Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's)
Genetically modified organisms (GMO's) are altered at the genetic level by various methods. Their basic premise is based on taking genes from one plant, animal, bacteria, virus, etc... and putting it into another. The concept of GMO food has gained widespread application and favor in the United States where the vast majority of canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soybeans and beets are gmo varieties. This technology has also been applied to various animals, especially fish. While the United States is by far the largest producer and consumer of GMO products, the U.S. and it's 50 states are not mandated to label products as containing GMO products. This has led to campaigns to label GMO's in recent years, such as just label it.
(CC Image by Brylie Oxley (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
GMO's have been touted by many as being the next "green revolution", providing increased yields, nutrition and resistance to pests and diseases. However, opponents to GMO's argue that they lack long-term studies to test the claims of biotech companies, as well as long-term safety tests on humans, animals and pollinators.
Critics of GMO foods have also argued that the patenting of plants by biotech companies is unconstitutional(due to patenting of living organisms) and ignores the fact that humans have collectively bred and shared plants for ten thousand years as a collective commons. Cases of accidental contamination of crops by pollen drifting from GMO plantings to non-gmo plantings via wind or insects have often resulted in lawsuits against non-gmo
farmers for patent infringement.
(CC Image (left) of honey bee foraging, by Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth! (Beatrice the Honey Bee Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
A recent supreme court ruling (news article and courts opinion) has ruled in favor of biotech giant, and largest seed company in the world, Monsanto. They argued that it is pantent infringement to save GMO seeds from last years crop in order to plant the coming crop. This decision forces farmers to buy new seed every year rather than saving some of the harvest from previous years (an ancient tradition). This puts biotech firms at an advantage, skewing supply and demand, especially since the big three biotech firms now own and control over 50% of world sales (PDF download). The ability for farmers to choose non-GMO seeds to avoid this issue is becoming increasingly difficult as the U.S. is now over 91% GMO soy, 85% GMO corn, 88% GMO cotton, 80% GMO papaya, 95% GMO sugar beet, with more GMO products like wheat and various trees just coming onto the market.
Monsanto's seed monopoly and political connections are drastically changing the ancient relationship of people and food, while simultaneously contributing to the un-susainable nature of our food systems. GMO crops lack long-term health and safety studies, disrupt at a genetic level the viability and integrity of traditional seeds, and seek to maintain and improve corporate profits while claiming to be a food revolution.
Furthermore, GMO products such as genetic use restriction technology (GURT) or "terminator seeds" have created a climate of fear for many, due to the fact that farmers cannot save those seeds to plant the following year as they are made to be sterile after one year. This technology forces farmers to buy more seed each year.
In recent years there have been many widespread social justice movements regarding genetically modified organisms. Monsanto, one of the worlds largest seed corporation, largest GMO seed corporation, and generally regarded as one of the most hated corporations world-wide drew over 2 million protesters in two separate protests in 2013. Another March Against Monsanto protest is scheduled for May 24th, 2014. Links to colony collapse disorder in honey bees to GMO's and the array of chemicals used in their production has also been made.
While there are applications where genetically modifying organisms may be appropriate, the vast consensus in the scientific and sustainability fields is that more testing and regulation must be done before further planting and patenting are done. Such is the consensus in various countries (over 50) around the world that are either prohibiting GMO products, clearly labeling them, or holding a moratorium on them.
(CC Image of GMO crops worldwide up to 2009 (in millions of hectares) by Fafner (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons))