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Impact of Technologies in Food and Agriculture
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Key: = Economic = Health
Red indicates high risk. Yellow indicates medium risk. Blue indicates low risk. Green indicates no risk.
Technology Risk to Farm- workers Risk to Farmers Risk to rural commun- ities
(risk to people who live near farms)
Risk to Food Processing Workers Risk to Consumers Risk to
Environment
   GMOs
   Synbio
   Nano

Risk to Farmworkers
GMOs
Farm work is generally low-paying work, but GMOs do not have a direct impact on pay. (Though fair labor market initiatives to pay farmworkers better also often prohibit GMOs, so higher paid farm work may be associated with absence of GMOs.)
Farmworkers must handle and apply the toxic chemicals such as glyphosate that crops like soy and canola are engineered to withstand, increasing their risk of adverse health effects due to both acute and long-term exposure.

Risk to farmers
GMOs
Farmers use GMO seeds cannot save them from year to year so must buy new seeds, along with the required inputs, from year to year. This high-input farming is generally expensive and risky. Farmers who do not use GMO crops may also face economic consequences as their marketing channels may demand expensive certifications to prove they are not using GMOs and in numerous incidents farmers have been sued for patent infringement after their own farms were contaminated with GMO seeds from neighboring farms.
Farmers face high risk of exposure to toxic chemicals such as glyphosate that GMO crops are engineered to withstand.
Risk to Rural Communities
GMOs
Because the risk to farmers is so high, especially in already marginalized communities, the widespread adoption of GMO crops can have a cumulative negative impact on entire communities. GMO crops are also part of an industrial agriculture system that looks and acts like a factory, sending food into commodity markets, the opposite of the type of bio-diverse eco-systems that provide habitat for plants and animals and contribute positively to the local economy by attracting ecotourism and keeping food and food dollars in the area.
The increased use of toxic chemicals associated with GMOs poses a huge risk to those who live near farms where they are exposure to increasing rates of toxic chemicals through groundwater contamination and drift without the benefit of protective equipment required for those on farms.
Risk to Food Processing Workers
GMO
Handling GMO crops are not likely to have a big direct impact on food processing workers.
Handling GMO crops are not likely to have a big direct impact on food processing workers.
Risk to Consumers
GMO
Because GMOs are so prevalent in the food system, consumers wishing to avoid them must pay more to be assured of their absence in many cases. In addition, corn and soybeans are two of the most heavily subsidized crops in the US and also two of the crops where GMOs are most prevalent so in the US tax money subsidizes GMOs.
Numerous studies have implicated GMOs in immune, fertility, and GI problems among others. While some scientists continue to say GMOs are safe to eat, there is consensus that glyphosate, a chemical whose use has skyrocketed to be used on GMO crops, is harmful and is now found in air and water samples around the world.
Risk to the Environment
GMOs
There is a large financial cost associated with the harm to the environment, including chemical contamination and dealing with super weeds, associated with GMO agriculture.
GMO seeds contaminate non-GMO fields and toxic chemicals applied to GMO fields contaminate the environment. GMO agriculture has led to a problem of super weeds and have led to a lack of biodiversity.
Risk to Farmworkers
Synbio
Synbio ingredients, such as synbio vanilla flavor, directly compete with farmed counterparts. As farms specializing in high-value crops are outcompeted, farm jobs are lost. On the other hand, synbio requires large amounts of sugar as an input, increasing the demand for sugar which is often grown on plantations and associated with particularly physically demanding farm labor for low pay and often employing forced labor.
Synbio processes happen in a lab and do not directly impact farmworkers, though there may be indirect impacts (for example increasing demand for sugar which is associated with physically demanding and difficult work.)

