We Are What We Eat

In our first unit, we discussed the importance of culture, or a particular society’s beliefs, customs, and ways of life. Genetic modification has helped to shape different cultures as it is forcing people to change their beliefs about food and their meal-time rituals. The practice of genetic modification originated in America but through cultural diffusion, has made its way across the globe.

Food is a cultural maker and an important part of a person’s identity. What we eat, where we eat, and who we eat with tells us a lot about our society (Delaney, 2011: 275). In this blog, I use pictures to illustrate how the use of genetic modification varies across cultures.

America: Approximately 70% of the foods in our supermarkets are genetically modified. Genetic modification has expanded into almost every area of US food production.

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Europe: GMOs are largely considered “new” foods in Europe. The European Food Safety Authority evaluates which genetically modified foods are imported into the nation.  Their system may be effective as it ensures a high level of protection for human health as well as the environment and consumer interests.

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Africa: Africans have varied opinions on the inclusion of genetically modified crops in their farms. Farmers want to produce hefty yields, but do not fully understand the potential consequences that come with planting GMOs.

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Mexico: Many Mexican farmers fear that genetically modified corn threatens their native varieties of blue, red, and multi-colored corn. A Mexican judge recently launched a complete ban on the growth of GMO corn field trials that the nation had planned to move forward.

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India: In India, Bt cotton seeds are advertised heavily to Indian farmers, who believe that they may bring high yields and material wealth.

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Asia: China and India are the two largest producers of GMOs in Asia. However, in Japan, the total area of GMO Free Zones is expanding.

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To get an idea of how GMOs are dispersed, one can look at the chart below. The countries listed are the top producers of GMOs in the world. The amount the US produces nearly doubles in a six year period with other countries experiencing a similar trend. As a world superpower, the way we use GMOs may be influencing the way GMOs are used on a global scale.

Global Area of Genetically Engineered Crops, 1996 to 2006: By Country (Million Hectares)
Country USA Argentina Brazil Canada China Paraguay
1996 1.5 0.1 0.1
1997 8.1 1.4 1.3 0.0
1998 20.5 4.3 2.8 <0.1
1999 28.7 65.7 1.4* 4.0 0.3
2000 30.3 10.0 3.6* 3.0 0.5
2001 35.7 11.8 5.7* 3.2 1.5
2002 39.0 13.5 6.3* 3.5 2.1
2003 42.8 13.9 3.0 4.4 2.8
2004 47.6 16.2 5.0 5.4 3.7 1.2
2005 49.8 17.1 9.0 5.8 3.3 1.8
2006 54.6 18.0 11.5 6.1 3.5 2.0

*illegal cultivation of gmos: calculated area

Clive, James. 2013 Countries Growing GMOs. Electronic Document, http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/agri_biotechnology/gmo_planting/142.countries_growing_gmos.html, accessed October 15 2013.

European Food Commission  2013 Genetically Modified Food and Feed. Electronic Document, http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/index_en.htm, accessed October 15, 2013.

Gioccardi, Anthony     2013 Mexico Bans GMO Corn. Electronic Document, http://www.nationofchange.org/bombshell-mexico-bans-gmo-corn-1382450977, accessed October 22 2013.

GMO Free Europe Campaign.   2013 GMO Free News From Japan. Electronic Document, http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/gmo-free-regions/japan.html, accessed October 22 2013.

Thompson, Claire    2013 ‘Bitter Seeds’ documentary reveals tragic toll of GMOs in India. Electronic Document, http://grist.org/industrial-agriculture/bitter-seeds-documentary-reveals-tragic-toll-of-gmos-in-india/, accessed October 22, 2013.

We Md   2013 Are Biotech Foods Safe to Eat? Electronic Document. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/are-biotech-foods-safe-to-eat, accessed October 12.

Images 

Bt Cotton. Digital image. Non GMO Project. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

GMO Free Regions. Digital image. GMO Free Regions.org. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Golden Opportunity? Digital image. Rappler. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Miracle Grow. Digital image. Grist. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Monsanto’s Failed GM Maize. Digital image. Sustainable Pulse. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Save the Date. Digital image. GMO Free Regions.org. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Say No to GMO. Digital image. Anh-Europe. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

TLC Cooking. Digital image. Howstuffworks.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Vaccines. Digital image. The Liberty Bell Beacon.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

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Cultural Engagement and Understanding

While bored between classes today, I stopped at CVS and I bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. As I walked back to my dorm, I noticed that the back read, “the FDA has said no significant difference has been shown and no test can now distinguish between milk from rBGH treated cows and untreated cows. Not all the suppliers of our other ingredients can promise that the milk they use comes from untreated cows”–Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.

It concerns me that we can’t distinguish regular milk from milk that contains rBGH or recombinant bovine growth hormone. The hormone is used cautiously by farmers to increase milk yields in lactating cows. The FDA claims to have completed thorough research on rBGH after Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Rural Vermont questioned their approval of the chemical. Unfortunately, the results of their studies remain inconclusive.

