The mass cultivation of genetically modified (GM) soybeans has a hugely detrimental environmental and health impact worldwide.
As it stands, soy is widely used in our diets, in processed foods and found in most meat, as soy is fed to animals on CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).
The next "natural" step, at least according to two of the largest stakeholders in the soy industry, Monsanto (creator of GM soy) and food giant Cargill, is to make soy the feed of choice for factory-farmed fish around the world – a move they are misleadingly labeling as "sustainable."
Fortunately, Food & Water Watch has released a report that reveals the truth: bringing soy to fish feed would be an environmental, and human health, disaster.
Why We Need to Keep Soy Out of the Sea
It's estimated that about half of the world's seafood comes from aquaculture, which is the term used to describe industrial fish farming. Like the land-based CAFOs, industrial fish farming has had problems from the start, including overcrowded conditions, pollution and unnatural diets.
Feed has been an area of controversy, as sometimes wild fish are used to prepare the fishmeal fed to farmed fish, depleting the natural fish supply in some areas.
In September 2011, the Illinois Soybean Association announced that soy feed could "revolutionize sustainable agriculture" on fish farms. They're clamoring to get soy into fish feed as soon as possible, as doing so could earn them a reported $201 million a year, and that is a low estimate! But as Food & Water Watch points out, just as soy has been detrimental to land-based food lots, human health and the environment, it could be devastating to our oceans, and seafood supplies, as well:
" while the soy industry stands to make large profits from the expansion of factory fish farming, there is no guarantee that soy-based aquaculture feed can consistently produce healthy fish or promote ecological responsibility. In fact, by causing fish to produce excess waste, soy could lead to an even more polluting fish farming industry.
By supporting factory fish farming, the soy industry could not only help to expand an industry that degrades marine environments, threatens wild fish populations and damages coastal communities, it could also extend its own negative impacts.
Already, industrial soy production has led to the prevalence of genetically modified crops on U.S. farmland and in consumer food products, caused massive deforestation in South America and displaced indigenous communities living in areas now used to grow soy. Rather than actually promoting sustainability in a developing industry, the involvement of soy associations in aquaculture could spur the growth of two industries that have extremely negative impacts on our land, our oceans and the communities that depend on them."
4 Reasons Why Soy in Fish Feed Could be Devastating
What could happen if fish are fed soy – a food they would virtually never come into contact with in their natural environment?
Increased pollution: Fish fed soy produce more waste than other fish, which means more pollution the ocean is not set up to handle. Also, GM soy is invariably contaminated with residues of potent glyphosate-based herbicide formulations (e.g. Roundup) used to produce them, which a growing body of research clearly shows is extremely toxic to aquatic life.1
- Contamination of the oceans (and your seafood) with genetically modified organisms (GMOs): About 94 percent of the soy grown in the United States is genetically modified. And when you feed farmed fish raised in an ocean environment, any feed that is not consumed flows directly out of the cage and into the ocean. As Food & Water Watch noted, feeding soy to farmed fish means GM food will enter the environment and diets of wild marine organisms, permanently contaminating our oceans with completely unknown consequences.
- Monsanto and Cargill will have control of seafood … and parts of the ocean: Monsanto, which has sponsored feed trials with GM soy and salmon, is already keen on spreading their GM seeds "from sea to shining sea" … Cargill, which has an aquaculture feed division, is another industrial food giant. By bringing soy into fish farming, their reach will now extend into issues concerning the very sustainability and future of marine life!
- Deforestation could increase: Large quantities of South American land are already being cleared to make way for soy farms. This could increase if even more soy is needed for aquaculture.
There are many reasons why I already advise avoiding factory-farmed fish, but the addition of GM soy as a staple to their diets is the icing on the cake. The soy industry, however, is showing no signs of stopping. Food & Water Watch reported:
"The American soy industry is powerful. It has been able to fund many studies on using soy for fish feed; it has built relationships in the aquaculture industry; and it has publicly supported federal policies in favor of offshore aquaculture.
