The highly processed junk that dominates our diet takes advantage of the way we grow and process crops and turns them into food-like substances that to many people taste good, provide enough calories, and are cheap and familiar enough to tolerate, but they barely sustain basic nutrition. (Begley)
What are we putting onto our plates? There is now an immense potential to alter genetics and fabricate nature in a way that is most profitable to us. Buns made of chopped cardboard, rat meat dressed up as lamb – endless food scandals are increasing the world’s anxiety about food safety. (Fenbey) To make the most profit out of the least amount of resources, bioengineering is used to create genetically “better” produce using hormones to blow up the volume, producing industrialized food produced as low-cost as possible. Food it is now a product of mass consumption, some imagine a future where we no longer grow organic produce through a natural process, such as 3D printing. While on the other hand, a group of experts are calling on that all these lab synthesized foods might not just be bad news – genetically modified food is said to be safe, might allow us to feed the starving. (Stefamski)
Reflecting the increasingly ambiguous line between natural and manmade, I imagined the future versions of vegetation today. Conceptually and materially inspired by Patricia Piccinini, and employing methods of process designers: Studio Swine, Mischer Traxier, Studio Pasternak, the presentation composes of three sets. The first set looks like fused together elements of vegetables we commonly find on our dinner table, but mutated into a living creature. The second group tries to imitate the process of mass production, creating machine manufactured vegetables, and carries a designed unity: one can see formal consistency and minimalism in the repitition. The third group is composed of ceramic pieces tempting to defamiliarize the vegetables into merely textures – showcasing the randomness and uniqueness of organic surfaces that is difficult to be reproduced through any synthetic method. In all, the pieces are inspired by genetically modified crops multiplying and cloning into a propagation. I was interested in the contrast of making identical duplicates of organic foods, which we once believe cannot fabricate using technology – organisms that are meant to be individually unique.
The process of reproducing through casting is associated with mass production, wax is the material used to make lifelike imitations of humans, also a malleable material able to be made to any artificial shape. By presenting these forms I am not criticizing nor promoting the idea, but perhaps I am projecting my anxiety of what scientists cook up in laboratories, which may end up on my plate.
Begley, Sarah. “The Future of Food: Experts Predict How Our Plates Will Change” Time. 9 Oct. 2014: n. pag. Web.
Fenbey, Jonathan. “Food scandals are undermining trust in China’s new regime” Guardian. 5 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Web.
Stefamski, Paul. “GMOs Are On Your Side–Why Aren’t You on Theirs?” Huffington Post. 22 May. 2015: n. pag. Web.
Worall, Simon. “Is Genetically Engineered Food A Fraud?” National Geographic. 22 Apr. 2015: n. pag. Web.
This article is calling for real action in the food movements the world is needing today. Although some progress has happened, the most crucial issues still remain yet to be improved, such as removing the routine use of antibiotics from food production.
I strongly agree that more transparency is needed, on cases such as labeling for GMO, antibiotics, pesticieds etc: whether or not these really negatively influence health, consumers still have the right to know what types of treatments have been done to their food. I think one of the major reasons for the distrust on claims that GMO is not harmful is due to the lack of transparency.
Yes, we have seen some encouraging developments: a promised reduction in the use of antibiotics by Tyson Foods and McDonald’s, a marginal wage increase by McDonald’s for a small portion of its worst-paid workers, a reduction of the use of artificial colors by Nestlé, Kraft and others; the elimination of aspartame in some diet drinks by Pepsi (to be replaced by different artificial sweeteners, of course); a more sweeping (and credible)announcement on additives by Panera; and Chipotle’s claim to have all-but-eliminated foods produced using genetic engineering.
Grass-fed, antibiotic, and growth hormone free cattle.CreditDon Ryan/Associated Press
This isn’t a case of perfect being the enemy of good enough, but one of not getting carried away by what amounts to a little greenwashing. We need to change that.
