My aunt was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer 13 years ago. It was the first time I saw my dad crying. At that point of time, many questions were running through our minds:
– My aunt was not a smoker, how did she get lung cancer?
– Will the rest of the family get cancer too?
– What can we do to protect ourselves and our family?
Ever since then, my family buys organic food and we are very particular about the products we use at home. That also spurred my interest in nutrition and I majored in nutrition. Understand that there are certain misconceptions regarding food:
GMOs = Genetically Modified Organisms
GMOs are created through genetic engineering.
According to Understand Food by Amy Brown (2 Edition), "Genetic engineering is the alteration of a gene in a bacterium, plant or animal for the purpose of changing one or more of its characteristics."
In the past, food supply was largely unstable due to natural, unforeseen circumstances like drought, diseases, etc.
Genetic engineering allowed scientists to put certain desirable traits into plants/animals to allow better survival rate and better productivity.
Imagine that you are a farmer. You worked hard on the fields everyday, taking care of your crops. Just for 1 week, there was inadequate rainfall and your crops dried up. Now, you do not have any crops to sell, leaving no income for your family, maybe not even any food to put on the table. And, the people who depend on your crops to survive, may not get food, no matter how rich they are. (If there’s no crops, money can’t get you anywhere too.)
Genetic engineering simply takes a certain gene from another animal/plant and place it in the animals/plants which they want to make changes to.
Benefits that increase food’s resistance:
(a) Pests (less pesticides required)
(b) Disease (lower crop losses)
(c) Hard growing conditions (drought, salty soil, climate extremes)
(d) Transport damage (less bruising, allowing more produce to make it to market)
(e) Spoilage (longer shelf life)
GMOs have been proven to allow food production to be stable and allow more around the world to climb out of poverty.
Did you know that there are a few organisations and governments around the world that give poor farmers a loan to use GM seeds for their crops? It helps the farmers to increase their chances of having a stable income and improve their lives.
Before we take it negatively, we have to be objective.
Food that enters our mouths will be digested before they are absorbed.
During digestion, they are broken into the simple substances, which would have no linkage to whether they were genetically modified or not (there are some exceptions which I will mention later).
It does not cause the cells in our bodies to change in any form.
Concerns regarding GMO: (a) Allergies
Common food allergy: Nuts.
It has been proven that food modified with genes from nuts may cause allergy reactions in people with allergy to nuts.
As such, they are prudent in ensuring that the avoidance of food allergens are used in GMOs.
(b) Gene Contamination
The modified crops might ‘escape’ into the wild and change the environment.
Use of swine genes in vegetables. (Muis is rather strict, so this should not be a problem in SG).
As such, for the general public, GMOs are not harmful. Only those with food allergies have to take note.
2. Pesticides & Hormones
GMOs are different from food containing pesticides/hormones.
In fact, GMOs may even help to lessen the use of hormones and pesticides!
GM crops which are resistant to pests will need little or no pesticides.
GM animals which grow fast will not need growth hormones to be injected.
I agree that pesticides and hormones are NOT GOOD as they are in it’s simplest forms which can be absorbed by our bodies.
This is why my family choose ORGANIC FOOD, as much as we can afford.
However, please beware: SG’s definition of ‘organic’ is a far cry from Australia, Spain and USA.
In SG, as long as no pesticides or hormones are used, it is certified organic! Even hydroponics is considered organic!
In Spain, they have a very strict criteria which includes pollutants. One of their criteria is that within a certain distance, there cannot be more than a certain number of motor vehicles. And no airplanes can pass that area to prevent air pollution. More details here
3. Food Industry & Labelling
In SG, there’s no law on labelling GM food.
Food around the world is pretty much controlled by the big boys.
However, there’s nothing we can do unless you intend to grow your own crops.
Why certain GM foods are taken off the shelves?
– Due to public outcry. There was this batch of tomatoes which had mouse genes in it. When people found out, naturally, they made a big fuss about indirectly eating rodents.
– Due to increased levels of natural toxins. Certain foods naturally contain toxins, maybe in different parts of the plants which we do not eat. However, genetic modification may cause the toxins to be present in the parts of the plants we may eat. As such, it is dangerous to sell such products.
4. Documentaries on Food
There are many documentaries circulating and sometimes the views communicated may not be true. Why then did the companies invove not sue them?
Scientists are also humans with different perspectives. Some of them feel that NATURAL is best; thus trying means and ways to discredit GMOs. While some see the broader picture and understand the needs of the current world, lending a hand to creating GMOs. I also have to put in those scientists who are driven by profits, taking a cut from the sale of GMOs. They are afterall, HUMAN.
If the companies were to sue everyone who produced such documentaries or videos, won’t they be very busy?
Also, depending on where the video was produced, there could be no laws preventing such things. (Legal loopholes)
There are many many causes of cancer. Linking the start of GMOs to the increase in cancer rates in the 90s is illogical.
In the 90s, we have increased AWARENESS, leading to more people seeking medical help.
Also, with improved technology, diagnosis is also more accurate. Morever, with the internet, information is readily shared and available across the world, leading to increased data on cancer rates.
Does this mean that there were no cancers or lesser cancer rates in years before 90s?
I recall my grandmother telling me that no one goes to the hospital because they could not afford it. Children die before they reach 5yo and there’s no such thing as autopsy to determine cause of death. Women die from childbirth because they had no money to go to the hospital.
USE OF ORGANIC PRODUCTS
As mentioned, my family does try our best to eliminate possiblities.
I use organic products for my son and dog.
If you are keen, maybe you would like to meet my aunt.
She survived terminal lung cancer and now, she’s an independant lady with her own career.
Also, many people have been pushing for SG to make it compulsory to label GM food. However, this will take some time before it can happen.