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Food Fight! - Genetically modified food, not all it is made out to be

By Leonette Le Roux of Ecoshopper

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Plants (S. chacoense) transformed using Agrobacterium. Transformed cells start forming calluses on the side of the leaf pieces.

So, has the world finally gone mad? Have we swapped our sanity for sustainability? If we look at the facts sheet, crop biotechnology surely seems to steal the show, reducing pesticide spraying by a staggering 474 million kg between 1996 and 2011 (an 8.9% reduction), resulting in a whopping 14.609 million kg of carbon dioxide saving, the reduction of green house gas emissions equivalent to removing 6.5 million cars from the road for a year!(1 )

Eureka! you say? Win for environmentally friendly farming, you say?.....But before you jump up and applaud, read the rest of the facts sheet, this is where the Dr Jekyll bit comes in, studies have shown that this miracle is not all white wings and magic wands: The cells in the pancreas of mice fed Roundup Ready soy had profound changes and produced significantly less digestive enzymes (2); in rats fed a GM potato, the pancreas was enlarged (3). In various analysis of kidneys, GM fed animals showed lesions, toxicity, altered enzyme production or inflammation (4-6). Enzyme production in the hearts of mice was altered by GM soy (4), and GM potatoes caused slower growth in the brains of rats (3). Allergies and liver damage have also been linked to GM food (7,3-4).

The development of GM food seems to always start off with good intensions, such as "golden rice" (fig A), scientists spent 10 years developing a GM rice that contains beta-carotene, which our bodies convert into Vit A. A life saver for under developed countries where an estimated 250 million people suffer from Vit A deficiency, which causes blindness and death in children. Most health organisations condemn the rice, claiming that more research is needed. In the early 1990´s, Hawaii´s papaya industry almost collapsed due to the papaya ringspot virus, a GM papaya resistant to the virus was engineered and the industry was saved, today 80% of the papaya industry in Hawaii is GM fruit, but at what cost to the rest of Hawaii´s indigenous insects? No answer for that question.


Golden rice compared to normal rice

Why then, are our governments and authorities happily condoning this? I think money, and a desperate need to secure a sustainable food source, are the big old greasy culprits- farmers spend less on poison, fuel and labour, green house gas emissions are reduced by not tilling the land (carbon is retained in the soil), and not using fuel to crop dust and till the land, crop yields are bigger, more people can eat, and they all look like heroes. Forgotten are the possible side effects of human consumption, the fact that we have not done enough research, the dangers of GM crops infecting other plant species and the impact on insect life not related to food crops.

Research is the key, on that most people, companies, and governments agree, but what do we do in the meantime? Do we simply insist that our farmers grow conventional crops? Can we damn underdeveloped countries to starvation while the first world stares at Petri dishes? Most of us eat genetically modified food daily, because sadly, in South Africa, GMO labelling is not mandatory, our governing bodies have bigger fish to fry, such as feeding millions of hungry, mal nourished people. Africa´s need for food far outweighs the need for research and a closer look at the side effects of GM´ed maize. Factor in population explosions, corruption and war, and suddenly, the situation is very, very desperate.

So, let´s spend some of those millions of Dollars and Euros spent on genetic research on organic urban farming, which includes rooftop farming. Let´s teach people to grow their own food and not to depend on the first world for potentially harmful food. Buy your food fresh, just down the street. Or barter for potatoes with your home grown onions. Every house with open ground can grow veggies, every apartment building with an open roof can grow veggies. What a great way to gift our children with the ultimate survival tool, how to grow your own food!


Rooftop Farm in Rotterdam

I think the world has lost focus, leaving it up to others to solve the looming food crisis. Grow one crop to feed a million people, owned by only a few, instead of growing thousands of smaller crops to feed many millions, owned by all of us.

1. Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot. Key environmental impacts of global genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996–2011 GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 4:2, 109-119; April/May/June 2013; © 2013 Landes Bioscience.
2. Malatesta M, Biggiogera M, Manuali E, et al. Fine structural analyses of pancreatic acinar cells nuclei from mice fed on GM soybean. Eur J Histochem 2003; 47: 385-88.
3. Tudisco R, Lombardi P, Bovera F, et al. Genetically Modified Soya Bean in Rabbit Feeding: Detection of DNA fragments and evaluation of metabolic effects by ezymatic analysis. J Anim Sci 2006; 82: 193-99.
4. John MB. 13-week Dietary Subchronic Comparision study with Mon 863 Corn in rats Preceded by a 1-week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet#5002, December 17, 2002.
5. Malatesta M, Biggiogera M, Manuali E, et al. Fine structural analyses of pancreatic acinar cells nuclei from mice fed on GM soybean. Eur J Histochem 2003; 47: 385-88.
6. Vecchio L, Cisterna B, Malatesta M, Martin TE, Biggiogera M. Ultrastructural analysis of tests from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Eur J Histochem 2004; 48: 449-54.
7. Dutton A, Klein H, Romeis J, Bigler F. Uptake of Bt-toxin by herbivores feeding on transgenic maize and consequences for the predator Chrysoperia carnea. Ecol Entomol 2002; 27: 441-7.

Rooftop Farm in Rotterdam