Lies about importing GMOs (6/3/2008)

Lies about importing GMOs
Kim Eun-jin, Law professor of Wonkwang University
The Hankyoreh (S. Korea), 1 March 2008

Countries that are not self-sufficient in food are forced to eat what food exporting nations give them. Saying this might express the reality Korea faces right now. A few days ago the main Korean starch sugar industry group announced it would start importing corn starch entirely in the form of genetically modified food (GMO). Do we have to watch this announcement which essentially says that since we do not have food self-sufficiency, it is only a matter of course that we import GMOs grown in the product's main exporter, the United States?

For starters, we need to look at whether it is safe for our posterity if we eat genetically modified agricultural products. So they have been cultivated and consumed for a decade; does that mean it will be okay in the future? Mad cow disease (BSE) appeared in cows a decade after they were fed animal by-product feed and in people a decade after that. For the most part it appeared in people in their late teens and early twenties, people who had eaten beef raised on animal by-product feed since birth. People exposed to defoliants during the Vietnam War saw their children get sick before they themselves did. It is clearly not enough to say GMOs are safe just by looking at the question of now.

We should also see the falsity of the argument that GMOs can solve the food crisis. The world is producing 1.5 times the food the global population needs, and so they say the reason so many people are starving is a problem of distribution. Even if it was an issue of distribution instead of absolute quantity, GMOs are still not the answer. If they are to resolve the food shortage, a whole lot more has to be produced on the same amount of land. GMOs, however, have nothing to do with increased production. Even in the U.S., where most GMOs have been planted, you never see reports that production has increased dramatically as a result.[*]

In the end, the food shortage needs to be resolved using other methods. The desertification of farmland due to global warming and the conversion of farmland to industrial use is the bigger issue. Still, eating genetically modified foods is better than starving? This is clearly what the U.S. is thinking. In 2002 it tried to give African countries food aid in the form of GMOs. When most of them rejected the idea, the U.S. focused at the European Union. It pressured the EU to change its view of GMOs, saying African nations were rejecting the stuff because the EU is opposed to it.

Koreans can live well enough without corn starch, if you look at the reason it has to be imported, aside from the issue of safety, because it is mainly used in the sweets, confectionaries, and beverages consumed by children. If we have to import genetically modified corn because corn starch is too expensive, then I think our response should be, 'Really? Then we'll have to reduce consumption of corn starch!' instead of 'Oh? Then lets import genetically modified corn!' Following the StarLink affair a few years ago, the Korea Food and Drug Administration announced Korea would import corn from countries that do not grow corn that it genetically modified. The typical example of such a country was Brazil. The countries that produce corn in Central and South America are reluctant to grow genetically modified corn out of fear their indigenous strains could become contaminated. So there are still ways to import corn that is not genetically modified. If it is a question of quantity, we can produce less candy, snacks, and beverages, or reduce consumption of the fructose and oligosaccharide that goes into making corn starch.

Since the start of the new government the joke is that the way to be patriotic is to speak Korean and not American. It looks like we might soon hear people joking that eating domestically produced agriculture products instead of foreign produced is the way to be patriotic. That kind of patriotism is not difficult. It is entirely possible with everyone's individual determination.


[* 'Currently available GE [genetically-engineered] crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars.' - Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and M. Caswell. 2006, The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States. USDA-ERS http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/EIB11/ ).]

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