I recently had occasion to review some of the columns I’ve written over the last four-plus years in order to collect them for my new book, “A Bone to Pick.” The first one, from 2011 — “A Food Manifesto for the Future” — is a good yardstick to measure progress over that period. In it, I made a number of suggestions with which I think it’s safe to say most food activists would agree. Among these were:
• end subsidies to processed food
• break up the Department of Agriculture and empower the Food and Drug Administration
• outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations
• encourage and subsidize home cooking; tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods
• mandate truth in labeling
I would create a similar list now, and would add “remove the routine use of antibiotics from food production,” “radically improve and expand the school lunch program” and “ensure that there is land for people who want to grow real food on it,” but it wouldn’t have mattered much. I have written about those issues repeatedly, and we’ve seen minimal movement on any of these fronts.
What have we seen? Some increase toward labeling foods produced with genetically engineered seeds, which — if it were to lead to greater transparency — would be a good thing. But this is not a burning issue; better to see labeling that addresses antibiotics, pesticides and treatment of workers and animals. We’ve also seen a strong push, via the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, to improve school lunches, food-wise the most vital act of the (Michelle) Obama administration. And, as mentioned before, there have been some promises on the part of a couple of corporations to reduce antibiotic use.
But the real action has been local-level success on increasing the minimum wage. And this is for obvious reasons: One, it’s not strictly a food issue, though the biggest number of low-wage workers in the country is in the food system. Two, real organizers are involved. And three, the food workers and their organizers have formed alliances with traditional unions, which — if only barely — remember how to fight.
The Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign gives us a model: a clear goal (close all coal plants by 2030), nearly 200 organizers (and nearly two dozen lawyers), real funding and real results: New coal plant construction has been halted and 188 plants have been closed or scheduled to close since the beginning of the campaign in 2010.
The still-forming food movement must narrow its focus to a few possible-to-win issues. A short list from which to pick might include restricting the use of antibiotics, which is winnable with the right president; eliminating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs, which are comparable to coal mines and might be winnable with a strong legal strategy and a series of local fights (imagine the excitement if even a single CAFO were shut down); marketing junk to children (around which a number of groups are strategizing, but so far without a strong presence); and fair treatment of workers. (There are other possibilities, of course; I’m not the decider.)
Even before there’s an organization willing to do Sierra Club-like work on one or more of these issues, there is something everyone who cares about food can do, starting right now: Push political candidates running for every single office to take a stand on food issues like these. Eighteen months from now we’re all electing House members, a third of us will choose senators, and there is, as you might have heard, a presidential race.
To my knowledge, and with the exception of the wage fights and Bernie Sanders, no presidential candidate has spoken about any of the above issues. Even Bernie Sanders, by far the most principled and thoughtful of the lot, may not be aware of the importance of these. (Sanders has come out in favor of G.M.O. labeling, however.) Yet he’s a natural ally, and could (and should) be pushed to bring them into any potential debates with Hillary Clinton.
Of course, few of us are going to have much access to Bernie or Hillary. We can, however, reach the people running for Congress from our districts, and it’s time to start asking them questions like these: Where do you stand on getting the routine use of antibiotics out of our food supply? On polluting our land, water and air, on using precious resources to raise tortured animals? On making sure my kids grow up eating decent food? And so on.
I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues. I’ll believe we’re effective when I see the routine use of antibiotics outlawed and when that first CAFO closes. I’ll know we’ve started to win when anyone who wants to farm real food has land on which to do it, when there are high-quality school lunches that are free for all, when we’ve started talking about providing that same quality dinner to anyone who needs it. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.
Greatest concern consumers have is whether modifications negatively impact health: author claims that in fact the phrase “GMO” itself is neutral, and depends on how exactly they were “modified”. (“This means that some GMO’s are provably healthier than their average counterparts”)
Major reason people don’t understand what GMOs are is due to lack of knowledge and exposure: “popular media has done a great job of turning that uncertainty into fear”.
Researchers are working on genetically modifying apples to be resistant to bacteria, potentially saving farmers tens of millions each year, and making them significantly cheaper for consumers–the apples would be otherwise unchanged, the same as average apples. Along that same alley, there is also a project underway to genetically modify apples to vaccinate against certain viruses, particularly one commonly responsible for pneumonia. How cool is that? An apple a day really does keep the doctor away. Scientists are also working on broccoli that can help prevent cancer, and tomatoes that carry higher quantities of vitamins and antioxidants than their average counterparts.
