So you've heard about those creepy Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that are infiltrating our food supply? You know, the ones that are irreversibly altering some of the world's staple crops? Okay. Now what? You gonna bury your head in the soil or get off your comfy GMO cotton couch and do something? Well, before you embark on the road to bad-ass, here are 10 things you need to know about genetically modified foods. Because when you hit the anti-GMO trail, you'll be up against the big boys like Monsanto. Oh, and when you make your protest sign, be sure to spell "genetically" right. Typos, like GMOs, are just plain wrong.
1. KNOW YOUR GMO. Flounder genes in tomatoes? Cattle genes in fish? OMG! Yup, those are GMOs—when genes from one organism are inserted into the DNA of another to create traits like pest or drought resistance. They can come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. You've probably eaten a handful of them already today, and it's not even lunchtime yet. They're mostly in soy, corn, canola, cotton and sugar beets. Big agribusiness continues to spread these experimental seeds across the land, claiming we need them to feed an overpopulated world. Yet independent studies over the past decade show that GMOs can pose serious risks to humans, animals and the environment—from allergies and infertility to organ damage and cancer. Hungry for lunch?
2. KNOW YOUR FOOD. You wouldn't put arsenic in your gas tank, so why fill your bowl up with Corn Flakes? About 80% of packaged foods contain GMOs, from cooking oils, sodas, and cereals to dairy and soy products, but most people don't know they're eating them because they're not labeled. A survey showed that 93% of Americans want to know if their food has GMOs in it, but the biotech and processed-food behemoths don't want us to know because then we won't buy them. That means the onus is on us to know what all those scary-sounding ingredients actually mean. I don't know about you, but I have better things to do on a Saturday night than to wiki "maltodextrin." That's more of a Tuesday night thing.
4. KNOW YOUR GOVERNMENT. How come the FDA approved GMOs without proper testing? Because Monsanto said they were safe. Even though FDA scientists repeatedly warned of possible health risks, the FDA official in charge was Monsanto’s former attorney, later their vice president, and now the US Food Safety Czar, Michael Taylor. Between 1999 and 2009, the top food and ag biotech firms spent over half a billion dollars lobbying Congress to deregulate GMOs and prevent labeling. Stories of strong-arm tactics, bribes and threats are rampant throughout the history of the GMO approval process and promotion of them around the world. And the head of the USDA, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, has approved three new GMO crops since he's been in office. Go, USA!
5. KNOW YOUR GEOGRAPHY. GMOs are now grown in 29 countries? Congratulations, Monsanto! Lobbying foreign governments and buying up seed companies really paid off! But 20 international food and conservation groups reported that GMOs have not only failed to increase the yield of any food crop, they've created the growth of "superweeds," forcing farmers to use more chemicals (cha-ching!). Tragically, over the last decade, 250,000 farmers in India have committed suicide over failed crops and insurmountable debt—the vast majority, growers of Monsanto’s Bt cotton. On the upside, over 50 countries now have GMO labeling, including Europe, China and Russia, and many are banning GMOs. After Haiti's devastating earthquake, the Haitian people unanimously rejected 475,000 tons of free Monsanto seed. Go, rest of the world!
6. KNOW YOUR HISTORY. Uprooting civilizations. Though the Mexican people oppose GMOs, Monsanto has still managed to spread its seed, wiping out many of the country's native corn strains that have adapted to local soils over thousands of years. The Mesoamerican civilization was built on corn, and it has deep religious and spiritual importance to their identity as well as their diet. Much of the heritage varieties now have GMO contamination from pollen or seed that has blown onto farms from GMO crops, forcing small indigenous farmers to leave their land since the crops won't grow without Monsanto's expensive, toxic chemicals. If the Aztecs and Mayans had subsisted on GMO corn, I'd hate to think what their pyramids would have looked like. Especially the food pyramid.
8. KNOW YOUR POLITICS. The seeds of change in California. We have a chance to get mandatory labeling of GMO food on the California ballot for the first time in 2012. But getting an initiative on the ballot is a time-sensitive, carefully orchestrated endeavor. Starting in January, we'll have about 150 days to gather up to 800,000 signatures. Meanwhile, the GMO industry is gearing up to crush us, so we have to be poised to fight their deep pockets with our bad-ass, grass-roots offensive. Just think. If GMO labeling is passed in California, it's only a matter of time 'til the other states follow. What happens in California won't stay in California.
9. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES. A pesticide in every bite. This is the first generation that will grow up on foods spliced with genes that produce risky, untested insecticides. GMO soy, corn and cotton are grown with the Bt toxin—a built-in pesticide thousands of times more concentrated than sprays. But where does it say that on your infant formula? We don't tell corporations and lobbyists who they can buy. Why should they decide what we can eat?
10. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. Buh bye, lazy ass. Hello, bad-ass. Still sitting on your Bt cotton couch? Well, did you know that if just 5% of the population rejects GMOs, then the food makers will stop putting them in their products? It happened in Europe. Why not here? But first we have to get them labeled so people know what GMOs are. So be a bad-ass and demand the right to know.
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