What is wrong with Genetically Modified Organisms?

Because of the USDA’s approval of RR alfalfa, I’ve decided to repost this today.

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I prefer to eat and feed my livestock animals organic food. Not just because of the lack of chemical residue left on the foods, but also to avoid genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Stephanie and I did a research paper back in college on GMOs before they had really come into the spotlight and since then we’ve both tried to avoid them.

While buying bales of hay for our new goats I found it impossible to find a local source of organic alfalfa hay. So then I started doing research and what I found out has now prompted me to clear some of our yard to grow alfalfa ourselves.

What I found is that California is about to approve the use of genetically engineered (GE/GM) alfalfa.

According to the Center for Food Safety, the USDA’s Environmental Impact Study says:

The EIS’s economic analysis admits that Roundup Ready GM alfalfa will hurt the organic industry and small farmers but it fails to analyze or suggest any possible protections for organic. The EIS says there is no evidence that organic consumers care about GE contamination
http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/feb10/usda_gm_alfalfa_threatens_organic_industry.php

How can they even come to that conclusion? They obviously didn’t do their research. Yet again the USDA is bowing down to a corporation instead of looking out for the general public, which it was once supposed to do.

So What is the Big Deal about GMOs?

Roundup Ready Crops
Roundup Ready (RR) GM alfalfa will cause all sorts of environmental, ethical and health issues, just like every other GE crop that has been produced. GE crops have not been studied in the long term for human and environmental health and yet we are now seeing major problems with it.

Monsanto, the leading supplier of GE crops, would like people to think that what they are doing is for the betterment of mankind. In actuality it’s all based on greed. They claim that their GE crops save the environment by reducing the amount of chemicals needed to be used on crops. Yet they produce these Roundup Ready crops which are grown specifically so they can be doused heavily with herbicide (Roundup – a product that Monsanto produces, which they then sell to farmers to increase profits) while growing to kill surrounding weeds. With the introduction of RR the use of Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides has risen 150%. ) The biggest difference now is that the herbicides are being applied directly to RR crops. Previously they couldn’t be applied to conventional (non-GMO) crops without killing it.  And the way glyphosate works is that it is absorbed into the plant so that it’s not readily washed off like some other chemicals. (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Monsanto_and_the_Roundup_Ready_Controversy)

But there is always a downside when humans try to fool Mother Nature. Some of their Roundup Ready GE crops are cross pollinating with weed species. Because of the cross pollination new “super weeds” are springing up. Weeds that are related to these crops are being pollinized by them and are now showing resistance to Roundup. And it’s not just cross pollinization that is causing this. The overuse in general is making weeds resistant. It kills the weeds that aren’t resistant, but the weeds that survive pass on their genes. It’s a never ending cycle that results in more chemicals in our food. In 2007, 10,000 acres in Macon County, Georgia were abandoned because they had been overrun by herbicide resistant super weeds. Now Monsanto is telling farmers to use 2,4-D (and ingredient used in Agent Orange) to kill these weeds.(http://www.totalhealthbreakthroughs.com/2009/05/monsanto-vs-the-world-is-it-too-late-for-us-to-win/)

So where is the USDA in all this? Aren’t they supposed to regulating all the chemicals put on our food? Well, they announced in 2008 that “it will completely eliminate the program [that tracks pesticide and herbicide use in agriculture] in 2008, due to budget cuts, and won’t be collecting any data….”  (http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/pesticide-data-program-cut-44052108 )It makes one suspicious that they cut this program when the use of chemicals have increased so dramatically because of the introduction of GE crops.

Bt Crops

But it doesn’t stop there. Roundup Ready GE crops aren’t the only problem plants.
Bt crops are genetically engineered to contain DNA from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to kill damaging larvae such as corn earworms. Bt is a common, natural, organic pesticide (present in soil) that is mixed with water and sprayed onto plants. When caterpillars eat the sprayed leaves the Bt gets into their digestive tract where it kills the larvae. It breaks down rapidly and is non-toxic to humans and other animals, including beneficial insects in this form. However, when the DNA is included in the makeup of a crop’s genetic code it becomes a problem. It becomes stable and no longer breaks down, increasing insect exposure.

  • Monarch Butterflies Threatened

Bt corn pollen has been shown to kill Monarch butterflies who do not feed on the corn, but rather on  milkweed - which they feed exclusively on - where the pollen lands after being blown by the wind. (http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/May99/Butterflies.bpf.html)

  • Reactions to Pollen in Humans and other Mammals

In the Philippines, a village of 39 people who lived adjacent to a Bt maize field became ill with respiratory, skin, digestive reaction and fever right when the corn pollen was released into the air. When the people left the area their symptoms were resolved.

“The Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology learned about the incident during the fall of 2003 and arranged for blood samples to be taken in October. The IgA and IgM reactions in their serum indicate a recent exposure to Bt within the previous three months and are consistent with an interpretation that the disease might have been created by inhalation of the Bt -pollen from the field.”

In addition, three mouse studies have shown “that Bt is active in mammals, doesn’t degrade, may bind to the intestines, and therefore may pose a threat to human health. These studies suggest that feeding the Bt-crops to humans and animals may be premature.”
(http://www.seedsofdeception.com/utility/showArticle/?objectID=36)

  • Sheep Deaths Attributed to Bt Cotton

In India, mass deaths of sheep have been attributed to severe Bt toxicity from grazing on Bt cotton. Over 1,800 sheep have died after ingesting Bt cotton. 25% of the sheep died within 5 to 7 days after ingesting the GE cotton. While Bt cotton is not consumed by humans, the exact same gene is used in corn and potatoes, which are. (http://www.psrast.org/btkillssheep.htm)

  • Possible Link between GM crops and Honey Bee Die-off

In many of the cases of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in honey bees, scientists are finding that the remaining bees in a hive are suffering from nearly all known bee viruses all at once. “Some had five or six infections at the same time and were infested with fungi — a sign, experts say, that the insects’ immune system may have collapsed.” (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,473166,00.html)

So how do these bees succumb to so many disease all at once? The answer is possibly tied to Bt crops. “While several studies have demonstrated that amounts of Bt proteins produced by the GM plants are not directly hazardous to bees, researchers [from the University of Jena] have also shown that “a chance infestation by parasites (microsporidia) resulted in more significant damage to the Bt-fed colonies.” In other words, even sub-lethal exposure to pollen from Bt plants affect bee immunity by decreasing their ability to fight off diseases and parasites. One must wonder how years of on-going exposure may have impacted bees especially since the majority of the main four industrial crops grown in the U.S. (i.e., corn, cotton, soy and canola) are now genetically-engineered for pest-resistance.” (http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2009/09/24/is-bee-colony-collapse-disorder-linked-to-gmos/)

Unfortunately the money isn’t there for more research. Those that have the money aren’t interested in finding more out.

  • Pest Resitance a Real Threat

The EPA has developed guidelines to try and manage insect resistance, however, the guidelines fall short of the goal. They assume that Bt crops will have a high enough toxicity to kill the target pest. Studies have shown that not all Bt crops (particularly Bt cotton) have such high doses. Also 30% of farmers that grow Bt corn do not follow the EPA’s management guidelines for controlling insect resistance. Mother Nature has a tendency to correct itself when it’s out of balance. Pests will become resistant to Bt corn even with management practices. It will render a very popular and normally safe organic pesticide worthless for millions of organic farmers and gardeners.  (http://www.panna.org/files/btCropsAndPesticides.pdf)

The bottom line is that GE crops have not been adequately tested for safety in humans. The FDA deem GE crops “substantially equivalent” so that there is no need for testing. However, even after their own findings the FDA suppressed serious concerns over GE crops and allowed them to be released to the public. (http://www.psrast.org/btkillssheep.htm)

The Ethical Dilemma Behind GMOs
Monsanto owns the patents to it’s GM crop seeds. Because of this it disallows any farmer to save seed from year to year. This makes it tough for small, independent farmers who rely on seed saving to save money. This is especially a huge issue in poorer countries. But this isn’t the issue I have the biggest problem with. My issue with them is how they go about enforcing their patent.

In 1998 Monsanto sued Eugene Stratemeyer, a soybean farmer for saving seed. When it came out that Stratemeyer had never signed a technology agreement, nor knew of the ban on saving seed, Monsanto officials forged (and misspelled) his name on said documents. When their argument didn’t work they claimed that he know about it because he received free pesticide applications. Again, the documents were forged. And yet he lost the lawsuit and was required to pay Monsanto $16,000 in “damages.”
(http://www.nelsonfarm.net/issue.htm , http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstryafd9.html?recid=1158)

In 2000 Monsanto went after a conventional rapeseed (canola) grower, Percy Schmeiser, in Canada for patent infringement because pollen from nearby Roundup Ready (RR) fields had contaminated his crop. They trespassed on his land and stole “samples” to test. They did not have independent tests done on the samples – they tested it in-house and presented to the court that his seeds were 90% RR. However Schmeiser presented independent tests showing the seeds were between 0-68% RR. The University of Manitoba confirmed the test results. “In a key part of the ruling, the judge agreed a farmer can generally own the seeds or plants grown on his land if they blow in or are carried there by pollen — but the judge says this is not true in the case of genetically modified seed.” (http://www.percyschmeiser.com/) Schmeiser was ordered to pay $15/acre x 1030 acres, the value of his crop at $105,000, plus $25,000 in “damages.” On top of that he lost all of his seed that he had spent 40 years breeding. In appeals the judgment stood but he was not forced to pay even though he spent $140,000 in legal fees and $40,000 of his time, travel and labor for when he was away at court. (http://www.percyschmeiser.com/conflict.htm)

Monsanto has also sued dairies, such as family-run Oakhurst Dairy in Maine, for labeling their milk free of rGBH – which it is the producer of. Monsanto claimed that they did not have the RIGHT to inform consumers that their milk did not contain rGBH. Oakhurst was forced to settle out of court thus leaving other dairies at risk of additional lawsuits. (http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.cfm)

Monsanto claims to have only filed 140 lawsuits between 1997 and the end of 2009. However, they have issued an estimated 2,391-4,531 ”seed piracy matters” against farmers resulting in the farmers paying them up to $160,594,230 in settlements. This is on top of the $15M it has received in recorded lawsuits.

