SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saturday afternoon at the Northeastern Organic Farm Association of New York’s winter conference Dave Rogers and Dr. Michael Hansen kicked off their session on the importance of labeling genetically modified organisms by asking the audience members to play the devil’s advocate and argue in favor of genetically engineered (GE) crops.
The two men came prepared. They presented research showing that GMOs do not yield more than a natural crop, there is no successful climate or drought-ready crops and that, over time, GMOs actually need more pesticides than non-GE crops.
“What people should know is that there are these questions and uncertainties pertaining to risks. These genetically engineered substances are in 75 percent of the processed foods in the supermarket and in some of the fresh produce as well,” Rogers said, “It’s a system that is built on legal protection and control of the market place and it shuts down other lines of inquiry and research that could be very beneficial.”
For those who don’t know, a GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. The most well-known company manufacturing GE goods is Monsanto, which is the leading producer of GE seeds and the herbicide glyphosate. The company is famous for patenting its seeds.
“They’ve got a beautiful package. They’ve got seeds that are resistant. They phase out the non-GE seeds and don’t do any research on non-GE, they do all the research on GE varieties and they market those very heavily. They also make farmers sign agreements that they will not save these seeds, breed them or anything because, after all, they own the product — it’s patented. And then the farmers are locked in to buying the chemicals. It’s a beautiful system,” Rogers said.
Hansen has been working on getting the GE food bill, requiring manufacturers to label GMOs through legislation for the last 27 years. He recently put the final touches on Prop 37 and hopes it will pick up a sponsor in the California Legislature this season. It failed to pass last year. There are 61 countries that require GMO labeling.
“Being able to patent it keeps these questions about health and safety and environmental effects under wraps in this country. However, those ‘wraps’ don’t hold in other countries, which is why we see so much important research coming from Europe,” Rogers said.
The NOFA-NY is widely attended by visitors from many regions, but the GMO session was especially eclectic. A woman from Turkey was in attendance, there because Turkey recently permitted GMOs into the country in animal feed, and there has been an onslaught of questions and concerns. A man from Holland wanted to know about the long-term effects GMOs would have in future generations.
Much of the concern Hansen, Rogers and their audience members have about GMO’s is related to those long-term health effects the man from Holland questioned. Research has indicated that when an organism is modified genetically, it can essentially turn on allergens. Studies on mice have shown that GMOs drastically change their guts and immune system responses. Studies on pregnant mice show that the average number of pups is lower in the mice that are consuming GE food.
“The message is, people have a right to know what is in their food and what it is they’re feeding to their families. It’s basic. It’s so fundamental,” Rogers said.