High Food Prices Create New Problems

by updated 2012/08/05

In addition to the food “riots” and double digit food inflation stories that have been in the news recently, another tempest is brewing. The high food prices are eroding resistance to genetically modified foods. This is not a new story for many of us, but I predict it will make even more headlines as the summer progresses.

The issue of why higher food prices eat away at opposition to GM food is complicated, but here are a few seeds for thought. As food prices escalate as a result of shortages or “perceived” shortages and because of commodity speculation, the huge agri-businesses reap the financial benefits. In much the same way that big oil has profited from high fuel prices, big agri-food business are profiting from high food prices. GM-free food is becoming more expensive than GM food and the big agri-businesses control the GM food market. As poor nations face paying 30% or more in higher prices for GM-free food vs. GM food, what do you think they will choose? With price differences like this, traditionally GM food opposing countries like Canada, the U.S. and even countries in Europe will face pressure to allow GM food into the mainstream.

Because of a lack of a strict labeling requirement in the U.S., most of us are eating GM foods without knowing it. WebMD used to have up a very thorough article on this where they claim that “60% to 70% of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves” contain genetically modified ingredients. This may be yet another reason not to eat processed foods!

As I have written before, my main grievance with issues like these is our right to know what we are buying. I want to know if food I might buy contains GM ingredients. Yes, I can shop at a co-op or health food grocery and specifically look for foods that are “GMO free”, but I think that has it backwards. The burden should be on the makers of food, health, and personal care product manufacturers to disclose their ingredients.

There are arguments in favor of GM foods that can seem compelling. And, some policy makers in poor countries argue that the “elites” in wealthy countries like Canada, Europe, and, (at least until recently), the U.S. have no business lobbying against the ability of poorer countries to buy food stocks that might improve the health of their citizens.

One example of a GM food with potential to help poor countries is Bt enhanced rice. Bt rice has been genetically modified to contain genes from the soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt is lethal to insect larvae, including the rice stem borer, but apparently harmless to humans and other animals. Bt has been used by many organic farmers for years to control insect larvae. However, there are many who sound an alarm over the use of bt rice. Here is a Google search listing some of those.

In addition, there are many horror stories circulating about GMOs causing illness and death in animals. One that I have heard many times is listed on this Wikipedia page, and claims that thousands of sheep died after grazing on genetically modified bt cotton. I have never seen a definitive report on this incident and think it might be an “urban myth”, but it does give pause.

If GM crops can reduce agriculture’s reliance on chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that must be a good thing, right? I am not convinced. Many feel that by allowing GM food crops to be cultivated, we are releasing a potentially dangerous unknown into the wild. It is indeed the stuff disaster movies are made of. In addition, I certainly want the knowledge and disclosure to choose to avoid GM foods. Right now we don’t have that.



Will Sig
1 KAY

Thanks for stopping by my WW.

this blog scares me to death. i totally agree that the manufactures should be totally responsible for letting me know EXACTLY what goes into everything i eat. why is that not happening!! thanks for making me think!

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2 KAY

i re-read what i just wrote and your blog does not scare me…just the content of your latest post! sorry! :)

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3 bbrian017

hahaha kay you’re too funny!

This is a serious issue in Canada as well! A bag of pasta was priced at 1.00 CDN a bag and now ti’s at 2.00 CDN. this is an increase at cost for 100%

It’s retarded! great alternative fuel resource huh?

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4 Jennifer Robin

Wow, great article (as always.) It’s pretty scary to think what kind of era we are moving into here. I have done away as much as possible with processed foods in my household, and it’s not easy. I spend a lot more time in the kitchen, but with lack of labeling, who knows what lurks in even the most basic foods.

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5 Will

Kay – Don’t mean to frighten, only inform and opine. ;-)

Brian – Over what time frame was this 100% increase. Wheat costs world wide have skyrocketed, but I read last week they are coming down a bit now. Nothing ever seems to come back all the way down, however.

