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What’s Up with Vermont and Monsanto?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Zvonimir Atletic

Most of what I do up here on is all in good fun. Yeah, I love my meat and while you might think vegetables are the thing I hate most in the world, they are not. In fact, I hate a lot of things more than vegetables (usually Ohio State). Right now, one of those things is Monsanto.

By now you’ve probably heard of genetically altered foods, also known as GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It sounds like something from the future, but in fact GMOs are in many common foods we Americans eat every day. Foods like corn and soy are common forms of GMOs and these crops can be found in all sorts of other food items like beef, bread and chips.

But why is this a problem? Shouldn’t genetics be creating new, awesome superfoods?

In theory, yes. GMOs have been used to make crops resistant to weed killers (so that you can spray down a crop without worrying about killing the crop itself) and to make tomatoes stay firm while ripe. These seem good, but at what cost? This isn’t like Gregor Mendel messing around with peas in his backyard. Instead, methods like gene guns (which literally penetrate the nucleus of a cell), viruses and bacteria are exploited to alter the DNA of species. Better yet, a method of genetic modification involves incorporating antibiotic resistant genes into DNA. The result is that all cells reproduced from the original will be resistant to that antibiotic. Antibiotics, by the way, are used to make some of our most important medications (think penicillin). If I told you that your Doritos were created using a virus or an antibiotic resistant gene, would you want to eat them? Probably not.

This is the fundamental issue that has confronted Vermont, where a bill has almost passed that would require labeling of genetically modified foods. I say almost because a threat from Monsanto, also known as the agricultural devil, to sue the state of Vermont has slowed the bill down. This is quite literally a case of a massive corporation threatening to kill a bill with popular support. Monsanto claims that their foods are tested, and surely they are. Yet, so are foods containing peanut products and companies still have to label them as such. Vermont is not kicking Monsanto out of the sate or banning GMOs, all it is doing is attempting to inform consumers of what they are about to eat. It is no longer enough to say that corn is an ingredient, because “corn” is no longer descriptive enough.

And just to be clear, Vermont is not the one at fault for distinguishing GMOs from more natural foods. In fact, it was a man working for GE who opened up the floodgates. In the case of Diamond vs. Chakrabarty, the US Supreme Court ruled that Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty could patent the crude oil-eating bacterium he developed to treat oil spills. In case you’re a bit lost, this meant he quite literally owned the organism and any use of it. This paved the way for a slew of big agricultural companies to patent their seeds and crops. If a patented seed somehow blows in the wind to a neighboring farm, all crops that grow from it are property of whomever owns the patent. While the right to possess the rights to life is scary enough, this really comes down to the fact that big agricultural companies are distinguishing their crops as far as patents go – why not take it a step further and make them distinguish these crops on food labels? They’re asking for it anyway. I won’t get too much into the affect this patenting has on small-scale farmers of the world, but just know that like most corporate controversies, the little guys are getting the short end of the stick.

All moral and health implications aside, the issue really comes down to the fact that Monsanto is flexing more muscle than the state of Vermont. The best way to help is by spreading the word. Tell your friends (especially if they live in Vermont), boycott companies that use GMOs. Sadly, without labeling it is hard to tell who is using them, but if you buy any specific product pretty often, contact them to find out. Most companies are happy to tell you if they use biotechnology (a fancy word for GMO), they just don’t want them on their labels. Finally, you don’t have to be in Vermont to make a difference in this. Contact your state or national representative and let them know your concerns. If enough people make a stink about something, wheels get turning (it worked in the Trayvon Martin case, even if Zimmerman isn’t convicted).

If you’ve made it this far, odds are you’ll be fascinated and frightened by this documentary, The Future of Food: