Monday, April 25, 2016

Real Deal #18: Why We Have GMOs and Yet Millions Still Go Hungry

"This extraordinary argument is between two very different international teams of scientists - the IARC committee who are all named, all independent and have no vested interest in the chemical industry, and EFSA team who are nearly all anonymous, while we have no idea what connections they have to the industry. This argument has, for the first time for more than 50 years, opened up how pesticides are regulated to scientific, political and public scrutiny - and what we are seeing doesn't look good."


Battered by falling crop prices and consumer resistance that has made it hard to win over new markets, the agrochemical industry has been swept by buyouts. Bayer recently announced a deal to acquire Monsanto. And the state-owned China National Chemical Corporation has received American regulatory approval to acquire Syngenta, though Syngenta later warned the takeover could be delayed by scrutiny from European authorities.

The deals are aimed at creating giants even more adept at selling both seeds and chemicals. Already, a new generation of seeds is coming to market or in development. And they have grand titles. There is the Bayer Balance GT Soybean Performance System. Monsanto’s Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete corn. Dow’s PhytoGen with Enlist and WideStrike 3 Insect Protection.

In industry jargon, they are “stacked” with many different genetically modified traits. And there are more to come. Monsanto has said that the corn seed of 2025 will have 14 traits and allow farmers to spray five different kinds of herbicide.

Modern Farmer:
Fully 72 percent of U.S. consumers say they don’t want to eat food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, according to a 2014 survey published in Consumer Reports. Over the past few years, mainstream companies including General Mills, Chipotle, Target, and Safeway have moved to eliminate or reduce the number of GMOs in their supply chains.

Some environmentalists and public interest groups want to go further. Hundreds of organizations, including Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Center for Food Safety, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are demanding “mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Since 2013, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed laws to require GMO labels. Massachusetts could be next.

Two-thirds of Europeans want to suspend glyphosate until it is proven safe and it's now up to the European Commission to put public health before corporate profits. Nineteen European Union countries have banned GE (genetically engineered) crops outright, while Peru, Kenya, and numerous other developing nations have imposed bans or moratoriums on the marketing and importing of so-called Frankenfoods.

At the same time, a growing cadre of scientists, food-safety experts, and farmers—both conventional and organic—suggests that perhaps it isn’t GMOs we should reject, but an industrial food system that employs them in irresponsible ways. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency all maintain that GE technology used for crop improvement is not fundamentally hazardous.

Eco Watch:
Last March, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the ingredient as a possible carcinogen.

Following the IARC’s decision, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) issued plans in September to add glyphosate to the state’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer, making it the first state in the country to do so. 

In contrast, in November 2015 the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) concluded that it was safe to use - but given that this review of glyphosate relied in part on industry funded, unpublished studies, the public, and many European politicians no longer trust the EFSA's judgement. This significant inconsistency between these two organisations spurred 96 prominent scientists from 25 countries to voice strong opposition to the EFSA report.

Reuters reports that personal injury law firms around the U.S. are gathering numerous plaintiffs to build “mass tort actions” alleging that exposure to the company’s popular weedkiller, Roundup, causes cancer. According to Reuters, the attorneys are citing strong evidence that links glyphosate to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and said they will likely collaborate as mass tort actions against Monsanto.

"The EU Parliament responded to the health concerns of millions by calling on the Commission to severely restrict permitted uses of the toxic herbicide glyphosate, including an effective ban on pre-harvest dessication of crops. On April 13 the European Parliament adopted a resolution strongly opposing the Commission's proposal to reapprove the controversial weedkiller glyphosate for use in Europe for 15 years."

Recently the EU Commission caved in to U.S. pressure in TTIP trade talks by deciding to consider organisms modified by new 'gene editing' techniques as non-GM - in violation of the EU's own laws. The move could make the 'new GMOs' exempt from labeling and from health and environmental testing. The Commission's decision transparently violates the EU's own laws on GM crops and foods that require case-by-case risk assessment, detectability and labelling.


New York Times:
An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.

At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides.

In fact, herbicide use, says the Times, has increased in the US by 21 percent since the introduction of GMO crops in the mid-1990s. In Europe, over the same time period, herbicide use has declined by 36 percent. And in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent.

Profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades. Although American protesters as far back as 1987 pulled up prototype potato plants, European anger at the idea of fooling with nature has been far more sustained. In the last few years, the March Against Monsanto has drawn thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, Switzerland, and opposition to G.M. foods is a foundation of the Green political movement. Still, Europeans eat those foods when they buy imports from the United States and elsewhere.

Genetically modified crops can sometimes be effective. Monsanto and others often cite the work of Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany, including a meta-analysis of studies that he helped write finding significant yield gains from genetically modified crops. But in an interview and emails, Dr. Qaim said he saw significant effects mostly from insect-resistant varieties in the developing world, particularly in India.

“Currently available G.M. crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” he said. And regarding herbicide-resistant crops in general: “I don’t consider this to be the miracle type of technology that we couldn’t live without.”

A number of studies have detected glyphosate—the “most widely applied pesticide worldwide”—in our immediate surroundings and even in human bodies. A 2013 Friends of the Earth Europe study reported people in 18 European countries have traces of glyphosate in their urine. This past February, a German study found that 14 of the most popular brands of German beer tested positive for glyphosate, which inspired the MEPs to organize the urine sampling.

Although glyphosate is always used in combination with a range of other often toxic chemicals, and although researchers have found that glyphosate mixes as sold to farmers and gardeners can be up to 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate acting on its own, EFSA insists on only looking at the impact of glyphosate alone.

