With the growth of the locavore and sustainability movements, agriculture in Hawaii has witnessed an increase in demand for local, organic products. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the social and ecological benefits of eating local, organic foods. However, it seems that the public has not yet grown privy to the environmental and ethical degradation that is inherent to genetic modification. Agriculture in Hawaii remains largely contingent upon genetic modification to create more profitable beef and crops, disregarding the potential for negative long-term consequences.
At Gingerhill, we work to minimize our consumption of GMO products. It is our goal to educate the public on the nature and implications of GMO’s and on how minimizing their utilization will impact agriculture in Hawaii.
What Are GMO’s?
Genetic modification requires the transference of genes across different species. Genetically modified food originates in a lab and contains DNA from another species. In order to create genetically modified organisms, scientists either shoot DNA into a plate of cells or utilize bacteria to carry foreign DNA into a cell. Scientists then genetically alter the cell to create a plant.
Over 90% of mass produced crops like corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically modified. Because these products are used to create sweeteners and fillers that are added to processed food products, it is extremely difficult to find non-GMO packaged food. Today, up to 80% of processed foods contain GMO’s.
Many scientists argue that the United States’ Food and Drug Administration does not regulate GMO’s heavily enough. The FDA stipulates few standards for safety and quality, and companies are not required to label their products. The members of the FDA that defend the safety and deter the regulation of GMO’s are the same individuals that govern large corporations, like Monsanto, that create genetically modified products.
Some scientists argue that GMO’s promise to ensure a healthier future. Companies use genetic modification to increase the resilience and quality of their produce. Some are even modifying foods to make them healthier, adding vitamins, minerals, and properties that might reduce cancer risk. However, genetic modification has a cascade effect, altering or abolishing naturally occurring genetic patterns. These genetic alterations could render GMO’s more detrimental than healthy. Are the risks of genetic modification really worth the proposed benefits?
GMO’s and Nutrition
Even after eliminating GMO’s from our diets, their genetic effects on our bodies will prevail. Thus, it is crucial that we understand the nutritional risks that GMO consumption poses.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine cites studies in which GMO food consumption has caused disrupted gastrointestinal and immune health, organ health, and fertility. In animals, genetic modification can alter the activity of digestive enzymes and impair liver function. The consumption of genetically modified foods also impairs insulin regulation, which, in combination with the sugar-rich American diet, is a recipe for diabetic disaster.
It is clear that our bodies often do not respond well to GMOs. In fact, genetic modification may be a contributing factor in the recent increase in food intolerances. For example, soy allergies became more prevalent after the introduction of GMO soy. Though scientists have not yet established a causal link between genetic modification and soy allergies, they have found that the modification process produces a new allergenic compound in soy.
Scientists claim that the side effects of GMO’s can be sporadic and unpredictable, capable of affecting a host of our bodies’ natural functions. The threat of GMO’s is likely due to their genetic impact upon the human microbiome. When we consume genetically modified food, DNA from GMOs integrate into the DNA of endogenous microbes, altering their behavior in unpredictable ways.
Despite these alarming findings, the FDA continues to stifle existing and further studies on genetic modification, preventing us from uncovering its long-term effects. Many members of the FDA are representatives of the biotech industry that have a stake in the exposure of the impact of genetic modification.
GMOs and the Environment
Even if genetic modification didn’t pose any sort of nutritional risk, it is incredibly harmful to the environment.
Scientists design GMOs to be able to resist chemical damage from pesticides and herbicides. Thus, their production paved the way for sharp increase in herbicide use. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide. The result: weeds became herbicide-resistant, compelling the biotech industry to produce ever more toxic weed killers.
These toxic compounds have multiple negative repercussions. Roundup use correlates with impaired fertility and hormonal balance, cancer, and birth defects. They also disrupt the microbial environment of the soil, which has negative consequences for soil fertility in the long run. Finally, pesticide and herbicide use results in farm runoff that poisons our water supply and ecosystems. Genetically modified agriculture in Hawaii, in particular, poses a risk to the health of oceanic ecosystems.
Considering that the benefits of GMO’s are narrow, the price seems unjustified. Statistically, GMOs do not predictably increase crop yields. In fact, some studies have found them less productive than their conventionally farmed counterparts. Instead, they further denigrate the land that we need to be regenerating. Food production must increase by 70% in order to meat the needs of the projected world population in 2050. At this point in history, we must direct our energies towards productivity without depletion.
GMOs are also harmful to vulnerable populations. For example, when patented GMO seeds cross-pollinate with plants on small farms, the corporations that own them launch lawsuits that have left several small American farmers bankrupt.
Biotech companies, in “humanitarian” interests, have provided African farmers with sterile, genetically modified seeds. Instead of providing impoverished farmers with an ongoing source of income, biotech companies create future demand for their products. Thus, they defend their bottom line over the vitality of land and people.
The Non-GMO Solution and Agriculture in Hawaii
GMO’s pose nutritional, ecological, and social risks that are hardly worth the proposed benefits. Because the FDA has been known to fire or retract funding from scientists that expose the risks of GMO’s, the implications of genetic modification may be far more grave than we are anticipating. Furthermore, the money put into research on GMO’s diverts government funding for more socially sound agricultural operations.
The way that we conduct agriculture in Hawaii can either increase or minimize the risks that GMOs generate. If we can encourage agriculture in Hawaii to eschew the use of GMOs and encourage the public to shop at local farmers’ markets instead of large grocery stores, we can collectively decrease Hawaii’s consumption of GMOs. Doing so promises a brighter future, both for agriculture in Hawaii and the lives of our people.