This essay is a rather heavy research piece I wrote several months ago, but dragging it back out is necessary, in my opinion, in light of the growing concern as regards genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the long term impact on public health and safety, as well as the potential devastation of the environment and food supply.  Given the many protests against against Monsanto, it is quite timely.   Forgive the “scholarly” tone (changed the MLA a bit to make the references a little easier to locate)…college professors, you know?

Farming for Life: Industrialized Agriculture and the Organic/Non GMO Solution

It is the most basic of human needs and is big business throughout the world. Nonetheless, our list of suppliers is shrinking. In 1900, nearly 41% of the world’s population worked in agriculture; today, that number is less than 1%, and agribusiness is the new face of farming. Gone are the days of the local farmer and his big, red barn with grass-fed beef, heirloom seeds and free-range chickens. Instead, there’s been a significant shift in just how food makes it from the corporate farm to the supermarket, and finally, the family table; often with devastating effects upon local economies, the ecosystem and human and animal health.[4]

Increasing reliance upon herbicides and pesticides, to produce enormous crops of visually appealing produce, is wreaking havoc upon our health, while GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are threatening to eradicate a whole host of unique, heirloom crops. Large corporations, utilizing GMO patents, now have legal means to protect profit margins and control the food supply. Organic farmers struggle to maintain crop purity, yet are often accused of violating corporate copyrights when cross-pollination inevitably occurs. The corporate farm and its effect upon the economy and health of people throughout the world can no longer be ignored; the best solution to this problem is a return to smaller, sustainable agriculture at the local level and the reformation of existing food production practices.

What lies at the heart of this controversy, is the increased prevalence of GMOs in every day products, the refusal of corporations to notify consumers as to their presence, increased measurable residue of herbicides and pesticides in fresh fruits and vegetables, and the impact that these unnatural elements are having upon the health of human beings and animals, as well as upon the environment. Proponents of these methods offer that crops are larger and more attractive, thanks to herbicides and pesticides, and that genetically modifying the plant itself, helps it to keep its pleasant appearance, while improving its ability to withstand the effects of these chemicals.


It is currently estimated, that nearly 80% of all the packaged food consumed by the average family contains GMOs. Despite public consensus that the consumer has the right to refuse such products, most are quite simply unaware that these elements are present in the food supply. Monsanto, an industrial giant with a vested interest in GMO products and the creator of Round Up, has fought efforts at every level to restrict the use of GMOs.

However, as early as 1960, before the advent of Monsanto’s Round Up and GMOs, Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, began decrying the widespread use of another popular chemical, DDT. DDT was the chemical of choice used to eradicate the mosquito population in jungles and rainforests, thus sparing the human population the horrific disease, malaria. But the eradication of pest, led to high levels of DDT in the ground and water supply. Citing the potential long term effects upon human life and the environment as we relied upon chemicals to “save us” from disease, she warned that we could, one day, face the reality of a Silent Spring, one in which the earth would no longer flower, nor would the birds sing. In an essay, “The Obligation to Endure,” originally published in Silent Spring, she wonders how anyone can “believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life?” [3]

John Tierney, a proponent of chemical intervention, disagrees with her assertion, or at least, begs temperance before we discard all pesticides and herbicides. In his essay “Fateful Voice of a Generation Still Drowns Out Real Science,” Tierney refers to these claims by Carson as a “hodgepodge of science and junk science.” Tierney plays devil’s advocate for the judicious use of insecticides and even praises the use of DDT in malaria-laden countries, despite its obvious drawbacks and inherent dangers. Tierney would have us believe that all we need to do is trust science. Science, it seems, has all the answers. [8]

Yet, the current “answer” from science is an odd one, to say the least. Rather than acknowledging the devastating effects of this barrage of chemicals, scientists have instead looked to the genetic structure of the plant, engineering and altering it so that it is resistant to the effects of these chemicals. Thus, the pests, fungi and weeds are eradicated, and the plant retains its healthful appearance. [2]

But is it truly healthful? Research is increasingly confirming that there are startling and negative effects upon human health, as the result of this radical form of genetic engineering. The effects upon the environment are the most obvious. From repeated use of Round Up on these GMO plants, scientists have now identified a group of Super Weeds, or “Round Up Resistant” plants. These weeds, after having been exposed to repeated spraying, have now developed a resistance to the chemical, and once again the battle for crop supremacy over weeds, is waged anew. [6]

