Tag Archive: Genetically modified organism


By RP Siegel | February 3rd, 2012

Those of you who can remember the Vietnam War will be familiar with the term “escalation.” That was when the powers in charge of our “limited military operation” were compelled to increase the size and scope of our involvement, as the enemy increased theirs.

If you remember that, then you will also remember Agent Orange, the powerful chemical defoliant, whose heavy usage resulted in close to 40,000 disability claims from US military personnel who suffered numerous maladies ranging from skin conditions to various cancers as the result of limited exposure to it. As bad as that was, it was minor compared with the 400,000 Vietnamese citizens who were either killed or maimed by the more prolonged exposure they suffered.

Both of those terms will apply to today’s story.

Bio-tech giant Monsanto has now applied for USDA approval on a new variety of genetically-modified corn that is not only resistant to its well-known glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, but is also resistant to the far more potent and dangerous 2,4-D produced by its competitor, Dow Agro-Science. Not surprisingly, with all thefriends Monsanto has in the government, the USDA appears likely to approve it.

Why, you might ask, would they develop a new variety of corn that is compatible with its competitor’s product?

Because, as many critics have long maintained, the proliferation of genetically modified crops would eventually lead to the proliferation of herbicide-resistant superweeds, such as pigweed, which is exactly what has happened. Hence, we now have a dangerous escalation of chemical warfare in the fields from which our food is being harvested.

This completely undermines the basic (and patently false) original premise behind Monsanto’s Roundup Ready™ crops. The company claimed that since Roundup was one of the least toxic herbicides on the market, and since it could be sprayed directly on the crops themselves, the proliferation of these crops was actually beneficial to the environment, because less herbicide would be required. At one time they might have actually believed that. However, their claims that Roundup is biodegradable were shown to be false. In fact, Roundup is among the top three causes of pesticide-related illness among farm and landscape workers in California, and the NY Attorney General has required them to remove the words “environmentally friendly” from the label.

So what does any of this have to do with Agent Orange? The “new” herbicide 2,4-D that Monsanto’s latest corn will be resistant to, is actually one of the two active ingredients in Agent Orange. (The other is 2,4,5-T in a 50/50 mix).

Monsanto’s genetically-modified seed program for herbicide resistance appears to be spinning out of control. This was a predictable and inevitable outcome of a cash and hubris-rich chemical company wandering into the field of biology, of which they blithely overlooked the basic principles that guaranteed that it was only a matter of time before resistant varieties would begin to evolve continuously. Now, with everything to lose, they are locked in a desperate battle to save the billions they have invested, literally throwing all caution to the wind, while we, as consumers, unless we scrupulously buy organic, have no choice but to eat the fruit of their desperate experiments.

Keep in mind that when a food crop has been developed to be resistant to an herbicide, that means farmers can spray liberal amounts of the poison directly on the food itself without killing it.

Despite the company’s  initial assurances that this would not happen, proliferation of these crops has led to an increase of 318 million more pounds of herbicides and pesticides used in the past 14 years as a result of planting GM crop seeds like Roundup Ready corn and soy, much of which ends up in our bodies.

California currently has a ballot initiative, Proposition 65, that would require all GM foods to be labeled. Biotech executives have admitted that the impact of this would be devastating, considering that 70% of all foods now on grocery shelves now contain GM ingredients. Several countries including the European Union, Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand now have GMO labeling laws on their books.

Generally speaking, GMO crops offer little in the way of advantages to consumers, though they are more convenient for farmers to grow. But the biggest beneficiaries by far have been the companies that produce them.

One potentially effective alternative to this biochemical arms race that has been proposed is Integrated Weed Management (IWM), similar to Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which combines biological controls with a modest amount of chemical controls.  Read more

[Image credit: Zoe Spumoni: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

By Susan Andrew on 01/31/2012 06:49 PM

Farmers enter the courthouse

Carol Koury, owner of Asheville‘s Sow True Seed, joined some 82 other farmers, advocacy groups and seed companies as part of a class-action lawsuit brought in federal court today, Jan. 31, in New York City. The Organic Seed Grower and Trade Association and others are taking on agricultural giant Monsanto, in a filing by the New York-based Public Patent Foundation. Koury and Sow True Seed staffer Cathryn Zommer traveled to New York to hear the opening oral arguments in what participants say is a groundbreaking food safety case against the bio-tech behemoth, Monsanto.

