More and more people asking "What are GMO seeds?" Some say they will be the downfall of life on planet Earth, and others say they will save mankind from mass starvation. Both sides of the argument have science to back their claims. So what are GMO seeds, and why are they so controversial?
GMO's have become such a hot topic that passions are flaring on both sides of a debate that has taken on worldwide proportions. They have been in the news around the globe, in stories of suicides, poisonings, ecosystem disruptions, lawsuits and coverups.
I believe GMOs are a very bad idea, and I’m going to do my best to explain why.
This is a very difficult article to write. I did a lot of research before writing this, and it was painful to see what we have done and are doing to animals, heirloom crops and the environment, as well as to ourselves. The effects of GMO seeds on the lives of third world farmers is not pretty, and definitely not an improvement of their standard of living. There is now an epidemic of farmer suicides in India, directly related to the introduction of GMO seeds. And in Mexico, hundreds of heirloom strains of corn have cross-pollinated with GMO strains, contaminating their seed stock heritage.
Before we delve into details, remember the native American traditions who speak of acting with the seventh generation in mind, meaning our great-great-great (seven times) grandchildren. Really, one of the best things you can do for the coming generations of people is to grow a vegetable garden, using ordinary hybrid or heirloom seeds, and save your own heirloom seeds for next year.
The term GMO stands for genetically-modified organism. It is an organism - a plant, animal, bacteria, virus etc. - that could never occur in nature. They are not created by breeding or by crossing strains of the same species together as are hybrid seeds. GMO seeds are created in a laboratory using very powerful microscopes and microtools (or invasive viral cancer strains) to force portions of the blueprint of life - the DNA - from one species of organism into an entirely different species of organism.
Spiders don't mate with goats in nature, nor fish with tomatoes, nor corn with bacteria.
But there are now goats whose milk contains spider silk. And there are many other freakish beings too, thanks to their DNA being combined in labs through genetic engineering.
"What are GMO seeds?" They are not freaks of nature, they are freaks of laboratory experiments. Intelligence and wisdom are not the same thing.
The largest seed companies in the world are Monsanto (now Bayer), DuPont, and Syngenta. These are chemical companies, so how did they come to dominate the seed business? Their business was manufacturing chemicals, and after WWII, it became the manufacturing of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers for industrialized agriculture. They are, as every corporation is, in business to make a profit.
Now there is nothing wrong with making a profit, and there are many win-win companies around. They offer something of genuine value to people, the people buy it, jobs are created, taxes are paid, everyone’s happy.
But these chemical (and now seed) giants, in the name of profit, have done some very fancy footwork that has remained largely unknown by the majority of the world’s population. Their actions are now having dangerous and even deadly global environmental and social impacts on a scale never before seen in the history of humanity. They have slowly and persistently taken over and patented the majority of the world’s food supply. The power they have amassed is unprecedented. So along with asking "what are GMO seeds", we must also think about the why of GMO seeds, which comes down to power and profit.
These global corporations have not just patented the food they "designed" in their laboratories, they are also in the process of buying and licensing heirloom seeds that they have amassed in their own seed bank, the largest seed bank in the world. I'm not referring to the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway, I'm talking about their own private seed bank.
Because nature continually adapts, as we douse pests with deadly chemicals, the pests repeatedly develop pesticide resistance. When pesticides no longer work and company profits start to fall, then what?
Invent new, more deadly pesticides. Again, nature adapts and pests become resistant to the new chemical. (Sound like antibiotics?) This all started in the late 1990’s.
Oh dear, I feel a descent into sarcasm impending... But seriously, I think it may have gone something like this:
The chemical engineers scratch their heads and try to think outside the box. It occurs to them, “I know... what if we could change the plant itself in a way that makes it poisonous to the bug? And while we're at it... we need to figure out what to do about the weeds, too. How could we kill the weeds without killing the crops?
"I know... what if we could change our crop plants to be resistant to the deadliest herbicide we have (Roundup), the one that kills all plants? Then we could sell tons of Roundup to kill all the weeds, but our special crop plants would survive, and - oh, this is genius! - the farmers will all have to buy our seed, because it is the only kind that will work with the Roundup!"
So they get together with their geneticist friends in the lunch room, and the science of “genetic engineering” is born.
If you take a gene, or strand of DNA, from Bacillus thuringensis, a bacteria that is deadly to corn pests, and force it into the genetic material of corn, the corn itself will be deadly to the pests. And since corn is a living thing that can reproduce itself, all the seeds it produces will carry the same deadly bacterial genes.
Then if you implant another gene in the corn that alters its growth hormone structure, you can make the corn resistant to the growth hormones in Roundup. Then you can spray the heck out of it with Roundup, and it won't grow itself to death, like the milkweed and other plants growing alongside it will.
And another technology that Monsanto/Bayer has developed is called "Terminator" seed. After the first generation planting, the offspring seed is sterile. This would force the farmers to come back to Monsanto year after year to buy seeds. Due to public outcry Monsanto/Bayer has not brought it to market yet, but they are still developing more varieties. Think about what could happen if these seeds crossed with heirloom strains...
