Food Security or Monopoly?

Some are demanding that products which contain GM material should be clearly labelled because people have a right to choose. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Rami Zurayk

Published Saturday, November 10, 2012

In the last few years, genetically modified foods have snuck into our lives to become an integral part of our daily diet. Although evidence of their adverse effects on health is still being debated by scientists, their negative impact on the environment is very well known. We also know that they deepen poverty and tighten the grip of large corporations on the global seed market.

GM foods came into existence in the university laboratories of the developed world in the 1980s. However, their production technology was undertaken by giant corporations.

The technology works by transferring genetic material from one organism to another, bypassing natural reproduction methods. Through this method, it is possible to transfer a desirable gene, such as resistance to pests, from one organism to another – even if the organisms are not “related” to each other on the genetic scale, like insects and plants.

Although the biotechnology used in this transfer can only be admired, it has yet to be evaluated from a social or environmental vantage point. A serious debate on whether these foods should be consumed is now raging. Supporters of GM foods justify their position by arguing that they guarantee food security by increasing production and lowering prices. They insist that no harm to human health or the environment can come from them.

The other side points out that the factors affecting food security are poverty, the misallocation of resources, and the way capital monopolizes the means of production. This leads to small farmers losing their land. This camp argues that scientific research clearly shows that there is an increased risk of cancer as a result of the consumption of GM products, which can be present in bread, corn, and soya derivatives, such as animal feed.

For these reasons, voices demanding that GM foods be banned altogether are rising. Some are demanding that products which contain GM material should be clearly labelled because people have a right to choose.

In Lebanon, however, the interests of the rich and powerful come before the rights of ordinary people. We lack any information about our food and drink; we need this information so that we can make better choices.

Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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