Edible undies made from Genetically Modified (GM) cotton were the only skid mark of irregularity, so to speak, that was wiped across the pages of this chapter. This edible form of clothing posed a quandary for me of the same calibre as those damn ducks did, and still do, in the meat chapter. You see, my focus in this chapter is on GM Food. I am okay with ignoring the topic of GM Clothing but this is food disguised as clothing, or vice versa. How can I appease the fans of edible undies? What do I say to those who can’t stop eating them?
Well, thanks to my relentless research and hard-nosed investigative resolve, the lights all went on for me late one night. It dawned on me folks that if certain undies are indeed edible, they almost certainly are not going to be made from cotton.
What is it?
Almost 100% of GM crops on the market are genetically engineered with either one or both of just two GM traits: herbicide tolerance, and insect resistance. These two traits account for almost all of the GM crops grown commercially over the past 20 years.
The food that is genetically modified or contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) vary from country to country. I have dissected this section by geography into USA, Canada, Australia and Europe to provide a cross section. Apologies to the other 192 countries but it is fairly easy to identify the whole foods in your country that are genetically modified. Processed and packaged foods however, include so many ingredients that go by so many names that it is virtually impossible to evict GMOs from your diet altogether without being a food detective. This is particularly the case in countries such as the USA and Canada where it is not mandatory to label GMO food.
Something else to be aware of is imported food. There is a lot of imported GM food flowing around the globe, mostly from the Americas. These are mainly found as ingredients in processed food. With the introduction of new global trade deals this is set to increase, so be aware of other countries GMO status if you are not buying locally produced whole food.
Here is the breakdown of GM whole foods.
- Corn. Corn and corn products are one of the most prominent GMO foods around. Almost all corn in the US and three quarters of Canadian corn is now grown from GM seed. In Europe one strain of modified corn is approved and cultivated but there is a growing movement away from GMO food with several EU countries now banning it. No corn grown in Australia is modified. Corn is largely included in processed foods as oils, glucose syrup, fructose and high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin and thickener/modified starches (1410, 1412). To be safe, avoid corn and all corn products unless you know it comes from a certified organic source.
- Soy products. Biotech giant Monsanto has a stranglehold on the soybean market, with approximately 90 percent of US soy and 80 percent of Canadian soy being genetically engineered to resist their herbicide Roundup. Australian soy beans are GM free but that does not mean soy products are because they can contain imported GM ingredients. Europe imports almost all of its soy from countries that grow a GM version of it. Soy is found in tofu, vegetarian products, soybean oil, soy flour, soy lecithin (additive/emulsifier 322), soy oil, soy protein, vegetable protein and numerous other products.
- Canola oil. Canola Oil, produced from rapeseed, is often described as “vegetable oil” and is one of the most chemically altered foods. The first canola was grown in Canada, after which it was named (Canada Oil) to distinguish it from non-edible rapeseed. About 90 percent of Canadian and US canola is genetically modified. In Australia it is only 10 percent and it is banned in Europe. Be sure to check what country your canola oil comes from or just avoid it altogether.
- Cotton. Almost all US, Canadian and Australian cotton is genetically modified. In Europe it is banned. Cotton is used to make clothing obviously but is also used to make cottonseed oil. This oil is often labelled as “vegetable oil” and is commonly used for deep-frying by takeaway food shops and restaurants. Cottonseed meal is used in animal feed. Leftover cotton fibres, too short to use in textiles are used in food additives E460 and E461. So unless you get around in a burlap loincloth its not easy to avoid GMO in clothing. You can however avoid it in you food.
- Sugar Beets. If a non-organic product made in North America lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets. In Europe and Australia GM sugar beets are not grown but they are imported.
- Papayas. This one may come as a surprise. GMO papayas have been grown in Hawaii for consumption since 1999. Though they can’t be sold to countries in the European Union, they are welcome with open arms in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
- Zucchini and Yellow Squash. Closely related, these two squash varieties are modified to resist viruses and are grown on a small scale in North America only. Keep an eye on imported versions if your in Australia and Europe.