But it doesn’t stop there. In 2009 Monsanto sued the German Government for banning GM corn. Because the U.S. doesn’t not require crops to be labeled as GMO many EU countries will not allow the importation of U.S. food into their country. In a time of economic woes, this is yet another hit to our country.

With Monsanto’s acquisition of Seminis, a leading supplier of seeds to home gardening companies such as Burpee, Johnny’s Select Seeds and Park Seed, we are now all at risk. They may say they don’t and won’t sell GMO seed, but can they assure us that their seed isn’t contaminated with GMO genes?

The Data is Skewed…or Just Flat Out Wrong

Monsanto claims that GE crops will end world hunger by increasing production. However, it has been found that the production is actually lower and at best equivalent to non-GE crops.
“Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis. The study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields…. The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available…. A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over…. Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development – concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger. Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: ‘The simple answer is no.’” (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/exposed-the-great-gm-crops-myth-812179.html?startindex=10)

GE crops were supposed to bring a decline to chemical use. As discussed earlier, it has actually increased the use of herbicides. There has also been no change in the amount of pesticides used. “…a recent study in the journal reduce insecticide use in most of the corn growing areas of the Midwestern United States. The study revealed that although there was a significant increase in the amount of Bt corn that was planted in the past five years, the percentage of field corn treated with insecticides has remained about the same—30%. Researchers found that farmers were using Bt corn in addition to pesticides, rather than as a replacement.”  (http://www.panna.org/files/btCropsAndPesticides.pdf)

So What Can We Do?

Read your labels! Avoid processed foods, especially ones that aren’t organic. Almost all processed foods contain corn, canola, and/or soy made from GM crops. If the label has corn, canola or soy on it and it’s not prefaced with “organic” do not eat it. Eat organic whenever possible. If you are on a tight budget then focus on only eating organic corn, canola and soy.

Write to your representatives to pass legislation protecting farmers from corporations such as Monsanto. California has already begun the process.

If you are a gardener contact your seed source and make sure their seed doesn’t come from Seminis. Better yet, only buy heirloom seeds from places such as Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirlooms. Also don’t buy Roundup or other Monsanto chemicals.

Sign the Million Against Monsanto petition from Organic Consumers Association. http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.cfm

As a consumer you have more power than you think you do. The almighty dollar has caused Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, to now only offer dairy products that are rGBH free because consumers demanded hormone free dairy.

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Discussion

  1. Please be advised of Burpee's formal statement in regards to the above post.

    Burpee is the nation's leading purveyor of both heirloom and hybrid vegetable seeds and mail order transplants. Burpee sources seeds from a select list of suppliers throughout the world including Seminis. However, none of the seeds purchased from Seminis or any other supplier are GMO. Burpee has never bred or sold GMO seeds and does not intend to do so in the future.

    Burpee was founded in 1876 by seed pioneer W. Atlee Burpee. The company remains privately owned by George Ball, a third generation seedsman, who serves as Chairman and CEO of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. and is past president of The American Horticultural Society. For more information, please visit our company history page at http://www.burpee.com.

  2. Yes, Burpee does not sell GMO seed, however, by buying seed from a Monsanto owned company they are directly supporting Monsanto. We are consumers and we insist that Monsanto not be supported by seed companies that we know and love. With that we will not buy from those that support Monsanto.

  3. fyi, you can now get organic alfalfa at rivertown feed in Petaluma. i'll be making a trip next week.

  4. Thanks for the excellently researched information. I had no idea about the Seminis acquisition.

    I know who Mr. Ball is, having received his garish marketing pamphlets making wild claims about this or that vegetable variety when he ran Ball Seeds prior to buying out Burpee.

    He is asking me as a customer to take his word for it that none of the seed I'm buying is genetically engineered. However, he's dealing with a company whose management has proven many times over that they cannot be trusted.

    I was especially saddened to see that Johnny's Select Seeds buys from Seminis, too.

    Luckily, I've gotten to the point that most of the seed I use, I've saved.

    At least until Monsanto sells my neighbor some Bt-engineered tomato plants (like they did with eggplants in India).

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  1. [...] from every known bee virus simultaneously, which points at a complete immune system shutdown. In a previous blog I brought up that it could possibly be caused by genetically modified crops, so I’m not going [...]

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