The Scary Science of Frankenfood
Our relationship with food is somewhat strange, when you think about it. We expect food to make us stronger, faster, and healthier – while we sit in front of the television eating. Our food also keeps promising us all that and more – fish sticks may be bad for you, but not the kind that comes with Omega 3 fatty acid, which is good for you!
It’s a real miracle that these adverts actually increase sales, considering many kids these days don’t know that milk comes from cows. Whoever coined the phrase “ignorance is bliss” surely didn’t think that it would be applied to food. The science of food is now too advanced for the average person. Even a pharmacist probably wouldn’t understand what’s in your food by reading the labels on the back.
What happened to the good old days when a lettuce was simply a lettuce and all you had to do was wash the dirt and bugs off it? Now, you have a choice between different kinds of lettuce, organic lettuce and may be soon in future, GM (genetically modified) lettuce. Currently, it’s not necessary to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs), so you don’t see it in the shelves. Does it mean you are not eating it? If you are living in the UK or a country that is part of the European Union, probably not because neither allows GM crop cultivation. If you are living in the US, you’ve probably been eating GM food since the late 90s.
The first genetically modified food was a ‘yeast’, introduced to the UK market in the early 90s. Around the same time, a tomato called FlavrSavr was introduced by a California company in the US market. The tomato was modified to last longer after picking and was sold even on the European markets for a few years before GM crops suddenly came under fire. By then though, millions of hectares of land were already being planted with GM crops like corn, soya and rice all over the world. While the UK and Europe have stalled further cultivation, it’s going strong in the US and some other developing countries as well.
So, what makes people so afraid of the GM food that we fondly call Frankenfood? After all, mixed marriages work fine don’t they? So what if your cabbage has been modified to kill caterpillars and your fish has enhanced DNA that makes it immune to some diseases that you never really knew about? How does that bother you? Well, it’s just that no one can really prove that eating that fish with modified DNA isn’t going to turn future generations into gilled monsters! Even if that wasn’t happening, what about living with the guilt of having wiped out a whole generation of caterpillars!
Seriously though, the repercussions of tempering with nature in such a fashion has been dealt extensively in the media and some scientific white papers as well. If one occasionally browses through Discovery Channel or National Geography, it is possible to stumble upon some facts about the environment and how the existence of each creepy crawly is important to the entire ecological system.
However, a delicate check of public opinion figures against the sales figure of GM food show a proportional growth in both. As one Wired article points out, “In August 2006, the Center for Food Safety released a factsheet that stated, “the depth of market rejection of GE foods is arguably unparalleled by any other consumer product.” It’s hard to square these statements with Monsanto’s (GM food seller) $689,000,000 in net income during 2006.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we do not practice what we preach! The truth is that a bulk of the genetically modified food is in the form of soya and corn, which forms a part of the innocent vegetable oil we use daily. Even sneakier is the use of GM animal feed, which are fed mostly to the farm animals that make up for protein diet. So that chicken you roasted on Sunday may have had its fill of GM crop before it came to your table!
But, if they are so bad and scary why are they still being grown and sold? Because, apart from being commercially viable (many GM crops are resistant to pests) scientists are adamant that GM crops can save the world, wipe out hunger, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, poverty (and your credit card debts!?). Or may be not.
Essentially, the question is whether we should play with our food at the DNA level or stick to the simple joy of growing it naturally and not needing to know its pedigree before eating it. Are our demands in this age too high for our food to cope with? May be we should ease up on the food and look into all those demands to see why the natural born rice can’t save the third world country as well. But the fact is, like in the case of the wonder sheep Dolly, we can’t probably stop science from butting into the field of food. But that doesn’t mean you can just sit down and take it (or eat it, in this case). You can make your voice heard by supporting the many organizations that lobby against GMOs. If you live in a country where they allow GMOs, write to your representative, telling them that you do not wish to eat genetically modified food. There are many ways of growing and cultivating food, playing mad scientist is not one of them.
By Maria Belgado