- Meat and Dairy. GM corn and soy are so dominant in the United States and Canada that almost all meat and dairy comes from animals fed GM crops. In Australia and Europe this is not the case with GM animal feed limited to that which is imported and cotton meal. Additionally, meat and dairy products from the US may come from cows injected with GM bovine growth hormone. If you don’t see labels stating No rBGH, rBST, or artificial hormones, chances are the products include them. Monsanto’s rBGH, a growth hormone likely containing genetically modified components, has been banned in 27 countries including Australia, Canada and the EU.
How much do we consume and why?
Corn, Soy and Cotton are the main mutants of the global GMO experiment. The U.S.A., Brazil and Argentina are the main producers of these often named ‘frankenfoods’ with 181 million, 104 million and 60 million acres respectively under cultivation. These numbers do include minor acreages of other less significant GM crops.
According to International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA)45 statistics, GM acreage has grown more than more than 100-fold from the 4.2 million acres planted in 1996 when it was first commercialised. It also states that a record 448 million acres were planted in 2014, up 15 million acres from 2013. And lastly it promotes that GM crops are now planted in 28 countries, many of which are resource-poor developing countries.
Throughout this website the initial impression one gets is that GM food is doing the third world a favour. You’d be excused for interpreting that these countries are swarming behind the GM bandwagon in rabid droves. However, checking out some of the numbers in this publication and elsewhere, exposes that the ISAAA has more pro-GMO bent than a heavily pregnant mutant corn stalk. It doesn’t say that only 10 countries grow almost 100 percent of GM crops. Nor does it highlight that the top 3 counties account for 77 percent. Based on acreage, the developing countries that have been roped into using GM crops are hobby farmers at best and reluctant ones at worst.
I found many examples of where pro-GMO groups were touting success in developing nations. The intended impression is that of global food supply saviour, but the glossy websites and selective statistics were easily exposed.
Bangladesh, reportedly the 28th country to embrace GM crops, only planted 30 acres in total of an insect-resistant eggplant. While pro-GM groups carried on about this model of success, the reality was slightly more sinister. The GM eggplant was hurried though the approval process, there was no public consultation and farmer and consumer backlash was ignored. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Surely, I mean surely there was no cash laden handshakes involved was there? As it happens, the independent development policy research group UBINIG has gone and spoken to the majority (72 percent) of the 110-120 farmers who got suckered into this deal by their own government.46 They reported poor yields, high chemical use and a high level of government interference. The report states: “According to the farmers, most of the time, the officials took care of the plants themselves as they had to show a good performance.” The extent to which the government officials got involved was borderline comical. They replaced dead and dying plants, applied banned pesticides and instructed farmers to display “pesticide free” signs on their produce. Despite all of this, most of the farmers said it was a worthless crop and only one of the 120 said he would use it again.
In Mexico, Sudan and Columbia, GM Corn introduction has been hammered with controversy, protests and lawsuits. This wouldn’t be happening if there was an appropriate level of public engagement. I suspect the only engagement was between corporate interests and cash strapped governments, and we’ve all seen that scenario before.
In India, where Monsanto owns almost all of the cotton seed supply a similar shambles is unfolding. Small landholder farmers are experiencing drastic crop failures over and again but they have no choice but to use the monopoly provided seed supply. According to Vandana Shiva, a prominent Indian-born environmentalist, something like 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide due to financial stress after failed Monsanto cotton crops and on account of the price of their cotton seeds. Ironically, many decided to drink Monsanto pesticide to do the job. I guess it’s good for something. Check out “Bitter Seeds”47, a 2011 documentary by American filmmaker Micha Peled. The film covers biotech (Bt) farming in India and the impact of GM cotton on India’s farmers.
These cases highlight that despite the official line, GM crops are not necessarily being grown by choice and they are not necessarily being grown successfully either.
Book 1 of the Consumption Cleanse continues the story and discusses why GMOs are bad, how to remove GMOs from your life and gives up some useful alternatives.
45 ISAAA, “Beyond Promises:Top 10 Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2014”, http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/biotech_booklets/top_10_facts/download/Top%2010%20Facts%20Booklet.pdf, accessed 24/3/16
46 Natural News, “Genetically modified eggplant a massive failure in Bangladesh as crops fail for second year in a row”,