The concept of GMO is not new. The process of genetically modifying an organism (GMO) was formalized when Herbert Boyer founded the first company, Genentech.
We are in the season of the Biblical spring feasts. Actually, we are now in the time of the counting of the Omer, the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost). The spring feasts begin at the time of the first barley harvest and end with the last wheat harvest. This is the time of year in which I love to meditate on the Biblical meaning of wheat and the harvest. Knowing that the Church was born on Shavuot, this season has special meaning to us today.
Historically, Shavuot was also known as Hag Habikkurim, or The Festival of First Fruits (not to be confused with the Feast of Firstfruits in the month of Nisan). This was the first day on which individuals could bring their first fruit harvest from the seven species for which Israel was known: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Ancient Israeli farmers would tie a reed around the first ripening fruits from each of these species in their fields. At the time of the harvest, the fruits within the reed would be cut and placed in baskets woven of gold and silver.
The baskets were then placed on oxen whose horns were ceremoniously gilded and laced with flowers. The oxen were led in magnificent processions to Jerusalem. These processions were accompanied by music and celebrations. It was (and is) a time of thanksgiving—for returning to the Lord the first portion of the bounty He has provided.
It was with this picture in my mind that I just read the article, “How To I.D. Genetically Modified Food at the Supermarket.”1 Indeed, I had to ask the question. To what god is given the first fruits offering of a GMO (genetically modified organism) harvest?
The concept of GMO is not new. The process of genetically modifying an organism (GMO) or genetically engineering an organism (GEO) was formalized when Herbert Boyer founded the first company, Genentech. In 1978, the company announced the creation of an E. coli strain producing the human protein insulin.
These genetic engineering techniques are commonly known as recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology. In his 2007 primer, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Jeffrey M. Smith describes this technology:
rDNA molecules are DNA sequences that result from the use of molecular cloning to bring together genetic material from multiple sources, creating sequences that would not otherwise be found in biological organisms. Recombinant DNA is possible because DNA molecules from all organisms share the same chemical structure; they differ only in the sequence of nucleotides within that identical overall structure. Consequently, when DNA from a foreign source is linked to the host sequences that can drive DNA replication and then introduced into a host organism, the foreign DNA is replicated along with the host DNA. [emphasis mine]
It was not long before experimentation leaped from pharmaceutical to agricultural uses. By 1986, opponents of biotechnology repeatedly delayed genetic engineering experiments by companies such as Advanced Genetic Sciences and Monsanto Company. The early 1990s brought guidance from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and WHO (World Health Organization).
God Move Over
The glowing promises within the writings of Monsanto, however, painted a picture the world without God wanted to believe. Imagine feeding the world and cleaning up the environment with Monsanto’s new technology. Fascination swirled around the idea of …swapping genes between species, creating designer organisms that could reduce manufacturing waste, turning fields into factories and producing anything from lifesaving drugs to insect-resistant plants.
With eager anticipation of the coming new millennium, caution was ignored and the approvals for large-scale, commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants began in the mid-1990s in Canada and the United States.
The response of the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S. (FDA) was completely irresponsible:
The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.
On the basis of that statement, the FDA spokesperson said no safety studies were necessary and that “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”
In the decade that followed, lawsuits brought the truth into the light of day. The FDA was forced to release 44,000 pages of documents that revealed government scientists’ “references to the unintended negative effects….were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists).”
Additionally, documents revealed that the FDA was under orders from “the White House” to promote GM [genetically modified] crops and that Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney and later its vice president, was brought into the FDA to supervise policy development.
The god of Mammon
By 2007, it appeared that the concept of genetically modified foods from engineered seed was beginning to unravel. Continued lawsuits and public awareness were costing billions of dollars. However, the first fruit offerings to the god of mammon had been paid and GM seeds were now big business.
(As an example, Monsanto, the world’s supplier of over 90% of GM seeds, reported net sales in fiscal year 2011 of over $8.5 billion for seeds and genomics alone.)
