Friday, October 12, 2012

Labeling Laws

Unlike many other countries, the United States has no labeling laws regarding genetically modified ingredients in food. This November, the citizens of California are set to vote whether to force this to happen since the Federal Government is turning a blind eye to the demands of the people (polls indicate that upwards of 90 percent of Americans want labeling).

I think labeling is a good first step in dealing with this technology. However, there are many other issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMO's) I would like to address. Today I will introduce some of them and discuss in detail at later dates.

1. Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are patented.
A patent grants the patent holder exclusive rights over the thing that is patented. For farmers, this means that the company who sells the seed still enjoys property rights over the seeds even after the financial transaction of purchasing them takes place. This has serious implications for farmers using these seeds, because they are legally barred from saving seed. Farmers of the last 12,000 years acted as plant breeders by selecting the best seeds from each generation to sow their fields the following year. This act of selection has created all the abundant varieties of plants we enjoy. Patents force farmers to purchase seeds each year.

2. The science behind genetic modification is not exact.
When a gene from one organism is inserted into another, it is done with a sort of "shot gun" approach. The scientists performing this feat cannot insert the gene in an exact location. Due to the structure of chromosomes (where genes are) and the way that they work, inserting new genetic material in a region of the chromosome that has a specific job can have devastating biological effects.

3. Plants are promiscuous.
Every single cell of a genetically modified plant has the foreign DNA- including pollen cells. Pollen is the reproductive cell (the sperm if you will) of the plant. Pollen has been shown to travel far and wide, fertilizing female plants/plant parts that are both intended to be fertilized and not. In other words, the pollen can travel to another farmers' field who does not want the GM pollen fertilizing her plants. This can effect farmers who do not wish to grow GM foods because the DNA in the pollen is patented. Therefore, a cross in an organic farmer's field results in seeds that are private property and thus cannot be saved. This also means that the seed is contaminated with the foreign DNA. If those seeds are sown the next year, the crop is no longer organic and limits the integrity, profits and markets of that crop.

4. GMO's kill insects.
Some of the plants that are genetically modified are designed to kill insects. Obviously if a farmer intentionally sows these crops they know they are killing insects. However, the plants may kill insects that are not targeted by the farmer. For instance, many harmless insects eat pollen for their protein source. Also, if the pollen from these plants cross with plants in another farmer's field that doesn't grow GM crops and that farmer saves seed for next year, he or she unintentionally will plant an insecticide.

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