… Soy does not have the full array of nutrients demanded by fish, however; nor is it a natural fish food or substance in the marine environment. In fact, using soy may cause some fish farms to pollute more by producing extra waste. Further, the negative ramifications of the soy industry on the environment and potentially on our health are reasons to resist the allure of soy as a "savior" of the aquaculture industry.
The cultivation of soy is associated with agricultural runoff that is contributing to the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, with deforestation in Latin America and with the displacement of many indigenous peoples from their homes and work.
As soy becomes increasingly ubiquitous in our diets -- in processed foods and the meat from animals that have been raised on it -- we must ask what health impacts this high level of soy consumption may have on us. Scientists are beginning to question claims about the benefits of eating soy and to suggest that the plant-based estrogens that occur naturally in soy, many of which are endocrine disruptors, could potentially have adverse impacts.
In light of these concerns and unanswered questions, it is troubling to know that much of our fish -- one of our last wild foods -- could be fattened on this crop."
Do You Know the Truth About GM Soy?
Genetically modified soybeans are designed to be "Roundup ready." This means they are chemically engineered to withstand heavy doses of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide without killing the plant! What does this mean for your health and the health of your unborn or yet-to-be-conceived children?
The long-term effects of the human consumption of genetically modified soy and soy-based products are staggering. In April 2010, researchers at Russia's Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Association for Gene Security found that after feeding hamsters GM soy for two years over three generations, by the third generation, most lost the ability to have pups!2
A Brazilian study published in 2009 looked at the impact of soy on the reproductive system of female rats. Female rats fed GM soy for 15 months showed significant changes in their uterus and reproductive cycles, compared to rats fed organic soy or no soy.3
Extrapolating the findings to people, women who eat GM soy products may be more likely to experience severe hormonal disruptions, including an overabundance of estrogen and/or estrogenic activity, a hair-growth stimulating hormone, and damage to the pituitary gland. GM soy has also been linked to loss of libido and erectile dysfunction in men, and, disturbingly, the only published human feeding study on GM foods ever conducted verified that the gene inserted into GM soy transfers into the DNA of human gut bacteria and continues to function.
This means that years after you stop eating GM soy, you may still have a range of potentially allergenic proteins continuously being produced in your intestines. Not to mention, the intensive soy farming taking place in areas like Paraguay is subjecting residents to pesticide poisoning, and threatening biodiversity and access to locally grown produce.
There are Ways You Can Help
If you're wondering what you can do, one step in the right direction is to avoid factory-farmed fish. By doing this, you're withdrawing your support of an industry that is not in the best interest of human health and the environment, and you're protecting your health, as nutritionally speaking farmed fish are among the worst type of seafood you can eat.
I do not recommend consuming seafood of any kind unless you know it is from pure waters, not contaminated with chemicals, and harvested by a sustainable fishery. Keep in mind that virtually all fish served in restaurants is from factory farms. On a larger scale, you can boycott not only farmed fish but also GM soy by following the tips below. It is time to shift our food paradigm toward one that is more focused on natural, organic and independent community farms, and this is true both on land and at sea.
- Buy local products whenever possible. Otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products.
- Shop at your local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to selling local foods.
- Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food.
- Avoid genetically engineered (GM) foods. Buying certified organic ensures your food is non-GM.
- Cook, can, ferment, dry and freeze. Return to the basics of cooking, and pass these skills on to your children.
- Drink plenty of water, but avoid bottled water whenever possible, and do invest in a high-quality water filter to filter the water from your tap.
- Grow your own garden, or volunteer at a community garden. Teach your children how to garden and where their food comes from.
- Volunteer and/or financially support an organization committed to promoting a sustainable food system.
- Get involved in your community. Influence what your child eats by engaging the school board. Effect city policies by learning about zoning and attending city council meetings. Learn about the federal policies that affect your food choice, and let your congressperson know what you think.
- Spread the word! Share this article with your friends, family, and everyone else you know.