Transgenics and all that jazz II

This is an answer to Nurulthecook’s reply on my previous post about transgenics. I decided to make it into a post, mostly because it was too long, and also because this gives me the chance to clarify some stuff I couldn’t talk about in the previous one. Her opinion was this:

I’m currently against! So many reasons. I love my food natural. Preferably without chemicals fertilizer or pesticides. I don’t swear by organic. Because organic may start off meaning well, but in the end it has to go through a long chain of companies meaning people. And unfortunately for some people money means more than ethics. So sticking an organic label on normal non organic produce is very easy-and possible to do by the distributor (to name just one). This was the personal experience of a late friend of mine.

Now when it comes to genetically altered food-(I can see you taking apart all my arguments already;-)) I doubt that the companies that supply the seeds will ever tell you about any problems health or environment related. I don’t trust corporations. Most only want to suck the people dry of every last ounce of blood they have-only to come back and sell you your blood back at five times the price.

The genetic alteration can, I think pass onto people. Maybe it would have adverse affects in the future. But then most of the fruit in the west has been modified or altered genetically already (and many taste crap!). But we still eat it. There are a lot of sick people in the western hemisphere of the world. And food is just one cause of this.

There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. It’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now with the speculation on food in the financial markets and the drive to make biofuel from food we eat……the prices will go up again. And the poorest in the world will suffer.

Maybe I’m wrong. I just have this idea of ALL of the worlds seeds eventually becoming corporately owned. And the diversity of certain edible plants has already dwindled to just a few. So when nature makes it’s call on the plants-the fittest and strongest will survive. If there are only a few varieties-then the odds are against that plant surviving.

This is becoming a post…..

In the modern world, currently globalized, and with vestiges of the post-fordism ways for producing, there is no ‘natural food’. Every veggie, fruit, or cereal you’ve had in the last, say, 20 years, has been modified from it’s original self by humans in one way or another. This isn’t something necessarily bad, though.

Take corn, for example: an oleaginous plant original from the American continent. When Europeans got here for the first time, this cultive was one of the most important for the originary people from here (Mexican food now-a-days is a living culinary example to this). But the plant was different then: it had many fewer seeds when it reached maturity. And I’m talking about having between 8 to 16! Think of the present corn plant, and you see that’s just crazy.
When Europeans discovered how useful this plant was, they started cultivating it too. But, what they did was something different as well. They started crossing for reproduction only those plants with more than 10 seeds, for example. After a few years, they had only plants with more than 10 seeds, so they started crossing between plants with more than 15. This went on until, at some point, every corn plant cultivated everywhere was like the one we use today.
That, Nuru, was the way the ‘genetic modification’ from that time worked.

Apart from this, no one cultivates anything for mass-production without using either lots of chemicals, or either transgenic seeds. That, unless you cultivate ‘organics’.

Now, let’s analyze every one of these options, shall we?

Chemicals, such as plaguicides, fertilizers, an the likes.
When you are an agropecuary investor, or producer, your cultives are bound to face a lot of dangers -but you can’t allow any of those to affect your production, or else, you lose money, and producing becomes unprofitable. In order to make sure none of the many variants of nature leave producers without their money, they’ve developed many helpers.

Fertilizers replenish the soil’s natural nutrients and minerals, the ones it looses when cultivating the same plant various times. If a producer performs mono-cultives (meaning, he produces one ONE kind of plant), then the soil could become unuseful and spoiled, and cultivating there wouldn’t be profitable. Do you imagine what would happen if, in every piece of land we cultivate in, the soil would become like that after a few years? We couldn’t reach the global production we have now-a-days, making hunger a MUCH bigger problem. Fertilizers are there, in part, because of this. Of course, they also give plant a bust, but what’s really important about them is their enviromental role.

Pesticides, on the other side, are there to fight one big problem nature throws at us, and that has caused many loses during the centuries. Im talking about plagues. There’s not much depth into them other than they kill bugs and plants that ruin a cultive.
The problem there seems to be with this, is that they can be quite toxic. That is, if not used properly. Every land owner that buys a pesticide to use, is aware of the instructions, because they come with the package: it has to be diluted in a certain quantity of water, for it to harm the pests, but not the humans.
And I mean it, people! Hard and meticulous studies have been performed on every pesticide there is, and they have been proven not to be toxic when used properly. The problem is, there isn’t really a normative or regulation on it’s use. Labs just trust their clients to do the right thing, for all I know, which might not be very efficient, as we all know.