Another problem rising from glyphosate use is the rise of “superweeds” that are resistant to herbicides. A 2013 report from Food & Water Watch found a connection between the rapid proliferation of genetically engineered crops and affiliated pesticides in the U.S., and the rise of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” that have led to the steadily increasing use of more dangerous herbicides.

Weeds are evolving so that today's most popular weedkillers can't kill them, and in response the chemical industry is doubling down. Dow Chemical and Monsanto are genetically modifying corn and soybeans so that farmers can soon spray entire fields with chemical mixtures that include herbicides from generations past, wiping out the so-called superweeds without killing the crops. Their advice to farmers: Don't just replace one chemical with another; add more. The resurgence of these older, more toxic weedkillers introduces new risks to America's food, water and air.

Genetically engineered crops developed and marketed to withstand copious herbicide and pesticide spraying are also causing super bugs which are resistant to the very chemicals which were created to destroy them. Pollinating insects, which help to make sure we have a tremendous variety of foods, have been absolutely decimated by chemical herbicides and pesticides. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects are dying at an unprecedented rate. Even our ocean life is being contaminated by pesticide run off. Fish, crab, seals, and even micro-algae have been affected by the amount of chemicals we use to ‘grow food.’

"Glyphosate-based pesticides affect cell cycle regulation." Marc, J., Mulner-Lorillon, O. and Bellé, R. (2004), Biology of the Cell, 96: 245–249. doi: 10.1016/j.biolcel.2003.11.010.

"Co-Formulants in Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Disrupt Aromatase Activity in Human Cells below Toxic Levels." Nicolas Defarge, Eszter Takács, Verónica Laura Lozano, Robin Mesnage, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, Gilles-Eric Séralini, and András Székács. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2016, 13, 264; doi: 10.3390/ijerph13030264.

"Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases IV: cancer and related pathologies." Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff. Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry 15(3):121-159. doi: 10.4024/11SA15R.jbpc.15.03.

"The Effect of Glyphosate on Potential Pathogens and Beneficial Members of Poultry Microbiota In Vitro." Shehata AA1, Schrödl W, Aldin AA, Hafez HM, Krüger M.; Current Microbiology. 2013 Apr;66(4):350-8. doi: 10.1007/s00284-012-0277-2. Epub 2012 Dec 9.

"Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement." John Peterson Myers, Michael N. Antoniou, Bruce Blumberg, Lynn Carroll, Theo Colborn, Lorne G. Everett, Michael Hansen, Philip J. Landrigan, Bruce P. Lanphear, Robin Mesnage, Laura N. Vandenberg, Frederick S. vom Saal, Wade V. Welshons and Charles M. Benbrook. Environmental Health. 2016; 15:19. doi: 10.1186/s12940-016-0117-0.


The Ethical Skeptic:
  1. The studies upon which EPA Approval was granted are based on preliminary and aged experimental observation.
  2. The EPA Approval was granted on only one scant 1970/80’s study series, conducted on animals (rats, rabbits, beagles); wherein the objectivity is in question, of both the EPA and Monsanto in assessing the regulatory applicability of these early studies, as they were all completed only by Monsanto.
  3. The sample sizes of observational data for all coincident maladies is much more easily accessible/collectible today. As well, Monsanto coordinated the release of studies, patents and EPA approvals as part of a liability risk mitigation strategy regarding these maladies, along with its connected seed sourcing monopoly business strategy.
  4. There exists a pronounced rise in diseases associated with the original toxicity issues evaluated in the EPA Approval; specifically pancreatic, endocrine and skin inflammation disorders.
  5. Glyphosate is not optional. You can’t wash Glyphosate off, and it is contained in 90% of the bio-available foods of each major US Consumer Food category.
  6. The Public is asking that the science be completed/updated. They would like to be informed so they can make choices. This is their right.

Reader Supported News:
Despite the promise of the green revolution, hundreds of millions still go to bed hungry, food has become denutrified, functioning rural economies have been destroyed, diseases have spiked in correlation with the increase in use of pesticides and GMOs, soil has been eroded or degraded, diets are less diverse, global food security has been undermined and access to food is determined by manipulated international markets and speculation – not supply and demand.

Food and agriculture has become wedded to power structures that have restructured indigenous agriculture across the world and tied it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for a manipulated and volatile international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions.

In itself, technology is neutral. But to understand how technology is used in the real world we must appreciate who owns and controls technology, whose interests it ultimately serves and how it is forced onto the market and functions in an economic system driven by profit and geopolitics and the compulsion to capture and control markets, while all the time hiding behind an ideology of ‘free choice’ and ‘democracy’.

Could GM (or even synthetic biology for that matter) ever be a viable addition to the food and agriculture? Possibly, if it were ever to be shown that it had no adverse environmental, ecological and health impacts and could perform better than non-GM; and only if it were not to be used as a strategy to sideline the need to tackle poverty, hunger, inequality and the undermining of food security by eradicating a globalized system of food and agriculture controlled by large corporations that fuel and benefits from that system.

Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said that while the industry had long said G.M.O.s would “save the world,” they still “haven’t found the mythical yield gene.”

More information:
» EcoWatch: "The Inside Story of How a University Professor Quietly Collaborated With Monsanto"
» Huffington Post: "Monsanto's Media Machine Comes to Washington"
» GM-Free Cymru: "Monsanto knew of glyphosate/cancer link 35 years ago"
» Natural Society: "34000 Pesticides and 600 Chemicals Later: Our Food Supply is No Better..."
» Chicago Tribune (Video): "Chemicals and Farming: One Family's Debate"
» Slate: "The Misleading War on GMOs: The Food Is Safe. The Rhetoric Is Dangerous."
» Slate: "Seeds of Discontent"
» New York Times: "Broken Promises of Genetically Modified Crops"

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