The chemical companies - now seed companies - now "bioengineering" companies (a word that sends chills down my spine) - are in the high-speed process of commandeering the commercial seed supplies of the world. This is not some wacko conspiracy theory, it is happening, is widespread, and is well-documented.
The seed companies are focused on feeding the world while making a profit. Sounds noble enough in theory, but in this case the profit part, on the scale that it is happening, has created a conflict of interest with too much at stake. We silly humans often go with short-term gains for profit, which come at great cost to the seventh generation. And in this case, even our own generation.
There are some very deep problems with the glories of GMO seeds. We didn’t just mess with a single organism, corn, in isolation from everything else. Nature is a seamless whole. We messed with the whole ecosystem into which corn fits, which includes the milkweed that grows around the fields, the monarch butterflies that lay eggs which hatch to feed on the milkweed, the honeybees which gather corn pollen to take back to their hives to feed their developing larva, and the people who eat the corn with Bacillius thuringensis genes inside it.
And many more relationships with birds, wildlife and other organisms, which we do not even begin to understand yet.
So in asking "What are GMO seeds?" we should also be asking "And why should we care?"
One thing we do know: GMO seeds are a genie that cannot be put back into the bottle, no matter how devastaing the consequences may get. Multiply that by the hundreds (or thousands?) of plants and animals that have been genetically modified to suit human wants, and then released out into nature to reproduce and interbreed with wild strains...
That is one reason why we should care.
Here's one example of unintended consequences: in 1999 monarch butterflies started a severe decline in population. It was so severe, some worried that the monarch butterfly might become extinct. It was believed that corn pollen from genetically-modified Bt corn was blowing onto the milkweed throughout the midwest, which the monarch lay their eggs on. The eggs hatch into larva which eat the milkweed, ingesting along with it the corn pollen with Bt in it - which is deadly to the larva.
Since that time some studies have indicated that this was not the problem. However monarch butterfly populations are still in steep decline. The heavy applications of Roundup have also killed off much of the milkweed that the monarch larvae used to feed on, so that there is very little food left for the monarch larva to eat.
Monarchs migrate to Mexico every winter. At their peak, they once covered 45 acres of trees. They now cover about 7 acres of trees.
Honeybees are also in severe decline, and it is believed that a combination of Bt corn pollen from GMO seeds plus systemic pesticides are responsible. (Systemic pesticides are applied to the soil. The plant absorbs it through its roots, and becomes itself poisonous to the insects. The same plant we then eat...)
And what about the promise that Bt corn would ward off pests, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticide spraying? Are we using less pesticide now than before GMO seeds?
No. In the last ten years, US corn acreage has seen a ten-fold increase in pesticide use. And there’s more... On the other side of the world, in India, another tragedy is unfolding that is a direct result of GMO seeds.
From 1995 (when GMO cotton was introduced) to 2017, when the Indian government stopped publishing data, almost 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide. Most of them kill themselves by drinking the pesticide that symbolizes the death of their farms. That is over a quarter of a million people, who have killed themselves because of the consequences of GMO seeds.
Monsanto and Syngenta introduced GMO seed cotton into India which was supposed to be resistant to boll worms. They advertised it to farmers in Bollywood-style TV ads that showed increased yields and happy, dancing, rich farmers.
No one was really asking "what are gmo seeds?". The farmers did not realize it was seed that would have to be repurchased every year, (they couldn't save their own seed), that it needed ample water to grow well, and that it needed heavy inputs of fertilizer and pesticides, which also would have to be purchased.
They planted the new seed hoping for cash crops, and found that the money required for seed and chemicals actually cost more than they could earn. Having to buy these inputs impoverished them. And then when it didn’t rain, their GMO seed did not produce at all (as their native cotton would have), and they had to start selling off their land to pay the debts they incurred.
They could no longer afford to feed their families. And since they were no longer growing food, but rather the "cash" crop of cotton - when the cotton failed they didn't even have homegrown food. They started killing themselves by drinking pesticide.
Like I said in the introduction, this is a hard article to write. The problems and disasters are far more widespread than I can report here. If you are interested in learning more, you can watch the movies “Life Running Out of Control” and “The Future of Food”, available on Netflix, and one called "Genetic Roulette" (the best) that you'll have to Google to find. There are also tons of YouTubes out there. There are also some excellent books.
UPDATE OCTOBER 2012: INDIAN GOVERNMENT AGENCY RECOMMENDS HALTING FIELD TRIALS OF GMOS UNTIL SAFETY AND SUITABILITY CONCERNS CAN BE ASSESSED
I guess I've been censored....
Apparently I'm not supposed to talk about "What are GMO seeds?"
Thank you for asking "What are GMO seeds?", and taking the time to learn about what humans are doing to nature. You can also read the article on seed saving, learn the skills necessary to grow your own vegetable garden, choose to buy organic food at the store (which cannot knowingly be from GMO seed). You can use ordinary hybrid seeds or heirloom seeds in your own garden, and protect the flowers of your heirloom seeds from cross-pollination.
You can go for a walk and contemplate the sunset. Sit in your garden and thank God for the amazing natural systems that bring you your food. And remember to sing and dance and play with children, puppies and kittens. These things all improve the world.
You will bless the earth, your family, and the seventh generation by growing your own garden.