In the early 1990s, scientists from the infamous seed company Monsanto inserted bacteria called Agrobacterium into a species of soybean. Agrobacterium has the unique ability to transfer DNA between itself and plants by causing a virus that makes the plants susceptible to new DNA. As planned, the Agrobacterium attacked the soybeans with a virus, and thus transferred DNA to create a new species of soybean altogether. The species was named Roundup Ready Soybeans because the genetic modification made the soy resistent to an extremely toxic herbicide called Roundup.
Roundup kills almost everything it touches, from insects to any green plants. The chemical is sold alongside many Monsanto seeds; the goal is to kill all of the weeds with Roundup, so that human labor isn’t necessary. Roundup has been proven toxic to people, causing a variety of illness from cancers to learning disabilities in children. I got a (sadistic) kick out of the Roundup caution label, which reads as follows:
DO NOT allow pets and children to enter trated area until spray has dried. DO NOT allow chemical containers or spray to get into drains, sewers, streams or pond. DO NOT spray directly on humans, pets, exposed food, food preparation areas or food utensils.
The Roundup Ready Soybean can tolerate substantial amounts of Roundup. In fact, manufacturers got excited enough about the soybean that there are now Roundup Ready corn crops and also cotton crops. According to the NY Times, 90% of all US soy is Roundup Ready. 70% of US corn and cotton are Roundup Ready.
Why is this problematic? Aside from the fact that Roundup Ready crops enable the use of Roundup on our food, and it is terrifying to imagine eating a food that has been doused in Roundup (which, I can assure you, we do every single day), we have no idea how a genetically modified, suddenly-created species will affect our health and our ecosystems. Species have evolved over thousands of years, until now. Only in the last 50 years are we suddenly crossing traits of different species with GMO technology. Big deal? See here: Monsanto blocks research on GMO safety. And here: France moves to ban Monsanto’s GMO corn. And here: GMOs were released without rigorous tests.
How can the American public put up with this hazardous use of genetic modification technology? The answer comes back, as it often does, to money. The Roundup Ready farmer doesn’t have to pay hundreds of workers to weed; instead, she can spray Roundup on her soybeans and sell her crop at a low price, therefore selling a LOT, and making plenty of money. Have you ever wondered why organic food is so expensive? This is one of the reasons: organic farmers don’t use herbicides. Therefore, they have to pay employees to weed.
This is only one small piece of the GMO story. Not all companies dabbling in genetic modification have such frightening objectives as Monsanto. There are some human rights initiatives, as well as GMO crops that are developed to be more nutritious, rather than enabling to herbicides. More on that next time.
One more thing: companies that use GMOs in food (popcorn, chips, anything at all with corn syrup, etc.) are NOT legally obligated to indicate the use of GMO crops on their label. So, in grocery stores, look for food that says “GMO Free” or has a USDA certified organic label. Only those foods are guaranteed to be GMO free.
To be continued……