Jennifer – Thanks for the explanation on your photo from this weeks WW post. It is a beautiful shot!

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6 bbrian017

I really don’t know I just remember my girlfriend complaining the price was up 100%

We have to expect this seeing it’s used for fuel purposes now!

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7 Nicole

Prices suck and I really don’t know how poor people survive in some places :(
And what we eat without knowing it…I really sometimes don’t want to think about it :(

Nicoles last blog post..Wish I was here

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8 Nigel

Will, I think you are raising a really important issue, but I disagree with your conclusion. I think the rising food prices will actually be good for the GE-free movement. My full response: http://www.undoge.org/?p=32

Nigels last blog post..High food prices: good or bad for the anti-GE movement?

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9 Swubird

I’m right with you on this one Will. I am very skeptical, to say the least, about the safety and long term health ramifications of GM foods. And, if they think the food prices are high now, wait until biofuel matures and hits the market in all of its glory. Just try to buy a loaf of bread then.

Good post.

Swubirds last blog post..ROAD RAGE

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10 Will

Hi Nigel! Thanks for your comment. Your post makes sense and in this case I hope you are correct. The fact remains that in recent months food officials in many poor nations have complained that the price of many non-genetically modified foods are as much as 30% higher than the cost of foods that are GM. That disturbs me because I think the prices are being manipulated, or at least influenced, by the big agri-businesses.

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11 Will

Well Swubird, the rush to corn ethanol is probably a mistake. At the very least the alternative biofuels like that made from algae, need to be developed asap. Unfortunately corn ethanol is politically valuable in the heartland, even as it kills us financially and environmentally.

If the U.S. policy makers had addressed this issue years ago when they should have, instead of now when they are being forced to, we would not be in this mess. But that is spilled milk, much like the Iraq war. The question now is how best to proceed to minimize the hardship you refer to in your comment.

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12 Will

Yes Nicole, the increases in food prices are astounding, both in our grocery stores and on the wholesale level where many of those poor countries buy their food.

By the way that blue water in the photo in your latest post is an amazing color!

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13 Deal

Our planet can not provide us food in a normal volume, because of this rising prices in the future probably will be a worldwide famine.

(Link removed as per link checking software)

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14 Michelle

You said: “If GM crops can reduce agriculture’s reliance on chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that must be a good thing, right?”

I think maybe I am misunderstanding. One of the reasons for GM crops is so the crop can be exposed to much higher levels of pesticides and herbicides, and yet not be damaged….i.e. Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops. The seeds have been genetically modified with a bacteria that is resistant to Roundup herbicide. This means you can spray the you-know-what out of them using Roundup but without harming the plant.

However, do you really want to eat a plant that has bacteria DNA in it? What does it do to People? How safe is it? Who paid for the safety trials?

(On a tangent, a lot of people got upset when they learned the tobacco companies paid for a study of tobacco, but do you realize how many drug companies pay for the clinical trials of drugs? Most of the trials are funded by the drug companies, and often the unsuccssful studies are not published, thereby making it look as if the drug is more effective than it really is.)

I believe a similar thing is happening with GM crops….they are being hailed as a wonderful thing, but most are not performing as promised, and are actually messing up the wildlife and environment.

Several years ago, a team at Cornell University in NY came to the conclusion that a crop of GM corn was responsible for the demise of hundreds of thousands of Monarch Butterflys. That may not seem like a big deal, but anything that harms the ecosystem will, ultimately, harm people.

I have just set up a little greenhouse and will be growing my own organic veggies this summer. This is the first year I’ve done this, but I hope it works. I don’t want to purchase any more food than I must. I don’t trust what’s in it, and I don’t trust the producers to tell the truth about what’s in it.

What a sad state of affairs……

(For more info, read the book _Seeds of Deception_. If only half the info in the book is real, it’s enough to stop the production of GM products until many, many more studies are done.)

