Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future
by Caitlin Shetterfly
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Around 90 percent of food seeds are owned by six companies. At least some of them, like Monsanto, are tinkering with the DNA of those seeds and using us to test how that is working. Many people, including the author of this book, have identified Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as the cause of a variety of health problems.
Whether GMOs are dangerous or not is a hotly debated issue, so after being diagnosed with a sensitivity to GMOs, Caitlin Shetterfly travelled to several locations around the United States and Europe to talk to activists and experts on both sides of the debate. Many crops, like soy, are modified to tolerate glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Of course that means many genetically modified crops are doused in that chemical, among others. That could make it difficult to distinguish whether health problems are caused by glyphosate or genetic modification.
Some of the people Shetterfly contacted seem like really nice people. One example was Zach, the friendly GMO farmer with a young family, who seemed to genuinely believe we need GMOs to feed the world. Others were not so nice but seemed equally convinced. One proponent of GMOs had an interesting answer when asked why he supported them so strongly when he no longer worked for the industry. His answer was that it was kind of like a religion. That would explain some of the hotness on that side of the issue.
In Europe, Shetterfly focused mostly on the controversy over honeybees and how GMOs endanger the pure honey that Europeans love. Europe is less receptive to GMOs in general but is facing tremendous pressure from U.S. industry to accept them anyway.
Modified is more of a travelogue than an information-dense text, so there is a lot of detail about what the author sees and thinks about while traveling. She tends to ask more questions than she answers but it is clear that she sees the dangers of playing with DNA. She also sees the obvious conflict of interest when, for all practical purposes, the industry is allowed to regulate itself. She mentions that the FDA holds to the idea that GMO crops are substantially equivalent to their natural counterparts. Many don’t seem to think conflict of interest is a serious concern. Shetterfly interviewed someone who was certain the industry would never lie to the FDA or government agencies in general because that is a serious crime.
If I pick a blade of grass from my yard and take it to the patent office, they will not give me a patent for it because it is just a natural blade of grass—at least I hope it is. Monsanto and other chemical companies have patented their franken-seeds and food products because they have convinced the patent office that those products are substantially different from nature. Then they convinced the FDA that serious regulation is not needed because they are substantially the same as nature. To me this is a key point. Both of these statements can’t be true. One is a lie.
Monsanto has also waged war on seed savers as documented in the film Food, Inc. Saving seed has been critically important in farming as long as we have been farming. Someone has to do that or agriculture as we know it ends next year. Industry is in the process of effectively making that illegal. It amazes me that they can do that without confrontation by angry mobs fully equipped with pitchforks and torches.
There is hope that people are starting to wake up to this issue. Even Zach, the friendly GMO farmer, started shopping at Whole Foods. Not the perfect solution but it’s a start. Maybe someday he can grow food he would actually eat. The thumb is UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2016.