"Heart-smart" bacon? "Healthy" hamburger? The GM giant Monsanto thinks it's found a way to make red meat better for us and guess what, it's got both foodies and environmental activists worried.
Monsanto has produced a genetically engineered soybean that contains a version of omega-3, the well known "smart food" which has been shown to improve cardiovascular health. That's why we're told to eat more oily fish as omega-3 is usually found in seafood.
Monsanto's genius is to come up with meat products that have omega 3, so consumers can ditch that healthy serving of salmon and tuck into a burger instead. The omega-3 enhanced pork and beef comes from livestock being fed with the enhanced soybean, a nifty way to add value to your cheap as chips burger for sure.
And of course, Monsanto has filed patents on the "derived benefits" of feeding animals its new wonder product. Food products normally aren't granted patent protection. According to a story filed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "the new patent applications have touched a raw nerve among those who see them as an attempt by the company to exert control over the food chain.""There's been a much more liberal approach to patenting food, and this patent raises issues about that," Dr. Matthew Rimmer, an Australian expert in agricultural intellectual property, told ABC. "Jurisprudence in the United States takes a very expansive view of patentable subject matter."
Monsanto replied by saying that it has no doomsday plans to control the world's food supply. "Monsanto does not intend to take ownership of livestock or fish or to sell company-branded milk, meat or eggs enriched with omega-3s to consumers," the company posted on its website in June. But environmental activists don't believe them, not for the first time. A representative from Greenpeace told the broadcaster "As a community, we need to decide whether we want our most basic foods to be owned by chemical companies."
This is not a new debate - the ownership of seed patents is something Monsanto continually comes under attack for. But if the widespread use of enhanced soya brings Monsanto to a stage where they also own the patents to meat produced from soya-fed animals, then some parts of the meat sector, particularly in the 'States could arrive at a sticky situation.
GM crops are not currently allowed to be grown in Ireland but there is an argument that we should let in GM animal feed as it would keep costs for farmers down, especially in the pigmeat sector. And you can imagine if this omega-3 enhanced feed is available, wouldn't many Irish farmers want it as it adds value to their product?
Keeping Ireland the Food Island GM free is worth the extra we pay for non-GM animal feed. Remaining GM free and keeping the perception that we have as a clean, green island has a lot more value in the long run to Irish, UK and especially EU consumers of our beef and pigmeat products. I just hope the regime stays as it is in this country - stick it out and consumers will stick with us, if we go down the American road, we'll only have more heartache in the longterm.