What began as a takeover of the corn and soybean (as well as other seeds) markets grew to incorporate wheat. According to preventive cardiologist, William Davis, MD, today’s “wheat” isn’t wheat.
The wheat products sold to you today are nothing like the wheat products of our grandmother’s age, very different from the wheat of the early 20th Century, and completely transformed from the wheat of the Bible.
According to Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, “Widespread farmer and consumer resistance defeated GM wheat in 2004 and this global rejection remains strong.” However, by July 2009, Monsanto announced new research into GM wheat that caused industry groups to kick their promotions into high gear.
A Matter of Semantics
However, there is also a new product, classified as “hybridized” wheat—technically non-GMO, which now plagues the wheat fields of the world. In biology and, specifically, genetics, the term hybrid has several meanings, all referring to the offspring of sexual reproduction.
Generally, hybridization techniques fall with the range of “traditional breeding methods.”
International chemical company BASF has collaborated with a variety of American universities to develop a new breed of wheat. One such collaboration resulted in Clearfield® wheat, now planted on nearly a million acres across America.
To read the promotional materials of BASF, Clearfield® wheat is the perfect answer to the objections to GMO seed. According to the Clearfield wheat market manager for BASF:
The desire and need for the Clearfield technology is strong. The Clearfield Production system for wheat has been developed and marketed by BASF in conjunction with University partners and private seed company partners to provide growers with non-GMO, herbicide-tolerant seeds. These agreements will ensure seed quality across very different geographic areas by allowing the development of new Clearfield wheat varieties adapted to local conditions.
To refer to the hybridized Clearfield wheat as “non-GMO” is a matter of semantics. This genetic variant of wheat is created by a process called chemical mutagenesis. Wheat seeds are exposed to the chemical sodium azide, NaN3. Sodium azide is toxic to animals, bacteria, and humans. Human ingestions of small quantities results in side-effects similar to cyanide ingestion.2
Just Say No
On January 16th, BASF announced it was moving the headquarters of BASF Plant Science from Limburgerhof, Germany to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF and responsible for plant biotechnology, stated:
We are convinced that plant biotechnology is a key technology for the 21st century. However, there is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe—from the majority of consumers, farmers, and politicians. Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market. We will therefore concentrate on the attractive markets for plant biotechnology in North and South America and the growth markets in Asia.
European activist, Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe, joined with other voices praising the departure of BASF:
This is another nail in the coffin for genetically modified foods in Europe. No one wants to eat them and few farmers want to grow them. This is a good day for consumers and farmers and opens the door for the European Union to shift Europe to greener and more publicly acceptable farming.
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) reported that global food output must rise 70 percent by 2050 to meet the demands of a world population that is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion people. In addition, the FAO reported that food prices climbed to the highest rate last year on the back of surging grain prices.
Paul Conway, vice chairman of Cargill Inc., the U.S. farm commodities trader, made an interesting observation when addressing the Kingsmen sugar conference in Dubai in February:
The world’s farmers, some of the smartest businessmen that there are, can produce enough food to feed the next two billion people. We are very confident about that. However, they need help.
Based upon FAO estimates, as many as 925 million people already faced hunger worldwide in 2010. This was partially in response to the 2008 food price crisis. Countries from India and Egypt to Vietnam and Indonesia banned exports of rice, a food staple for half of the world. In 2010, Russia banned grain exports after the country’s worst drought in at least half a century destroyed crops and cut production. When Ukraine also restricted exports, a spike in grain prices circled the globe.
This is the mounting crisis to which companies such as Monsanto and BASF are positioned to respond with GMO or hybridized seed. However, at what cost?
There is an interesting parallel between the spiritual and the natural implications of Shavuot in this age of the Laodicean church. There is a gospel being delivered to starving people devoid of the Bread of Life that can feed and nourish them—just as the world will deliver modified wheat and grain for food devoid of life-sustaining nutrients and reproductive seed. Genesis 8:22 declares:
While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
Perhaps the greatest lesson is that everything will reproduce (or not) after its own kind.