Monday, 31 August 2009

Monday, 17 August 2009

Genetically Modified Foods

This is from the Planting Season emails. Written by Scott Cundill.

What are GMO's?

Genetics are the software that determine how living things grow. It is the blueprint for our existence and, as such, it is almost as complicated as we are.

We have two strands of DNA. These strands come together in the middle like rungs of a ladder to create a sequence of what are called base pairs. There are about 3 billion base pairs in the human body. A group of these base pairs is a gene - some contain a few dozen base pairs, some a few hundred. There are about 60,000 genes in the human body - some are turned on and some off and nobody has the faintest idea what most of them actually do.

We do know that each gene within a living organism has a specific function. So, when a scientists discovers which gene in a glow worm is responsible for making it glow, they can then "splice" (or merge) this gene into that of a goldfish. The result - a goldfish that glows in the dark. If you think I'm joking, feel free to buy one right now at

So, what's the problem?

Genes (like everything in life) are interconnected. As soon as you manipulate one gene, research has shown that other genes around it start to switch themselves on or off in attempt to compensate. Nobody knows what effect this new combination will have and, as far as Monsanto and other GM food companies go, they don't seem to care. I'll go into this in more detail later, but a documentary called The World According to Monsanto aired on French TV and very quickly gave the country’s citizens a wake up call. You can watch it here:

Genetic modification is a bit like putting blinkers on a horse that's spent its whole life with his eyes wide open. Suddenly the blinkers go on and the horse goes nuts as it tries to come to terms with what's going on. It may run faster on the track from time to time, but the animal is never the same again.

Now, if you eat a horse with blinkers on, it’s not that different to eating one without blinkers. However, if you eat foods that have been genetically modified, research indicates that the abnormalities within those genes start becoming part of YOUR genetic makeup. In other words, if you eat GM wheat spliced with a gene that creates a natural pesticide, your own stomach could start producing that pesticide because it's now part of your genetic blueprint. GM foods given to rats also showed a sudden change in behaviour which greatly reduced their social interaction with other rats. The fact that GM foods can affect the brain like this shows just how connected and susceptible we really are to slight changes in our DNA.

Based on my research, there is so much negative research on GMO that only a corporation with a most vicious of agenda could be responsible for unleashing it on the human public. To me, it's pretty logical - we are all connected at a quantum level so a small change to our starting point (ie. our genetic blueprint) MUST result in a significant change to us as human beings somewhere down the line, even if this change takes years to manifest. However, my evidence is not conclusive and ironically that's exactly the whole argument against GM foods. There is simply no way this kind of food should be let loose to South Africans (or the world) without proper, independent testing. We cannot rely on the research conducted by the very companies that supply the stuff! Have we learned nothing from the tobacco industry who lied to us all those years ago to tell us that smoking was safe? Or thousands of other products for that matter?

Why would we let this happen?

For one, few people know about them. Also, GM foods have been dubbed the solution to world poverty. They grow better, their yields are higher and they are more resistant to disease than any other kind of farming methods, except proper organic farming. When applied correctly there is no higher yielding, higher nutrient content, healthier or stronger plant in the world than home grown organic food. This is why I am so passionate about this cause.

However, we are not growing our own food. Therefore, there is pressure on our centralised decision making powers to alleviate world poverty by using GM foods that grow well using conventional farming methods. Actually, growing our own food is the solution to world poverty, but there is not much money in it.

There are a couple of commercial reasons for GM foods to be used. Firstly, Monsanto (one of the main GM players) produces the most widely sold pesticide in the world called "Round Up". It just so happens that they also produce special GM seeds which ONLY ROUND UP WILL WORK ON! In fact, Round Up will kill just about every living thing that comes into contact with it EXCEPT for the specific plant that has been genetically engineered to resist it. Monsanto therefore controls both the seed and the pesticide which only that seed is immune to. Now that's marketing baby!

[By the way, ProNutro provides an example of a South African product made from Round Up Ready GM Soy. See here:]
Seeds with an expiry date

It gets worse. You see, GM companies have learned to limit the number of times a seed can germinate. So when you buy the seed, that plant can only reproduce say three times. After that, you are forced to go back to the company that supplied the seed (ie. Monsanto and the like) to buy more. This is a bit worrying considering that the most thing beautiful thing about nature is its ability to reproduce indefinitely. We mess with that and we mess with the perpetual survival of not only that species, but potentially any species that feeds on it.

