The GM food debate is more complicated than just GM food

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Eyink (Wikimedia Commons)

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, I want to congratulate the author of The Peak’s article “Why Can’t We Eat Like Europeans?,” published June 1, with her weight loss and newfound awareness of her diet and lifestyle.

But I feel like GM foods are being unfairly blamed.

The problem is that health issues are so incredibly nuanced and complex that it’s really difficult to tease out what’s really going on.

So what I’m hoping to persuade you is that in a similar way, the GM food debate isn’t as simple as whether GM foods are safe.

Firstly, food is different in North America for a lot of reasons. One of which is the corporate environment that we do our business in. Monsanto, a frighteningly affluent organization, has employed some shady business practices to become a major stakeholder in the American corn and soy market.

The company sues farms that have fields that are accidentally cross pollinated by their GM crops because of the patents that they have on the artificially added genes. Even if their GM crops were perfectly safe to eat, their business practices would still be shady.

So companies using patent law to run competitors out of business is definitely a mark against GM crops. But even if that didn’t happen, agricultural practice isn’t great as is. In order to increase efficiency, huge farms will cultivate the same crop in bulk. This makes economic sense, but it also makes the crop incredibly vulnerable to pests and disease because usually the whole field is genetically the same, GM or not.

Food is different in North America for a lot of reasons. One of which is the corporate environment that we do our business in.

As a result, farms rely on pesticides and other chemicals to a huge degree. In recent years, North America has seen a huge drop in bee populations which have been linked to overuse of these pesticides; we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot because without bees, we can’t pollinate our crops that we’ve been spraying with pesticides.

Another factor that complicates the GM food debate is that even if a certain food is safe, too much of it still might be incredibly bad for you if you eat too much of it. North American food is much sweeter than its European counterparts, usually due to added sugar. Regardless of whether it comes from a GM crop or not, that added sugar can still lead to increased risk for diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease, and stroke.

So after all of this, it might not even matter whether GM foods are safe because of the myriad of things that surround them. But I did some research anyway.

I’ll confess that I was looking forward to finding something definitive that concluded that GM foods were perfectly safe. But when I read a scientific article that said so, I saw that some of the scientists worked for Monsanto. So I looked again and found another, but the results were inconclusive. Then I kept looking.

What I found in the end was a huge body of work showing that people are actually pretty confused about whether GM foods are safe or not. There seem to be just as many studies that say they’re dangerous as that say they’re safe, and a lot of scientists are saying that more work needs to be done.

So what I think it boils down to is this: if you’re a politician, pass laws that prevent agricultural companies from screwing farmers over, if you’re a farmer, try to use as few pesticides a possible, and if you’re a person who cares about their health, eat a healthy diet. But at the end of the day, blaming health problems on GM foods, or calling them universally good or bad, is oversimplifying something very complicated.