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Monday, 22 August 2011

GMO foods - a reality show with a really bad plot

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There are several food related debates that increase passion and confusion:  Genetically Modified (organisms[GMO]) Foods, radiation sterilization of foods, and organic production make for a nice controversial week of possible blogs.  The news front for public health has been relatively quite.   The premature and sad death of Jack Layton is a blow to health advocates across the country -  that however is a digression.
You might think the GMO debate would make a tremendous movie.  It pits those struggling to address global hunger through improving food production,  against the unknown threats of genetic manipulation, with right wing pundits looking at patent production, left wingers claiming money grabs, and just to spice up the plot - a really bad guy in the form of a well known corporation (that produces pesticides and seed products).   Okay, perhaps the audience wouldn’t be so enthralled, but then who would ever have thought that a movie about big tobacco would be produced?  
Our monoculture approach to food production is rife with the vulnerability of crops to specific threats from pests.  GMO approaches attempt to bolster crop defences through several means, and just like many interventions, those means may have very different impacts and threats.  There are some 70 or so GMO foods that are routinely utilized, and when  you sit down at your dinner table, you will likely find one of them being served without your explicit knowledge. 
One of the most notable defences to the use of some GMO foods, is that after literally millions of person years of consumption, that no adverse effects have been noted.  The caution, is that while the initial GMO modifications focused on insect, virus, drought and herbicide resistance, more recent modification looks to enhance the food quality, and certainly the most controversial, is modification for the purposes of patent protection (affecting plant sterility).
Prior to direct genetic manipulation, man has selectively been genetically modifying plant and animal species through breeding programs including interspecies breeding efforts. Hence the more recent debates about GMO perhaps are a bit exaggerated.
Of course the debate about GMO would likely be restricted to science if approaches to patent protection and intellectual property rights did not shroud the evaluation process in secrecy, adding to the mystique and perceived danger.   The “bad guy” tactics of big agri-farming giants further fuel the scepticism. 
Canada does maintain a regulatory approach to GMO Health Canada fact sheet on GMO which is worth becoming familiar with.  Those that support GMO innovation will likely be impressed with the rigour, those that oppose may choose to stop eating any foods.  
In the meantime, consider donating to the Somalian drought situation.   We may currently have enough food globally to support everyone, regrettably however the food is not distributed equitably and an estimated 925 Million people are undernourished, (roughly 15% of the global population).  Our Somalian brothers and sisters are amongst the worst affected right now.

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