It is quite alarming that the former Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, declared his intention to support an EU proposal to permit the use of Genetically Modified (GM) animal feed in Europe. He has also declared support for the sale of food, food ingredients and feed containing GM Maize. (Irish Times Wed Feb 9).
The seeds of GM crops are patented by the agrichemical corporations that promote them and farmers growing these crops are not permitted to engage in the age old practice of saving seeds. Instead they are obliged to buy new seed each year and pay a ‘technology fee’ as well. Farmers who attempt to save seed are sued. When GM pollen fertilises non GM crops of adjacent farmers these farmers are also subjected to court cases for patent infringement.
Many crops are genetically engineered to be resistant to the specific herbicides manufactured by the company selling them. In countries that grow GM crops farmers must also purchase the matching herbicides. This is because of ‘Terminator Technology’ where certain GM crops are bred to self-destruct if not sprayed with a complementary chemical. Thus the farmers are further beholden to the agrichemical companies.
The genes that are introduced into plants are not necessarily from other plants. Strawberries, for example, have been genetically modified with DNA from the Arctic Char. Could this cause a problem for people with fish allergies? The very act of modifying DNA results in the synthesis of new proteins. These new proteins may have allergenic properties which, for people at risk of anaphylaxis, could have fatal consequences. And how will people of the Jewish or Islamic faiths be able to tell if genetic material from pigs is used in the foodstuffs they purchase? Is there a danger of the development of ailments similar to mad cow disease if animals are fed crops that are modified with animal DNA? The GM issue gives rise to an awful lot of unanswered questions.
And where are the independent trials? In order for drugs to be released on to the free market they have to undergo rigorous testing. Yet GM foods don’t appear to be getting many human trials. There is clearly a need for these and not just at the point of consumption. There needs to be testing right the way through the process because it is not yet clear when, or where, human health may be compromised. In 2003, at pollen producing time GM maize growing in Sitio Kalyong in the Philippines caused illness in over 50 villagers living adjacent to the crop. They experienced fever, skin ailments, dizziness, respiratory and intestinal problems. These health issues arose before the crop was even fertilised.
If GM foods, and items derived from GM crops, are safe, wonderful and superior to the regular product why aren’t they labelled as being so amazing? Advertisers generally bombard us with stories of ‘new, improved’ products but where is the spin on GM goods? The silence is deafening. Mr Smith is enabling these agrichemical corporations by supporting these EU proposals. If there is no demand for a product there will be no supply. Irish people need to look at the bigger picture. GM crops may be cheaper to buy but there is a much higher price to pay.