Thursday, May 5, 2011

Experiential Journal: Taking a Closer Look at Our Foods

By Lorraine Metz

In order to complete the experiential component for this class, I decided to learn more about an environmental issue that I find most appealing. In recent years I’ve become more educated on the food choices I make daily and the results and consequences that it brings. After reading “Food Inc.”, a companion guide to the documentary, I was horrified at the way we raise not only our livestock, but also our crops. I continued researching the possible consequences of food, including crops and products that are genetically altered. After getting a new job, keeping up with studies and other demands, I was researching less and less. This semester, with an opportunity to explore environmental and health issues, I decided to continue my research. While I had read numerous books on the subject, and seen a movie or two, it only seemed logical to view more films that could condense statistics and information on the subject in a simple but effective manner.

One of the films I watched this semester was a documentary called “Genetically Modified Food: Panacea or Poison?” Directed by Josh Shore, this movie was released in 2005. Although I’m watching it a few years late, the information and controversy are still just as pertinent today. Facts and statistics were plenty thanks to an array of speakers that ranged from politicians, FDA representatives, activists, farmers and scientists. While I had basic knowledge on the subject, questions were raised that had me hooked and concerned.

Genetic modification of DNA for food came with the idea that by cross-breeding plants, they could survive in various climates and situations. In the 1970’s, the U.S. agricultural company, Monsanto, developed and sold a herbicide called Roundup. Being the world-wide seller of herbicide since 1980, Monsanto took to bioengineering and created genetically modified crops including soybeans. Monsanto was not the only company experimenting with GM crops, but they are now the most popular and own patents to seeds that will produce crops resistant to Roundup.

Controversial debates on this topic are numerous. People around the world are suspicious of the GM foods on their supermarket shelves and the consequences that it might have on their health. Studies on the subject are scarce and despite any results from tests, there has been confusion about the honesty of the results. While U.S. regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration have stated that there are no known health risks, FDA documents as well as some FDA scientist have revealed their concerns on this issue.

Monsanto, one of the largest and more aggressive owners of seed patents, argues that GM crops will help the world to overcome food issues such as starvation and malnutrition. By adding useful genes into a certain crop, they can not only become resistant to poor weather and pests, but can become more nutritious for those in need. While I had heard this argument before, I was surprised to hear a new response from the GM food opposition. A canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser, explained his story through this documentary. As a farmer in Canada for 53 years, not only has he dealt with Monsanto in court when sued for infringement but he has also countersued for their pollution of his crops. He also explains that other canola farmers are hurting, but for a different reason. GM foods are regulated differently in places like Europe, Russia and South Korea, and Canadian farmers lost 25% due to Europe’s tighter regulation of the product.

As consumers, it’s our responsibility to take a close look at the foods we’re buying. If a product is purchased, it will continue to be produced. With the increased knowledge of this topic I am angered yet excited to start making smart choices that could benefit me, my family and even those around me. Besides watching this documentary and viewing some short videos, I’ve also been expanding my research through books and online media. My final article, which is also on the topic, has been expanded and edited to include the new information and I’m certain that the safety and health of our food will constantly be on my mind. This experience outside the classroom has provided me with an abundance of information as well as the momentum to start making changes and educate those around me.

As a final note, the documentary also mentioned some topics that had been referenced in class. It mentioned that Monsanto produced Agent Orange and was one of the major chemical companies that had contracts with the U.S. government for use during the Vietnam War. DuPont’s toxic legacy was also discussed in class, mentioning the destructive effects of contamination in the Pompton Lakes area. I was unaware until the film that DuPont, like Monsanto, held patents to seeds. After learning about previous mistakes that the company had made, discovering that they hold the patents on genetically altered seeds made me even more concerned about the possible health risks these large corporations may be taking. With a reputation for mistakes that have killed and hurt in the past, it’s necessary to question the intentions and statements presented by these companies.

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