In Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future, Caitlin Shetterly examines genetically modified foods, the companies that produce them, and their potential effects on public health and the environment.
You discuss that GMOs are patented by Monsanto and other biotech corporations. What is involved in patenting an organism?
What’s patented is the technology, not the plant itself. You can’t patent corn. I’m not a lawyer, but what I understand is that the laws protect the cells and genes which make the GMOs either “Roundup Ready” or resistant to certain pests. Because of issues around GMOs, the Supreme Court of Canada has come out against patenting a higher life form.
Writing the book took several years, but this seems like an ongoing issue. How up-to-date is the material?
The book has been through a second, third, and fourth pass since the initial review galley. There are so many changing stories, so the book and its science have been updated quite a bit. For instance, in a few places in Africa they have been trying Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] cotton [significant because most African countries have been resisting GMOs, and Bt is a GMO form of cotton], so that has been included in the finished book. Keeping up with the changes has been the largest challenge with this. It has definitely been a moving target.
You have eliminated corn and other GMO food from your diet as much as possible for your health and that of your family. How difficult is it to eat that way and how important has it been?
We source most of our food locally and organically. We do spend a lot of money on our food. For us, it is the best form of health insurance. Both my husband and I believe that eating this way has transformed how we feel. For us, farmers’ markets are a way to make a conscientious and political choice against big corporations and factory farms. Once you get your life into this groove, it isn’t any more difficult than going to the grocery store. Saturday mornings are all about going to the farmers’ market as a family. For meals, mostly, I just look in the fridge and make what is fresh.
Has writing this book changed you?
When I was driving across the heartland, I became an environmentalist. When I began, I was a journalist and mother, but I wasn’t an activist. Through this journey I became concerned about what we were doing to our land and water. I became very concerned about all the chemicals that are used on the land, about how our food comes to us. My hope is that we start to understand that this is a much bigger discussion than GMOs themselves. GMOs are a piece, but you can’t separate them from the whole chemical system. Our food is something that we need to nourish ourselves; it’s sacred in a way. We should be doing the least damage possible as we grow it.