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.

At least you know what you're getting...

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!

Yoo hoo, Jamaica Agricultural Society, are you there??

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

7 Responses to “About Genetically Modified Foods and Journalism in Jamaica”
  1. Jovel Garcia says:

    Juicy, check out a documentary called, “The Future of Food”. In it they talk about GMO’s, how they go about it and I think the effects of it. After watching it, my husband and I started eating organic. Right now, our diet is about 90-95% organic. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. A lot of times we even look for organic restaurants. You’re right, organic foods taste different from GMO foods, sometimes even better. Plus, my husband says he doesn’t get heart burn any more since going organic. Not everybody can afford to go organic on a regular basis, but at least they deserve to know what’s going into their bodies. That way they can make an informed decision. People need fi know wah a gwaan. Growing up we didn’t have all that GMO food, dats why we look so young!

    Here’s the link to the documentary – http://www.thefutureoffood.com/onlinevideo.html ….a dat Mr, Jones wah Jamaica put inna ar body. Struuuuups!

    Lata yaw!

  2. Carole-Anne says:

    Oh my gosh babes, I read this article today and got quite incensed as well! Especially with the two quotes you italicized… Mr. Jones seems like a fool! Anyway, I love love LOVE this blog post. I tell you, the day I can afford to switch to an all organic diet I will do it in a heart beat! When did it become the norm to feed people drugged up food and save the REAL food for the ones who can afford it?
    Wait… dumb question. —___—
    PoliTRICKS is everywhere. SMH.

  3. *sigh* I’ve been on my GMO tirade for a long long time now & this post especially pisses me off because I could always rely on food in Jamaica being organic. Straight up, no qualms about it. I’m longwinded as cucumberjuice knows so I’ll try my bestEst to be succinct. 🙂

    Mr Jones; I believe he’s being paid. No sane person would want to contaminate their enitre country unless their palms are being greased in some way, shape, or form. Considering that’s how Ja’s politician’s operate.

    GMO foods. Firstly, follow @drbloem on TwTr, he tweets GMO articles and links frequently. Some old, some new; still factual.
    Just my layman’s knowledge from watching documentaries & reading articles over the last couple years.
    GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) are made in plants as opposed to grown on them. The powers that be, Monsanto/ConAgra… they have patented & own these seeds. These seeds kill all natural/organic seeds by making them suicidal. Due to this natural thing scientists forget about called pollination, GMO seeds get into organic crops and kill them. As a result; small farmers are being sued daily (literally) by Monsanto reps for “patent infringement”. Really!!?? A bee/bird dropped your fake seedlings in my crop & you’re accusing me off stealing!? Okay, they need to go back to primary school & learn Science all over again. [see, I’m rambling]. Because court fees are so expensive, the seeds they could normally reuse yearly are now dead, and green values; the small farmers normally bow out, Pay The Fine (for patent infringement) and go off into unemployment. *sigh*
    The most common GMO organisms are; corn (it is in Everything), soybeans, canola (think oil & “vegetable” oil), beets (think “Sugar”), cottonseed, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini & yellow squash. Any vegetables or plants you’re seeing that you know should have seeds, i.e. those tomatoes mentioned… yeah, be weary. Watermelons too! Especially if you see the prices dropping; it usually means productions costs are dropping too = chemically grown.

    Obesity – most animals in the US are fed a corn diet, down to the cows & pigs. They’re used to eating grass. Remember chicken pill @ home (Jamaica) that was allegedly used to fatten chickens… that’s corn for the states. The corn they feed to animals however has been modified to fatten the popular cuts of meat. Chickens’ breasts are now the biggest parts of their anatomy, which is why 9yr olds in the US have bigger breasts than I do; truthfully. The chickens in these plants can’t walk around because they are so overweight they take 2 steps and plop down. Their bones are bad, and have seizures as a result of their diet… sounds like what humans are experiencing.
    Cows, it used to be that when you buy a burger you’re getting meat from 1 cow. Not anymore because all cows are fed corn and all of them are pretty much designed to be the same size w/ the same taste, so they grind up allll the meat together. Which is the reason for the increase in salmonella &/ecoli. No vitamins from the grass to kill the bacteria in their intestines.
    To get rid of the bacteria, all, yes all beef from the mega companies are washed in ammonia (think McDonalds).
    Side note – you know I’m surprised Ja really trying to introduce GMO into the county, cuz that’s why we kicked McDonald’s out! They didn’t want to use our local grass fed meat so they had to go!
    MSG – increases the appetite, signals the brain to eat more = overweight

    To wrap it up, GMO ingredients stay in your body & multiply. They never leave. Some are carcinogens (cancer causing), some cause diabetes, and slew of other illnesses. The info is out there. If you google, 1 article will pop up which will lead to 20. Save yourselves, for your children’s and your friends’ children’s’ sake.

    Europe, where these chemicals came from to begin with, have made all these chemicals illegal & the little food that still manage to carry GMO ingredients are all labeled as such. Because the citizens boycotted. Ok, I’ll stop now… peAce 🙂

    The beAutiful Truth – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvzDHGLEUyw
    Supersize Me – http://www.hulu.com/watch/63283/super-size-me
    Food, Inc – http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/food-inc/
    Food Matters – http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/food-matters/

  4. Shumpynella says:

    Great article/post & excellent comments ChocLit. Funny enough I just today read about meat glue and was so grossed out – just what u mention abt putting meats together from different cows, etc using some glue like material. I never thought I’d ever seriously consider vegetarianism but my love for meat is being destroyed.

    Then the nerve of the powers that be – why wouldn’t ppl want to know what they are eating??!!!

  5. Marva says:

    Well said. I could not have said it better. It is because of this same notion why we have starvation and malnutrition in parts of the world. If GM seeds and food was the answer then in my opinion this would not be happening…

  6. brenda corbin says:

    Cucumberjuice .. regarding the comments on GMO….in a nutshell…GMOs are bad for every living thing on this planet and should be banned for life! I am Jamaican born and moved to the US 36 years ago and I have seen drastic decline in the health of Americans. Corporate greed is to blame for widespread use of GMOs and possibly other hidden agendas. Please join the organic consumers association online and research GMOs on Dr Mercolas website also please watch “Genetic Roulette” via YouTube you will find your answers there. Spread the word and help get GMOs out of Jamaica!!!

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