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Genetically Modified Foods: Technological Triumph or Disaster Waiting to Happen?

October 24, 2010

The genetically modified salmon are coming!
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/sep/07/gm-salmon-industrial-food-system?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

And genetically modified sugar beets…coming to packaged sugary foods at a supermarket near you:
http://food.change.org/blog/view/usda_illegally_issues_permits_for_genetically_engineered_sugar_beets

The rationale for such “innovations” are usually in response to crises such as feeding the third world, increasing production for a burgeoning world population, or in the case of salmon, making up for poor stewardship of our fishing practices. However a few things I’ve noticed are:

1) Most genetically modified crops (usually “built” to resist pesticides) initially produce a bump in production. But weeds eventually learn to resist the pesticides too (usually within a few years of “evolution”). Then more pesticides (more cost and more pesticides that you’re eating) usually need to be sprayed to maintain production. Long term production effects of genetically modified crops have been called into question by the Union of Concerned Scientists:
http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdf

2) The great dichotomy of a starving third world and an obese developed world. In 2000, the USDA determined that 3800 calories were produced for EVERY person in the US EVERY day. (http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf) Of that, they determine 1100 calories are lost due to waste and spoilage. So we’re still getting 2700 calories per day and the daily “recommended” allowance is 2,000. Hmmm, seems a bit “off”. I’m a fairly active guy and I do not need more than 2700 calories day most days. And then there’s people starving half a world away. We don’t need increased production from genetically modified crops…we need to stop wasting half a person’s nutrient requirements each day (1100 calories) and maybe give up that extra piece of dessert. You’ve probably heard the adage, “Clean your plate…there are starving children in (insert name of third world country)”. I’d rather change it to: “We don’t need to put that much food on our plate…instead lets give it to those who need it.”

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