'Tis the season to reflect on the past year and hold high expectations for the blank slate that awaits in January.
Here's one resolution for all you consumers hoping to improve your health and the environment: Starting in 2012, avoid genetically engineered foods.
It won't be easy. By some estimates, 70 percent of processed food contains engineered ingredients. That's why we need lawmakers and grocery retailers to turn over a new leaf in the coming year and support our right to know what we're eating.
The variety and volume of engineered crops have steadily increased over the past 15 years, despite the lack of independent research on their long-term effects on human health and the environment. Extolled for their potential to boost nutrients and increase yields to feed a hungry planet, in reality the vast majority of genetically engineered crops are designed solely to resist insects and weeds. In fact, 94 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of corn, and 90 percent of cotton are genetically engineered solely for that purpose.
But this widespread experiment isn't working. So-called "super weeds" and hardy pests like the rootworm have evolved to resist the herbicides and pesticides that are used with engineered crops. As a result, even more toxic chemicals are needed to keep these mutated pests at bay.
These chemicals poison our waterways, soil, and ultimately our bodies. Some have been associated with endocrine disruption and developmental abnormalities. Yet more risks are still being discovered.
Not only are genetically engineered foods risky to our environmental and physical health, they also hinder the financial well being of family farmers who must depend on just a few companies for seeds and their affiliated agrochemicals. They face the threat of lawsuits if their crops get contaminated by genetic material from engineered crops planted by someone else.
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Opinion polls show that many people don't want to eat these foods, and nearly everyone asked wants them labeled. While most of the developed world has either banned engineered food or required that it be labeled, most U.S. consumers unwittingly eat and drink engineered ingredients every day.
This is particularly true with cereal, cookies, soft drinks, and processed foods that contain soy protein and corn syrup. But engineered ingredients also hide in some fruits and vegetables. Dairy products and meat that come from animals fed those crops are also considered genetically engineered foods.
This fall, the biotech and pesticide giant Monsanto introduced a new variety of genetically modified sweet corn. Sweet corn is the stuff we eat right off the cob, or that we buy frozen or canned. This new sweet corn "stacks" three genetically modified traits that are intended to resist weed-killing chemicals and fight off pests. Although the traits were approved individually, no tests have been performed to determine their health and environmental effects when combined in one product.
Regardless, this engineered sweet corn is set to hit grocery stores in 2012. As the largest grocery retailer in the country, Walmart has considerable influence over which foods are available to the public, the methods used to produce them, and the prices paid to food producers. Walmart should set an example for other retailers by listening to customer preferences and choosing not to sell engineered sweet corn in its stores.
Ultimately, our government and food retailers should respect the right of Americans to know what's on our plate and how it's produced.
In 2012, let's resolve to make sure they get that message.