Michelles last blog post..Eight Pieces Brocade positions hint list

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15 Will

Thanks for that great comment, Michelle. It is easy to overlook the roundup ready crops with all the advertising and PR companies like Monsanto do. They really focus on crops that are genetically modified to be immune to certain pests. My fear is that one of their motivations is to have crops that are not affected by insects or disease because of genetic modification. Then they will argue that those crops can be grown “organically” and without any labeling. I fear that the organic label does not go far enough to inform us about GM food. Separate labeling is needed. OR we need to really get on the issue of Ethical Food that I have been championing for so long. Here is one post specifically on ethical food. Here are a few others that discuss ethical food in the context of other topics.

It is this lack of labeling that really bothers me. It does not matter if it is GM food, irradiated meat, hormone treated beef, or anything else. I believe we have the right to know what is in our food, bath and beauty products, etc. There is a real push now to “show” things are safe with studies like you mention. Then because they are shown to be “safe” by those studies, the argument is made that labeling is not required.

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16 Michelle

I agree with Swubird (post #9), too. I wonder how many farmers the government contunues to pay to NOT grow crops while all this takes place.

The lack of labels bothers me as well. The standards for “organic” and “natural” are being lowered daily, it seems. The push to remove information like “rBst free” from the labels bothers me even more…the little information we do get is being fought by Monsanto and others because they don’t want us (consumers) to know which products are chemical- or hormone-free because we will choose the hormone-free, chemical-free, product over theirs.

(Did you know that animals provided with GM foods often refused to eat them if there was a non-GM alternative available? Animals aren’t so dumb, eh?!)

I don’t trust the studies “proving” the safety of the products because they are often paid for by the manufacturer, not an unbiased party.

If these things were so safe, why would they be against labeling them? They should want the labels so that people could buy the great, GM products…..right?

The new one that gets me is the Senomyx additive that changes how your taste buds taste food. For example, their “artifical flavoring” makes the taste buds send the message to your brain that says “this is sweet (or salty)” when there is actually very little sweetener or salt in the product. Because it’s a “flavoring,” Senomyx was able to completely bypass the FDA testing and approval process, and even now this stuff is in the food supply. I’ve linked to my article about it….(did I mention this one before…I forget)…..click my name to read it.

(I sent an email request to them just before posting the article asking to see the safety studies on their product. I haven’t received any info from them, but they did Google me, looking to see who I was! The interesting thing about that was that the IP was Senomyx.gov which sure looks a little (or a lot!) fishy to me…..a dot-gov on a flavoring company???? Gives me the creeps wondering what they’re really cooking up and why and for whom.)

However, more and more, these additives are getting approval without proper testing because the amounts used are so small “they can’t possibly cause any harm,” and when they do prove to be harmful, does the FDA take them off the shelf? Nope, they say “don’t eat as much and you should be fine”…..however, if the products aren’t labeled, we don’t know how much we are getting! What a vicious circle, eh?

I believe you are right….I think Everything should be labeled with specific information on all ingredients no matter how minute the amount is. It’s the only fair, and safe thing to do.

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17 Stefanie

I’m so glad you are getting this vital information “out there.” I LOVE your blog.

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18 Will

You are right on all counts, Michelle. And the requirement to list all ingredients on the label has nothing to do with safety studies or anything else except that we have an absolute right to know what we are buying. I don’t care if a company sponsored study has shown no safety concerns. I still want to know it is in there so I can make my own decision. The idea of others deciding what I should know about the food I eat is unappetizing.

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19 Foods for Free

Food prices will take a while to go down even though the price of oil has been cut in half. It takes a while for the prices to drop because everybody is still willing to pay those prices. Also the food manufacturers are trying to get ahead and make bigger profits while they can.

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20 Jon

The price of food is a real problem for people like me and my friends. We CAN NOT afford what you call healthy food. It may be healthy for you body, but not for our thin wallets.