This morning, before the hearing, the two joined an assembly of citizens gathered in support of family farmers and seed companies that hope to counter Monsanto attorneys’ opening motion to dismiss the case as frivolous.

What’s at stake is anything but frivolous, say the growers participating in the lawsuit: At stake is the ability to provide high quality, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds. That task is becoming considerably more difficult, the growers say, with the rise of genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture, spear-headed by Monsanto.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of some 300,000 organic and non-GMO farmers seeking judicial relief, “protecting themselves from ever being accused of infringing patents on transgenic seed,” Zommer tells Xpress.

“Unlabeled and untested, pollen drifting from GE crops is a threat to the integrity of organic and non-genetically modified crops,” says Zommer. “This is in direct conflict with our right to produce and consume pure, natural food.”

To bring this message home, Zommer says, Sow True Seed has launched a petition drive that seeks to establish an agricultural conservation zone in Western North Carolina, free from genetically modified crops.

“The petition gives a voice to the overwhelming majority of people who support mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients in our food,” Zommer tells Xpress. Readers can sign the petition online or in person by visiting the Sow True Seed warehouse at 146 Church Street.

The complainants in the class action argue that in the past two decades, the seed monopoly staked out by Monsanto has grown so powerful that the company controls the genetics of nearly 90 percent of five major commodity crops: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. The complainants say the result is increased costs to farmers in support of high-tech patent fees for seed, as well as burdensome litigation costs incurred in defending themselves against lawsuits brought against them by Monsanto.

The complainants further allege that organic and conventional farmers have been forced to stop growing certain crops in order to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Between 1997 and 2010, they say, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against American farmers in at least 27 different states, for alleged infringement of its transgenic seed patents; another 700 such cases have been settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. As a result of the aggressive lawsuits, the growers say, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.  Read more

Watch some of the protest staged in solidarity with the farmers-

You may not want to eat genetically modified (GM) foods, but chances are, you are eating them anyway. There are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.

Monsanto is one of the most malevolent organizations and considered the most hated company in the world. Genetically modified foods are now accepted as one of the biggest threats to all living things.


7 REASONS TO NEVER EAT GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

1. Increased Pesticide Use

US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.

“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” — Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition.

2. They Have Been Shown To Be Dangerous To Your Health and Unsafe To Eat

Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing. However, animal feeding tests have shown that GM foods have toxic effects, including abnormal changes in organs, immune system disturbances, accelerated aging, and changes in gene expression. Very few studies have been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food. One such study found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.

It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.

GM foods are an imminent threat to humanity’s food supply. Besides the ethical concerns, genetic pollution is self-perpetuating. It can never be reversed or cleaned up. Genetic mistakes will be passed on to all future generations of a species. Wind, rain, birds, bees, and insect pollinators have begun carrying genetically altered pollen into adjoining fields, polluting the DNA of crops of organic and non-GM farmers. This has been happening all over the world for more than a decade. Theoretically, it genetic pollution continues, it could obliterate the world’s natural organic food supply. Use of herbicide-resistant crops will also lead to an accelerated increase in the use of herbicides, resulting in even greater pollution of our food and water with toxic agrochemicals.

“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.” — Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist

3. GM Foods Are Hidden In Animal Feed

As a spokesperson for Asgrow, a subsidiary of Monsanto, said, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” The GM industry has avoided, to a degree, the problem of consumer rejection of GM foods by hiding them in animal feed. Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labelled. Some studies show that contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed ARE different from those raised on non-GM feed.  Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products and affect the animals’ health. So eating these “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.

4. GM and non-GM Cannot Co-Exist

GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks. In Canada, the organic oilseed rape industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM rape. In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”.

The time has come to choose between a GM-based, or a non-GM-based, world food supply.

Alfalfa is the main forage crop for dairy cows and one of the principle foods for beef cows, especially grass-fed cattle. Alfalfa is a perennial, easily lasting five years once planted. And it’s bee-pollinated, which means each year, every non-GM alfalfa plant within five miles of every GM alfalfa plant will likely be contaminated by GM genes.

“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.” — Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development.

5. Long-term Economic Disaster For Farmers

A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the US that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences.”

6. GM Companies Cannot Be Trusted

The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception. GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes — even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.