There are projects all over the world, undergone by companies, humanitarian organizations, and universities, that aim to improve our food in some way through the use of genetic modification. Some allow higher yields with less water–a key development in places like California, where resources are in short supply, and food exports in high demand–or allow food to keep longer without rotting, or grow without needing pesticides. If these all sound like great agricultural advancements, you’re right, they are. If you’re convinced that these modifications in some way negatively impact your health, good luck finding a peer reviewed study that supports your concern, and better luck finding a company that doesn’t immediately change its ‘recipe’ if a causation between their crops and an illness is found.
Let’s get something immediately out of the way–as evil as corporations may be, the last thing they want to do is kill their consumers. If you’re like me, aside from housing, you spend most of your income on food, and that’s good for their business. If we all got sick from their food, that would be quite bad for business. Monsanto, for example, may extort farmers across the globe, and monopolize the industry for corn and soy, and we can hate them for that, but their products have not been found to increase the risk of illness any more than conventional corn and soy–the fact of the matter is that corn, soy, rice, and grains in general just aren’t that good for you to begin with, but due to their prevalence in human diets across the globe, some humanitarian organizations are actually attempting to modify them to include crucial vitamins that are otherwise lacking in grain-heavy diets. This means that some GMO’s are provably healthier than their average counterparts (we’ll get back to that later).
According to various sources, at least 60-80% of the food on grocery store shelves contains genetically modified ingredients. If you think you’re avoiding it, you’re probably not. Don’t worry, though, because unless you have a dietary health restriction, this likely isn’t affecting your health in the least. Companies like Chipotlehave launched “Anti-GMO” campaigns, and many of us are fooled by this ploy. If anything, these campaigns are tricking us into eating food that just isn’t healthy to begin with, no matter how organic it may be. Again, Chipotle is a prime example.
On the flip side, humanitarian movements like “The Golden Rice Project” are taking the brunt of anti-GMO sentiment, which is literally costing lives. Countries along the Asian continent and throughout the pacific ocean survive on rice-based diets. These diets, however, lack vitamin A, and nearly 2 million preventable deaths happen each year due to vitamin A deficiency. Fortunately, science came to the rescue, as science often does, and a strain of rice was developed that produces more than enough vitamin A to prevent the majority, if not all, of these deaths simply by planting the genetically modified seed instead of the original strain. What happened? Anti-GMO campaigns blocked the non-profit launch of the grain in the suffering countries, claiming that it was useless, and even harmful, without any basis for their claims. The truly offensive part is that the genetic modification didn’t even involve the splicing of foreign DNA, but merely the activation of genes already present in the rice. As far as GMOs go, this strain of rice barely fits into the category, but that’s exactly the problem–People don’t understand what GMOs are, and popular media has done a great job of turing that uncertainty into fear.
As The Golden Rice Project shows, tossing all GMOs into the same category is a mistake to begin with, as the processes, purposes, and outcomes of genetic modification vary as greatly as the sub-genres of the medical field. Saying that a GMO meant to prevent cancer is dangerous because a different GMO meant to grow faster and off-season was found to increase the risk of cancer (this is a totally fiction example, by the way) is like saying vaccines don’t work because an anti-migraine medication was found to be ineffective. It doesn’t make logical sense. If any GMOs are found to be harmful, isolate your fury towards that particular GMO, as others aren’t going to be related, or likely carry the same risks. This is why marking GMOs is also a mistake. They don’t all fit into the same category. It would be like replacing all of the species signs at zoos with one sign that just said “animal” and every time you went to a zoo you would have no idea which “animal” you were looking at.
