Years ago when I first heard about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) I was in a dusty meeting room above a business in downtown Corvallis, OR. I was working for a small organic farm at the time and we had gone to watch a couple independent films about the future of food and farming. The films were projected on a white linen sheet hung on the wall, the seats were an odd, uncomfortable collection of folding chairs, and tea was served in an eclectic collection of ceramic mugs. The whole event had a sense of a secret meeting, similar to the way historic civil rights movements and union uprisings have begun. I remember being puzzled at how the environment of revolutionary underground had clashed with a seemingly innocuous subject like farming.
The message was foreboding. Genetically modified crops were overtaking our nation’s farmland and beginning to overwhelm our food system. The main concerns that the filmmakers had evidence to directly target involved the livelihoods of small organic farms, the increased use of herbicides and pesticides, and the legacy of heirloom seed banks. These concerns are even more prevalent today.
Small organic farms have no way to prevent the cross-pollination of their crops with those of neighboring farms that use GMO crops. The effects of hybridization are many. First of all, small organic farms cannot maintain their organic certification if GMO crops move in from neighboring fields. Secondly, the big seed companies, namely Monsanto, have patented these GMO seeds and restricted the collection and reuse of seeds. Organic farmers often grow their own seed and perfect a crop over many years. If an organic crop cross-pollinates with a GMO crop the seed produced can end up with patented DNA in it. Seed collection seems like a basic human right because it’s been done for thousands of years, but in this case it can be considered illegal .
Many GMO crops are designed to be resistant to chemical herbicides so that when farmers spray for weed control the commercial crops are unaffected . What this means is that a more liberal use of chemical herbicides is occurring because there’s no worry about affecting yield. These herbicides pollute the soil and our water systems and have far reaching effects we have known about since the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the 1960’s. On top of this the crops often are genetically coded to produce their own pesticides. More pesticides often lead to pest resistance and “super bugs” that we can’t beat. We’ve seen evidence of this in our own healthcare systems with the over-use of antibiotics.
This is a gross oversimplification of the conflicts between large-scale, GMO producing corporations and small, organic farmers, but gives you a window in. We encourage you to learn more by visiting some of the websites listed at the end of this article.
The most alarming topic in those independent films was the potential risks to human health, but unfortunately there was little understanding of how GMOs would affect our systems. The films left us with a big question mark as to what these tomatoes with bacteria genes and corn able to produce pesticides would do. It was clear we wouldn’t be able to wash the chemicals off our food anymore and that lack of control is what made many of us nervous. The unknown was even more nerve wracking.
Fast forward seven years and things have REALLY changed. Now the mainstream media has gotten wind of a recent laboratory study showing that a GMO diet lead to cancerous tumors in rats . Members of the medical profession are stepping forward and naming a whole host of diseases as potential consequences of a diet laden with GMO foods: “infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system”. Doctors are now starting to recommend that their patients go on a GMO-free diet and they are seeing either improvement or cure of conditions . GMO foods have been banned in many countries and others have at least started to require labeling. California has proposition 37 on the ballet for November 2012 that will require labeling of GMO foods. When you look at the funding for and against prop 37 you see that the scales are weighted heavily against because large corporations have contributed tens of millions of dollars  to see this movement shut down. Small, organic companies have not been able to keep up. This is indicative of the situation around the country.
The voice for GMO labeling is rising against a sea of money. We have always been a part of this voice in how we shop and how we grow our own food from non-GMO seeds. We would like to step up and contribute to the awakening in an even bigger way by helping spread the word. At Growing Spaces, we find more and more that our commitment to educating people about their food deepens and this is another piece of that conviction. I am pleased all these years and a couple of jobs later to find myself still involved with a business that cares about people’s health and that works to empower them to live well. I am hopeful that what started as a movement by small, organic farmers is to become a nationwide revolution in our food production system. When those labels change, consumers will have the chance to speak out with their purchases which, as we’ve seen over and over, changes the marketplace.
We are joining with a number of like-minded local businesses to sponsor a presentation by Jeffrey Smith author of “Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of our Lives” on November 8th in Durango at 6:30pm at the Smiley Building in Durango, CO. Don’t live in our area? The good news is that you don’t have to attend our local meeting to join the movement to raise awareness. We recommend you join to the movement to promote labeling of GMO food and, in the meantime, grow or source locally as much of your own food as you can.
Check out the following websites to learn more about what you can do:
Learn more about the potential health risks:
-  http://www.doctoroz.com/episode/gmo-foods-are-they-dangerous-your-health?video=15172
-  http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/health-risks/articles-about-risks-by-jeffrey-smith/Doctors-Warn-Avoid-Genetically-Modified-Food-May-2009
Learn more about California’s Proposition 37
-  http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition_37,_Mandatory_Labeling_of_Genetically_Engineered_Food_(2012)
-  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies#Intellectual_property
-  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies#Environmental_concerns
-  http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/topics/technology-and-supply-chain/monsanto-weedkiller-and-gm-maize-in-shocking-cancer-study/232603.article#.UFqWmDVT_QA.facebook
Author: Stacey L.L. Couch, Growing Spaces Creative Media Coordinator