Risk to farmers
Synbio
Synbio ingredients directly compete with agricultural counterparts that are often high-value crops, threatening farmer livelihoods.
Synbio processes happen in a lab and are not likely to have direct adverse health effects on farmers.
Risk to Rural Communities
Synbio
Synbio threatens farms, which is a direct threat to rural livelihoods.
Synbio processes happen in a lab and are not likely to have direct adverse health effects rural communities.
Risk to Food Processing Workers
Synbio
As synbio threatens on-farm jobs and livelihoods, the ripple effect is likely to be felt up the supply chain. Though synbio is currently focused on flavors and fragrances, proponents would like to produce many types of foods through this process, including foods like meats which could replace agricultural processing jobs.
Synbio processes happen in a lab and are not likely to have direct adverse health effects on food processing workers in other supply chains.
Risk to Consumers
Synbio
Consumers are unlikely to face significant economic effects from synbio technology.
Because with synbio it is the process that uses genetic engineering technology and the final product is not a GMO, direct health risk to consumers is lower than with GMO ingredients.
Risk to the Environment
Synbio
The financial burden of synbio on the environment may be low.
Synbio activity typically takes placed in enclosed vats, but there have been examples of leaks and we do not know much about what happens when genetically altered yeast or algae are released into the environment.
Risk to Farmworkers
Nano
Nano is not expected to have a direct economic impact on farmworkers.
The application of nano pesticides could be especially toxic to farmworkers since nanoparticles behave differently than their regular-sized counterparts and farmworkers face exposure directly and in high concentrations.

Risk to farmers
Nano
using nanoparticles damage soil structure in the long-run, negatively impacting the long-term economic viability of farms.
The application of nano pesticides could be especially toxic to farmers since nanoparticles behave differently than their regular-sized counterparts and farmers face exposure directly and in high concentrations.
Risk to Rural Communities
Nano
Nano particles used in agriculture cause the type of pollution which is costly for communities to mitigate.
Nano particles in pesticides are lighter than their conventional counterparts so are likely to drift further from the farm where they are used, spreading their negative health impacts far and wide throughout rural communities.
Risk to Food Processing Workers
Nano
The health risks to food processing workers (and workers in other sectors) are potentially debilitating and affect workers abilities to perform job tasks and therefore retain their jobs.
Food processing workers face the biggest health risks from nanoparticles because they breath and handle these particles at high concentrations for long periods at a time, inside where they may accumulate. Nanoparticles, such as titanium dioxide and silver nanoparticles, are associated with health risks including effects on brain, lungs, reproduction, and cell damage.
Risk to Consumers
Nano
Although consumers may not be directly impacted financially by the presence of nano in food (and cosmetics), because the health risks are so high, many consumers are likely to face financial effects as a result of the health effects (payment for health care and/or lost wages).
Nanoparticles, such as titanium dioxide and silver nanoparticles, are associated with risks including effects on brain, lungs, reproduction, and cell damage. These particles can go places their larger counterparts cannot, for example passing brain/blood barrier and entering bone marrow.
Risk to the Environment
Nano
Mitigating damage caused by nanoparticles in the environment is likely to be costly.
Nanoparticles are being used in food packaging, pesticides, fertilizers, in addition to directly in food. While nano ingredients in food may harm consumers, these other uses are likely to contaminate the environment.
What are GMOs? GMO stands for genetically modified organism and refers to the technology in which a gene from one organism is inserted into another organism to give it a new trait. In agriculture, some of the most common GMO crops are corn, soy, canola, and cotton and the most common traits include genetic modification to tolerate application of herbicide or to produce their own pesticide.

What is synthetic biology (synbio)? Synthetic biology, also called extreme genetic engineering, is the technology in which a new gene is created and printed using a 3-D printer, then inserted into yeast or algae to “instruct” the yeast or algae to convert sugars to new products such as specific oils, flavors, or fragrances.

What is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is the technology used to create nano materials, that is particles in the nanoscale range where they are small enough to pass through cell membranes and they often behave differently than their macro counterparts. Nanoparticles are currently found in processed foods, cosmetics such as sunscreens, and food packaging and cookware.

None of these technologies are properly regulated by the government or tested for health and environmental impacts, nor are the labeled as containing and created through GMO, nano, or synbio.


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