Most candy, like Gummy Bears, has corn syrup, sugar and food coloring. It tastes good, but do most people care if what they are eating is made from genetically modified seed? According to one Canadian teen, she and her peers do.
Rachel Parent has become a face of the protest against genetically modified seed and food for some young people. She says its her “right to know” more about what Monsanto and other seeds companies are doing - and what’s in their food, even if it's the golden “butter” liquid that is pumped onto popcorn at theaters across the continent?
The fact that most consumers don’t control whether their foods sources are genetically modified has led people like Parent to protest the largest producer of genetically modified seeds, Monsanto, a global corporation with headquarters in St. Louis, Mo. There are organizations that are dedicated to opposing the global seed giant, like March Against Monsanto and GMO Free Midwest. Some of them organize a yearly protest at the headquarters.
Parent has become a pop-speaker for some of these organizations, like March Against Monsanto and presents her ideas at schools in Canada. She has also appeared on the Lang & O’Leary Exchange TV show, when she challenged Kevin O’Leary, a Canadian entrepreneur.
The Lang & O’Leary Exchange is hosted by O'Leary and Amanda Lang on the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
O’Leary also appears on Shark Tank, a reality TV show on NBC. “If we are going to do something with our food, (teens) are definitely the ones who should know about it,” Parent said on the show. “We are the ones who are going to live with it.”
Parent says that after researching the topic, she started protesting Monsanto, and “started doing speeches for other people.” She is supported by her parents, who encouraged her to take on the topic. Parent also has a web site, Kids Right to Know.com - “One Planet for All; All for One Planet.” While some of her points may have validity, others have no real bearing on the actions of Monsanto.
The idea that organic seeds may be more effective and safe than GMO seeds developed by Monsanto, is but one example. If this is the case, then why not convince farmers to buy organic seeds and let go of Monsanto? Why is Monsanto so popular? Her web site lists the percentage of GMO used for common commodities, like soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), corn (88%) and Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%).
And, approximately 90 percent of all products on supermarket shelves contain GMO ingredients. O’Leary disagrees with Parent’s argument for more information and/or testing, but thinks developing better GMO seeds is a good idea. “To say that there’s no merit to having science try to improve seeds to make higher yields or foods better or help people’s problems on a dietary basis sounds a little extreme,” O’Leary said.
There is a trend toward more transparency in labeling of GM seeds, O’Leary said. “You’re going to get labeling,” he said. But Lang said if there is GMO labeling, virtually every product in a grocery store would be labeled GMO. “One danger we face is that we would just become immune to that label,” she said. “We would accept that it’s being used everywhere and we would shrug.”
O’Leary said he wonders if Parent has any flexibility in applying science to food production in general. “It doesn’t sound like you do, and I find that not good actually,” he said. Parent said she’s “not anti-science. But I’m for responsible science.” “(Youth) are fighting for our food, but also nature and our ecosystem,” Parent said.
Parent says she would like to have more testing of genetically modified seeds produced by Monsanto. But who would conduct this testing? Do any government agencies have the ability to perform this kind of testing?
The cost of additional testing performed by an independent agency could dramatically increase the cost of producing commodities and the cost of product for consumers. The question is whether the corporation has any responsibility to work with people like Parent, who are generally opposed to what they are doing. O’Leary admits that Parent is a very articulate 14-year-old girl.
“What I’m concerned about it that you have become a shill for a group that wants to use you because you are young and articulate and you’re getting lots of media,” he said. She and organizations like March Against Monsanto likely use the word organism (in GMO) because it sounds like something exotic and scary - like developing a mutation that could have disastrous consequences and produce zombies for example.
Although some seed is genetically modified, not all seeds are modified with other organisms, for example, vegetables or fruits. Corn syrup is one of the basic ingredients of an assortment of candies, as well as soda. Would it be realistic to track down the producers of corn syrup and define whether the corn is made with genetically modified food? What probably upsets Parent and others like her is that Monsanto has built in a need to not only use their modified seeds, but also the herbicide or pesticide, usually Roundup.
For people like Parent, this is unfair. Their thinking is that seeds for producing crops and food should be something that is freely shared by corporations like Monsanto, since people are dying of hunger. The fact that food is grown in countries where people are starving is all the more reason why Monsanto should not profit from their seeds, the thinking goes. Developing food for starving people should not be left up to the biggest global seed company. The worse off people are, the less they should pay for their seed.
Farmers, especially those in Third World countries like the Philippines, should not have to abide by patent restrictions governed by Monsanto for using their seed. Somehow people’s idea of a what a corporation should do becomes skewed when it comes to developing food products. The problem with this thinking is that the reason why Monsanto is profitable in the first place is they are good at what they do.
It's something that farmers in Third World countries, like the Philippines need to learn. And something that they can't learn from Parent or the organizations that oppose Monsanto. Another factor is that Monsanto's seeds are no different from any other corporation with a proprietary patent on the use of their product. It's similar to the Android operating system or Apple’s products. Only Apple can create a new operating system that works with their cell phones or computers.
And then there are also problems with worldwide hunger and vitamin deficiency. According the the World Health Organization, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. This statistic is global, not regionally specific to Asia, but Southeast Asia in particular suffers from such deficiencies.
That fact would seem to promote such things as free seed that increases the vitamin content of rice seed. But the so-called golden rice crop has become subject to protesters, even though it is patent-free and no corporation benefits from growing it. One crop of the seed was destroyed by protesters in the Phillipines.
It’s called golden because it has been genetically modified to produce beta carotene. Golden Rice was developed by the International Rice Research Institute to provide an additional source of Vitamin A for populations that depend on rice for the majority of their daily caloric intake, which includes people in the Philippines.
The rice has a gene from corn and another from a bacterium that produces the vitamin. The golden rice won’t change the color of Gummy Bears, since you don’t get corn syrup from rice. But Gummy Bears probably don’t have a lot of Vitamin A either.
© 2014 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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