Wednesday, January 26, 2011

GMOs: Now In Chicken and Banana Flavours!

We can add genetically modified chickens and bananas to the growing list of franken-foods in the news recently. (I've previously commented on GM pigs, salmon, and apples.)

Scientists in the UK have engineered the world's first GM chickens that do not spread the avian flu, proving once again that simple problems can be fixed with extremely complex, costly, synthetic solutions. As we all know, avian flu is very easily spread in factory farm conditions where the animals live in such close quarters that the transmission of diseases is essentially inevitable. By the way, this is why 1 in 4 North American chickens carries salmonella. Obviously, instead of adopting more sustainable farming practices, industrial chicken factories (they're not farms) prefer to churn out as many chickens in as little time with as small of a budget on as small of a piece of land as possible. Enter the GM variety that is born immune to the avian flu, and watch as the profits rise.

But wait, it gets better: bananas are the next food to be targeted because the one and only variety exported to Canada, the US, and Europe (the Cavendish, which happens to be sterile) is currently being threatened by a fungus. To avoid losing the entire crop, it has been suggested that we genetically modify the Cavendish banana to be resistant to this fungus. Apparently the people who live in the areas where banana trees are a native plant (hot climates in Asia, Africa, and Latin America) grow a mix of about 1000 varieties in their own backyards, since diversity prevents a single disease from wiping out every last tree. But the people behind the industrial banana farming giants that export the fruit to the countries you and I live in (Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte own 85% of the US market) want nothing to do with those varieties. They claim that those other bananas won't look so good after long-distance travel. I suspect the real reason they won't switch is that no other variety produces a giant yield like the Cavendish does. And let's face it - growing a monoculture of anything is just asking for trouble. All it takes is one pest to come along and destroy the entire crop. In other words, making one type of banana resistant to one fungus hides the symptom of a bigger problem: industrial agriculture is unsustainable.

These two stories offer more proof that genetic modification has nothing to do with feeding the hungry and everything to do with increasing the profit margin of big agribusiness while simultaneously allowing them to maintain farming practices that are detrimental to livestock, workers, the environment, and our health. But I don't want to end this post on such a pessimistic note. We need to remember that the public is growing increasingly aware of and concerned about genetic modification, that information about this topic is becoming more widely available, and that it is becoming easier to source organically grown food that is GMO-free!

How do you feel about genetic modification?

Photo credits: chickens; bananas.


  1. When I read the title of this post, I thought of banana-flavored chickens and was instantly grossed out. After reading the whole thing, I'm still disturbed. Didn't we learn anything from the potato famine? Monocropping is lethal. And although I'm not dead set against genetic modification, past history suggests it would be a much, much better idea to re-introduce heritage varieties than create a new one in a lab.

  2. Great post! I agree with you Andrea - when are we going to realize that monocrops just isn't the answer? Monocrop farming opresses the local people, the land, the ecosystem... no one wins when we do this. Cheap bananas (cheap anything) is just not the answer - we have to start valuing things and be willing to pay more for sustainable practices.

  3. Noteasy2begreen: sorry about the misleading subject line, I wanted something eye-catching and thought about the way new products are marketed by advertising new flavours. Re: heritage varieties, have you seen the doc Seed Warriors? It's about the establishment of the world's first global seed bank in northern Norway to protect biodiversity from the threat of GMOs and monoculture. I highly recommend it.

  4. Urban Girl: I agree, the fallout of monocropping is far-reaching. For now, we have to be willing to pay more for sustainable practices, but eventually, we need an economic system that places a higher price tag on the unsustainable, to discourage overconsumption of things that are detrimental to the environment and human health, and also to make producers and consumers responsible for their choices.