Genetically Modified Food

Posted on April 29, 2007 by Sarmaad

The genetic modifications of plants and animals is one of the biggest and most difficult environmental challenges of the 21st century. Did you know that GMOs are found extensively in many food products on the supermarket shelves and the chances are you have already eaten GMOs!!!

What is a genetically modified organism?

The general principal behind GMO is to insert DNA that has been taken from another organism and modified through genetic engineering techniques into an organism's genome to create both new and enhanced traits and phenotypes. By being able to take genetic material from one organism and insert it into the permanent genetic code of another, biotechnologists have engineered numerous creations, such as pigs with human growth genes, fish with cattle genes and so on.

What were the first crops?

The first commercially grown genetically modified food crop was the Flavr Savr tomato which was made more resistant to rotting. It was released into the market for sale in 1994. This tomato was found to cause damage to the stomachs of rats and was later taken off the market. This was followed by insect protected cotton and herbicide tolerant soybeans, which both were commercially released in 1996. Today the soybean is by far the world's most cultivated GM plant, followed by corn, cotton and canola.

The world leaders in GM crops

The United States accounts for nearly two thirds of all biotechnology crops planted globally. The GM food crops grown by US farmers include corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, squash and papaya. Other major producers of GM crops are Argentina, which plants primary biotech soybean; Canada, whose principal biotech crop is canola; Brazil, which has recently legalized the planting of GM soybean; China, where the acreage of GM cotton continues to increase; and South Africa, where cotton is also the principal biotech crop. Worldwide, about 672 million acres of land are under cultivation of which 25% or 167.2 million acres - an area twice the size of the UK- consists of GM crops.

Why GM crops?

Crops can destroyed by many different factors including insects, weeds and disease. GMO's are used to make crops herbicide tolerant and pesticide resistant, to increase their nutritional content, to make them taste better and to reduce their growing time and increase their tolerance to fluctuating temperatures.

Foods that have been genetically modified

GM foods have been available to the public since the1990s, so the invasion of GMOs will continue in our grocery stores and in our kitchen pantries. The most common crops which have been modified and to watch for include:

  • Maize.Soybean (Soy flour, soy oil, lecithin, soy protein isolates and concentrates).
  • Oilseed rape - canola (Oil, fabric).
  • Squash.
  • Potato (Right now the only potato that has been genetically engineered is the Burbank Russet, but you still have to look out for potato starch and flour).
  • Corn (flour, corn starch, corn oil, corn sweeteners, syrups).
  • Cotton
  • Dairy Products (Milk, cheese, butter, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, whey).
  • Animal Products (Because animal feed often contains genetically engineered organisms, all animal products, or by-products may be affected).
Affects to human health and the environment

The GMO foods currently on the market have not undergone adequate testing to ensure their safety for human consumption and also to quantify what impact they have on the environment. Genetically engineered food can have a serious effect on human health, on wildlife and the environment. Human risks can include;
  • Allergic/ toxic reactions (to hidden genes and combination)
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Immune - suppression
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Unsuspected side effects
Environmental impacts can include;
  • Uncontrolled biological pollution
  • Threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction.
  • Potential contamination of non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.
  • Increased use of and dependence on toxic herbicides.
  • Harm to farming (deformed crops, increased pest resistance, increased farmer costs and debt).
  • Crop failures.
  • Biodiversity (implications for biodiversity, the balance of wildlife and the environment).
  • Creation of GM "Superweeds" and "Superpests".
  • Damage to food quality and nutrition.
  • Ethical Issues
How to avoid GMO
  • The only guaranteed way to avoid eating GMOs is to buy fresh certified organic produce.
  • Read labels - When buying a product check the ingredients on the label. GM soybean and corn make up the largest portion of GE crops. If they are listed then there is a good chance it is GM. Remember the label does not have to declare that it contains GM ingredients.
  • Avoid processed foods - 70% of processed foods contain GM ingredients.
Australia and GMO

Australia is already commercially producing GE cotton. This cotton is known as BT cotton as it produces a genetically engineered toxin called Bacillus Thuringensis (BT). Bt cotton produces this toxin in every part of the plant so that the cotton plant itself becomes a pesticide factory. Bt cotton is not only used for cloth and cotton products but the cottonseed is crushed for oil used in food.

Australia is also commercially growing GE canola, carrying on trials of GE wheat and growing GE blue carnation flowers.

The major problem remains that genetic engineering is highly unpredictable and that the "jury is still out" as to what impact GMO crops will have on human beings and on the environment!

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What is Biodynamic Farming?

Posted on January 17, 2007 by Sarmaad

Biodynamic farming has been practised in over 50 countries on all 5 continents for at least 80 years. "Bio" comes from the Greek word which translates as "life" and "dynamic" means a moving force. It is a science of life-forces, a recognition of the basic principles at work in nature and an approach to agriculture which takes these principles into account in trying to bring about balance and healing. It is part of the work of Rudolf Steiner, known as anthroposophy. Through anthroposophy individuals are able to find their own relationship with the world and nature.

Steiner propagated the idea of the "self-contained" farm where there would be just the right number of animals to provide manure for soil fertility and that these animals would then, in turn, be fed from the farm. One of biodynamics fundamental efforts is to build up stable humus in the soil through composting. Vegetable waste, manure, leaves, food scraps, all contain precious vitality which can be put to good use in building up the soil.

Steiner introduced what are known as biodynamic preparations, i.e. naturally occurring plant and animal materials that are combined in a specific way in certain seasons of the year and placed in compost piles. These preparations contain concentrated forces which are used to organize the elements within the compost piles. On completion of the process the resulting preparations are "medicines" for the Earth.

One of the preparations is used on the earth before planting to stimulate the soil life and the other is used on the leaves of the plants to encourage their capacity to receive light. The positive results of these preparations has been scientifically proven. By understanding the natural rythmns of the sun, moon, planets and the stars we can time our ground preparation, sowing, cultivating and harvesting to the optimize the quality of the crops we grow.

Weeds and pests are very useful indicators of imbalances in soil, plants and animals; and the aim of the biodynamic method is to use such indicators in a positive way. Pest and disease control is generally managed by developing the farm as a total organism. When specific pest and weed control is required, products are made from the weeds and pests themselves.

Biodynamic farming means farming in a way which cares for the environment, without relying upon synthetic chemicals and other unnatural interventionist approaches to farming and food production.

Everything in nature reveals something about it's essential character; it is therefore necessary that we learn to understand the language of nature!

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