Issue#30 - Dedication Theme:
Freedom of Information in the Genetically Modified Age
Lack of transparency might be the worst problem of genetically modified foods
AN OVERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION
"The consequences of genetic pollution in the environment and
in our bodies are far from understood."
Written & Illustrated by Julie MARDIN
For The Light Millennium
Our Chemical Addiction
[Lightmillennium.Org] While the Post-2015 Sustainable Millennium Development Goals stress the need for sustainable agriculture, with a reduction in the use of water, chemicals and energy, and the United Nations has actually declared this the decade of biodiversity, the release of genetically modified (GM) foods might trump all of these commendable goals.
It is said that these technologies were very successful in reducing chemical usage in their first years, but as a report published in Environmental Sciences Europe cites, after the sixth year this trend started to reverse. Between 1996 and 2011 we have seen an increase of 527 million pounds of herbicides on crops that were designed to be herbicide tolerant, namely ‘Roundup Ready crops,’ meant to be used with Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup Ready. There has been a reported 123 million pound decrease in pesticides sprayed on crops that were designed to express their own pesticide, mainly ‘Bt crops’-which incorporate the gene for the toxin from the soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens. But the report also points out that the amount of toxin that is leached by the GM plant is greater in most cases than what would have normally been sprayed, as it is expressed in every cell of the plant, all the time.(1)
To this day these techniques are hailed as an answer to Global Warming, and yet both the Bt and the Roundup Ready system have engendered greater and greater pesticide and herbicide dependence, and thus greater reliance on fossil fuels. Due to these types of resistance, companies are continuing to devise ways to vary and stack the genetically altered traits in the plants, as well as pushing for alternatives to Roundup or glyphosate, which is Roundup’s active ingredient. Namely they are pushing for the use of dicamba, and 2, 4-D, the ‘less toxic’ half of Agent Orange. And all this with barely any increase, and sometimes even a decrease in yield.(2) It is beginning to seem that these chemical companies have come up with methods not to feed the hungry, or farm more sustainably, but to ensure their chemical sales.
"10 multinational corporations currently hold approximately two-thirds of global commercial seed for major crops."
The Center for Food Safety also outlines the rise in price of growing these crops per acre, due to the rising costs of chemical inputs, as well as the greater and greater consolidation of seed companies. 10 multinational corporations currently hold approximately two-thirds of global commercial seed for major crops. Monsanto controls 60% of the global corn and soy bean seed market. These companies are poised to dominate the entire food supply as they introduce one GM crop after another, which leads to a complete loss in the biodiversity of their conventional counterparts, through various means of carelessness or intentional neglect. Via cross pollination, or seed that blows from farm to farm, or off trucks, or in seed cleaning facilities, the contamination ruins the livelihoods of organic and conventional farmers, and will leave us with no choice but vast patented monocrops.
Even though they are full of problems, by now most of us who try to avoid genetically modified organisms or GMOs know that they are in 80% of processed foods in the United States. That if you're buying corn, soy-based products or canola, you have to beware, as in the US, up to 93% of these crops are genetically modified. Some foods that are now waiting in the sidelines for USDA approval are GM sweet peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, wheat, and salmon. GM flax and rice have been approved, but have not appeared on the shelves yet. Others, though they are not GMOs have been known to be contaminated because of close relatives that are, such as table top beets, chard, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.(3) It seems like every other day you wake up and there are three or four more of your favorite foods on the list of things to be watchful for. Please visit the Non GMO Project to keep up to date on their monitoring. http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/
It is practically assured that we will soon have to proceed with caution with a plethora of foods. Because really there is no way to control the spread of this spliced genetic material.
WHY BE CONCERNED?
"The consensus on the safety of these foods is far from settled,
despite all the assurances of industry."
Aside from the fact that this is all being done under the radar of most Americans, the consensus on the safety of these foods is far from settled, despite all the assurances of industry. Back in 2003 when the human genome project was completed, we learned that there are 22,000 genes to make 100,000 proteins, that genes collaborate with each other, and in a far more complex way than we have imagined. And yet biotech scientists are still stuck in the one gene one protein paradigm, and still don't consider what the effect of additional, "rogue" proteins might mean. The basis that the technology was founded upon is outdated, and perhaps dangerously so.
The whole process is said to be highly problematic by a growing number of independent scientists,(4) from the tissue culture or cloning phase, where 100s if not 1000s of mutations occur in the DNA of plant cells, to the process of splicing foreign material into host DNA, which creates something called ‘insertional mutations.’ The desired trait is piggybacked onto a bacterial or viral vector, or delivered with a 'gene gun'. Often an anti-biotic resistance gene is combined as well, which gives the bioengineer a way to test if the cells have taken up the foreign information. Despite industry claims that it is all very precise, it is an unpredictable process on multiple points of the chain, that will inevitably disrupt the gene order and functions of the plant host. Genes can be inadvertently turned on or off, scrambled, deleted, or changed.
As the process itself can never be standardized, the only way to test for the toxic effects of each of these foods is to do long term animal feeding studies, or human feeding studies. And these, for a very long time, had not been done, and not by independent sources, despite what industry would lead you to believe.
The FDA’s own scientists had called for more testing...
'The majority of studies done determine that these foods are safe for human consumption,' has been the industry mantra, and repeated throughout the major media. But what is never delved into is the quality of those studies. Pro-industry, or even self-proclaimed neutral voices, even as they might deplore the lack of labeling and the propensity towards monocultures of these foods, they neglect to stress a few crucial things. What we really need to know is that it is very difficult to get independent studies done, as these are all patented seeds. You have to get a license from the company, and be very closely vetted. We need to remember that the FDA doesn't even require that these foods get tested pre-market, that it is mostly left up to the manufacturers. And most shocking of all, we need to be aware that the FDA's own scientists had called for more testing when these foods were first being introduced, and that their calls were never followed up on.(5)
"[...] make you feel that what these chemical companies have come up with is not a food, but actually some kind of bio-chemical weapon."
We are also shielded pretty well from all the independent studies that are slowly managing to get done, mainly outside of the US, that have raised questions, alarming questions, that make you feel that what these chemical companies have come up with is not a food, but some kind of bio-chemical weapon, and that they should be monitored closely by the Defense Department, in addition to the FDA, EPA and USDA! It is the lack of control over the technology and the the lack of concern that is so shocking. In addition to the risk of uncontrolled spread of GM information through cross pollination or wind, there is also the instability of the transgene itself to be concerned about. Transgenic DNA is by design meant to jump into genomes, and there is no saying that it can’t do that again out of the host plant, into the soil bacteria, or the gut bacteria of those who eat those plants. In one of the rare human feeding studies done in 2004 this was in fact what seemed to be the happening.(6) This would mean that we are perpetually expressing these GM traits within our own bodies, whether it be releasing Bt pesticide, expressing antibiotic resistance, or a host of other unnamed unstable metabolic functions. Could this be one explanation for the rise in various ailments, from allergies to chronic inflammatory bowel disease in humans and farm animals, and other serious illnesses? We are left with more questions than answers.(7)(8)(9)
It is not only the bio-engineered aspect of the foods, but, as was touched on earlier, the chemical addiction that it draws farmers into, that are creating tragic situations around the world.
There are twenty nine other countries who are currently growing GMOs, with not great news:
- in Brazil 5 million farmers are engaged in a lawsuit with Monsanto over unfair collection of royalties.
- in Argentina, farmers have initiated a law suit due to the rise in birth defects in their communities; Argentine doctors are saying their case loads, not laboratory studies, are showing an apparent correlation between rising rates of cancer and the introduction of this intense industrial agriculture.(10)
- Its presence in India has coincided with an epidemic of farmer suicides, particularly in the Bt cotton growing region.(11)
- In Canada, three strain of GM canola have combined to create superweeds all across the western provinces, that require at least three chemicals to control; Saskatchewan uses one third of the nation’s pesticides and has the highest rates of breast and prostate cancer; organic or conventional canola is now impossible.(12)
- China has just recently rejected a shipment of US corn, which contained a banned GM variety, said to cost the US Agriculture industry $2.9 billion. They have decided to develop their own varieties, perhaps in what can be assumed is a kind of new cold war, based on food and life patents.
In other countries it is being rejected outright, the most poignant example in Haiti, where even in the depths of its despair after the earthquake, the people refused the Roundup Ready seeds Monsanto sent as aid and set them on fire. This is not a product that is readily accepted, and yet it is being foisted on the world, and inserted in many ways like a Trojan Horse, so that royalties can then be extracted from all corners.
64 countries require labeling
While we have no transparency here in the United States, 64 countries around the world do have labeling requirements, and thus they do not offer a great market for the transnationals, as people don’t seem to want to buy the foods if they know they contain GMOs. And that is why the industry puts up such a fight each time a state in the United States tries to institute a mandatory labeling law.
"GMOs [...] should not have been allowed without full disclosure,
transparency and democratic discussion."
But the consensus is far from settled as to the safety of these foods, and the consequences of genetic pollution in the environment and in our bodies are far from understood. What we can be sure of is that the release of GMOs into the environment was a far more momentous decision than has ever been acknowledged, and should not have been allowed without full disclosure, transparency and democratic discussion. And so we are invoking the call for Freedom of Information and Freedom of Expression as one of the universal Human Rights, declared by the United Nations in 1948, as a framework around which to discuss genetically modified foods.
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This website will be a place to convene over this issue over the next few months. We need your help!
Please send us your thoughts, expertise, accomplishments, or your frustrations in dealing with this overwhelming topic.
Please send all submissions to email@example.com
To be continued.
Please watch for my second article which will discuss more in depth the intimidation of scientists and farmers alike.
1) Benbrook, Charles, Environmental Sciences Europe, Vol. 24:24 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-24, 28 September 2012.
2) Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Doug Gurian-Sherman.
Union of Concerned Scientists, April 2009, p. 13
6) Netherwood, T., Bowden, R., Harrison, P., O’Donnell AG, Gockling S, Graham J, Mathers JC and Gilbert JH.
Assessing the survivalof transgenic plant DNA in the human gastroinstestinal tract. Nature Biotechnology
2004; 22: 204-209
7) Pediatrics. 2009 Dec;124(6):1549-55. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-1210.
Epub 2009 Nov 16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19917585
Updated on June 10, 2014.