We already face a starving world. We are lucky, in the United States, that we even have the option between GMO and non-GMO, but don’t turn that choice into a campaign that costs lives. 88 percent of scientists polled agreed that GM foods are safe to eat (this statistic excludes the answer that there is no preponderance of evidence either way, so this means that 88% of scientists are comfortable claiming that the food is safe, regardless of counter-studies), whereas only 37% of Americans (non-AAAS) polled felt comfortable calling them safe. That statistic is humiliating just on the basis that so many people either disagree with or aren’t aware of the positions of scientists on an issue that they are willing to pass legislation on. It boarders on the same level of naivety as anti-vaxers and climate change-deniers.
If a GMO is found to be harmful, we’ll stop using it. There is no reason to send all GMOs to the gallows because of it. Don’t let your government pass legislation without proper knowledge. Encourage them to represent you, the rational and informed people that you are, and demand that they allow GMOs the same consideration as any other technology. Change can be difficult, and uncertainty frightening, but it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves before that lack of knowledge turns into a dire mistake. For the sake of the two million lives lost each year, if nothing else, suspend your fear and read up on the research–or trust the scientists.
An estimated 85 percent of all food consumed in the United States now contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—from the cereal you feed your children to the milk you put in your coffee to the sweet corn you chomp on in summer. But because there’s no labeling requirement, we don’t know which foods have GMOs and which don’t. We also have no hard facts about the possible health effects. In his new book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived The Public, public interest attorney Steve Druker takes the science community, the food industry, and the FDA to task for what he claims are their lax and irresponsible policies.
Parts of the interview:
First, the subversion of science has been much deeper than most people could imagine. There has been a consistent degradation of science and twisting of the truth on the part of numerous eminent scientists and scientific institutions on behalf of genetically engineered foods. The aggregate fraud to promote genetically engineered foods is by far the biggest fraud in the history of science. The corruption of government has also been very deep and multifaceted.
Probably the worst example occurred when the U.S. executive branch became convinced back in the mid 1980s, during the administration of President Reagan, that the biotechnology industry was going to be one of the main ways in which the U.S. economy would come out of its doldrums. A policy was adopted to promote the biotech industry without any new regulations. It was reported to be science-based, but scholars who studied it concluded it was not science based. It was framed and motivated by economic and political considerations. The FDA broke that law and lied about the facts in order to get GMOs on the market.
James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, has called the dangers imputed to GMOs an imaginary monster.” He’s right, isn’t he?
He’s quite wrong, actually, because there have been risks, but from the beginning these risks have been systematically misrepresented by the mainstream scientific establishment in order to avoid regulation by governments and keep control of the research. But the risks have been well recognized, even by the FDA’s own scientists. They did a thorough study back in 1990-92, and the overwhelming conclusion was that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding to a great degree, that the foods it generates entail different risks, and that none can be presumed safe until they have been demonstrated to be safe by rigorous scientific testing. But these tests have never been done.
I never use the term “frankenfood.” I’d rather not throw around names. The other side throws names around, branding people who have concerns about GMOs as “anti-science” or “Luddites.” Instead of talking about middle ground, I think it’s important to talk about the scientific ground and the evidence-based ground. Too many of the proponents of GMOs are not speaking as scientists, but as spin-doctors.
Recently, the tide seems to have turned towards an acceptance of GMOs. The UN, Bill Gates, and President Clinton have all come out in support. Even writer Michael Pollan, a well-known opponent, now believes there is no threat to human health. Surely, these people can’t all be wrong, can they?
They can be misled, yes. Based on the misrepresentations that continue to come from scientists, whom people like Michael Pollan and Bill Gates have a right to trust, I can understand why they think what they think. If you have the National Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science consistently stating that these foods are safe why not believe them? But the National Academy of Sciences’ supposedly “gold standard” risk assessment is a joke. It’s internally self-contradictory, the logic is weak, and it overlooks several key facts. By contrast, a risk-assessment study released by the Royal Society of Canada in 2001, a few years before the National Academy of Science, came out with an opposite conclusion. It said that genetic engineering is different from traditional breeding, that you can’t assume the products are safe, and that the current regulatory system is extremely flawed. The scientific establishment here never refuted it. They’ve just ignored it. I challenge any fair thinking, good-willed scientist, or intelligent man or women, to read this book and decide for him or herself where the evidence lies—who has been telling the truth and has not been telling the truth.