Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | December 10, 2007

GMO vs organic debate, revisited

Dr. Saturnina Halos, the coalition’s research director, says food modification is “the use of living materials to produce or change food,” such as the use of fermentation to change salted fish into patis (what Visayans call Rufina), soy beans into toyo or soy sauce, or milk to cheese.
Of the three BCP biotechnology categories, organic advocates have no problem with the first, that is, the traditional approach. These include the use of fermentation to alter the taste and application of some foods. The highest organic standard applies the Demeter seal on biodynamically processed wines, which as the world knows are fermented. The Demeter seal fetches triple the price of conventional wines.
Then there is the borderline, which combines the use of familiar methods with the assistance of new organisms and technologies. Most wouldn’t pass muster with organic standards because most use preservatives or synthetic coloring. Organic standards forbid the use of nitrate or nitrite in processed food such as our tocinos.
What raises the hackles of organic advocates is genetic modification-the artificial insertion of genes from similar or entirely different organisms into another organism to create new and different plants, foods or other living things.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) advocates the total ban on GMOs in all agriculture. It argues that GMOs pose unprecedented danger for the entire biosphere and the particular economic and environmental risks it poses for organic producers.
IFOAM asserts that GMOs causes negative and irreversible environmental impacts; release of organisms which have never before existed in nature and which cannot be recalled; pollution of the gene-pool of cultivated crops, micro-organisms and animals; pollution off farm organisms; denial of free choice, both for farmers and consumers; violation of farmers’ fundamental property rights and endangerment of their economic independence; practices which are incompatible with the principles of sustainable agriculture; and unacceptable threats to human health.
Dr. Halos bares her ignorance, however, of organic standards. Says she, “there are many other things to fear in foods than their being subject to genetic modification.” Among these factors are food colorings, especially red food coloring, which has been linked to cancer.
As a court-annexed mediator who seeks for convergences as well as divergences in disputes, I’d say there are grounds for an agreement between the BCP and the organic advocates. Look at Halos’ statement and you might as well be reading IFOAM standards: hormones in animal feed which can be transferred not just to the animals that eat the feed, but also the humans who consume these animals; additives that pose health threats such as hypertension, and kidney and liver disease; and even pesticide residue in vegetables, which can prove toxic.
What I find hilarious in Halos’ ignorance that even organically grown food, touted as the “safe” and “healthy” alternative can pose risks, such as bacteria carried in the manure used by organic farmers. “And there is no regulation of organic foods.”
News flash! The organic industry is one of the most-highly regulated. It bans not just GMOs but hormones, synthetic additives, and most certainly pesticides. It follows strict standards and organic farms are stringently scrutinized and inspected. Third parties, not with industry claims, generally do certification and labeling.
Best of all, it proudly displays the organic seal. Can the genetic engineering industry proudly label its products “genetically modified?” Last I looked, the industry is fighting might and main mandatory labeling. None have voluntarily labeled their GM products as such. What is the industry afraid of?
Safe? In a pigs-eye!



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