COLUMN: GMOs in Latin America have a severe dark side
Genetically modified organisms have become, in a short period of time, a staple in the American diet.
Many consumers have their suspicions about GMOs’ effects on human health, but thanks to lobbying by agro-business giants like Monsanto, along with complicit politicians and regulators, public consciousness about GMOs remains minimal in the United States.
Like so many other issues, the rest of the world is far ahead of the U.S. in recognizing the agricultural, environmental and health dangers of GMOs. More than 30 countries have now banned GMOs, including most of Europe.
The production of GMOs has since shifted to other continents such as Africa and Latin America. Sarah Evans, a student from Vassar College with whom I am studying abroad in Argentina, has spent her academic career learning about sustainable food production and global agriculture.
In her words, GMOs are “essentially just a huge experiment ... I don’t think we’ve done enough research or had enough time to do research to know if it’s harmful or not to our bodies.”
Argentina accounts for 18 percent of the world’s soy production. Last week my foreign exchange program visited the town of Puerto General San Martín, whose port on the Paraná River exports 50 percent of Argentina’s soy.
Before even reaching the town, a few other students and I started experiencing horrible congestion and itchy eyes. Upon reaching the town and speaking with Ecos de la Sociedad, an environmentally focused group, we quickly learned what was happening.
As hundreds of trucks carrying soy travel through Puerto General San Martín, the dust from the grains permeates throughout the air, covering everything in the town, motorcycles, food and lungs, with an hourly layer of chemically injected soy molecules.
The town is an environmental and public health disaster
“They have no control over their environment,” Evans said to me a few days after the visit.
“These people don’t even have the option to grow their own food in their own space because of the air ... It was freaky to me because that’s something you take for granted a lot, the air you’re breathing.”
Though GMO apologists will justify chemically treated food with lofty rhetoric about feeding the world, a recent United Nations report stating that 20 million people suffer starvation in Africa and that we face the “worst humanitarian crisis since 1945” contradicts such arguments.
In many respects humanitarian organizations deserve blame for creating this crisis because the mere dumping of food in Africa pays little attention to existing food cultures and ecosystems.
As Evans so eloquently said to me, “A lot of food assistance from humanitarian aid organizations don’t think of what they’re giving as long as they’re giving something, which creates these food insecurities on a global scale.”
When I asked Evans to articulate what her perfect view of global food production would look like, she pointed the finger at legislation like the U.S. Farm Bill, which incentivizes and subsidizes large agricultural companies instead of local farmers.
“In the next 10 to 20 years, people will have to prioritize more what agricultural practices they use. You can’t put artificial nitrogen on food forever.”
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