“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:
Miriam also blogs at Israeli Kitchen.