This July, the global biotechnology industry held its largest gathering in Southern California and the keynote speaker was Hillary Rodham Clinton. She voiced passionate support for the continued introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture and Earth’s ecology. Standing in favor of United States government financial subsidies to the industry, she says she is intent on keeping companies from leaving the U.S. She voiced eagerness for an “intensive discussion” around “how the federal government could help biotechs with insurance against [financial] risk.”
Globally, the biotech industry expanded 11 percent in 2013 while revenue reached $262 billion. The presumptive candidate for the President of the U.S. in 2016, Clinton recognized the “Frankensteinish” images conveyed by those opposing GMOs, but she did not argue against their many ominous warnings. She suggested instead that negative attitudes toward GMO agriculture could be negated with the promotion of a more positive spin.
The thousands in attendance at BIO International Convention at the San Diego Convention Center heard Clinton’s impression that “‘drought resistant’ sounds like something you’d want” instead of “genetically modified.” She announced her support for GMO products with proven track records, such as the drought-resistant genetically modified seeds she pressed for when she was the U.S. Secretary of State.
At least 26 nations have banned GMOs from their agricultural land and / or from being sold in their markets. Critics of GMOs state that genetic engineering disturbs an organism’s (food plant’s) genetic sequence, possibly creating human toxins, changing the nutritional value of the food or producing allergens. They also admonish the introduction of pollens from GMO plants into the global ecology. The release of such pollens into the atmosphere inevitably crossbreeds with non-GMO plants, permanently changing the more pristine genetic codes of non-GMO plants.
GMO critics also affirm that GMOs can kill other organisms. One famous example is corn modified to manufacture its own pesticide, the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt). This change has been identified as the agent responsible for the destruction of the larvae of monarch butterflies. The point for them is it that similar impacts on other plant and animal species also cannot be known in advance.
Finally, GMO protesters point to the widespread use of the technology as the knockout punch in the long and painful worldwide decline of small farms and farmers. Because GMO plants are protected by patents, they say power is now even more concentrated with the few corporations having ownership of such intellectual property. An addiction is thus dictated upon farmers as the specialized seeds and chemicals necessary must be purchased with each growing cycle. Some have pointed to the staggering number of suicides amongst Indian farmers (270,000 between 1995 and 2012) as sourced in an inescapable abyss of debt created by the requirement to cover the cost of annually inflated GMO seeds and chemicals.
No matter the debate, the food industry is taking the perceptions against GMOs seriously. General Mills, for example, advertises that its products are free of GMO organisms.
Clinton’s speaking fees average $200,000. After her California speech, the standing room only crowd heard the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, declare his desire to have California be felt as friendly to the GMO biotech industry. Not to worry, he said, “I’m holding the line (on taxes and regulations).”