Inside Story America

GM foods: Do we know enough?

We ask if genetically modified crops lead to health issues or aid farming and conservation of natural resources.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands marched against the US food giant Monsanto, across the globe.

In scenes reminiscent of the protests against US-led wars, both in Vietnam during the 1960s and Iraq in 2003, protesters took to the streets in what organisers said to be 436 cities in 52 countries in a ‘March Against Monsanto’.

Monsanto has become the focal point of a global campaign against producers of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

We really want to hit Monsanto and these big companies that are trying to take over, not only the food supply but also the government, we want to hit them from every angle. We want to hit them in the pocket book, we want to hit them politically, we want to give people alternatives to these products and talk about ways that we could create solutions.

by Nick Bernabee, director of social media for the March against Monsanto

Genetically modified (GM) plants are grown from seeds engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits and improve crop yields. 

Corn, cotton, potatoes and wheat are among many other crops grown in the US that are being genetically modified. Some believe they can lead to health problems and harm the environment. Opponents have pushed for mandatory labelling, though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe. Proponents contend that plants grown from GMO seeds allow farmers to grow more food using less resources.

Those who took to the streets wanted to bring awareness to the effects of GMOs, what they are and what effects they are causing to people’s health. They also argue that the science underpinning GMOs is untested at best, and harmful at worst, and that it is unwise to allow a few huge corporations to have such control over the earth’s food supply.

In Washington, companies including Monsanto have successfully lobbied politicians to insert protections for their business interests, sometimes deep in the small print of unrelated legislation.

Next week, however the Farm Bill is due to be considered in the Senate, and it appears it may prove to be an important battleground in the debate over GMOs.

On Wednesday, the US department of agriculture said a strain of GM wheat was found on a farm in Oregan. The wheat strain was developed by Monsanto and last tested in 2005, but never put into use in the face of worldwide opposition to genetically engineered wheat. 

So why does one US company generate so much ire? And why do the US lawmakers go out of their way to promote its interests? Is there enough control or oversight on GM foods?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, disscusses with guests: Nick Bernabee, social media director for the March against Monsanto; Tom Philpott, co-founder of Maverick Farm and writer for Mother Jones magazine; Christopher Cook, author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis; and Ryan Grim, Washington Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post

“Monsanto is primarily a seed company. We sell seeds to farmers. The 21,000 people at Monsanto are proud of our efforts to help improve farm prodcutivity and food quality. Agriculture and its uses are important to each of us. Among the challenges facing agriculture are producing food for our growing population and reducing agriculture’s footprint on the environment …

“… While we respect each individual’s right to express their point of view on these topics, we believe we are making a
contributin to improving agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land, while conserving natural resources such as water and energy.”

– Statement sent to Inside Story Americas by Monsanto, who declined to appear on the show