As long as we allow GM in our food chain we are walking petrie dishes
While Monsanto has become the focus of many people’s justified ire, the real issue extended beyond the company that has brought us such scientific ‘miracles’ as Agent Orange and aspartame to the continued skulduggery of all the biotech companies including Syngenta, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience and DuPont Pioneer to name a few.
Everyone who marched or supported the march had their own legitimate gripes about biotech. For me the patenting of seeds, and the patenting of DNA are among the most urgent. Using the law to stealthily take away our ownership of our food and our bodies (and possibly our health) is abhorrent.
As we monitored the progress of the marches a friend of mine asked: If you eat genetically modified food and the DNA survives inside of you, does Monsanto own you?
It’s not such a crazy question so I hope you will all indulge the length of this comment as I tease out some basic thoughts.
As little as 10 years ago we were absolutely assured that no GM DNA or its resulting RNA , survives inside of us. Now we know that’s not true; genetic material in GM soya, for example, has been shown to transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. And it’s not just DNA. The Bt toxin produced by GM insect resistant crops has also been found in the blood of pregnant women and their babies. The more we eat the more likely it is that there will be an unintended consequence.
As long as we allow GM in our food chain we are walking petrie dishes. We are the collateral damage of uncontrolled lab experiments facing an uncertain future.
As the evidence evolves, biotech companies argue that it doesn’t matter because this DNA doesn’t have any effect in our bodies. But these endlessly slippery arguments, again, fly in the face of science.
When we eat we don’t just eat a mixture of vitamins and minerals; we are eating the DNA of the plant or the animal. And whether that DNA is natural or genetically modified some of it survives and interacts with processes in our own bodies.
Most recently, for example, Chinese researchers have found small pieces of rice RNA in the blood and organs of humans who eat rice. This genetic material, say the researchers, binds to receptors in human liver cells and influences the uptake of cholesterol from the blood.
Monsanto’s website stresses several times that there is no need to test the safety of GM foods in humans. This view is based on a decades-old, dogmatic and, as science progresses, simply wrong understanding of genetics which suggests a) that each individual gene has only one function and does not interact with other genes or with the body in any other way and b) that 95% of the human genome is ‘junk’ anyway – that is it has no function in the body – and biotech companies are therefore at liberty exploit this ‘junk’ for their own dubious purposes. This theory was soundly debunked just last year.
In reality genes have multiple functions and diverse activity in the body, many of which are not yet fully understood. Today’s ‘junk’ is tomorrow’s essential cog in the wheel of life.
Biotech companies blather endlessly about ‘substantial equivalence’ – the belief that plants produced via genetic modification are, to all intents and purposes, the same as their natural relatives and therefore ‘safe’. But this claim contradicts their other assertion which has allowed them to patent not only the processes by which GM plants are produced, but the resulting DNA itself. Patent law is complex but at heart it relies on the fact that whatever is being patented is ‘substantially different’ enough from what exists in nature to warrant a commercial patent.
For the companies involved, and for the lawyers, judges and politicians who make the decisions about what we eat, this isn’t about patenting seeds or DNA. The issue is not about people or food – it’s about law. If you need proof of this look at who was amongst the cheerleaders for biotech in the recent Bowman vs Monsanto case. BSA/The Software Alliance, a trade association created to advance the interests of the software industry, and which represents companies like Apple and Microsoft, warned in an amicus brief to the court that a decision against Monsanto might “facilitate software piracy on a broad scale” because software, like seeds, can be easily replicated/reproduced. Food, computer software; it’s all the same stuff in the wacky world of patent law.
The millions who marched against Monsanto may or may not have known all of this. It hardly matters because this increasingly cohesive public knew what counts – that biotech companies have overstepped the mark in their greed, their lies, their backroom politics, their lack of familiarity with the concept of ethics, and in what appears to be a menacing black hole where their humanity should be.
The public marched on the moral high ground, knowing absolutely that getting GMOs out of our food system is the only safe and sensible thing to do. The March Against Monsanto was a warning shot fired across the bows of the biotech. The next time we – the concerned public, the informed activists, the scientists who know better and are willing to speak out – shoot, we won’t miss.
Pat Thomas is a former editor of the Ecologist. She is a journalist, author and campaigner and currently a trustee of the UK's Soil Association. This piece was originally published at NYR Natural News.
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