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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 6. Are GM foods already on our tables?

by Eco Generation | 18-07-2016 15:04 Comments 2 recommendations 0

20 Must Know Series-Title

6. Are GM foods already on our tables? 

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1. GMOs and development and distribution of GMOs

     Have you heard of the term 'GMOs'? GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) have different names and mean inserting excellent genes from another organism into the targeted organism, so that it can have more beneficial characteristics. 
     GMOs have been spotlighted for being known to solve food shortages in poor areas as well as for improving the quality of existing food. Despite a long history of GMO research, however, there is still controversy about whether GM food is safe or whether the development process is socially problematic.  

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<Figure 1> Rates of GMO cultivated areas worldwide 
(International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), 2012)

     How many GMOs have been developed and distributed so far? In 2012, about 80% of the total international GM crops were cultivated in 5 countries, including the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India. Between 1996 and 2012, when GMO cultivation began in earnest, the number of countries growing GM crops increased from 6 to 28 (ISAAA, 2012), which indicates more and more countries will enter the GMO market in the future.

2. GMOs in our daily life: Have I already eaten them?

     The most widely cultivated GM crops in countries growing GMOs are used for our snacks and food as well as cosmetics, diapers and other daily supplies. In what other easily accessible food in Korea can we find GMOs? Canned corn, snacks, bread, imported food, cooking oil made from beans and canola, canned tuna with canola oil, and cotton pads and diapers made from imported raw cotton are some. Additionally, genetically modified feed for cows, pigs and chickens that we ultimately consume have been approved and distributed in Korea.

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     According to the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, imported GM processed food in Korea in 2014 increased over 30% (about 4,200 tons) year on year. Regarding this, imported food and ingredients are likely to be GM products rather than natural products.
     Then why is it difficult to tell GMO and NON-GMO products apart? Grown GMOs come to our table ultimately through stores. If you look at ingredient and content labels on snacks or imported food, some of them say they may contain genetically modified raw materials, while others say 100% imported beans. In this case, can you be sure that the latter has no GMOs at all?
     According to the current Food Sanitation Act in Korea, products containing less than 3% GMOs do not have to label the GMO mark as they are considered to be an 'unintentional inclusion.' That is, GMOs can always find their way to our table even if we do not want them.

3 What is the range of influence of international GMOs?

     GMOs have deeply encroached into our everyday life. The impact of GMOs, however, has done more than just affect individuals' genetic information and health through consumption it affects not only life ethics and ecosystems, the most common controversy about GMOs, but also much greater aspects. 
     First, the monopoly by a few giant seed companies is one problem. One of the most famous examples is the 'Terminator seeds' sold by Monsanto, a company notorious for holding 90% of all GMO patents. 'Terminator seeds' restrict the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile. Moreover, the company developed a 'Traitor technology' that allows traits in genetically modified seeds to be switched on and off only by using Monsanto's special chemicals so that people need to buy both the seeds and chemicals. Multinational companies with huge capital have rapidly pushed away existing native species by making farmers continuously purchase their GMO species in various ways.
     GMOs are frequently mentioned as a solution to poverty and starvation. However, do you think developing countries with severe poverty and starvation problems all welcome GM food aid? Actually in 2002, there was a controversy in Africa about whether or not to receive GM food aid. At that time, the food crisis in Zambia was serious enough to declare a state of national emergency, and the US provided GM corn. In response, Zambia declared "We would rather starve than get genetically modified food," while other African nations including Malawi and Swaziland supported GM food by saying "Do not starve, eat GM food!" What decision should Africans make in the end? 

4. What can we do?

     What can we do in the face of heated debates about the GMO? First, as a customer, we can check the country of origin marked on the products and decide whether we will eat GMO food. Also, we can make suggestions to consumer rights groups or official government agencies about matters related to the GMOs such as GMO labeling. 
     Lastly, we can become producers. We can get and plant native seeds from seed museums and send back the reaped seeds to the museums. In this way, we can become protectors of native seeds, which can be pushed out by the GMOs or seeds from the outside.

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Script by : ProfYoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom


  • says :
    Good post !!!

    African countries have their respectives national food and agricultural policies.

    Posted 28-07-2016 23:17

  • says :
    I like the idea of native seed planting mentioned at the end of the post. great piece.
    Posted 23-07-2016 19:31

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