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Sunlit young corn plants

Too often, commercial interests run far ahead of scientific knowledge. It's been over 20 years since genetically modified crops were introduced to the world, such as soybeans, corn, rice, papaya, grapes, tomatoes, canola and cotton.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has said, “it is a radically new technology for altering the traits of living organisms by adding genetic material that has been manipulated outside of cells … without regard to natural boundaries … so that the unprecedented ability to shuffle genes means that genetic engineers can make combinations of genes not found in nature.”

Most Americans don't know about genetically modified foods — although they're already eating them here, in Europe and in other countries as well. Unfortunately, GM foods are becoming a hotly disputed health issue. Louise Gale, Greenpeace political advisor, said, “the U.S. is unwilling to threaten biodiversity in the name of short-term profits.”

There's also the concern that GMOs are often resistant to herbicides. This resistance is an invitation to farmers to spray large quantities of herbicides, and many do. (After the rain, there's a runoff of them that is making their way into our streams and lakes, perhaps causing some of the algae problem we're now aware of!)

In recent years The New York Times has printed a number of articles alerting us to the potential dangers of GMOs. Their website offers the reader a wealth of articles that are worth checking out. In his 1998 article “Playing God in the Garden,” Michael Pollan wrote, “the biotech industry, with the concurrence of the Food and Drug Administration, has decided we don't need to know about genetically modified food, biotech foods carry no identifying labels.”

Arpad Pusatai's research with the Rowett Institute in Scotland is worth looking at, also. Go to The New Scientist website at gmworld.newscientist.com for an eye-opener!

Although genetically modified foods are planted in test fields and separate plots, plants and pollen don't respect fences. Not only is there concern about what can happen there, but there is also a very real concern but what can happen in the human "gene flow." Marc Lappe and Britt Baley, in “Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food" (Common Courage Press), wrote: “Damage and disease may become even more evident after a few generations when such gene insertions create subtle plant morphological or biochemical changes.”

The list of significant scientific concerns about GMOs is by no means exhaustive. For example, there are novel GMOs coming on the market, such as those using double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs), that have the potential for even greater risks (Latham and Wilson, 2015).

Science is not the only grounds on which GMOs should be judged. The commercial purpose of GMOs is not to feed the world or improve farming. Rather, they exist to gain intellectual property (i.e. patent rights) over seeds and plant breeding, and to drive agriculture in directions that benefit agribusiness. This drive is occurring at the expense of farmers, consumers and the natural world. U.S. farmers, for example, have seen seed costs nearly quadruple and seed choices greatly narrow since the introduction of GMOs. The fight over them is thus not of narrow importance. Their use affects us all.

Criticism of science and technology remains very difficult. Risk assessment of GMOs has been short-circuited and the lack of public concern needs to be addressed. Until the damaged scientific ethos is rectified, the public is correct to doubt that GMOs should ever have been let out of any lab. And that is my opinion!

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The Rev. Joyce Hackett Smith, N.D., is an ordained minister who also believes in natural healing and holds a doctorate degree in naturopathy.

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