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Genetically Modifed Foods

Many individuals and organizations in the United States and around the world are opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) as enhancements to food production. The Monsanto Corporation, as one of the largest American agricultural science companies, is a proponent of the use of such transgenic biotechnology and has become a major target for anti-GMO activities. According to Monsanto, crops developed with biotechnologies help farmers around the world get better yields from marginal land, reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides, and in general result in various environmental benefits, not the least of which is the reduction in greenhouse gases.

Opponents of GMO claim that genetic modification is inherently different from traditional plant and animal breeding, is untested, and can lead to unanticipated disruptions in ecosystems around the world. They dispute the claim that GMO reduces pesticide and herbicide use, claiming rather that new hardier plant varieties actually increase the likelihood of environment-damaging chemicals being used. They also dispute the claim that transgenic seeds increase farm yields, claiming that complex biotechnologies often make it more difficult for poor farmers to see their crops to harvest. In response to the broad industry claim that transgenic foods will “feed the world,” most GMO opponents see the opposite result: a global agriculture held hostage to a few monopoly GMO producers like Monsanto. By far the greatest concern among critics of GMO is the possibility that genetically modified crops may cross-pollinate regular crops.

Beyond the practical arguments against GMO, many people see the technology as an undesirable form of tinkering with nature. Many shades of opinion exist, with some calling for a moratorium on GMO technologies, some an outright ban, some nothing more than food labeling requirements, and others, of course, supporting a “full steam ahead” approach on the technology. GMO is hence a sensitive political issue in the United States, with ecological, health, scientific, and economic ramifications. Possibly the only indisputable fact about the technology is that it is in wide use around the United States. Some health and natural food products may be sold with labels that specifically indicate they are not produced from foods derived from transgenic technologies; most “natural” food purveyors and groceries advertise that they do not support GMO technologies; absent these efforts, there is no sure guarantee that an American food product is GMO-free.

Referendums in several American agricultural regions have succeeded in banning GMO in some areas, and have failed in others. Mendocino County in northern California in 2004 became the first and most prominent region to ban GMO technology from its fields. Several other counties followed suit, but resolutions in several agriculturally important central California counties specifically supported GMO and its related bio-technologies.