The GMO Deception: A Review

by Maeve McInnis

Do we want to live in a world where all of our food has been at one point genetically altered, where synthetic chemicals are sprayed on our food, and the corporations have complete control over all aspects of our food? Or, would we like to buy vegetables from our local farmer with the knowledge that the genetic makeup of the food is pure, that it has no synthetic chemicals in it, and where we have the freedom to choose GMO or non-GMO food products?

The intention of The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk, a volume comprised of articles originally published in GeneWatch edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber, is to start a larger public dialogue on what they refer to as the deception of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). For anyone who has limited knowledge of the GMO situation in our society the Merriam Webster dictionary defines GMOs as manipulated, or altered organisms to contain specific desired traits not naturally occurring in that organism. The GMO Deception spans topics such as the health and safety of GMOs, labeling, ethics and their environmental impacts, along with other social aspects of the GMO debate. The article ‘Busting the Big GMO Myth’s’ by John Fagan, Michael Antoniou and Claire Robinson did exactly as the title states. “…GMOs could be allergenic. Similarly the toxicity of certain GMOs and the reduced nutritional value of other GMOs have been scientifically demonstrated…More and more evidence is accumulating, showing that GMOs can be harmful to health and the environment.” The article titled ‘Changing Seeds or Seeds of Change?’ By Natalie DeGraaf discusses how “[f]armers in rural India have noted instances of animals dying from grazing on GM crops and new reports are investigating the relationship between increased allergy prevalence and GM foods as well as transference of antibiotic resistance to consumers.” With these alarming reviews of the health concerns of GMO’s from the scientific community, one wonders if this is the sort of technology the global society should rely on to feed its population.

Around the world, from the Government Office for Science in the U.K. to the National Research Council in the United States to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., there is consensus: In order to address the roots of hunger today and build a food system that will feed humanity into the future, we must invest in “sustainable intensification”—not expensive GMO technology that threatens biodiversity, has never proven its superiority, even in yields, and locks us into dependence on fossil fuels, fossil water, and agrochemicals. (Grist, 2011)

The popularly held belief that GMOs will help feed a growing population, while highly contested in this book, also begs the question at what cost to our individual’s health and the health of the environment. Again Natalie DeGraaf addresses these health concerns by citing a “severe lack of unbiased research being conducted external to the reports issued by GM company laboratories.”  ‘Busting the Big GMO Myths’ by John Fagan, Michael Antoniou, and Claire Robinson quotes Oliver De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, “yields went up 214 percent in forty four projects in twenty countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques…far more improvement than any GM crop has ever done.”

The editors Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber, choose articles that exhibit how large agro companies such as Monsanto hide behind the intellectual property rights laws to keep impartial studies regarding their GMO products behind locked doors. The over-arching theme that unifies each of these pieces: how can a conscious consumer blindly take a company’s word on the safety of a product when the company’s goal is to sell you the product in question?

The GMO Deception’s argument is clear: unless the public takes a stronger stance on this issue, we may have no choice in the matter. It presents well-rounded, researched articles on the issues surrounding GMOs and why society must question their use in food products. “We have literally hundreds of commentaries that bear witness to the deceptions associated with the promoters of GMOs.” It offers arguments and insights into the realm of GMOs that are hard to attain due to corporations’ strangle hold on their intellectual property rights.

While full of insightful material on the subject matter, this book was not a page turner. It consists of short, individual articles by varying authors that, while interesting, did not lure me in enough to make the rest of the world stop in its tracks. It was more of the type of book that one would read a few chapters of and then put it away to thoroughly digest the material before reading on. Each author had such different writing styles that it was difficult to get into a steady rhythm. The articles are fairly academic in content. Therefore if the intention was to spark a wider discussion among the general public the information may fail to reach that audience. I also would have like to have more explanation of why these particular articles were chosen for each separate section of the book. Some of them were written back in the 1980s and, while important in the discussion, it would have helped to outline why they thought each of the articles were worth having in the book because often there was significant overlap in the general information.

Having grown up in a strictly organic and vegetarian household, my stance on GMOs is pretty clear cut. I want them to have absolutely no part in any aspect of my food. For most of my life this has been based on an intuitive hunch that no part of my food should ever set foot in a lab. Now, having read The GMO Deception, I take further comfort in my stance and feel content in backing up my choices with the science discussed in the book. I would recommend this book to anyone with a curiosity about GMOs. Its inaccessibility is worth penetrating for the information therein—just don’t expect to consume the information all at one time.

HeadshotMaeve McInnis is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management with a specialization in Food Policy at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at the New School. She is the President of the Sustainable Cities Club and a member of the Student Advisory Committee with the Dean. She is an avid traveler and lover of food, culture and social justice. 

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