It still gets worse. You see, GM seeds are patented by these companies, so their intellectual property is protected and enforced by the courts. Anyone found in possession of GM seeds without paying for them is therefore "stealing" and anyone caught selling the plant that was grown from these seeds is infringing their copyright. You laughing yet? Try not to because there have already been hundreds of cases where farmers have been successfully sued by Monsanto and others so badly that their farms, often many generations old, have been lost. Serves the farmers though for stealing patented seeds, right?? Well, wrong actually, because in many cases seeds were carried in from next-door farms by winds that blew them accidentally onto their land.

GM companies have serious legal teams in place to fight anyone that stands in their way. How is any little guy to survive an onslaught like this from the giants that seek to control the global food chain through genetic manipulation? The good news is that there are some who are fighting them.

Can GM foods be contained?

Most of the worlds grown food are used to feed animals, not humans. We then eat the meat. Already there are countless cases of farmers who conducted their own research on pigs and cows to see first hand the effect that GM foods have on their livestock. When they eat GM corn, the animals reduced in fertility. Once they go back to their original diet they eventually recover, but then there still is debate on whether they really DO recover now that their genetic makeup has been tampered with. Let's not forget that the vast majority of these pigs and cows that are fed GM foods have been bred specifically for human consumption.

Once the genetic change has occurred, how do we know this won't be passed to offspring? I personally think this is pretty unlikely, but still... is it worth the risk? Surely we should not be subjected to GM foods without even being told about it, or being asked to evaluate the research ourselves? Once they are let loose on the South African population (which is now gaining momentum as we speak), the genetic screw up could explode across our population like a virus and it could be years before we even know about it! This has actually happened before.

But we've been eating GM for years!

This is the counter argument which is rubbish. Yes, already we are drinking GM milk (or milk from cows who have been treated with a GM hormone) as well as other direct or indirectly modified foods and this fact alone is raising serious health alarms. But that's not the point and here's why: now read this carefully, because this is important...

You can argue that the nartjie is genetically modified and we eat them happily. You can say we breed certain types of funny shaped poodles too. But this is called "selective breeding". Selective breeding is at the far left on the scale of genetic manipulation because the process is far more natural. If you want to develop a cabbage that is resistant to a certain fungus, you grow a whole bunch of cabbages that are subjected to this fungus. Most cabbages will die out very quickly, but some will be more resistant. Take the seeds from those plants that are resistant and repeat the process again and again and again. The result is a much more resilient cabbage, although it takes several generations to work. The finest wines in the world are the result of modifying the genes within the grape using this method of natural refinement.

The other end of the scale is the short cut and this is where GM foods are. Here we simply "play" with the genetic code so, hey presto, like magic you have the plant that you "think" does what would have taken many generations of natural selection to do. It looks like a lovely, large, juicy red apple, but is it really? What if we're wrong? There is a very large grey area in this scale indeed and quite frankly, this is a grey area that we simply don't need to play in. For example, did you know that most white mielies found in South Africa are GMO?

Are GM foods necessary?

We simply don't need them. With a little education, we can grow our own food. The issue of soil density and quality is always a factor, but again, the right training with correct companion planting and rotation means that we can grow organic foods in our own backyard with up to 10-20 times the nutritional density of the fruits and veg that we currently buy at local shops. We don't need to wait for corporations to make GM foods the standard when we can start living healthier NOW! We need to take back the power we've always had: the power to grow ourselves.

Further reading: (American Academy of Environmental Medicine) (South African) (French documentary on the subject, in English)

Next time I'll be more "positive" I promise!!


Monday, 10 August 2009

Josephine Mill - talk on growing sprouts

In case you don't know about these regular talks at Josephine Mill in Newlands (next to the SAB Brewery), here is info on the one tomorrow night. See

David Lipschitz

Time: August 11, 2009 from 7:30pm to 9pm
Location: Josephine's Mill
Organized By: Peter Becker

Event Description:
Sprouts are the ultimate self-sufficient garden for anyone desiring a reliable supply of pesticide-free, high-fibre, vitamin, mineral and enzyme-rich energising fresh food.

Joseph Feigelson will share his knowledge about sprouting and how it brings the power of Mother Nature straight to the kitchen. No soil, no chemicals and no green thumbs required, only minutes per day.

Joseph has studied agronomy and horticulture, has been involved in reforestation of indigenous species in Hawaii and worked as a Botanical Research Consultant on Maui. He has extensive knowledge of the nutritional value of sprouts and is dedicated to informing people about the benefits of this low cost, high quality food production technique.