Comparing Apples and Oranges? It’s Easy When They’re Both Genetically EngineeredDecember 14, 2010
Will we soon wake up to GMO orange juice? Plus more on apples, sugar beets, court decisions, and Hillary Clinton’s attempt to push GMO on Africa.
An insect-borne bacterial disease is ravaging Florida’s orange crops. Commonly called “greening,” the blight (which is caused by the lethal Huanglongbing bacteria, first identified in China over 100 years ago) could wipe out most of Florida’s citrus within seven or eight years.
In response, some government agencies are advocating the creation of genetically engineered pest-resistant orange trees. Officials at the USDA say there may be no other choice, and a report sponsored by the Florida Department of Citrus and US National Academy of Sciences concluded that genetic modification holds the only real long-term hope of fighting the disease.
Currently, there are only two whole fruits on the US market that have been genetically engineered—Hawaiian papaya and one variety of plums. But a vast array of processed foods on the shelves of US supermarkets contain GM corn, soybeans, and sugar beets, including baby formula.
There is, of course, no evidence whatsoever that GMO oranges are safe for the environment or safe for human consumption. On the contrary, numerous studies show that GMOs significantly alter gut bacteria, and it is possible that the recent increases in allergies, asthma, and other diseases that affect the immune system are related to the consumption of foods from GMO crops. Even more frightening, GMOs are causing terrible genetic changes in mammal offspring. Scientists are seeing birth defects, high infant mortality rates, and sterility in hamsters, rats, and livestock fed GMO soy and corn, and some hamster pups even begin growing hair inside their mouths!
Yet government and agribusiness are plunging ahead with plans to create GMO oranges. It’s a quick-fix solution that completely ignores the root causes of the disease, which some experts say include the overuse of pesticides and nutrient-depleted soil.
The fact is, GMO is incredibly lucrative for its developers. GMO oranges, like other GMO crops, require new seeds to be purchased every year for plantings. Their seeds are programmed to self-destruct every year, requiring farmers to purchase new ones. The GMO crop’s patents also require regular fees and royalties to be paid to the companies that produce them, resulting in even higher profits.
It’s big business for the government, too. The US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, is responsible for US military operations in and military relations with all African nations except Egypt. According to several leaked documents (published by WikiLeaks, and analyzed by journalist Richard Brenneman), AFRICOM was created by the Pentagon in 2007 in part to push GMOs under the guise of structural adjustment and infrastructure improvements. One cable in particular, sent from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to American embassies in Africa, says plainly (under the heading “Food Security and Agriculture”) that one of the priorities of the State Department is to encourage African governments’ “acceptance of genetically modified food and propagation of genetically modified crops.”
This is not about actual food security for Africa. It is about supporting US corporate interests in Africa. AFRICOM is the brainchild of a retired four-star Air Force general who is now a paid lobbyist for the agrofuels industry.
In other news, Monsanto and the pro-GMO lobby received several decisive blows last month.
Germany has laws that make GMO manufacturers liable for any harm their products cause, and they require farmers who grow GMO crops to publicly register the locations of those crops. Monsanto sued, claiming that this prevents farmers from planting genetically engineered crops and was therefore unconstitutional.
Even though their claim seems absurd on its face, the suit dragged on for five years, ending with Germany’s highest court reaffirming that the long-term risks of GMOs are unknown given the current lack of scientific data, and so the German government has an obligation to act cautiously in regards to the preservation of nature for future generations. In its decision, the court repeatedly stated that genetic engineering alters the very structure of life and could have irreversible effects.
The week after that decision, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the immediate destruction of 256 acres of genetically engineered sugar beet seedlings planted in Oregon and Arizona in September. Judge Jeffrey White determined that the seedlings had been planted in violation of federal law and regardless of his previous ruling that made planting of GE sugar beets illegal until the USDA completes an Environmental Impact Statement.
Unfortunately, an appeals court issued an emergency stay and postponed the judge’s ruling, giving the court more time to decide whether or not the plants should remain in the ground while the USDA seeks to overturn Judge White’s original ruling.
The USDA, meanwhile, has just been asked to approve a GMO apple that won’t brown soon after it is sliced. The Canadian biotech company that developed it says this could boost sales of apples for snacks and salads. The non-browning technology appears to benefit apple growers and shippers more than consumers by allowing companies to sell apples that are older than they look.
The US apple industry is trying to decide whether to support the request or not—so far they are unconvinced that consumers would want a GE apple. Or perhaps American consumers are smart enough to know that a little bit of lemon juice will prevent apple slices from browning—and it won’t make their children sterile, either!
If the apple growers fall for this, they shouldn’t be surprised if they find their sales plummeting, since people won’t know which apples are genetically modified and which not.