Erica Young, a student of Jorge Muñoz at Arcadia High School in Arcadia, California, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article "A Month Without Monsanto," by April Dávila, a story about the potential health effects of genetically modified foods, and her need to learn where her food came from. She is our high school winner for the Spring 2013 writing competition.
Writing prompt: April Dávila discovered that around 70 percent of processed foods on American supermarket shelves contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Does this concern you? What matters most to you about the food you eat?
GM Civil War: The Superfood Registration Act
They're everywhere. They're in the streets. They're in the clothes you wear. They're in the food you eat. Even as we speak, the winds and waters are carrying them, silently but surely speeding towards the soon-to-be formerly clean areas. This may sound like a plot for a generic virus-disease-apocalypse horror movie, but it's a description of a real thing that is happening right now that has been sneaking up on us for decades. As April Dávila realized in her YES! Magazine article, “A Month Without Monsanto,” genetically modified foods are everywhere, and people need to be aware of this epidemic that is sweeping not only across the United States, but the world.
I don't mean to sound alarmist and paranoid—humanity is always inventing, always looking for new things to improve the quality of life, and we're constantly innovating to push those improvements further and further. Since the establishment of settled communities, humans have selected and bred organisms with the most desirable traits. For instance, if there is a tomato that is bigger and better, and it can be bred with another tomato that has greater resistance to frost to make a generation of super!tomatoes, then that is seen as a great thing for humanity. Because of scientific advancements in DNA recombination, we are now able to give that super!tomato even more super powers—but at what price?
Like most comic book heroes, the creation of that super-super!tomato* requires some sort of mutation—for instance, one that causes it to be resistant to freezing. It's a mutation that benefits both consumer and entrepreneur. However, we cannot overlook the possible consequences of that gene—isolated, synthesized, and inserted from a laboratory into our organic selves. Foods that have been genetically engineered don't need to be labeled as long as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems that they do not have "significantly different" characteristics. Though the FDA has to make sure these plants are “safe,” it does not test the long-term effects these foods may have on humans, nor does it consider the potential impacts on plant biodiversity if some crops pollinate with other non-GMOs.
Because genetically modified foods are everywhere, I'm concerned that there has been minimal testing and scrutiny on their long-term impact on the world's food supply. Most people seem content with the FDA's and Congress's judgment. It's human nature that people tend to give up on matters for which they think they have little control. On top of that, human error is another factor that ultimately may lead to harmful decisions. If we were to turn the clock back a mere 50 or so years, we would see crowds of children being sprayed with a misty liquid from trucks that advertise:
Harmless to Humans
This spraying may seem like an ominous action now because of discoveries that were made long after the toxic pesticide entered the bodies of those children. It makes me wonder if the right decisions about genetically modified foods are being made right now.
What matters to me about the food I eat is that I know where it's from; I am too easily lulled into a sense of complacency, of seeing a food on my plate, and not really thinking about it much past “yeah, this came from a farm somewhere in Central California, maybe?” and just… eating. Which, if you think about it, goes against everything we've been taught as children—to think about what we're putting in our mouths before we do it, as well as to trust our instincts. Infants tend to sniff their food a bit to make sure what they're eating is something they approve of before really taking it in. Though I know it would be unrealistic to expect a detailed diagram of every step taken to produce the food I consume, I would like to at least know if and how a food has been genetically modified. Foods, like super heroes, need to wear their logo on their chests, so I know what to expect when I see them.
*Referring to the 'fish tomato', a transgenic tomato with antifreeze genes of a winter flounder; sounds like a radioactive superhero to me!
The title is a nerdy reference to the Marvel Civil War Arc, though that was really sad and I was against the registration act because it didn't do much but pander to people's fears, and Captain America dies so I am a sad puppy.