Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are hugely contested for a variety of reasons. This post briefly presents why so-called genetically engineering our food raises significant human rights issues.
There are many reasons why genetically modified organisms (GMOs) continue being a very contentious issue: are they dangerous for people and planet? Intertwined relations between lobbying, science, politics and multinational organisations render it very difficult to ascertain to which degree biotechnology poses a risk to human health and the environment. The current track record of GMO usage as well as of GMO-producing and selling companies offer ample evidence that GMOs represent significant dangers to the right to adequate food, the right to health and our urgent need for a viable environment for survival (to phrase it for those who do not like to think of a human right to a safe environment).
There are already only a few multinational companies on the GMO market and they have enormous power over what is grown on the fields and, consequently, placed on our tables. This power imbalance restricts the availability of a wide diversity of food and renders it more difficult to access adequate food. This impacts, on the one hand, farmers and workers at the beginning of the supply-chain. To give only a few examples, they are not allowed to grow their own seeds or, as hired labour, are paid too little to feed themselves. Consumers, on the other hand, do not have the option to know what they eat, and cannot access other choices, for example in regions in the US where GMOs have spread and contaminated organic food.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly if we look at the huge amount of corporate power, current regulatory schemes do not prove to be adequate in ascertaining the risks posed by GMOs to our health and the environment. Whilst the danger of GMO food itself to humans remains scientifically contested, there are clear links that GM food combined with the pesticides – which must be used alongside cultivation of GMOs – cause harm to insects and mammals. The three GMO maize strains discussed for cultivation in the EU on Friday, 27th of January 2017, are already contested for this very reason. The most known pesticide used with GMOs is called Roundup Ready and contains glyphosate. The carcinogenity of glyphosate was strongly debated in 2016. Prof Séralini and his team have tested GM maize and Roundup Ready in feeding trials on rats and mice for longer periods – 2 years – than Monsanto’s 90-day trial prescribed by regulatory agencies (cf. photo). The results show
“both GM maize NK603 and Roundup caused serious kidney and liver damage and an increased and earlier development of tumours, leading to an increased rate of mortality [in rats].”
Even if you have full control over your food, just by living around people who use Roundup in their gardens, you are already exposed to the widely used pesticide. If you find this worrying, sign the petition by the European Citizens’ Initiative to ask the EU Commission to ban glyphosate.
Since the debate on GMOs is marked by a huge lack of transparency: I have been translating for the GMO-critical non-profit GMWatch since 2006.