation (this is when unnatural farming methods leech the nutrients from the soil resulting in failed harvests the following year).
Rather than admit that working against nature wasn’t working out too well, some scientists developed a bunch of chemicals. A quick spritz of this and all the bugs are gone, a little glug of that and your corn grows bigger, even in bad soil.
The problem started when the bugs, bacteria and whatnot started to develop a resistance to the various sprays and potions.
If you know anything about science at all, then you’ll be aware of evolution and natural selection. You can’t outsmart nature, and sooner or later, no matter what you throw at it, life’s just gonna keep on living, even bad life. That’s what it does.
Stronger potions were called for, but how do you kill all forms of life – except for the one that’s earning you money?
Those clever scientists had been working hard, and gaily splicing together genes from lots of living things: vegetables, bacteria, even frogs! They had developed strains of corn that were resistant to certain diseases or that grew super massive, but nature just kept outsmarting them.
That’s when the biggest scientist, we’ll call him Dr Santo, developed a strain that could be drenched in a poison that would kill literally every other living thing on or around the crop, but the plant that made big dollars would remain intact. Pretty smart, huh?
The resulting corn is used in all sorts of unexpected products because some folks at the big food companies discovered you can use it to make food taste sweet and it’s cheaper than sugar. So now it’s in all sorts of things, like popular brown fizzy drinks, most of the ingredients of a fast food meal deal, even in ‘healthy’ fruit juice.
Not only that, but some other farmers who raise cows and pigs or even fish discovered they could produce much bigger quantities of livestock if they fed their animals corn rather than let them graze on what they’d eat naturally.
So, following the motto that ‘you are what you eat’, even meat and fish contain modified genes.
But botanists and farmers have been splicing different plants together for centuries, it’s perfectly harmless isn’t it?
This is the problem. We just don’t know. That’s why it’s an experiment.
What we do know for sure is that interfering with nature rarely has a favourable outcome. I’ll give you some examples.
Firstly, changing from natural farming methods such as rotating crops so you’re growing what’s in season, and respecting the land you’re working with (eg leaving trees and hedges where they are, or terracing when you’re working with an especially hilly plot), created the environment where genetic modification was necessary in the first place.
But like I said, fighting with Mother Nature is a fight you’re going to lose.
Not directly related to GMOs, but a good example of unnatural farming methods, let’s also look at the 90’s health epidemic extraordinaire, BSE or Mad Cow Disease.
It was only when ordinary consumers started dying horrendous, long, painful deaths that it came to public attention that farmers had been feeding cows brains and spinal cords.
Until that moment, we’d all happily assumed that the cows we were eating ate grass. They are a bunch of tree hugging hippies, those cows, and as such are staunch vegetarians. But some bright spark thought it would be a great idea to mince up the butchered remains of previous slaughters and mix it into the cow’s feed. The result of this was the culling of thousands of animals and the unnecessary suffering and deaths of hundreds of people.
As I said, don’t fuck with nature.
But, more specifically, there are hundreds of health implications from consuming GMOs, and from consuming foods that have absorbed gallons of the poisons I mentioned earlier, which would usually kill a healthy plant. A small selection of the ones we know about are:
Massive cancerous tumours
Not to mention the as yet unknown implications of ingesting mutated genetic matter. Furthermore, it is coming to light that genetically modified monocultures could be responsible for the rapid decline of the bee population.
If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the more enlightened parts of the planet, such as within the EU, your government will have been trying to protect you from what is essentially a human health experiment on a massive scale.
I’m British. Why should I care about GMOs?
For several reasons, actually.
Firstly, imagine planet earth, not as a collection of different countries and continents, divided by water and political borders, but as a giant organic globule, flying through space.
As we have seen from the spread of epidemic diseases such as bird flu, swine flu, Spanish flu, and more recently ebola, once a new organism enters the food chain, it tends to get around.
After all, you wouldn’t expect just to catch a cold in your left elbow and no where else in your body.
GMOs have entered the building. If you live in the right place, your government may be obliged to insist that genetically modified organisms that are in your food are labelled as such, but they are not obliged to tell you if that pork chop you’re about to eat came from a pig who dined on GMOs.
That aside, there is an entity that will soon see to it that you won’t be able to bask in the comfort afforded to you by your government’s food safety laws. That entity is called TTIP.
Next time: TTIP – The End of Freedom