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Ten facts about GM foods

Genetically modified (GM) foods have always been a subject of controversy, and there is plenty of confusion about whether we’re already eating them, whether they’re safe, and whether they’re good for the environment. Most of the myths about GM are deliberately created by GM companies which are intent on making money through control of the world’s food supply. So we thought it was time to get a few things straight.

1. GM is sneaking into our food

We currently eat small amounts of GM in Australia. Imported GM soy and corn are found in small quantities in additives, starches and oils, and both GM canola and GM cotton seed are grown in Australia and eaten as oil. However, if we do not take action to stop it, GM wheat will be on sale by 2015 and we will end up with GM bread, pasta and noodles on our plate.

2. GM foods have not been proven safe to eat

The way in which GM seeds are created is inherently dangerous. The basic process of genetic engineering can cause unintended and unpredictable consequences that could lead to allergic or toxic reactions.

There is a distinct lack of independent testing on the safety of GM, and the independent studies that do exist have produced alarming results. Analysis of a GM company’s rat-feeding data, retrieved through a court order, found that signs of toxicity in the GM-fed rat group were significantly higher that non-GM fed groups, with greatest impact on the kidney and liver.

This is the first generation of Australians facing a lifetime of exposure to GMOs, and yet the long-term health impacts remain unknown.

3. GM foods are not healthy

Genetic modification of crops to increase its nutrient contain is not only dangerous, it distracts from the age-old fact that we need to eat diverse and healthy diets. In order to increase the vitamin content of a plant, scientists need to interfere with its complex metabolic pathway. This can lead to unexpected and unpredictable effects with dangerous health implications.

So why take the risk? As the Public Health Association of Australia explains, one ‘magic’ food alone cannot prevent disease: “the reduction in risk for disease is affected by the total diet and lifestyle pattern, not by use of an individual food.” ¹

4. GM crops are bad for the environment

While GM companies claim that the use of harmful chemicals has decreased since the inception of GM, the reverse is in fact true. ‘Pesticide plants’ are genetically modified so that the harmful chemical grows inside the plant. While this has reduced the need to spray pesticide, studies have shown the impact to be equally detrimental to good insects and soil health. Twelve years ago, a UK study found that genetically modified Bt corn was lethal to Monarch butterflies.

The overall use of chemicals in conjunction with GM crops has sky-rocketed since GM herbicide-resistant crops came onto the market. The toxic chemical ‘Round-Up’ has been so overused that superweeds have emerged, requiring the application of increasingly more herbicide. Instead of moving towards sustainable farming systems, GM technology further entrenches chemically-intensive agriculture that is neither good for the environment nor good for us.

5. GM foods are inadequately labelled

While the Australian law technically requires labelling of foods containing over 1 percent (per ingredient) of a GM food, gaping loopholes in our laws mean that Australians are effectively eating in the dark.   Processed foods like canola oil, for example, aren’t labelled. Milk, meat and eggs that come from animals fed on GM crops aren’t labelled. Even restaurants and bakeries can use GM ingredients without giving us the right to know.

What’s worse is that our labelling laws are almost never enforced. In 2010, Greenpeace asked state government health agencies how they were ensuring compliance with GM labelling requirements. Four agencies responded, and none of them had done any testing within the previous five years.

Greenpeace believes we all have a right to know what’s in our food. That’s why we have created a Truefood Guide rating Australian companies on whether or not they use GM ingredients. Download your free guide here.

