About Genetically Modified Foods and Journalism in Jamaica
Today I ate an orange that had no seeds. NONE. Not even those small seeds. That is not normal. Like much of the food I buy in my regular supermarket it was probably genetically modified. Of course, I didn’t know about this no seed business until I was eating, and I usually discover the food item’s “status” because of an absolute absence of any flavor or taste. Often I have to dial up a memory to remember what tomatoes taste like, because surely they’re not supposed to be the bland things I purchase from the supermarket. Only today too I was chatting with a co-worker and mentioned to her that since I’ve discovered my neighbourhood farmers’ market, I’m increasingly hesitant to purchase produce in the supermarket. It was there at the farmers’ market that I rediscovered juicy, tasty tomatoes and cucumbers (*smile*) that don’t spoil by day 3! I’m also now wondering about the ginger root that’s on my kitchen counter…that’s been there for some time now and hasn’t yet begun to grow. This too is odd to me.
On my commute home I read about the “big support” for genetically modified foods (GMFs or sometimes GMO where O = organisms) in Jamaica. The case was made by Winston Jones the “director of international programmes and [a] food science lecturer at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE).” Mr. Jones comes across as a blustering, arrogant, blowhard in this article. He makes valid points about the use and perhaps need for GMOs to address the hunger crises now gripping many countries and regions. He’s also quite right in saying that the Jamaican public (and the U.S. for that matter) does not know what it’s eating. For the life of me I cannot understand why the U.S. is so opposed to labeling GMO/Fs as such. The EU requires labelling. Why shouldn’t the consumer know what s/he is purchasing and eating? I’m already finding it difficult to avoid high fructose corn syrup but at least I can read the label and choose not to buy a product that uses it (e.g. the 2 litre bottle of D&G sodas…). Unless the product is something obvious — like a personally sized seedless watermelon, which I rejected during Saturday evening’s shopping — I really have little clue about the produce in my supermarket.
Anyway back to Mr. Jones, GMOs, and Jamaica. Mr. Jones says that there is no empirical evidence to indicate that GMFs are harmful. There’s also no evidence to indicate that GMFs are not harmful. The simple fact I think is that we just don’t yet know about these things. We have not yet been able to assess the long-term (I mean 25, 30, 35 year) effects of GMFs in our diet and environments. But may I just say that my own anecdotal evidence based on observations of the U.S. population for the past 13 years lead me to believe that there definitely is a link between obesity and high blood pressure and these kinds of foods? Add the antibiotics and hormones used in food production too. My own (relatively) minor health problems I think are a direct result of the diet here (and law school stress…don’t forget the law school stress *breaks out in a sweat*). The food is just different…natural or organic chicken tastes more like what I had when I was growing up, has less fatty bits, and springs less water when cooking when compared to the other (and I suppose antibiotic-rich, possibly GM) variety…shit, is it even chicken? I know many farrin people who exclaim over the size and physical maturity of the American teen; Jamaicans often exclaim, “But ah wha dem ah feed dem pickney yah? Shi ah onlge how much?” Wouldn’t we all like to know.
The safety and risk assessments that, for example, the WHO describes may be adequate now but GMFs are fairly recent things. The WHO is (unsurprisingly) supportive of GMFS but it is cautious too saying that
Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.
So, while nothing has been unearthed to settle the debate over GMFs governments should still be cautious about allowing them into their countries. Why the cavalier attitude, Mr. Jones? I think that Mr. Jones and his colleagues have much more to do to make a valid and sound case to the Jamaican public about GMOs. The GOJ needs to do better job with food regulation – labelling for GMOs, antibiotics, and hormones is a good start. Consumers need to take personal responsibility for that they put into their bodies. Don’t wait until the doctor looks at you and has to write out 6 prescriptions just so you can get going each day. I know Jamaicans murder their meat but cooking doesn’t get rid of all harm!
I’d also like to know what, if any, studies have been done about the Jamaican agricultural and food sectors to understand the root causes of poor crop yield? Is it just a matter of poor technology? Does improving that technology necessarily mean introducing, continuing to use, or relying more heavily on GM seeds, the use of pesticides and hormones, and/or the overuse of antibiotics? Is it a change in climate and rain patterns that’s affecting crop yields? Overuse of the soil? Is it that less people are farming? Are local crops already adapted to Jamaica’s climate and conditions but merely need efficient farming technique to grow? What effect will the introduction of GMOs on local crops that have adapted? What about licensing issues since many GMOs are based on patents that are held by huge corporations who charge licensing fees? Also, what effect of the introduction of these GMOs on small farmers? Will this push them out of the market leaving only space for agrobusiness or, worse, more imports? I can’t help but recall Haitian farmers who, in the aftermath of The Earthquake rejected GM seeds from a U.S. company. Is it really necessary that Jamaica to turn to GMOs? No, am I missing something here…is there some invisible ink portion of this article that I need a special browser to read? Where is the 21st century Dr. Lecky?
Yeah, so, just a few questions….questions that I wish The Jamaica Observer‘s writer had even begun to address in her piece.
What, Ms. Dunkley, is the current state of GMOs in Jamaica? What do other agricultural sector stakeholders (God I hate that word!) have to say about GMOs? Could you please have gone further than Wikipedia for the definition of GM? Yes, it is Tuesday and serious reporting and analysis is still allowed and *gasp* expected. This article really was a summary of the panel discussion with a few of the panelists’ quotes included. That is not an article; that is a very basic report. It is a structure that is missing any real meat and gives the reader – predominantly the Jamaican public – nothing to really chew on. The article has not provided any information for the Jamaican public to decide one way or another whether it wants GMOs in its country. O, and the headline is misleading.
Jamaica’s fourth estate has for some time been failing miserably at its job. I’ve been planning to read the Jamaican newspapers in a methodical and critical way for a set period of time. But I’ve been putting it off…too long. This article has given me a well-needed kick in the pants so look out for that…a weekly critique of the reporting in Jamaica’s two main newspapers – The Jamaica Gleaner and The Jamaica Observer.
And finally, Mr. Jones, is it really a case that
those people in Somalia and Ethiopia and those places are going to care what kind of beans they get?
Or that GMOs should be supported since
we have to eat, so what if we die at 50 (years of age?); it’s better than dying at 25
First about the starving and desperate people in the Horn of Africa: they are PEOPLE. Just because they need food aid does not mean that they don’t or shouldn’t care about the quality of that food aid. It certainly does not mean that we – the aid givers – should not care. They are not our guinea pigs or waste bins. They do not deserve our cast offs and what lef’! Especially as it concerns food. To be honest, it is that statement that riled me up the most. How dare he be so nonchalant? Sure, I understand the need for GMOs to increase yield and quality of grain but, come on, that should be done, if at all, in a measured and careful way. And, I for one, am glad that I lived past age 25 and am sure that those approaching that age wish to do the same! I’m grateful that my parents have lived past age 50. My Grandfather is going on 82. I’m also interested in having a quality of life that is not threatened by my food intake!! I’m willing to bet that this interest is shared by many others.
God forbid Mr. Jones is ever starving and has to depend on others for food…I hope that they are more thoughtful and kinder about his situation than he has shown himself to be about the Somalians’ and Ethiopians’ situations. The Jamaican population also needs to wonder about mr. Jones’ reasoning and views…is he being thoughtful and careful about your health?
Edited on August 17 to fix syntax, grammar and punctuation