Tuesday, January 31, 2012

GM foods - why is the public suspicious?

The video link to Science Under Attack from SBS On Demand will only be available for 13 days from the date of posting in this blog - it will expire by the 12th Feb 2012. The documentary looks at the responsibility of scientists to present their findings in a way that is understandable by everyday people. Link here.

The programme is described as follows "Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse examines why science appears to be under attack, and why public trust in key scientific theories has been eroded - from the theory that man-made climate change is warming our planet, to the safety of GM food, or that HIV causes AIDS."

It's well worth viewing to get a feel for the complexity of the scientific process and the challenges scientists face. However there was one aspect that I felt could have been explored in much more depth and that is the suspicion surrounding GM foods. 

I've read that the advances in technology of genetically modified food and disease resistant strains are what will be vital for our very survival as our climate becomes more volatile. That I understand. 

The missing link in my mind was the discussion about how companies doing the research into GM foods take complete control over seed 'ownership' and via laws such as the NZ Food Bill, threaten the health, livelihood and resilience of communities the world over

Powerful companies could also manipulate data to hide adverse findings and gag or dismiss whistle blowers such as is reported to have happened with United States FDA scientists and doctors studying medical devices for patients including those with cancer.  Link here.  
The Food and Drug Administration secretly monitored the personal e-mail of a group of its own scientists and doctors after they warned Congress that the agency was approving medical devices that they believed posed unacceptable risks to patients, government documents show.
It would appear that business interests of the FDA took precedence over the safety concerns of its own reputable professionals. These professionals are reported to have since been dismissed. 
"Information garnered this way [accessing private emails] eventually contributed to the harassment or dismissal of all six of the FDA employees, the suit alleges. All had worked in an office responsible for reviewing devices for cancer screening and other purposes". 
There was apparently a claim that the whistle blowing  "improperly disclosed confidential business information about the devices" even though the the scientists and doctors working on the devices "believed [they] posed unacceptable risks to patients." 

I'll now move on to a bill (NZ Government Food Bill 160-2)  which apparently allows for a range of very restrictive controls about what citizens may or may not grow in the privacy of their back yard, and how they choose to sell or barter their produce, how often they can sell it, as well as how they gather and share seed.

New Zealanders are understandably outraged. They have a fantastic system of roadside stalls and vibrant local communities interested in becoming increasing self sufficient. 

They grow interesting varieties of fruit and vegetables for sale at roadside stalls, for trading at food co-ops, for bartering as well as for fun! 

The NZ Government Food Bill is reportedly backed by the very same FDA mentioned above. The same group who appear to have gagged and bullied their own employees, the employees who alerted the US Congress to concerns about unacceptable risks in some medical devices. If it is indeed the same FDA, no wonder New Zealanders are concerned. 

A comprehensive discussion is here with links to more in-depth commentary. Here is a short excerpt from the post:
I read that the bill is being brought in because of the WTO, which of course has the US FDA behind it, and of course that is influenced by big business (Monsanto and other players).  It looks like this NZ food bill will pave the way to reduce the plant diversity and small owner operations in New Zealand, for example by way of controlling the legality of seed saving and trading/barter/giving away; all will be potentially illegal.  The best website to read about the problems with the new bill is http://nzfoodsecurity.org 
By controlling seeds, the bill takes the power to grow food away from the public and puts it in the hands of seed companies.
Growing food for distribution must be authorised, even for “cottage industries”, and such authorisation can be denied.
Under the Food Bill, Police acting as Food Safety Officers can raid premises without a warrant, using all equipment they deem necessary – including guns.
Seed banks and seed sharing networks could be closed down in they don't get sufficient approval. 
More information here.

Globally we're facing increasingly severe and extreme climate events. We face immense challenges associated with rapidly depleting fossil fuel reserves. Resourceful communities do not need restrictive bills that could erode their vital formal and informal networks as they face these challenges with courage and hope. They need support, not demoralising restrictions.

Already communities around the world are working diligently to be more self reliant and self sufficient. This should be celebrated and supported by all levels of government  - not dangerously restricted. That these bills play into the hands of companies and organisations some of which have a track record of not having the best interests of the community at heart is disgusting. 