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21 Steffanie

The price of organic food is way higher then regular food. Even regular white bread is cheaper that whole wheat. But I think if we eat crap we pay in other ways. But if you dont have the money, you cant buy it.

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22 Michelle

That healthy food is unaffordable is a mistake.

Organic food is higher in nutrients so you don’t need to eat as much. Depending on the type of food, the nutrient levels are anywhere between 50% and 80% higher in organic vegetables than in non-organic.

I have found that overall, the price of eating organic is about the same as eating non-organic since I buy and eat less food, and am healthier, too.
.-= Michelle´s last blog ..Type D Personality and How To Overcome theHealth Risks of Chronic Anxiety, Negativity, and Stress with Affirmations, Meditation, and Qigong =-.

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23 Will

Interesting, Michelle. I had not heard of that. I think because most people eat until they feel full, nutrient level would not affect intake. It can be hard to debate the higher cost of some organic products though. Organic cranberries are 3 to 4 times the price of conventional, for example. Healthy, ethically produced food costs more whether it is organic or not and this is what needs to be fixed as much as possible. The massive subsidies that are now given to huge agribusinesses to grow corn, produce dairy and meat, etc. should be transferred to growers and manufacturers that are producing products in a healthy, ethical way. That is where I want my tax dollars going, not to Monsanto!

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24 Michelle

Hi Will,

I am certainly with you on subsidizing organic and other ethical farmers over the agri-biz crowd, but you know what they say…..follow the money and you’ll find the guy who scratches your financial back.

On eating until full, I have read that high fructose corn syrup somehow scrambles the message from the stomach to the brain that says, “I’m full now, stop eating.” (I believe I read that on Dr Joe Mercola’s website.) HFCS is in just about Everything!!! I have yet to find a processed food that does not contain it, and I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons is to keep people eating so they will eat more and buy more and eat more and buy more and so on. It sort of backfired when it was realized that people aren’t getting the exercise to release all those extra calories. Now, we are a nation of overweight people, and darn it, it’s our fault! Stop Eating!

Americans eat way more than necessary; if that were not true, we would not have an obesity problem in this country – though I do believe the problem is far more complicated than just eating too much.

Basically, humans eat for three reasons: Energy, nutrients, and pleasure. Since the food these days is so low in nutrient value, I believe that is one of the reasons people do eat too much – the body is craving nutrients it isn’t getting, and the only way we can get that message is through the “I’m hungry, feed me” feeling, so we eat. Many of the calories we take in are empty, so we crash after a few hours and need to eat again, too, but What do we eat? That is where we need to put our attention.

If we can get the crap out of our diet – the HFCS, the MSG, the other chemicals that trick or lure us into eating so much – like, eat local or organic as much as possible, avoid chemical additives like rBST in the dairy products, and stop eating out of boxes and bags – I’ll bet most of us would be well satisfied with much less to eat, and be much healthier for it.

Seriously, this has worked so well for me, I encourage others to try it, too! See if it works for you, too. You’ll feel a lot better and not spend any more than you already do.

If the foods are expensive, like the cranberries you mentioned, eat only when in season – that’s how Nature made us anyway; Nature provides what we need when we need it. We are ultimately a part of the cycle of life, and that includes eating foods in season. :-)

Here are two of my posts that you may find interesting and useful in this regard: Season, Geography and Diet:
http://bewellwithmichelle.blogspot.com/2006/10/season-geography-and-diet.html

The Seasonal Diet. This came from a book by a famous French herbalist:
http://bewellwithmichelle.blogspot.com/2006/10/seasonal-diet.html
.-= Michelle´s last blog ..Type D Personality and How To Overcome theHealth Risks of Chronic Anxiety, Negativity, and Stress with Affirmations, Meditation, and Qigong =-.

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25 Hillary

I agree they do have it backwards and the responsibility should rely on the company to disclose if they use and GM products and state on the product clearly that is uses such things.
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