Genetically Modified Food in Israel, Lots of It

image-soybeans genetically modified Most Israelis complacently think that there are no GMO foods in Israeli food. But there are, especially in soy products.

“It’s a huge mistake to think that there’s no genetically-modified food in Israel,” said Naama Rosenberg, spokeswoman at the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research. In a telephone interview, Ms. Rosenberg went on to explain that 90-100% of soy in Israel is imported from the US and of genetically-modified origin.

That of course, includes vegetarian hot dogs and veggie shnitzels, not to mention baby formula and other food children grow up on.  More basic staples, like cooking oil, are soy or canola oil, canola being another well-known GMO crop.

According to Ms. Rosenberg, there is some genetic engineering being done in Israel, under regulation from the Agriculture Ministry. However GM crops aren’t raised for export in Israel because the European market, on which Israel largely depends, won’t accept them.

Ms. Rosenberg spoke strongly in favor of GM crops, giving an example of an orange that might supply all a person’s daily needs for Vitamin C. “My own children grew up on baby formula,” she said. “They’re all fine.” She feels that crops “engineered to be more nutritious and pest-resistant” would only benefit the world.

“There is another danger, which is extinction of wild species,” she acknowledged. As GM seeds produce sterile crops, cross-contamination with wild plants means the inevitable, and rapid extinction of hundreds, if not thousands, of wild species.

As to the benefits of GMO to humanity, one has to look towards India, where, according to the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice of the NYU School of Law, a horrifying number of farmers commit suicide yearly. Indian farmers, weaned from traditional crops to expensive GMO cotton, are lured with promises of quick cash crops and shown irrigated demonstration farms. Attempting to raise cotton on their own, with insufficient rain water, their crops often fail. Thinking that a bank loan will see them through and depending on the next crop, they try again next season. If their second cotton crop fails, and many do because farmers can’t afford irrigation,  they fall into debt they’re unable to repay. In despair, many swallow pesticide. The CHR&GJ’s document claims that a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide in the past 16 years.

But, one might think,  the plight of Indian farmers doesn’t really concern me, does it? Or doesn’t it? In a shrinking world, everyone is affected by what happens to everyone else. Even if humanitarian issues seem far away, think how the power of companies selling GMO seeds affects the very bread we eat, every day; the food we feed our children. Wherever you live.

In Israel, there is no regulation requiring products that contain imported GM ingredients to be labeled. But we’re not totally in the dark. We know enough not to buy soy milk (make your own almond milk instead), canola oil, canned corn, and soy patties greenwashed with broccoli (or GM corn). New mothers can attend La Leche League meetings to get vital breastfeeding support. We can write letters to government authorities demanding identification of GMO ingredients.

We can grow some of our own, organic foods – even just a pot of parsley in a sunny windowsill. Most of all, you can spread concern around. Forward posts like this to friends. Talk to people about the broad-scale damage GMO foods do. When you give a dinner party, serve local, organic foods and make a point of mentioning it. Every little bit helps.

UPDATE: Wheat is not subject to genetic engineering yet. Reader Karl Haro Von Mogel, whose comments appear below, pointed this out. Following new conversations with agriculturalists at the Volcani institute, I withdraw previous statements concerning wheat and GMO.

More on GM foods:

Photo of soybeans by T.Hagihara via Flickr.

Miriam also blogs at Israeli Kitchen.

25 thoughts on “Genetically Modified Food in Israel, Lots of It

  1. Leah

    I am trying to find out if Israel has changed its policy, and now require labeling for GMO products. Does anyone know if this is the case?

    Very good point about Monsanto proudly declaring the product is GMO. I would like to know how many of the CEO’s at Monsanto are feeding this garbage to their families. Or are they just the social elite who tell us what to do and don’t do it for themselves?

    The woman in the article is PROUD that her kids were bottle fed? How sad. I am proud to say that most of my 7 kids (ka’h) were breast fed past the age of two. I try to avoid processed foods wherever possible. I make almost all my own food. I would love to grow my own food; but at this time, I can’t.

