Genetically Modified Products that Surround Us


People have been growing and eating corn since the Mayans began to cultivate it almost 9,000 years ago. We have a shared history with the food we eat. So is it safe to splice genes from other organisms into the food we’ve known for thousands of years? In the depths of the ocean, 3,000 meters below the surface of the water, next to superheated vents live thriving and unimaginable forms of life. Even though the water is as acidic as vinegar, bacteria and single-celled organisms populate this harsh environment that humans could never survive. Soon the corn we have known for thousands of years will contain genes from one of these deep-sea organisms. On Feb.11, the United States Department of Agriculture approved for commercial production a genetically modified type of corn called Enogen, meant for ethanol production. Enogen, developed by the Switzerland based company Syngenta Seeds Inc., contains a synthetic gene derived from micro-organisms found around deep-sea vents. As the genetically modified corn grows, the genes from deep-sea organisms produce an enzyme–amylase–within the corn that will make it easier to convert into ethanol later.

Representatives for corn millers such as General Mills and ConAgra Mills argue that the new amylase producing corn could cross-pollinate with corn meant for human consumption and enter into our food supply. They warn of contaminated corn that will cause crumbly chips and soggy cereals but what about accidentally exposing ourselves to unknown risks from eating genetically modified foods?

Other varieties of genetically modified corn have cross-pollinated before and caused massive food recalls. In 2000, StarLink, a GMO crop only approved for animal consumption, was found in taco shells and chips and caused a recall of over 300 brands of taco shells, as well as a slump in exports to buyers abroad who wanted to avoid their supplies being contaminated with StarLink corn. We should not expose ourselves to more risk from modified corn to make an inefficient alternative fuel.

A debate has swirled around ethanol for the past six years. A 2005 study from UC Berkeley found that after taking into account the inputs to grow corn, and the water and energy used to refine it into ethanol, six units of energy are used to produce one unit of energy from ethanol. Despite this debate, the US government has continued to encourage its production as an alternative to foreign oil. In fact, the Obama administration recently increased the percentage of ethanol that can be mixed into gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent. Other less energy intensive alternative fuels are a better choice for all Americans rather than allowing the production of more genetically-modified corn not intended for human consumption.

Even though the USDA approved Enogen for human consumption in 2007, courts, citizens’ groups, organic farmers, and scientists have questioned many of the USDA’s decisions. In the past year, judges have blocked the production of other USDA approved GM crops including alfalfa and sugar beets. The judges cited the need for environmental impact statements that would force companies to study and consider the impacts of their crops.

Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers in Congress have recently introduced legislation (H.R. 521 and S. 230) to stop the production and sale of genetically-engineered salmon. Why not also introduce legislation to protect Americans from other genetically modified organisms reaching our tables through cross-pollination? Encourage your representatives and senators to consider and write more legislation that protects us from highly controversial GMOs such as Enogen.

Americans no longer are capable of knowing exactly what they are buying at the grocery store. We must stop turning to new, controversial technology to make ethanol a better fuel source. Companies should be held accountable and prove that they have adequately considered the health and environmental impact of their GM crops. The U.S. government can and should begin protecting its citizens from GM crops. With our support, our representatives and senators can pass stricter bans on GMO products so Americans will not unknowingly be exposed to genes from bacteria from the ocean floor.

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