All in all, chemicals have been a big part of what we call ‘the green revolution’, which proved that a piece of land’s productivity isn’t decided merely on it’s extension, but on the technical advances that we can use in it.

Transgenics. I’ve already explained quite a lot about them, but I guess I could keep on writing for a while longer.
Transgenics are usually made by taking one particular gen from a certain plant, which gives this plant a certain characteristic that makes it good against extreme temperatures, or a certain plague, or makes it use less nutrients from the soil, or something else, and to insert it in the genetic code of the plant we want to cultivate in mass.
That’s all there is to it.

Soy field

Soy field. A normal view in Argentina’s countryside.

Now, the process takes a long, long time. First, scientists need to find that specific plant with that specific characteristic they’re looking for. After that, they have to decode their DNA. Now comes the first experimental stage, which is adding or subtracting to that DNA chain until they find that particular gen that gives this plant that particular characteristic. This could take YEARS.
Now, let’s say they find it, and now they’re ready to insert it in, for example, a soy bean! Or are they?
The second experimental part of this process is trying to add this gen to this soy’s DNA sequence. This could work or not, they don’t really know before trying. After adding it to every possible position in the chain, let’s say they find the position that actually works with the soy bean. Ok, so now, they need to actually make the seed containing that modified DNA chain.
This, after many tries, leaves you with some growing soy, that you have to immediately start cloning. Why? Well, because you need many exactly identical samples of this plant, because if it breeds with another one, then you lost years of work!
So the soy plants start growing, and they make sure they breed between each other. After many years of hard work, you have the first actually cultivable seeds of the modified soy bean! Now, you can sell it to…! No, actually you can’t, because you need to go through many testes and applications, that, here, usually take between 3 and 8 years, for it to be approved to be commercialized.

And that’s, pretty much, how transgenic seeds are accomplished! Though it’s actually much harder and complicated than that!

What many people say about transgenics, is that they’re afraid that, as they are genetically modified, they will mutate their DNA as well.
Now let me ask you a question: when you eat meat, do you suddenly start becoming a cow? Or, when eating an ‘organic’ lettuce, do you feel like your skin becomes green, and you suddenly feel like doing photosynthesis?
The answer to those is ‘no’. And the answer is ‘no’, because we can’t actually ‘absorb’ the DNA of what we eat, much less to ‘add’ that non-absorbed DNA into our own. That just doesn’t make sense. So no, eating a transgenic plant wont make you into a monster or a plant. Not more than eating meat makes you into a cow.

Organics. When I hear someone bragging about how they ‘only eat organic food’, I can’t help but shamelessly laugh. What do you define as ‘organic’, really? A plant that wasn’t modified by men? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but as I explained in my introduction, we already modified most of what we cultivate from it’s original self already.
A plant that wasn’t cultivated with any chemicals? I would never eat something like that, because, if pesticides weren’t used on it, then that means that plant was exposed without any defense to any kind of bug or possibly toxic plant. Not very appealing, is it?
And not having consumed any fertilizer, means that the plant may or may not have had a disease during it’s growth, as it’s defenses weren’t reinforced. It also means that it may not have acquired every nutrient it needed, making it’s growth insufficient, and it’s nutritive value decrease.

An ‘organic’ plant isn’t healthier, greener, or better than the average one. It’s actually probably less safe than the average. Pay a lot of attention the next time someone talks about how they only eat organic, and try to guess if they have any idea of what they’re talking about.

Well, I don’t want to make this into a rant, so I think I’ll stop right here. My thanks to Nurulthecook for her answer in the previous post about transgenics, which gave me the drive this write this sequel. I always appreciate any opinion or doubt you have about the posts!
(Do check out Nurul’s blog, it’s pretty cool. Even for someone with the cooking skills of a rock, such as me).

Oh, by the way, I think I’ll start posting on Fridays periodically, and maybe add random posts around the week. But Fridays will be obligatory for me!
Well, thanks for reading, and see you next week.