Wealth or Health?

According to Oxford Dictionaries food is “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.” For me food is a celebration of life on a spoon. It gives me the energy I need to start my day at breakfast, it enables me to take an imaginary trip to a faraway country at lunch, and brings my family and friends together for dinner. However while researching about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) I came to realize that there is not much to celebrate. Most of the food that we, people in the developed world, consume is a product. It is manufactured by corporations to be marketed and sold to us, the consumers. It usually contains unnatural ingredients that enables the manufacturers to produce more for less money, and consequently to increase their profit. It is an artificial creation by corporations that “try to devour as much profit as possible at anyone’s expense” (The Corporation, 5’ 25’’).

Like most of the people I know, I usually don’t think about where the food I eat comes from. I don’t ask myself where did it grow? How was it grown? How was it harvested? Or who grew it? Nowadays, food and food products are so easily accessible to us that we don’t take the time to think about how they got onto our plates. In today’s world we don’t even need to walk that half of a mile to the local grocery store, we can just go online and with a simple click on the mouse have our food delivered to us. We reached an unprecedented period in which, for the most part, we are disconnected from the place, people and animals that make the food we consume.

The last clue for our food’s origins might be found on its label. I started looking at foods’ labels only a few months ago, and not in hope to find its origin but in order to learn about its ingredients. In an attempt to develop a healthier lifestyle, I decided to change my eating habits and eat more “clean foods”. Clean eating is basically avoiding any heavily processed foods, which are foods with tons of ingredients on the label and a bunch of strange long words nobody knows how to pronounce. In other words, it is eating foods that look closer to way we find them in nature. However, this isn’t as easy as it might seem, as food labels can be deceiving. Some products are labeled as “organic” while others are labeled as “natural” or “all-natural.” The differences between these labels can be vague and even confusing to consumers. The FDA regulates “organic” products and requires them to meet the following requirements:

  • Grown or raised without the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers.
  • Not genetically modified.
  • Not grown with hormones or antibiotics.

Nonetheless, even within the organic definition there are variations. While “100% organic” means all the ingredients must be organic, the label “organic” allows up to 5% of the product to be non-organic (though it can not be genetically modified). The FDA does not regulate “natural” or “all-natural” products unless they are used in eggs and meat. In these cases “natural” or “all-natural” products cannot have any added color, artificial flavor or synthetic substances. Meaning “natural” and “all-natural” foods can be grown with pesticides, hormones or antibiotics and can contain chemically processed ingredients (such as corn syrup) and even genetically modify ingredients.

While “natural,” “all-natural” and “organic” labels might be considered as disinformation, the absence of mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients in must countries is even worse. Genetically modify ingredients and foods are (mostly) plants, vegetables and fruits, which DNA was artificially ejected with a foreign gene of a virus, a bacteria and even an animal. This is usually done in hope to make the plants more resistant to pesticides and reduce parasites. Genetic engineering technologies that help create those new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are marketed by international agrochemical corporates, not for dietary or health reasons but solely for economic gain. These corporations buy seeds, change their genetic composition and then patented the new genetically modified organisms. Consequently, little by little those corporations gain ownership on “the blueprints of life” (The Corporation, 1 27’ 22’’). Moreover, in the United States the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale. This is not just a moral problem, GMOs have controversial environmental and health implications, as they are yet to be proven as safe for human consumption.

One serious health implication of GMOs is to people with food allergies. Without proper labeling a person with a peanut allergy can eat a genetically modified tomato that contains a peanut gene, which might trigger his\hers allergic reaction. Suddenly our foods are not what they’re seems to be. This uncertainty as to what a genetically modified food is really is created further complications for Jewish communities. Are GMO’s kosher? There is no one clear answer, and different Rabbis have different explanations. Some argue that a GMO kosher fish, that has a new gene from a non-kosher fish, will still be considered kosher, because it will still have fins and scales (which is what determines a fish kosher by Jewish law). Others will argue that genetically manipulated fish is an attempt to improve God’s creations. They will argue that GMOs are essentially mix breeding of two animal species, which is prohibited according to the Torah; Let alone if one is not even kosher! The Natural Food Certifiers followed the latter belief and announced that any food product that contains GMOs is no longer eligible to be certified as kosher under their “Apple K” kosher certification program.

The Natural Food Certifiers  “Apple K” Kosher Certification
The Natural Food Certifiers “Apple K” Kosher Certification

New studies have linked GMOs to Endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that can interfere with the hormone system in mammals. These disruptors can cause developmental disorders, birth defects and cancer tumors. Synthetize chemicals used as pesticides and herbicide (such as Monsanto’s DDT and Glyphosate) have shown potential to be endocrine disruptors (The Corporation, 25’ 50’’). Genetically modified plants are market exclusively by pesticide manufacturers. One of the biggest problems created by growing genetically modified plants is that over time they require more and more pesticides and herbicide. Mainly because over time insects develop resistance to GM plants and become stronger. Moreover, each GM plant is designed to resist only one type of insects, so even if that specific species is extinct, other species may replace its place in the food chain and threaten the plants. Therefore, stronger pesticides are used when planting GM plants. As a result, we, the consumers, are exposed to more and more endocrine disruptors.

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Another method to generate desirable traits in plant is Mutation breeding. Mutagen is a physical or chemical agent that changes the genetic material of an organism. In the process of mutation breeding seeds are exposed to a chemical mutagen or to radiation in order to generate mutants with desirable traits. Unlike genetically modified plants, plants developed via mutagenic processes with random, multiple and unspecific genetic changes were not prohibited by any nation’s organic standards. This not to say they are a safer or healthier option, but only that there is not enough information to determine the issue. Like with GMOs mislabeling is a problem with mutagenic breed plants, as companies market their mutagenic products without any reference to the genetic manipulation they had gone through.

Disinformation can have devastating results. In 2003 dozens of infants in Israel where hospitalized due to disinformation regarding the ingredients of Remedia’s baby formula. The company neglected to inform parents that the baby formula it marketed had no Vitamin B1, which is necessary for the normal development of the nervous system in infants. Independent laboratory tests commissioned by Greenpeace Israel shows that two baby food companies – Similac and Materna, combine genetically modified ingredients in their baby formulas, without informing the public. Moreover, Materna is deliberately misleading the public, as their product packages indicate that the product does not contain genetically modified ingredients.

Like the United States Israel has no laws or regulations on labeling GM food. As of today, there are no commercial GM crops in the Israel, due to the fact that the majority of Israeli yields are exported to Europe, where GMOs are strictly regulate. Nonetheless, imported food products that contain GM ingredients are not regulated by the Israeli government. Consequently, people in Israel, as in many other countries, are exposed to GM foods without any supervision, and even worse without the ability to choose for themselves whether to take the risk or not.

It seems that we are just pins in a global genetic experiment in which the information we are exposed to is controlled by the so-called Big Brother. We are being deceived, we are being misinformed, and we are being lied to. Those big corporations don’t care about the implications of their actions; their sole concern is how to make more to make money, how to increase their profits. So while the Big Brother will try to convince you that “ignorance is strength,” you must remember that the contrary is true, and fight for your right to know about GMOs!