April 8, 2012
Genetically Modified Foods
In March 2011, a group of United States farmers sued Monsanto Company, a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, for contaminating their organic crops with genetically modified seeds (Gillam 1). These farmers argue that Monsanto’s “growing market dominance” is putting farmers, especially organic farmers, “under assault” because, currently, if a farmer’s “organic seed becomes contaminated with Monsanto’s patented biotech seed germplasm,” Monsanto can sue them for a violation of their patent on genetically modified seeds (Gillam 1). Although many US farmers prefer to use Monsanto’s patented “Round-Up Ready soybeans, corn and cotton” because of their “ability to withstand herbicide treatments,” others feel their “pure, organic seeds” are becoming less healthful due to cross-pollination with Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds (Gillam 2).
The fact is, even though cross-pollination between Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds and organic seeds cannot be easily controlled or prevented, between 1997 and April 2010, Monsanto filed “144 patent infringement lawsuits against farmers it said made use of its seed without paying required royalties” (Gillam 2). In addition, out of the total cases that have gone to court, all of the rulings were in Monsanto’s favor (“Saved Seed and Farmer Lawsuits” 1). With the help of Monsanto and other smaller genetically modified food corporations, ninety-one percent of soy, eighty-five percent of corn, and eighty-eight percent of cottonseed currently produced are genetically modified (Black 1). Perhaps a closer examination into what genetically modified foods are, the benefits and consequences of using genetically modified foods, and how Americans view these foods will give more insight into how genetically modified foods should be regulated and produced in the United States.
The genetic modification of food, according to Dictionary.com, means that they are “derived from an organism whose DNA has been altered for the purpose of improvement or correction of defects” (“Genetically Modified” defn. 1). Genetically modified (GM) foods were introduced in the United States in the mid 1990s and play a role in the production of about seventy percent of the food in grocery stores (Han and Harrison 1). Robin Mather, author of “The Threats From Genetically Modified Foods”, concluded, “in 2010, as much as 86 percent of corn, up to 90 percent of soybeans, and nearly 93 percent of cotton grown were GM varieties” (42).
Genetically modified foods have positive qualities that could benefit people across the United States. GM crops have benefits such as lower production costs, reduced pesticide use, and a higher resistance to crop diseases (Han and Harrison 1). The research completed by Felicia Wu, assistant professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh, concluded that with the production of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, the United States could see an annual gain of $530 million (cited in Wu 1). Furthermore, Robin Mather states that, “Inserting the Bt genes makes the plant produce bacterial toxins, thereby killing the insects that could damage it” (42). These genes are in the Bt corn which is why it is one of the GM crops that will reduce the amount of pesticides used on food, therefore making workers healthier and easing the amount of money needed for pesticides (Wu 8). Not only do GM foods lower the use of pesticides and production costs, according to Susan Miles et al. in “Attitudes Towards Genetically Modified Food with a Specific Consumer Benefit in Food Allergic Consumers and Non-food Allergic Consumers,” they also have a longer shelf life and are cheaper for the consumer (802). The genes in GM foods allow them not to spoil as quickly and for them to fight off damaging insects (Miles et al. 802). In conclusion, genetically modified foods are designed in a way in which they have