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Let's play a game. When I say a word, you say the first thing that comes to mind. Then we'll repeat. Ready?

Summer? Vacation.

Beaches? Picnics.

Bananas? Antibiotics.

Wait a minute! Antibiotics don't have anything to do with bananas!

Oh, don't they?

At this very moment, scientists are working to create a new "antibiotic banana" that may help humans fight infectious diseases. If their endeavors are successful, we may soon be able to skip the doctor's office and go straight to the grocery store to cure our ailments.

Sound too good to be true? Well, maybe it is. How, for example, could antibiotic banana plants impact monkey, bird and insect species? In just 10 years, biotechnology has become one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. With endless possibilities for profit, biotech firms are scrambling to pump billions of dollars into research and development schemes, touting the "gene revolution" as the solution to everything from environmental degradation to global hunger.

Many genetically modified organisms have already been developed, including corn, cotton and soy plants that produce their own pesticides. According to researchers, these varieties are more environmentally-friendly and economically efficient, requiring fewer chemical pesticides and producing bigger, more "perfect" crops. Unfortunately for the planet's consumers, these corporations have forgotten their own capitalist maxim: "you don't get nothing for free." As GMOs infiltrate our diets, specialists warn that the new "Frankenfoods" may permanently damage our health and ecosystem, regardless of biotech's claims to the contrary.

Ecologically, the possible impacts of biotechnology have not been adequately researched. One biotech giant, Aqua Bounty Farms, has developed a new salmon that can mature four times faster than normal fish. Biologically, female fish are attracted to larger males, which are assumed to be the fittest and most capable of the species. As geneticist William Muir notes, "fish just 25 percent larger will get 400 percent more matings than a fish of average size." ("Harvest of Fear" www.pbs.org) Yet these "artificial" salmon produce the lowest number of offspring. The introduction of Aqua Bounty salmon into the wild could rapidly decrease or even wipe out this endangered fish species.

GMOs can never be recalled once they are released from corporate labs, since they are living organisms capable of reproduction. If we are truly concerned about the possible ecological implications of genetic engineering, we must conduct serious research before these living technologies are incorporated into the natural life cycle.

Consuming inadequately researched GM products may seriously harm human health and expose millions of people to unknown dangers. Under present FDA policies, GM products do not have to be labeled and do not undergo the same rigorous safety tests other foodstuffs must pass before being released to consumers. Consequently, if a gene from a peanut is spliced into soybeans, people with peanut allergies may have severe reactions to unlabeled GM soy, even though they might consider soy safe.

Because American farmers mix GM and non-GM crops during harvest and storage, it has become virtually impossible to separate modified varieties from natural grains. Separate storage facilities and accurate food labeling systems cost a pretty penny; as a result, agribusiness lobbyists have pressured the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow companies to continue marketing unlabeled GM products. The FDA recently voted to maintain these inadequate policies, allowing biotech corporations to continue to exploit unsuspecting consumers.

To make matters worse, GMOs permeate the typical American diet. When was the last time you had a Coke? Most sodas contain corn syrup, derived from GM corn. Like ketchup on your French fries? Heinz and Del Monte use GM tomatoes in their pastes. Had any Frosted Flakes lately? Kellogg's thinks GM corn flakes are grrrreat! Salad dressing? Chocolate? The list of GM foods, produced by manufacturing giants like Nabisco, Quaker, Hershey's and Campbell's, goes on and on.

In other parts of the world, GMOs have been restricted. In 1998, massive protests led European Union officials to place a moratorium on the commercial growing and import of GM crops. Recently, the World Trade Organization and other free trade avengers have pressured the EU to rescind this ban, but manufacturers are still required to clearly mark all GM products with standardized labels. Throughout Europe, high levels of consumer resistance have led many corporations to abandon the use of GMOs altogether.

Here in the United States, polls indicate that 88 percent of consumers support more pre-market testing of GMOs, and 85 percent want GM foodstuffs to be clearly labeled. So much for the democratic process (www.greenpeace.org).

Finally, multiple arguments refute the biotech industry's claims that GMOs will solve global poverty or hunger. Economically, GMOs can force farmers to become dependent on biotech corporations. Since GM seeds are a business venture, they are patented and sold for profit. Because "self-fumigating" plants produce pesticides indiscriminately, pest toxins are emitted constantly throughout the growing process, regardless of actual pest levels. Ironically, flooding fields with these insecticides can help bugs develop resistance more rapidly than normal evolution allows. Resistance renders old pesticides useless, forcing farmers to replant fields with new GMOs producing different pest repellents.

Farmers must then purchase new seeds, and the entire cycle repeats. Poor farmers in developing countries have virtually no access to these technologies, and the "perfect" GM crops they compete with drive their own meager incomes down even further. Biotechnology is a multibillion-dollar industry, and there is an intense, competitive pressure among corporations to maximize profits and minimize costs. Consequently, critical (but expensive) tests are eliminated while new GMOs continue to be patented and sold to farmers.

Ironically, the realities of biotech clearly show how expensive industrialized agriculture and the unequal access to capital worldwide collaborate to keep peasant farmers trapped in cycles of poverty and dependency. In order for world hunger to truly be eradicated, sustainable, local farming practices must be promoted and human wealth must be more equitably distributed.

The most basic assumption of biotech corporations like Monsanto and AgrEvo are that humans can and should freely manipulate living organisms in order to produce new products for human consumption. According to this view, natural resources exist solely for the benefit of humankind, which grants people free reign to exploit, plunder and alter nature.

In a parallel universe, there are many who believe that humans are simply one part of an incredibly complex and fragile ecosystem, which, if damaged, is irreparable. If GMOs are not carefully researched, we might never know their possible consequences until it is too late. In order to safeguard our environment, and develop feasible alternatives to industrial agriculture's shortcomings, we must exercise our consumer power to hold biotech corporations accountable. If complacency won't kill us, Frankenfoods just might.

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