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Genetically modified agriculture has been a topic for discussion since the first commercial introduction in 1996. Today, genetically modified crops have skyrocketed, particularly in the United States, and are causing huge concerns among farmers as well as consumers. The modified crops have been and currently are associated with various health issues as well as contamination to the environment, in which the crops are harvested. Theoretically, this technology is said to, one day, end world hunger.

This past Wednesday, a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) panel discussion was held at the University of Maine at Machias. The Panel included: Jim Gerritsen, John Jemison, Andrei Alyokhin and Eric H. Jones. Each of the four men shared with the audience a specific background, knowledge, and experience with GMO products. The discussion began with educated summaries from each of the panel members, of what exactly a GMO is.

The science behind genetically modified organisms is rather thrilling. Think about having a specific organism and injecting it with particular genes in order to produce a product, at a faster rate, as well as kill potential predators. The genes and pesticides used on crops camouflage the crop from its environment in hopes to steer away potential threats. Keep in mind that there is a difference between genetically engineered and genetically modified crop. Genetically engineered crop is the process of growing and harvesting a particular crop mainly for subsistence or profit. Genetically modified organisms is a method used to modify the genetic makeup of plants, (or animals) in efforts to introduce, remove, or modify specific parts of its genome.

Genes from organisms that don’t even belong to the same kingdom can be taken and spliced in efforts to manipulate that organism is a specific way. Andrei Alyokhin, a professor of Applied Entomology at the University of Maine, expresses his knowledge of GMOs in relation to insects and the natural environment. There are two traits used on crops, the first being roundup (Glyphosate) resistant weeds. Glyphosate herbicide, used primarily by corn and soybean growers, is sprayed on weeds that affect growth of vegetation. However, this product strips the immunity of the crop and allows other deadly pathogens to thrive. Multiple issues have been linked to the herbicide and, furthermore, weeds are becoming resistant to the product. What is the solution? Some say to double the dose, but is that a healthy and sustainable fix? Farmers are harvesting toxic crop, consumers are developing disease, and the environment is contaminated, but someone somewhere is making money. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is the other trait. This modified crop produces toxins to kill insects. Bt was supposed to be a solution to the large amount of pesticides being used on crops, but instead Bt has lead to large amounts of crop failure. Like roundup, Bt has had similar side effects on environment and consumer. Bt also allows the promotion of secondary pests to advance and primary pest are becoming immune.

No wonder why our society is concerned when receiving this shocking information, but at the same time GMO is valuable technology that cannot be thrown away. The advancements mankind has made in the agricultural world are stunning. The key is to use the knowledge respectfully and be respectful to those who it may concern. So why is it that GMO foods have yet to be labeled? This information should be accessible to someone who is using their hard earned dollars at the grocery stores. It is unsettling that most people don’t know if they are eating modified crop. As American citizens, it is the people’s right to have this information available and it is the people’s freedom to choose whether or not to indulge.

Jim Gerriston, an Organic Farmer from northern Maine, widens the eyes of the audience, while giving his belief on what GM crops are really about. He believes that over time the seed has been taken from the farmer’s hand. GM corporations have made a monopoly in the agricultural world, thus giving farmer’s little to no choice but to buy the GMOs. Where a paten exists a monopoly will follow. Gerriston also touched base on the importance of labeling. LD 718 is a bill that Gerriston and many others have pushed effortlessly to pass. This law will make labeling GMO food and seed stock a mandatory in the state of Maine.

The bill is passed for enactment, but before it becomes a law four other states in New England have to vote. Following that, an eighteen-month implementation period will commence. Some progress is being made, but much more is needed in order to use GMO technology properly. GM companies have farmers on their hands and knees. There is little protection for the majority of agriculturist who are forced to invest in expensive GM product. If the commodity is faulty and the crops cannot be sold the farmer loses more than profit. Organic farmers are constantly worried because with all the GM products being used there is more room for contamination to their crop.

Organic crop cannot be sold as organic if it is tainted with GM traits. GM companies vaguely overlook these pivotal concerns because they are the ones who are in charge. They companies are winning either way. This cycle is not healthy or beneficial. Greediness will never lead to a solution, and people continue to die each day from starvation. When the panel was asked about GMOs in relation to world hunger, Gerriston answered as much knowledgeable as he did passionate. He told the audience that selling genetically modified seed to a poverty stricken country would be of little use to that country. Providing those countries with the essential farming tools and education for growing and harvesting would be the affective route. It’s not as if there isn’t enough food in the world, but more or less the lack of distribution. The truth is that there is enough food in this world that no one should be hungry. The amount of food we throw away in a day could feed a country of starving people. We can do all the modifying we want, but John Jemison said it all when he said, “mother nature always bats last.”

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