Nations with no formal GMO-Free platform (in red). Nations with laws restricting GMO in most areas (in yellow), and nations who are either GMO-free or have declared national bans (green).
Unless you live in the dozen or so nations in the world who have declared GMO (genetically modified organism) bans, then you’re likely eating GMO. Eating organic is your best chance of avoiding GM foods, but it’s almost impossible to avoid them entirely, especially if you’re living in a country that doesn’t restrict their cultivation, import or export. The United States, Canada, China, UK, Australia, Mexico, and most of South America, Asia and Africa have no formal GMO-free platforms and their use is typically unrestricted and widespread.
The image above is a shocking reminder of how we have allowed biotech industries to take over our planet. It is my dream to one day see this image turn from the majority red to green. Countries represented in red have no enforced national laws banning GMOs, their import, export or cultivation. Most of these nations have a very large percentage of their citizens eating GM foods.
If you’re new to the dangers of GM foods, here are the biggest reasons to avoid them.
The United States is the leader in GM cultivation and now grows mostly GM varieties of corn, canola and soy. Hawaii now grows GM papayas. Approvals have also been given for GM alfalfa, zucchinis, beet sugar and tomato varieties, though not all are currently being grown. In 2010, the US planted 66.8 million hectares of soybean, maize, cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa and sugarbeet. The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by Monsanto.
More than 30 of Monsanto’s directors, CEOs, VPs, board members, managers, scientists, attorneys and consultants also hold Federal Positions within the US government.
Canada has widespread GM crop usage. All Canadian canola is GM, as is a large portion of the country’s soy and corn. Prince Edward Island tried to pass a ban on GMO cultivation but failed, and GM crops in the region are currently increasing.
Despite the fact that 233 consumer and farmer groups in 26 countries have joined the “Definitive Global Rejection of GM Wheat”, Canadian MPs voted to reject stronger export rules for crops of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Even though GMO continue to face strong resistance in South America, it is widespread. One third of the 134 million hectares of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) planted globally in 2009, were in South America. Brazil and Argentina are the main producers, with 21.4 and 21.3 million hectares respectively. Of all the countries in the world that are planting genetically modified crops, seven are in South America. They include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Paraguay and Uruguay. There are also no national restrictions in Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana to the north of the continent. Between 2008 and 2009, world production of GM crops increased eight percent, while in Brazil it rose 35 percent.
Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela have all declared national bans on GM foods. Peru officially passed a law banning genetically modified ingredients anywhere within the country for a full decade before coming up for another review. In 2008 Ecuador declared the country GMO freeand will limit its biotechnology. In 2006, Venezuela banned genetically engineered crops thanks to President Hugo Chavez Frias.
In January 2010, Slow Food Tehuacan Mixteca Popoloca convivium launched a campaign to protect traditional varieties of maize after the Mexican government gave the go ahead for the first legal plantings of GM corn following a decade-long battle. The convivium is concerned that modified genes could spread and contaminate genetically valuable native varieties and is working to educate family and farmer organizations about the richness of their country’s biodiversity, encouraging the Mexican community to be proud of their cultural heritage and to work for its revitalization. Mexico does not have any GMO-free zones.
Europe is quickly becoming the most progressive continent in the world to oppose GM foods. France, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Latvia and Albania have all declared many regions to be GMO-free. France made an important step in the no-GMO movement by specifically defining exactly what “GMO-free” means when it comes to food labeling. Spain and Portugal are slowing advancing but they have a long way to go before declaring most of their regions GMO-free. Britain officially supports GM crops and has trials of GMOs like potatoes planted. Austria, Greece and Poland are now completely GMO-free zones thanks to public and government support.
Egypt and Madagascar are the only two countries in Africa to ban GMO. Any agricultural imports to Egypt must have a certificate from the country of origin that the product is not genetically modified and the rule will also apply to Egyptian exports. Madagascar banned growing or importing GMO foods due to concerns over the effect on human health and environment. In Algeria both the planting and distribution of GMO foods is illegal although import laws are lax. Other countries such as Kenya, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Angola, Malawai, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have some limited restrictions in place to ban GMO imports but with many exceptions and critics claim most of the laws are not enforced.
Russia remains GMO-free. According to the official information there is no growing of GMOs in Russia for commercial purposes. So far the Federal Environmental Assessment Commission has not adopted any commercialized GM varieties for agricultural use.
India has widespread GM cotton use. The widespread planting of Monsanto’s GM cotton has led to tragedy throughout India. The Indian government even banned conventional seeds from many government seed banks in an attempt to please Monsanto (in return, the country was given International Monetary Fund loans to help its economy) and slow the nation’s poverty rates. An estimated 1,000 farmers commit suicide each month in the country as a result of the crop failure and debt caused by planting the GM seeds. Farmers were convinced to spend what was often 1,000 times the cost of conventional seed on the “magic seeds” after listening to Monsanto’s promises of increased yields and resistance to pests. Despite the promises, the crops were often destroyed by bollworms. In addition, the farmers weren’t warned that the crops would require twice as much water as conventional cotton, leading to many crops drying up and dying. The “terminator” seeds also must be purchased again every year. For farmers used to saving seed from year to year, this was often a final financial blow that led to insurmountable debt.
With the exception of Thailand and Sri Lanka who both have GMO-free zones, all of Asia remains resistant to adopting laws to restrict imports, exports and cultivation of GMO.
During the meeting of Nordic countries at Terra Madre 2010, delegatesfrom Sapmi, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland discussed a statement that would describe their united position on GMOs. The result was a declaration against GMOs that the convivium leaders, members and food communities could use to lobby against the introduction of these crops, presenting it to their governments and others. Iceland has declared two GMO-free regions in the country.
AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND
All genetically modified foods intended for sale in Australia and New Zealand must undergo a safety evaluation by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, however there are no national GMO bans in either country. However there are regional bans. Tasmania’s ban on the release of GM organisms to the environment will continue until 2014. South Australia has reaffirmed their commitment to ban all commercial GM crops until 2014.
The status of GM crops is constantly changing, both in the United States and around the world. Public outcry is rising against these largely untested foods and crops. The industry claims of “super yields” and an end to poverty and famine have proven to be dangerously inaccurate. Now, more than ever, is the time when our voices (and purchases) can make a real difference. It’s time to support labeling initiatives which may kickstart global campaigns to slowly change our red planet to green and ban GM foods once and for all.
Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.