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What is GM?

What is GM?

Sunday, 21st September 2014

Genetic Modification (GM) is used in medicine and in food production. It involves artificially inserting a foreign gene into the DNA of another organism – in an imprecise way.
GM crops were first grown in 1996 in the United States, and the majority grown in the world today are in the US (soya and maize) and Canada (rapeseed oil).  There are two main types of GM food crops.  First, there are those modified to be resistant to herbicides.  This is to allow farmers to spray weed killer on their crops and only kill the weeds (not the actual crop they are growing).  The second is crops that produce toxins to kill pests – in theory, to reduce spraying crops with pesticides.
What’s wrong with GM?
Here is a list:
  • it is linked with much higher use of herbicides to kill weeds
  • it is linked with increased use of pesticides because the insects develop resistance more quickly
  • it is worse for farm wildlife
  • it locks farmers into buying expensive seed and costly chemicals
  • it is increasing the use of land for growing only one crop
  • it is driving out sustainable farming that creates food for people
  • it is an imprecise science
  • we don’t know what affect it has on humans (on mice, it’s not looking good)
Isn’t GM supposed to feed the world?
The biotech companies who create GM crops claim that this is their goal.  But since its inception 20 years ago, GM has not produced higher food yields or any other benefits.  Actually, GM will make feeding our growing world harder because it destroys farming systems that create food for people – like farms that grow vegetables, beans and grains - instead of animal feeds that create profits for the big biotechs.
GM in America
It is estimated that 60-70% of processed foods in the US contain GM ingredients.
This includes foods made with soybeans, maize, cotton and rapeseed oil.  In America, GM ingredients can be found in breakfast cereals, snack foods, fizzy drinks, foods made with soya beans and foods made with cottonseed oil and rapeseed oil (canola oil in America).  It also includes ingredients like corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup – which seems to be in everything sweet from candy to cake.
GM grown in Europe
Although there are some experimental field trials of GM crops in Britain, there is no commercial growing of crops here.  There have been trials of GM potatoes and wheat recently and in 2014, there is a planned trial of GM Camila sativa or ‘false flax’.  In Europe, GM maize is grown, primarily in Spain and mainly for feeding livestock, but also as a raw material for the starch industry.  Most GM maize is used as animal feed.  Maize foods include products like cornflakes, popcorn, canned sweet corn, corn on the cob and corn oil.  Starch is also used in food additives such as corn syrup, corn sugar (glucose and dextrose), modified starch and sugar substitutes.
Although GM crops and food can enter Europe as food, animal feed and biofuels, most GM enters Britain primarily as animal feed.  GM food and feed must be approved and labeled, but meat and dairy products from animals fed on GM feed are not required to be labeled.  So, it is likely that you are eating eggs, poultry and meats that have been GM fed.
How to avoid eating GM foods
GM foods entering Britain must be labeled as ‘genetically modified…’ or as ‘produced from genetically modified…’  So, look for this on the label and avoid maize products identified as such.  GM cooking oil, which is cheap, can be used in chip shops and takeaways – and will not be advertised.

However, to avoid meat and dairy from GM-fed animals is less clear-cut. Different supermarkets have different rules.  Waitrose has a non-GM feed policy for poultry, eggs and lamb – and not for other meats - while Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, the Coop and M&S no longer require poultry to feed GM-free feed.  And Sainsbury’s has some meat products that are GM free and others that are not.  So, it’s a bit of a minefield if you’re trying to pick your way through most meats on the market.
Campaign group GM Freeze has published a list of where to buy non-GM-fed meat, milk and eggs. Food & Water Watch Europe has also published campaign information
The easy way to ensure that you are eating meat and dairy products that are GM-free – and the best quality - is to buy organic or pasture fed.
Take action
Public opposition and non-government bodies fighting GM is the reason GM is not widespread in Europe and has kept Britain free of GM crops.  To join the fight, read more about GM so you are aware of what’s going on, spread the word about the risks of BM foods and crops and buy organic.
For more information, check out the following websites:

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