We live in a fast-paced world, one that prioritizes progress, technology and the economy above all else. But as we move further down the path of corporate control, we have to ask ourselves: Will we prioritize "advancement" at the expense of human health and the environment?
For example, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was recently awarded to the scientists behind CRISPR gene-editing technology. This technology allows scientists to change the genetic code by adding, removing or altering genetic material. While it has been touted as a "precise" technology, studies already point to opposite conclusions. If this doesn't seem like a big issue, think again. This "precise" technology has been found to make genetic errors with unintended consequences.
To simplify things: The genetic code is what makes us what — and who — we are. It is the reason a banana is yellow and an orange is sweet. When we change something in the genetic code, we are changing its make-up. The reality is that humans still know very little about the genome or the impacts of tampering with genetic codes. This limited knowledge could lead to issues further down the line that we cannot yet comprehend. But beyond some hypothetical future issues, gene-editing could present a very real danger — and very soon. The Nobel Prize press release stated that this technology is a "genetic scissor: a tool for rewriting the code of life." And rewriting the code of life is just what corporations intend for our food supply.
Why is this important?
When we talk about food, we often don't make the connection to seeds. But without seeds, we wouldn't have vegetables, fruits, trees, animals or any living organism. They are the one instrument that continues the cycle of life because they support all ecosystems and the beings that live in them.
But this is all changing. In the wake of new technologies, corporations are able to edit the genome of the seeds, patent and claim ownership of those seeds, and sell them to farmers on contract. Neighbouring farms then face an increased risk of contamination. Suppose the pollen from these genetically modified varieties pollinates the non-GMO varieties in a nearby field. In that case, the farmer faces new hardships with their non-GMO crop. The farmer might face legal action for infringing on patent rights or risk financial losses as their crops no longer qualify for non-GMO or organic certification.
Which organisms are being gene-edited?
New gene-editing techniques are being tested on a huge variety of seeds and animals. Gene-edited trees, common fruits and vegetables, cows, pigs, and even human embryos have been under the microscope. In Florida, 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes have been approved for release.
Experimental, gene-edited foods and animals pose problems beyond just patent infringement for farmers. They are also one of the greatest threats to biodiversity.
How do gene-editing and genetic modification impact the environment?
Previous generations of GMOs — including crops such as corn, canola, soy, and sugar from sugar beets — are commonly found in most processed foods on grocery store shelves. Purveyors of early GMOs claimed their use could "feed the world." While this promise has widely been disproven, history is about to repeat itself. The new generation of gene-edited foods is being rebranded and greenwashed as the best way to protect biodiversity. The irony is, one of the key reasons for biodiversity loss is the destructive methods used in industrial agriculture. These methods include mono-cropping, GMOs, and chemical-intensive practices. In other words, corporations are offering a false solution to a very real problem of their own making.
The genetic material in pollen, carried by small animals and wind, cannot be controlled. By releasing patented organisms into nature, we are releasing genetic pollution owned by corporations. Once released, it can't be recalled. Genetically modified crops could potentially contaminate related native species through cross-pollination.
What happens when these species are released into the environment and breed with natural or native varieties? What happens to the animals that depend on mosquitos as a food source, only to have them replaced with genetically altered versions engineered to die off? What happens to beneficial insects and birds when they feed on crops engineered to contain insecticide? What are the long-term consequences of changing the genetic code of an entire ecosystem? These are the questions we have to ask, and sooner rather than later.
According to the ETC Group, new techniques of genetic modification such as gene drives go one step further:
"Gene drives can entirely re-engineer ecosystems, create fast spreading extinctions, and intervene in living systems at a scale far beyond anything ever imagined. When gene drives are engineered into a fast-reproducing species they could alter their populations within short timeframes, from months to a few years, and rapidly cause extinction. This radical new technology, also called a 'mutagenic chain reaction,' it is unlike anything seen before."
Nature is under threat more than ever before — threat of ownership and monopolization at the hands of massive corporations.
When we look at these technologies from the perspective of Big Business the dots begin to come together. By patenting and controlling the seed supply, corporations now have control over global food markets. Monopolization of the food supply — the very source that gives us life —leads to corporate control over food prices, access, and the kinds of food we put in our bodies.
Proponents may call this societal advancement, but the only way this is true is if "advancement" means corporate profits.
Technology offers us many real solutions for a variety of problems. Still, when it comes to our food, the real solution is reconnecting to the earth and natural systems. Employing traditional, organic, and regenerative farming practices can feed the world and sequester excess CO2 to help with the climate crisis.
We don't need false solutions that only expedite the colonial view of owning the seed and nature. We don't need corporate inventions that irreversibly change the very web of our delicate ecosystems and lives.
In the age of technological change, we have to ask: At what cost will we rewrite the code of life?
To find out more about gene-editing, watch our the panel discussion.
This content was originally posted on 11/06/2020.