Professor Diba Khan-Bureau
Date of Speaker: Wednesday January 29, 2014
Dr. Gerry Berkowitz
Health risks and environmental impact of genetically engineered crop plants: what are the issues and facts?
Speaker Dr. Gerry Berkowitz was the very first speaker for my advance Environmental Seminar class. I enjoyed listening to Dr. Gerry Berkowitz seminar, even though he took a different approach than what I was expecting, and half of the class. I originally thought when I saw the type of discussion on the syllabus “Health risks and environmental impact of genetically engineered crop plants: what are the issues and facts?”, I thought he was going to discuss the disaster that Genetically modified organisms are to our country, which is my stand and point of view by the way, but instead his intentions were more to defend Genetically modified organisms and one of the biggest biotech companies associated with Genetically modified organisms, Monsanto. I won’t deny that Dr. Gerry Berkowitz raised some points that got me thinking though, and I really enjoyed the time and effort he put into his slideshows and presentation. Dr. Gerry Berkowitz is a very educated man, so even though I don’t agree with him completely on his assertions, I kept an open mind throughout the seminar. Finding out more information on him was very easy. By googling Dr. Gerry Berkowitz I was opened up to a world of all his accomplishments, past jobs, and his educational achievements. Dr. Gerry Berkowitz has quite the impressive resume, he has a major in Plant Physiology, Dissertation: Water deficit effects on the basic processes facilitating photosynthetic carbon assimilation from Brandeis University. From Texas Tech University, in 1980, he earned his Major in Crop Physiology, with a Minor in Statistics and Chemistry, and finally in 1977 a major in Agronomy from Cornell University. With all of that education, he has succeeded in getting many jobs as a professor at different colleges. He currently is a Professor in the Department of Plant Science at University of Connecticut, and has been teaching for 32 years. Someone with that level of experience, success, and education, is someone worth listening to.
During Dr. Gerry Berkowitz seminar, he really got my brain working. He started off showing the class a clip of Indian farmers committing suicide. Those farmers and the people of the land, blame Monsanto for the increasing rates of suicides of farmers in their country. In his defense, though, he does not see Monsanto as the issues, he insteads believes that we, the consumers, are the reason for the suicides. “We don’t pay the price of what food really does costs”. In my opinion, I really do believe Monsanto is the cause for the suicides, not us. Once farmers are associated with Monsanto, they are locked in. Monsanto patents many seeds ,and then provides those seeds to farmers. The seeds cannot be saved, therefore farmers have to re buy seeds every year, or else hefty fines and lawsuits. Some farmers are caught saving these seeds, and Monsanto makes it very difficult for them to then live a normal life afterwards, unless you pay their fines. Overwhelmed with debt, you can guess what these farmers actions are next. I would encourage more people to buy organic foods and not support Monsanto or Genetically Modified Organisms, but unfortunately the price is an unfortunate factor. Organic foods are very expensive, sometimes even doubling the price of regular foods, that is why most people are stuck with buying Genetically Modified Foods. However, think about this, 90% of people in the United States wants to see labelling laws, with the other 10% probably being Monsanto. I was happy to hear that our speaker actually supported this, labeling that is, because I would of thought that he would of been against it. I thought the speaker was going to be against labeling laws because it could significantly change the profit of big biotech companies like Monsanto. But considering the price of organic foods, I think that they would become cheaper and there would be more variety in our grocery stores, (which is something I would absolutely love to see because I’m going broke buying mostly organic).
One of the questions that popped up in my head during Berkowitz presentation was, why has the United States not yet banned Genetically Modified Organisms, what is the obsession with GMO’s? Berkowitz was trying to convey that the reason why our country is so obsessed with GMO’s, is because of money. I’ve learned that in 1980 there was economic troubles in the United States, while Asian countries were dominating the economy. Japan was commercializing and making plentiful profits and the U.S was failing at being competitive. This is thus then where the Baye-Dole Act took place, which led to the patents in our country. The Baye-Dole act basically allowed Universities to patent technology developed with federal funding, which benefited the University. Then shortly after, the US supreme court approved patenting life forms. All this has me thinking that the people running the United States, are only concerned for making a profit and not our own health. Big biotech companies try to distract us from the idea that they are only in it for money, and construct lies saying that Genetically Engineered foods help protect our food supply, and that there is not enough food to feed our growing populations, but that is in fact false. Genetically Modified Organisms do not increase intrinsic yields, and there is enough food on this earth to feed everyone, the problem is from a allocation of resources. Berkowitz was actually saying to the class how GMO food increases intrinsic yield, but with research i’ve found that this is not true.
I disagreed with Berkowitz assertion that GMO’s are safe to consume. The only reason he was saying this is because there are no peer review written journals published on whether they are safe to consume or not. He then listed studies showing how GMO feed to animals like rats, and sheep for example gave them tumors, made them sick, or die. But with this information he once again noted that this is independent scientific research and not peer review articles and journals. This is a major problem. The reason why Genetically Modified Organisms have not been proven safe yet is because there have been no long term conclusive studies done. This is because Monsanto attacks independent researches on gmo’s saying that their work is flawed. If there is such a big fuss about whether or not GMO’s are safe for consumption, why is it not being tested, why are we the HUMAN LAB RATS? One point that Berkowitz brought to my attention is that Monsanto told him Coca Cola is going to sue Connecticut for passing the bill of labeling gmo products. Coca cola says this is violating their first amendment, freedom of speech. Coca Cola feels the need to sue Connecticut because they don't want others to know what really there product is. But if it’s not harmful to human health, then why worry?
I enjoyed this seminar very much, and was thrilled to see how many other students were actively participating to the class discussion. There were a lot of times I disagree with what the speaker had to say, but I will not deny that he had my brain thinking about how I could defend my arguments on the things he thought was right and what I thought was wrong. I have started to completely change my eating habits, buying everything organic and using my fooducate app to scan things to ensure I make the right decisions when buying things in the grocery store. I have educated myself on the potential risks of Genetically Engineered food and do not believe they are safe to consume at all. Therefore no speaker will change my mind when promoting GMO’s.