Americans consume a variety of different food products, typically from seemingly healthy, FDA-approved products found in local supermarkets. Other cultures use different means to decide what food is healthy or socially acceptable to eat. In Italy, pasta has become a national, historic symbol of the culture. In Japan, families consume rice daily because it ceremoniously brings people together. American “frankenfood” has become an important part of our cultural identity (Delaney, 2011: 275). My pint of Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream is not just ice cream, but the product of a technologically based, economically driven American culture.

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Food and Drug Administration. 2009 Report on the Food and Drug Administration’s Review of the Safety of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin. Electronic Document, http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/safetyhealth/productsafetyinformation/ucm130321.htm, accessed October 22, 2013. 

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Seeds of Death

Over the weekend, I convinced my friends to watch the popular documentary “Seeds of Death” with me. The video investigates the disturbing Monsanto scandals, which gained significant publicity and forced Americans to question current practices of genetic modification.

In the movie, biochemist Arpad Pusztai tests the effects of genetic modification and the herbicide RT3 (used by Monsanto) on three healthy newborn rats.  After a few months, Arpad observes that a rat who has been fed genetically modified food develops an abnormally small brain, damage to its immune system, cancer cells, and atrophy of the liver.

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Pusztai’s study reveals the scary truth that we don’t know the potential health risks come with consuming American produce. No significant GMO experiments have been performed on humans, though most of us consume GMOs daily and without thought. I find this particularly interesting considering the amount of time and money Americans spend trying to invest in clean, healthy diets. Do we really know what “healthy” foods are made of? In the babies unit, we discussed how children who are breastfed longer tend to develop improved cognitive functions. Perhaps this is because baby formula contains chemicals that are detrimental to health.

It is shocking that Monsanto can assert control over smaller farming industries. Even at a federal level, Monsanto is powerful. However, who are we to criticize Monsanto if the company is helping to feed our ever-expanding population without any known health risks? As a culture, we should invest more time into discovering exactly how the foods produced by big corporations affect our health and wellbeing.

Digital image. The Liberty Beacon. TLB Staff, 29 Dec. 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Gary Null and Richard Polonetsky, dirs. 2012 Seeds of Death. 90 min. Gary Null and Associates.  New York, New York.

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A Deeper Understanding

 While I have a basic understanding of genetically modification, I thought it best to research further into the controversial issues surrounding genetically modified organisms, such as their effects on the environment as well as their international implications.

Due to concerns over GMOs and their potential to limit biodiversity, in 2000, approximately 135 nations signed the Cartagena Protocol. The Protocol establishes an Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) to ensure that countries are provided with necessary information (food labels, health risks, etc.) before agreeing to transport food products into their territories.

Interestingly enough, the United States, which is the largest exporter and producer of GMOs, is not a member of the Protocol. After extensive research into this topic, I am still uncertain as to why the United States has yet to accept the agreement.

Less developed nations such as South Africa don’t allow the importation of produce from the United States or Canada because these countries do not clearly specify the amount or type of GMOs they transport. Poorer countries lack the financial resources to conduct testing on GMOs and many do not want to risk introducing potentially dangerous genetically modified products into their cultures.

Having all nations agree to the terms of the Protocol seems like a quick fix to many of the issues concerning GMOs. I don’t understand what is preventing the United States and other nations from adopting this agreement. Furthermore, wouldn’t it prove beneficial to everyone if we simply labeled all our foods? This reminds me of our discussion on government policies and gay rights. To me, it seems easiest to extend equal rights and benefits to homosexual couples. However, it’s not that simple. Gay rights are regulated at the federal level and are a concern to tax payers as well as national legislators.  Our complex system of government and policy-making makes it hard to understand the reasoning behind any of our policies, including those involving food.

Anton Christo Welgemoed.                                                                           2007 Genetically Modified Organisms: tamed kitten or tiger by the tail? Electronic Document, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23252665, accessed October 20. 

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An Introduction

 Recently I’ve become more aware of the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding animal suffering. In my First Year Seminar, Killing and Saving, we have been debating the idea that animals deserve equal moral consideration, reading articles by utilitarian animal activist, Peter Singer. As an avid pet-lover and a dedicated volunteer at a pet shelter, I find myself siding with Singer. In particular, Singer has encouraged me to think objectively about animal exploitation and the popular practice of genetic modification in our culture.

To investigate this topic further, I conducted a few short interviews with students on my floor. One pre-med major named Walker surprised me as he looked at the topic from a cross-cultural perspective. Walker described to me his experiences abroad in Kenya, where there is never enough food to go around. He specifically recalls interacting with children who were forced to eat mud when their main food, ugadi, was in short supply. In many instances, these children consumed parasites and became even more malnourished and sickly. According to Walker, “genetically modified crops have the potential to ensure food production in Kenya and other less developed nations.”

While I am a strong supporter of combating hunger, I can’t help but wonder about the negative consequences associated with consuming and distributing GMOs. For class, we read “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari” which describes how food in some cultures is distributed equally, placing no one person above someone else. This egalitarian system works well in cultures where resources are limited (Angeloni, 2013: 10).  Wouldn’t introducing genetically modified foods into these environments force them to change their system and rethink their humble cultural practices? Through this blog, I hope to learn more about how GMOs affect our culture as well as cultures across the globe.

Walker Smock, tape-recording, Norton, Massachusetts, 7 October 2013

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