    People! Wake up and do your research. This is not about saving the planet or feeding poor, third world countries. This is about making Monsanto as rich as they can. Their long term testing on GMO foods is 90 days. Bahaha! 90 days???? Give me a break! I’ve had plants last longer than that in my house and I have a black thumb. (Which is part of the reason I can’t grow my own food.)

    Just remember — GMO is OH MY GOSH backwards.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      The woman in this article is nothing but a pathetic, soulless lying sell-out. just look at how many new cases of breast cancer are popping up all over the place! She’s probably getting paid to lie like so many other soy advocates. Scumbag!

      Reply
  2. bob

    GMO has been proven to make lab rats sterile and give them stomach cancer. HMMMMM am i the only one noticing how GMO is being pushed down the worlds throats. GMO is a terrible idea for a nation like Israel that already has a tiny and shrinking population.

    Reply
  3. Morri

    Drip irrigation was not invented by Israel.

    “If people around the World peacefully reduce the human population with family planning education, there will be no need for genetically modified foods anywhere.”

    Thank you. Of course, this requires a level of common sense and shared destiny that is far beyond the reach of the current state of human evolution, where people are still killing each other over religious/geopolitical/skin color mythologies.

    “Childrens who are destined to be born He will take care of them and provide for them!”

    You might want to explain how that works to the millions of children dying of disease and starvation across the world. Or are they “not meant to be born?”

    Reply
  4. JTR

    Your foul language belies your religious zealotry, which somehow imagines God will do everything for human beings if only they obey orders from people like you. But in fact, if we humans are to survive on this planet we must take responsibility for our behavior to 1. Safely recycle 100% of all our human-generated waste materials, and 2. Peacefully reduce our population with family planning education.
    If not, the living biosphere that is now so polluted it is near the limit of its endurance will die. Already massive floods and wildfires are spreading as the Earth struggles to heal itself, and the more pollution we dump the worse it will get.

    Reply
  5. Derrick isnov

    @JTR ‘male supremacy’ are you a retard? Use your head and stop playing God. Childrens who are destined to be born He will take care of them and provide for them! Who are you to decide for the future of the unborn, by making statements like ‘peacefully reduce ppopulation’

    As for the GMO get you head outof your a$$ and make some tea and see this..-and that goes for all of you who think like JTR and are okay with GMO’s.

    Reply
  6. JTR

    Male supremacy drives you to lash out without thinking at anyone who disagrees. I am trying to save God’s creation for the grandchildren.

    Reply
  7. Derrick isnov

    @JTR so this is your way of accpeting depopulation propaganda via contaminating the food we grow, playing with Gods creation. The right to multiply?. There is special place in hell for you and people like you, oh wait a minute your hell is right here on earth waiting for you.

    Reply
  8. JTR

    If people around the World peacefully reduce the human population with family planning education, there will be no need for genetically modified foods anywhere.

    Reply
  9. Lucina

    FDA. Fools Deceiving Americans. If it is in the food, list the ingredients truthfully so we can choose to avoid genetically modified organisms. I read the ingredient lists thoroughly but what are those of us who do so to do when our government agency charged with protecting American citizens from dangers in the food chain can’t, or refuses to? Oh, I forgot, we’re not treated like American citizens anymore, we’re just American consumers to be blindly led by corporate greed and government weakness and excuses.

    Reply
  10. Jennifer

    Here are some reasons I think it’s important to avoid GMOs: 1. Injecting seeds with fertilizer by way of a virus and not doing adequate testing of the effects of this is irresponsible. 2. Allowing farm raised salmon to be injected with DNA of other species in order for them to develop at twice the rate will endanger our wild salmon. 3. An increase in autoimmune diseases, allergies, gastrointestinal problems and cancer is evident in our society. If we start the process of proper “testing” of GMOs, we might finally be able to link these illnesses with their culprits. 4. Most of the feed that our livestock and poultry eat are infected with genetically modified organisms so it all trickles down our food supply. 5. Eventualy our food will be closer to a “drug” than a food product and that is very sad. 6. GMO farms will eventually infect organic farms by way of pollenation and wind. We may one day lose our ability to garden organically if biotech groups get too big and powerful.

