GMOs and You

11/21/13 by Rebecca Rider

Amy Hoffner, Chris Nagy, Capri Brixey and Sarah Moore at the food tasting. Sarah is serving sliders -- ground beef from Wild Turkey Farms, buns from The Bread Basket and cheese from Ashe County Cheese.

Nearly 125 people learned about the relationship between illness and genetically modified organisms – GMOs – November 19 at the Center for the Environment facility on the Catawba College campus. The Center partnered with Bread Riot to host a screening of the documentary “Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of our Lives” followed by a panel discussion. Bread Riot offered a food tasting from local farms before the film.

The film – created by Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception – tells the tale of GMOs in the American food system. The documentary defines a GMO as a plant or animal that has had the genes of another species injected into its own DNA. In America, GMOs are often created to be resistant to herbicides or to produce their own insecticides.

“Genetic Roulette” breaks down both the prevalence of GMOs like Roundup Ready corn, soy and cotton and their positive correlation with illness trends in Americans. According to the film, GMOs have been linked to food allergies, asthma, diabetes and cancer in humans and infertility and birth defects in animals. In addition, GMOs are passed down the food chain. Studies have shown that DNA from GMO livestock feed often incorporates itself into the bacteria in the human digestive system and is often detected in amniotic fluid or fetuses.

When it comes to GMOs, the industry is plagued with problems. With super GMO corporations like Monsanto and Bayer buying up seed companies and controlling industry standards, it is often hard for farmers to find organic seed or feed for their farms. According to the film, these corporations are also responsible for conducting safety tests for their products and GMOs are not overseen, tested or controlled by the FDA and have not been tested for long-term effects in humans or animals.

The movie sought to bring public awareness to the link between the introduction of GMOs in 1996 and skyrocketing chronic health problems in Americans, and to dispel common myths about GMOs such as GMOs increase yield, farmer profit and exports while reducing costs. In fact, the film said, it is often the opposite.

A panel discussion was held after the screening with Dr. Chris Nagy, chief medical officer of Your Personal Wellness Center; Renee Mass, senior organizer from Food and Water Watch's North Carolina office; and Edward Marshall, founder of the We Are All Farmers Permaculture Institute and an organic farmer.

Renee Mass, senior organizer from Food and Water Watch's
North Carolina office, speaks to the audience
after the film "Genetic Roulette."

The panelists discussed GMOs in general and laid out the problems of the GMO crisis as well as possible solutions.  One of the main issues of the GMO debate is that GMOs are not labeled in the U.S., as they are in Europe, Australia and China. As a result, the average American eats roughly half a pound of GMOs a day without realizing it, because the only way to discover which foods contain GMOs in America is to do in-depth research.

An easy way to avoid GMOs, the panelists said, is to buy organic food.  In stores, food labeled USDA Organic Certified or Non-GMO Project verified is guaranteed to be GMO free.  However, this is not fail-safe.  Mass pointed out that many people in cities don't have the option of buying anything that isn't offered at the local grocery store.

“We're not going to shop our way out of this problem,” Mass said.

The best thing to do, she said, is to bring the debate to the political forefront by petitioning, boycotting and contacting their representatives. The point, she said, is to remind the government that it works for the people.

Capri Brixey, chair of the Bread Riot
board of directors, serves guests.

While GMOs can destroy the good quality of soil and disrupt the natural flow of nature and the way plants, animals and elements interact with each other, Marshall reminded the audience that GMOs are not a problem limited to the farming community.

“If you like to eat, you're into agriculture,” he said.

Marshall told audience members that just as they most likely had a mechanic and a doctor, they should also have a farmer. He said that many organic farmers are not government certified, since the certification process is often expensive and reimbursement for the program was recently cut. The best way to find out if a farmer is organic, he said, is to ask the farmer himself.  He also encouraged attendees to tour local farms to see for themselves if the farmers are organic and run their farms well.

“You're the best certifier in the room,” Marshall said.

So, in a country full of GMOs, how do you avoid them?

The panelists came up with three simple tips:

1.)    Choose to buy organic food. Companies listen where they're losing money. Major American dairies such as Starbucks and Yoplait stopped using milk infused with Bovine Growth Hormone because consumers made it clear they would shop elsewhere. The same can happen with GMOs. “Genetic Roulette” speculated that only 5 percent of Americans needed to boycott GMOs for them to be considered a marketing liability and to change industry standards.
2.)    Become politically active. Contact your representatives, sign a petition. Let the government know that you don't want GMOs in your food.
3.)    Buy locally and get to know your farmer. By supporting your local organic farmer, you will not only be eating healthier food and sending a message to larger businesses, but you'll be putting money back into the community.

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