12.09.2011

Soy's Problem


In the United States, 75 million acres of land are dedicated to Soybean crop. Soy is a $40 billion business in America which is a number that's been increasing steadily every year [1]. With the rise of health conscious dieting, including awareness of the affects of processed food and factory farming, individuals are turning to soy for their protein and dairy supplement needs. Unfortunately, soy may not be as healthy or environmentally friendly as some believe because of a big business takeover of the American seed market.

Nelson Farms grows soybeans as well as wheat and sugar beets on their 8,000 acres [2]. The farm is ran by Roger Nelson and his two sons; they are being sued by the world's largest seed distributor Monsanto. The Nelsons bought Monsanto's Genetically Modified (GM) seeds in the 90s and due to a contractual agreement, must buy seeds from Monsanto every year. This is because in Monsanto's terms farmers are prohibited from saving their own seeds from their crop each year, forcing them to purchase new ones every growing season. Monsanto has accused the Nelson's of "seed saving"; the Nelson's deny the charges.

The problem with Monsanto's terms is not just that farmers must buy new seeds each year, but that Monsanto has eliminated nearly all of its competitors through ruthlessly squeezing smaller distributors. Monsanto has bought out several smaller companies and started many spin-offs from them as well, the little companies can't compete with such a giant and so have no other choice [3]. Another incentive Monsanto has used to corner the market is that their seeds are "Roundup Ready" (RR). Roundup is another product Monsanto manufactures and so they've modified their seeds to be compatible with this particular herbicide; it saves the farmers time and money, theoretically, as well as forces them to rely solely on Monsanto for their farming needs. 95% of all soy and 80% of all corn in the US are from Monsanto GM, RR seeds: a staggering figure.

What does this mean for you and me? It means two things: unjust prices and inferior nutrition.

With so many products being made from soybeans these days and Monsanto controlling 95% of those products, when Monsanto raises its prices virtually every single dinner table in America is affected. And they have raised their prices. Within the last decade, seed costs have doubled [4]. The seed market, and many items on your own personal grocery list, are directly affected by Monsanto's pricing decisions and by hardly anyone or anything else. That is the epitome of a monopoly.

You and your family's nutritional intake is also directly affected by Monsanto's decisions. Genetic modification twists seeds into great money making tools, but also, unfortunately, twists them into pale nutritional comparisons to their natural brothers and sisters. Plants grown from RR seeds have increased numbers of parasitic colonies at their bases and roots and have been found to suffer more from Sudden Death Syndrome than non-RR plants. Robert Kremer conducted this research and in his own words RR seeds, "[alter] the whole soil biology. We are seeing differences in bacteria in plant roots and changes in nutrient availability" [5]. One of Kremer's future studies is to find ways to combat the negative effects of RR seeds which would need to include supplementation of nutrients as foods made from RR seeds do not provide enough for your body.

In laboratories, rats and rabbits that were fed a diet of RR seeds suffered from: liver cell problems, pancreatic problems, unexplained changes in testicular cells, altered metabolism in organs, and offspring dying within a few weeks of birth. One farmer even claims that his animals instinctutally know to avoid foods made from GM seeds when they are given the choice.

How can you avoid non-GM soy? Unfortunately, there is no easy way. Products in grocery stores are not required to indicate whether or not they are genetically modified and, frankly, even if they did, 95% of your choices at the store would be GM foods anyway. Yet, if we could get a labeling system imposed, it may be a great step in the right direction. "If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it." -Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co. Requiring GM labels on food is something Monsanto is terrified of. As outlined by the Organic Consumers Association, a clear indication of the impact of warning labels was established in California in 1986 when voters passed a ballot initiative called Proposition 65, which required consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels. Rather than label their products sold in California (and all over the nation) as likely carcinogenic, most companies reformulated their product ingredients so as to avoid warning labels altogether.

Soy may be a good source of vegetarian protein and have other positive health effects, but that's not necessarily true for the type of soy we're given in American products. Monsanto's grip on farming stifles our opportunity for fair nutrition. Slowly, our personal nutritional choices are being taken away. Encourage your state representatives to initiate a bill requiring GM foods to be labeled. Or if you'd rather stay out of the political arena, you can always seek out alternatives to soy products. Instead of soy milk you can purchase almond or rice milk. Instead of buying "fake meat" made from soy, you can buy meat substitutes made from mushrooms like Quorn. We can fight monopolizing big business, that cares less for our health and more for their profits, one refrigerator at a time.

4 comments:

Arthur Graham said...

Well-written and informative post!

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