Monsanto has been the largest player in the GM foods game. They have single handedly made the United States the world’s biggest producer of GM foods, pesticides and herbicides. Founded in 1901, Monsanto has manufactured industrial chemicals (e.g. sulphuric acid), plastics and synthetics, and saccharin, a carcinogenic artificial sweetener. It has also produced or granted production licenses for most of the world’s toxic PCB’s which are now mostly banned worldwide.

“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” — Tom Wiley, North Dakota farmer.

7. GM Foods Will Never Solve The Food Crisis

A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices. Biofuels are crops grown for fuel rather than food. GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels — while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!

“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” — Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent, The Independent (UK).

“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bullshit.” — Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology, University of Glamorgan, Wales.  Read more

Kelley Bergman is a media consultant, critic and geopolitical investigator. She has worked as a journalist and writer, specializing in geostrategic issues around the globe.

Say "no" to GE rice.

Say “no” to GE rice.

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The fight to keep GE rice out of China is one that can be traced back to the beginnings of Greenpeace in Mainland China itself. And it’s a story that encapsulates much of what Greenpeace stands for: Even with the most formidable of opponents, from both government and industry, positive change can be achieved.

First let’s introduce the bald guy. He’s 38-year-old Sze Pang Cheung, also known as Kontau (which means bald in Cantonese). He’s now the Campaign Director of Greenpeace East Asia.

Sze Pang Cheung in front of the Nestle HQBack in 2004, the GE rice campaign was one of the first campaigns for the new Greenpeace team in Mainland China. Fujian-born Kontau had just joined the organization, having learnt the ropes as a student activist in Hong Kong. His face breaks into a smile when he remembers those early Greenpeace days.

“We launched the campaign with a five-day bus tour of Guangzhou,” he says. “Actually it was more like a van than a bus, and it wasn’t even ours. We were borrowing it from another environmental NGO in China called ‘Friends of Nature’.”

It was chocolate that gave us our first media win. In Guangzhou, the team released test results that showed Swiss-owned Nestle manufactured chocolate powder contained GE ingredients. Shanghai mother Eileen Zhu sued the company because she was angry that she had unknowingly been feeding her child a GE product. The media pounced and the GE public debate had begun.

ONE OF THOSE FUNKY THINGS

Farmer holding a duckThe origins of rice cultivation can be traced to the valleys of China’s Yangtze River, with some estimates putting it at over 7,000 years ago. In that time, rice has become an integral part of Chinese life and culture. It dictates the lives of millions of farmers in the Chinese countryside, feeds over a billion Chinese citizens each year and is synonymous with Chinese cuisine and culture. And Yunnan, in southwestern China is where much of this rice originates from.

In October 2004, Kontau and his team headed to Yunnan where many of the locals employ traditional sustainable farming methods. They handed out cameras so that the locals could record their rice lives including “duck-rice” farming where ducks paddle about the flooded rice paddies, eating up pests and fertilizing fields with their manure. Duck-rice farming has been around for 2,000 years.

“It was one of those funky things we did in those early years,” says Kontau.

The tour was such a success that the cameras were lent out for an extended period of a year and a beautiful book was made to record the images.

But just as they were about to head south, the team got some bad news. Chinese scientists had applied to commercialize four varieties of Chinese GE rice.

“I was totally shocked,” says Kontau. While the scientists’ move didn’t mean that GE rice would be commercialized any time soon – there were lots of steps to pass first – it was a major step towards commercialization.

What’s wrong with genetic engineering? Genetic engineering (GE) enables scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes in a way that does not occur naturally. These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating natural organisms in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.

Their release is ‘genetic pollution’ and is a major threat because GE foods cannot be recalled once released into the environment. And there have been over 140 documented cases of GE crop contamination in the past 10 years. Once they are released into the environment, they are out of control. If anything goes wrong, if crops fail, human health risks are identified or the environment is harmed, they are impossible to recall.

Read more

11 year old Birke Baehr lays out very clearly what’s wrong with our food system, and why he wants to be an organic farmer.  What we consume in today’s world is far from the “real” food that our grandparents, or even our parents ate when they were young.  GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, monocultures, biodiversity loss, fertilizer runoff, ecosystem destruction, dead soil ecology, colony collapse disorder, the list seems to go on forever.  It’s very assuring to see the next generation taking interest in helping change our food system back to being healthy and sustainable again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Id9caYw-Y