Too few people in too few companies have too much power.  They are showing obscene levels of greed and manipulation to ensure they rule absolutely. They are acting like bullies. Unfortunately many governments are bowing to the pressure. That's wrong. We all suffer. 

No wonder there is a climate of distrust surrounding GM foods and some of the companies promoting them. 

It's a shame this aspect wasn't covered in the programme as I suspect the problem lies not so much with the food produced but with the companies involved. 

A petition objecting to this bill is here.

And, just in: Monsanto voted worst company of 2011 by Natural Society -- for "threatening both human health and the environment." here

and Monsanto to face biopiracy charges in India here

What do you think?


Pearson Report said...

Sue...you really do an excellent job, over here, of presenting thought-provoking, stimulating posts.

I commend you! I always leave with my head feeling like I've gained a little extra knowledge! Thank you!

This subject fascinates me...I will be back to visit some of the links you have provided.

Cheers, Jenny @ Pearson Report
Co-Host of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

sue said...

Jenny, thankyou! I really appreciate your support. The downside is that they take so long to write that I don't spend as much time enjoying other blogs as I'd like. But when I do get out and about I love it! Have a great weekend, and I hope the difficulties you had with blogger are a thing of the past :)

KarenG said...

Sue, Thanks so much for visiting my blog and commenting so I could follow you here. What a fascinating blog. I look forward to reading more, especially in April. Your A to Z posts should give me a real education :)

sue said...

Karen, thankyou! One of the things I need to wrok on is condensing my posts while keeping them accurate and hopefully interesting. I'm looking forward to the challenge :)

Have a lovely weekend.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

This info is a bit frightening and overwhelming, albeit highly important. Thanks for sharing, Sue.
We have a lot of roadside stalls, food co-ops, small family operated farms, and the like in my area too. Those in power make it sound like they have the public's best interests at heart, but we know it comes down to money for them.


Shannon Lawrence said...

I am definitely not a fan of the FDA. There have been talks of them controlling seed production here so that seeds cannot be collected from the crops and people have to buy new seed packets each year. They attempt to control things they have no business in (what varieties we can grow, etc.), yet allow dangerous food products through because of the money. While some things may be conspiracy theories, personal research on things like certain food dyes have led me to some very scary results. Great post! I hope this is properly beaten down in New Zealand. Why would the FDA be interested in something like that?? They're starting to sound like a crime syndicate instead of what they were meant to be.

Thank you for your visit! I look forward to your A-to-Z posts!

Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Anonymous said...

GM goods has its pros and cons. They can feed large starving part of the world, although most famines are man-made so they won't help much. I have mixed emotions and the verdict is still out. For now I'll try to eat healthy and organic foods.

sue said...


I just spent ages crafting replies to Robyn, Shannon and Stephen and Blogger ate them all. *sigh*

To abbreviate hugely: as it stands I'm not happy. GM potentially has a lot to offer, but not when it's at the expense of everyday people (particularly subsistence farmers in 3rd world countries) sharing fertile seed year after year. No companies should be able to hold anyone to ransom and force them to use their infertile monocrop seed. Seed sharing should never be a crime.

Tina said...

GREAT post, Sue. This issue is a big one for The Engineer and me. We are organic gardeners, and have been for 19 years. (Our 20th anniversary is 6/20) We've always saved seeds! We do end up buying some every year though, because we like to try out new veggies. Our part of CO is zone 5, so we have it better than those in "the high country". CO also has amazing peaches, cantaloupe, and WINE, but those are all on the warmer "western slope."

The GMO issue. We've watched several documentaries about our food supply and what goes into it...and were frankly disgusted with Monsanto ad what they can get away with. Not letting a farmer save seeds? How on earth is that fair? No wonder farmers are struggling all over. I'm trying to think of an example from another industry...but the comparison/metaphor part of my brain has apparently shut down early.

Thanks for sharing this with us!

Tina @ Life is Good

Co-Host of the April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge


sue said...

Tina, thankyou for your in-depth comment. Learning to grow veggies is on my "do do" list and I hope to attend some classes soon - so far my attempts haven't been successful :(

I find it bewildering that these companies have been allowed to exhibit such restrictive trading globally - on all levels it's wrong. The damage that has been done on poor and subsistence communities is obscene. It seems that they've got away with so much that they believe they can manipulate and bully everywhere they go.