    If GMO foods are so great and are here to save the world, why doesn’t the Biotech giants label them proudly???

    p.s. I am an American and was just scanning the web. It is nice to know that others are also passionate about this subject:)

    Reply
  11. maria

    Genetic engineering in our food supply is a VERY risky thing and mostly, not needed. Organic agriculture yeilds more food,without threat to the environment. ORganic agriculture is perfect in a setting such as Israel where small farming is the main source of agriculture. The soil is not contaminated by glyphosate (the product for which genetic engineering was designed for to sell ) and the water and air supply are not compromised by toxins created by this type of “farming”. Corporations need to stay out of our food supply, the EU has driven the likes of Monsanto and BASF and we need to safeguard that which nature has provided so beautifully and perfectly to feed us without the intervention of a technology that could very well destroy our entire world. Protect your food!

    Reply
  12. JTR

    Thankyou for that information. I know Israeli scientific agriculturists can make the desert bloom if anyone can, and I wish them all the good fortune they need to do so. But the greater problem is, and will continue to be water, especially as the ice caps melt around the World.

    Reply
  13. Miriam Kresh Post author

    Israel’s population tops 7 million, in a land whose size is comparable to that of New Jersey’s. Much of that land is unsuitable for wheat and other grass crops. If Israel’s survival depended on that kind of scale, it would scarcely survive. Yet Israel’s innovative agricultural methods (drip irrigation and solar panels are two of the most famous)have been exported to, and implemented by, the wide world.

    Reply
  14. JTR

    Can Israel produce enough of its own food to feed its people without importing? In every nation that should decide the size of the population.

    Reply
  15. Karl Haro von Mogel

    This is a poorly researched article. It is also largely one-sided and begs a longer response, but I only have the time to list some of its problems.
    First, there are no geneticially engineered wheat varieties on the market anywhere in the world, so when you say that US wheat can be assumed to be GM, that is false.
    Second, the claim that GE cotton is causing farmers to commit suicide in India is ignoring the larger ever-present issues in Indian agriculture which GE cotton has not changed, and ignores the benefits it has brought to those struggling farmers.
    Bt cotton now helps to avoid several million cases of pesticide poisoning in India every year:
    http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2011/07/bt-cotton-now-helps-to-avoid-several.html

    And it turns out that farmer suicide has to do with larger systemic internal problems: http://www.ifpri.org/publication/bt-cotton-and-farmer-suicides-india

    With regard to the “risk of extinction” of wild species, I dearly hope that this was not something that Naama Rosenberg claimed, because it not only is based on false information, but also poor reasoning. For one thing, the claim that GE crops are sterile is completely false – the so-called “terminator gene” was completely theoretical and has never been used, ever. The crops are as fertile as any other. Second, the claim that a sterile crop would result in the extinction of wild species strains the imagination. Imagine a sterile grain of pollen landing on a flower, and making a sterile seed. Since the seed is sterile and will not grow, the sterility trait cannot spread. The other, fertile seeds produced by the wild plant will grow and live and produce seeds as before, completely unhindered. Saying that a genetically sterile crop will wipe out a species is like saying that I will doom the human race to infertility if I have a low sperm count and cannot have kids. It’s silly.

    I run an independent website on genetic engineering at Biofortified.org, written by scientists who are more than willing to answer questions on this topic. I encourage you to join the discussion.

    Reply
  16. Hannah @A Mother in Israel

    Miriam, thanks for showing that there are two sides to GMO food.
    Since you mentioned the volunteer organization La Leche League, I’d like to let readers know the URL of the website: LLLIsrael.org.il. You can find there a list of current meetings as well as a forum for breastfeeding questions. Currently there are English-speaking groups in Jerusalem and Modiin. And there is also a hotline at 1599-525-821.

    Reply

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