6. GM crops won’t solve world hunger

Food security is a complex problem that will not be solved overnight: it depends on people having access to land, money and a farming system that is resilient to climate change. GM provides none of these. To date, GM crops have failed to increase yield, they have failed under extreme fluctuations in temperature, and they have pushed up the price of seeds due to patents. The UN Agriculture Assessment (IAASTD) stated that: “In developing countries especially, instruments such as patents may drive up costs, restrict experimentation by the individual farmer or public researcher while also potentially undermining local practices that enhance food security and economic sustainability.” ²

In the countries where food production is most needed to fight hunger, about 80 per cent more food can be produced if agroecological practices are applied, not GM. ³

7. GM crops are a dangerous invention

To say that we have been genetically modifying plants for thousands of years is a complete falsehood. A genetically modified organism is produced by taking DNA from one organism and inserting or forcing it into the gene sequence of another organism, or forcing certain genes to switch on or off. Unlike natural selection or selective breeding, GM alters a core function of life. It is this insertion of DNA into the genome, usually at random, that can give rise to completely unpredictable and unintended effects.

8. GM is not the solution to Australia’s drought and salinity problems

Australian farmers need solutions to some serious problems. But while GM companies promise to provide the magic bullet to these issues, the reality is that fertilisers and chemicals used in conjunction with GM are making the problems worse.

Over 400 leading agricultural scientists from around the world reported in the UN Agriculture Assessment (IAASTD) that long-term farming solutions require moving away from industrial agriculture. We need a new emphasis on local knowledge, ecological farming systems, and the application of modern breeding technologies such as Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) which don’t involve the dangers of genetic modification.

9. Conventional crops cannot co-exist with GM

Mounting evidence shows that ‘coexistence’ between GM and non-GM is impossible. Genetically modified organisms are living, breeding things that cannot be controlled once released into the environment.

Contamination of conventional crops is one of the major problems associated with the growing of GM plants. In Australia there is an increasing number of costly contamination cases. Steve Marsh, a wheat farmer from Western Australia, lost years of work when 70% of his crop was recently contaminated by GM canola that washed onto his land in heavy rain. Like many farmers around the world, his livelihood has been devastated, and there is virtually nothing he can do about it.

This is just one more reason why Greenpeace demands a ban on the release of GM organisms into the environment.

10. Being anti-GM is not being anti-science, it is supporting good science

Greenpeace’s position on GM crops is based upon a thorough and ongoing evaluation of the science around GM. GM is potentially dangerous for both human health and the environment, and is almost impossible to recall once it has been released into the environment. Greenpeace is not against using genetic technology in plant breeding. MAS (marker-assisted selection), for example, is a modern biotechnology that makes traditional plant breeding more efficient by identifying the location of desired genes.

Along with hundreds of the world’s leading agricultural scientists who wrote the UN Agriculture Assessment (IAASTD), Greenpeace advocates that the future of farming be guided by agroecology, the science of integrating agricultural production in its global, regional and local ecological, cultural and social context.

Greenpeace believes strongly in a well-funded public research sector which can provide independent environmental, health and agricultural science.

So why are so many companies pushing GM on us?

The world’s seed industry is dominated by four major players– Monsanto, DuPont-Pioneer, Syngenta and Bayer – all of which have special interests in the development of GM. Why? Because GM seeds are subject to very lucrative patents. This means that instead of saving seed from previous harvests, farmers have to buy new seed each year. The majority also have to use the chemical – also owned by the GM company – that is especially designed to be sprayed onto the GM crop, such as Monsanto’s Round-Up.

And just to give you an idea of scale, Monsanto – the very same company that created Agent Orange - has a virtual monopoly over the GM industry, owning 86% of global GM crops.

The power of these multinational giants to advertise and influence politics is enormous.

It is because of commercial interests that GM is being forced onto the research agenda, into our environment, and onto our plates.

However, we do have the right to say ‘no’. We can stop this dangerous genetic experiment with our food and farming. Take action today to keep Australia’s food safe, fair and GM-free.

¹ Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) (2004) “Submission to the ANZFRMC review of health claims on food” PHAA,

² IAASTD 2009. International assessment of agricultural science and technology for development. Island Press.

³ Badgley, C., Moghtader, J., Quintero, E., Zakem, E., Chappell, M. J., Avilés-Vázquez, K., Samulon, A. and Perfecto, I. 2007. Organic agriculture and the global food supply. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22: 86-108

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