The World Health Organization has expressed its own concerns, and while not condemning the use of GMOs, has stated what it feels are the two most pertinent questions that pertain to its role in relation to GM foods:
“1) on the grounds that public health could benefit enormously from the potential of biotechnology, for example, from an increase in the nutrient content of foods, decreased allergenicity and more efficient food production; and (2) based on the need to examine the potential negative effects on human health of the consumption of food produced through genetic modification, also at the global level. It is clear that modern technologies must be thoroughly evaluated if they are to constitute a true improvement in the way food is produced. Such evaluations must be holistic and all-inclusive, and cannot stop at the previously separated, non-coherent systems of evaluation focusing solely on human health or environmental effects in isolation.”[1]

Over eight hundred scientists from 84 countries have signed The World Scientist open letter to all governments calling for a ban on the patenting of life-forms and emphasizing the very grave hazards of GMOs, genetically-modified seeds and GM foods, citing “The hazards of GMOs to biodiversity and human and animal health are now acknowledged by sources within the UK and US Governments. Particularly serious consequences are associated with the potential for horizontal gene transfer. These include the spread of antibiotic resistance marker genes that would render infectious diseases untreatable, the generation of new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases and harmful mutations which may lead to cancer.”[7]

While many scientist acknowledge that GMOs pose a genuine danger to health and the ecology, there is a time and place for the use of pesticides and herbicides, but it isn’t in the midst of food produced for consumption by human beings and animals. With increased links to cancer, nervous system disorders, infertility, immunological disorders from the use of these chemicals it is clear that realistic and healthful alternatives must be engaged.

Organic farming principles are a possible solution. Corporate agriculture must begin to explore the possibility of applying organic principles of farming to these large scale operations. Organic farming is merely the process of producing food naturally, by avoiding the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, as well as avoiding the use of genetically modified organisms to influence the growth of crops. The goal of every food grower should involve utilizing a method that “dramatically reduces external inputs by controlling pests and diseases naturally, with both traditional and modern methods, increasing both agricultural yields and disease resistance.” [5]

The change, unfortunately, will not likely be initiated from the “top,” but will have to be initiated at the bottom, by the consumer. Consumers must begin to insist upon the following:

*Accurate labeling of food products that contain GMOs
*Accurate dissemination of information from the USDA regarding the health effects of GMOs.
*Accurate representation and measurement of chemical herbicide and pesticide residues in fresh fruits and vegetables

At the personal level, organic produce is at the tip of one’s fingers, or better yet, gardening gloves. Consider participating in a community garden program. Grow small terrace vegetables and herbs. Participate in a CSA and reap the benefits of someone else’s hard work, with a regular delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables. As often as possible, avoid pre-packaged foods; learn to appreciate the beauty and freshness of naturally grown foods. Not everyone can be an activist, but everyone can make a difference through small changes at the local level.

Without change, corporate farming will continue to have a devastating effect upon this earth and the people who live on it. Resisting the power and influence of industrialized agriculture and embracing the principles of growing food organically will reap an abundant harvest in terms of health and the environment, which will be apparent for generations to come.

Works Cited

[1]”20 Questions On Genetically Modified Foods.” Food Safety. World Health Organization, 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.
[2]”Breeding Aims Disease Resistance.” 11 Dec. 2006. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
[3]Carson, Rachel. “The Obligation to Endure.” The Blair Reader. 7th ed. Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. Prentice Hall, 2011. 474-80. Print.
[4]Dimitri, Carolyn, Anne Effland, and Neilson Conklin. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA Economic Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture, 3 June 2005. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
[5]”Environmental Benefits of Organic Agriculture Positive Benefits for Society and for Nature.” Growing Organic Information and Resources for Developing Sustainable Organic Sectors. IFOAM, 2009. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
[6]Neuman, William, and Andrew Pollack. “Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds.” Business Day Energy and Environment. The New York Times, 3 May 2010. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
[7] “Open Letter from World Scientists to All Governments Concerning Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).” Institute of Science in Society. Web. 10 Mar. 2012.
[8]Tierney, John. “Fateful Voice of a Generation Still Drowns Out Real Science.” The Blair Reader. 7th ed. Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. Prentice Hall, 2011. 480- 83. Print.