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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Truths and lies about GMOs

This is the letter I sent today to Euraktiv and the Agriculture Commission and the EP, because I got very (VERY) mad on the desperate attempts to bring GMO food officially in Europe. I mean, ok, do it, but do it in a way that will protect EU interests and especially the interests of consumers. I hope I wont regret too much of my actions, but this is utterly wrong. You cannot force something on people, just because a corporation or two decided they really want to do it. Ok, you can, but that doesn't mean it's fair or right. And even though I spent some hours I didn't have on this, and that I can get myself into another mess before I recovered from the previous one, I just couldn't stop myself. Sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do. So, that's it. The game is on :) If anyone else feel involved, please, act too. Send your letters, contact your officials, do something, because the threat is really coming closer and closer. And afterward, it's over, it's over. We have to do what we can now.

Sir,
The process of GMO invasion in Europe can be clearly observed in articles and statements of public figures. More and more we are told that we have to deal with GMO, that we have to submit to progress in science, that we have to do it for the whole planet. Informed people know this is wrong. I can't but wonder, in this case, why do high political representatives get so involved in an issue that requires deep knowledge of biotechnology, environmental science and of course economics.

As a scientist, I do trust science. I don't fear technology and I don't think that GMO are monstrous foods, they are not. However, as a scientist, I'm also aware of the corruption spread among scientists. A clear evidence of this is the so-called "climate gate" in which hacked emails exposed the weaknesses of peer-reviewing as a measure of scientific value. It's easy to extrapolate this to other fields, especially those related to biotechnology and pharmacy - fields where companies invest billions in products, products that MUST be sold to someone for profit. Such problems were recently exposed in USA where number of psychiatrists turned out to have received money from pharmaceutical companies for drugs whose safety they researched. This is a clear conflict of interests and it's not a single case. This is more or less the rule.

What is the connection? According to some sources, Monsanto, the main GMO producer has invested billions of dollars in lobbying only for 2009. How much money they invested in scientists is unknown. The main problem with biotechnology science is that it's very close related to the industry, because of the expense and the application of the production. In this case, it's very hard to trust scientists that research its safety. We see a number of researches claiming GMO's are safe and a number of researches claiming they are toxic and cancerous. How can a non-specialist decide who to believe? How can the European Commission or Parliament side with the producers if the scientific evaluation cannot be trusted? This is true for Europe as much as for USA - the control over specialists consulting safety agencies currently is obviously flawed.

One thing is sure, there is one clear sign that GMO are safe on the short term and it is the fact that people eat it for more than a decade. GMO soy can be found in almost every food product on the market in the form of E322 (soy lecithin) and also as corn derivatives. As people admit, more than 90% of the currently produced soy is genetically modified. Thus we consume it and we do it in quite big quantities. It's clear on the short-term, at least modified soy is safe. The long-term effect however is questionable and largely not studied (due to the age of the technology). For example, there is a boom of severe allergies and obesity in developed countries, mainly USA. Why? What's different in our food now, from our food a decade or 2 ago? The answer is clear - we eat GMO products (and meat produced with their help).This is of course speculation, but if I, as a normal citizen can make such observation and wonder, then politicians are obliged to investigate it and to consider if the risk really is so low and the benefits so big.

After the health issue that obviously very few people can seriously address, we have the environment issue. GMO organisms has already escaped in nature in Mexico. This is not a speculation, it is documented. If it can happen there, it can happen everywhere and probably has. The danger for the environment is clear and it is actually the biggest reason not to develop GMO except in strictly controlled places. Such control cannot be expected from average small farmers in an average European member-state. The environmental danger is clear. I don't see how the EC is addressing this problem in its attempts to spread GMO in Europe. The key to survival in Nature is diversity. If the GMO organisms replace the naturally occurring species reducing their diversity, that increases significantly the risk of extermination of the species in question. And since Nature is connected system, it is unknown how many species we're endangering.

Ultimately, there is the economical issues. We have two statements here - first GMOs improve yields and increase profits and second - they are crucial for feeding the planet.
On the yields statistics, there are studies in India, proving that yields might increase, but the profit do not. Even if this is wrong, USA grows GMOs for a long time now and we don't see US farmers getting filthy rich. In addition to that, there is the ultimate risk that a field with organic products can be infected by naturally spreading GMOs from a near farm and thus those "organic" seeds will have to be paid. In mixed regions with weak control, this is a very serious risk. And since such regions are likely to occur in poorer member states, the financial burden for such farmers will be a serious issue. Again, such problems are not accounted for in any EC or EP initiative. Who is going to help (financially) organic farmers to remain organic is also unknown.

The second promise of GMOs - to feed the world is obviously a beautiful lie. GMOs are grown for a decade, but Africa hasn't been fed. Nobody has been fed freely, because every GMO product must be paid to the producing company. Obviously, a poor region cannot afford to grow such products.

Of course, there is a third side of the economical problem, and this is GMO products for animal food. Since this also has health and economical sides, I won't discuss it since it leads to my final point.

The main problem in the politics about GMOs is the lack of control. We already eat GMO products without knowing it. The meat we eat has been produced using GMOs food and growth hormones and again we do not know it. If EC and EP want to promote GMOs, they have to seriously consider this problem. The society can be convinced to try GMO, as long as people have a choice. In current situation, we, the European consumers do not have that choice. There isn't real control of food containing GMOs (just as there is no real control on cosmetics containing nano-particles). The only "real" control we have over our food, is that our governments do not allow GMOs to be grown in our countries. As long as this remains true, people will make everything they can to keep that only control. That is to say, until every food/drink is properly labeled as GMO/free of GMO and we can trust those labels, we won't give up our fight against GMOs.
Thus, for me, the only way that GMOs can be accepted by European consumers without force and deceit is to label the products. And that after this labeling happens, every citizen will have the right to sue a company in European court if this label is wrong and get a very serious compensation. In this case, I'm sure people will happily give a go of the GMO food. After all, we eat them right now anyway. And with time, there may come even better varieties.

Last but not least, I also agree the EU have to finally clarify our position on the GMO question. However, this must be done in a way that will protect the consumers rights. We have the right to choose our food. Currently, that right isn't protected since labeling and ingredients are not controlled on EU level (and in some countries, even on member-state level).
Also, farmers have the right to grow what they like. If the use of GMOs is not strictly regulated protecting the interests of organic farmers, this right also won't be protected since GMOs are invasive and expensive.
Just as in the case of smokers, the right should go to the person whose personal rights are violated.

As European citizen I want my rights to be protected by both my government and European Union authorities. And this rights require strict control over GMOs and their use in my food and my environment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, This is perfect! Clarifies
a few contradictions I've seen

 

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