View Full Version : GMO-crop crisis a rapidly growing concern

10-22-2008, 02:24 AM
I just read this is today's Santa Fe New Mexican and thought it might be of interest to many of us-


Jessica Emerson | For The New Mexican

10/21/2008 - 10/22/08

[I]Grass-root seed and food conferences are springing up everywhere, it seems, and there is a common thread woven through each one — genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

We have had several such conferences in Northern New Mexico: San Ildefonso and Santa Clara pueblos partnered for a spring conference and seed exchange; the Dixon Community Seed Exchange met in April.

Along with the agricultural experts talking about how to propagate and save traditional seeds at the 3rd annual symposium for Sustainable Food and Seed Sovereignty held at Tesuque Pueblo in late September, was longtime canola farmer Percy Schmeiser, who fought the agri-business company Monsanto all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. (Monsanto had sued Schmeiser for patent infringement because the company found its herbicide-resistant canola growing in Schmeiser's field; Schmeiser said the seed had blown there and counter-sued Monsanto for not preventing its genetically modified seed from contaminating his fields.)

Genetic modification of seeds, such as those that invaded Schmeiser's fields, involves the splicing of genes — from plant, human or nonhuman sources — into the DNA of a plant. The new life forms are called transgenic, genetically modified, genetically engineered or genetically modified organisms.

Existing transgenics include:

* A tomato that delays softening and ripening, thus extending shelf life. This tomato is also antibiotic resistant.

* Potatoes that have been altered with the gene from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. When an insects eats the plant's leaves, the enzymes in its stomach digest the Bt protein and convert it to a lethal toxin that causes paralysis and death. (These GMO potatoes, however, turned out to be vulnerable to other insects; Bt does not deter sapsuckers like aphids.)

Bt does not degrade; it's at its full potency all the time, even when ingested. Long-term effects of ingesting Bt products are unknown. When Dr. Arpad Pusztai released the report of a study of GM potatoes fed to rats, the Roweth Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland fired him. His results, as reported in the medical journal The Lancet in 1999: The rats experienced stunted organ and brain growth and breakdowns in their immune systems.

* The Brazil nut gene was spliced into the soybean to improve the nutritional value of the soy nut. One cup, or eight large Brazil nuts, contain 4 grams protein; one cup of soybeans contains 34 grams protein — so what is the advantage here? Brazil nuts can trigger allergic reactions in some people, and companies do not have to label their products as genetically engineered.

We are growing GMO crops in New Mexico — corn, cotton and alfalfa. New Mexico State University is working with Syngenta, a large biotech corporation that genetically engineers seeds and sells them around the world. They are researching genetically engineered Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant chile. NMSU has received $250,000 from the state of New Mexico to study, research and grow out GE chile plants.

In February 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report that showed that "virtually all participants surveyed in focus groups want labeling." To date, there is still no mandatory labeling required for GE products.

Most genetically modified products carry fully functioning antibiotic-resistant genes — used as "selectable markers." According to a 1999 article in The Journal (Newcastle, UK), the presence of these antibiotic-resistant genes in a plant indicate that the organism has been successfully engineered.

In an Internet posting, The Union of Concerned Scientists says that "eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease." Hospitals around the world have increased incidences of infections from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. This organism has mutated and cannot be killed by most antibiotics. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90,000 Americans a year get deadly infections from MRSA. In 2005 the CDC reported 18,650 deaths associated with MRSA infections. Do we need more antibiotic-resistant organisms?

Promises broken?

Biotechnology and seed companies have made many promises and have declared transgenic plants the new hope for the world. But have these plants lived up to the promises of their creators? Can the plants provide the nutrition that will prevent more than 800 million deaths per year from starvation?

Studies have not proven the claim of increased yield in GE crops. In a review of 8,200 field trials, genetically altered Roundup Ready seeds produced fewer bushels of soybeans than conventional varieties.

Roundup Ready-altered seeds are resistant to glyphosate, a chemical so lethal it kills almost anything green by disrupting the enzymes necessary for plant growth. One recent study (published in Environmental Health Perspectives) investigated what happens when glyphosate enters the food chain — when we as humans ingest it, or ingest animals that have ingested glyphosate in their food. The study's conclusion was that glyphosate acts as endocrine disrupter, which has the potential to induce diabetes, reproductive problems and gender alterations.

The same companies that have been making and promoting pesticide and herbicide use are now saying that we need to reduce their use because they are toxic to all life. As a means of reducing their use, they say, they are creating plants that are resistant to pests, disease and adverse environmental conditions. But has use of these poisonous products actually declined?

A report from the World Wildlife Fund claims that "overall the pesticide reduction benefits have been overstated, the ecological risks under-researched and reported, and the economic costs and benefits miscalculated."

Notes from the Mississippi State University Extension service say "preliminary research data and industry yield trials suggest the inclusion of a Bt event does not increase hybrid yield potential. You would not likely recover the higher seed cost of the Bt technology (about $10 per acre unless significant corn-borer infestation is likely). Unfortunately, seasonal corn-borer populations are not predictable."

In 1999, the journal Aspects of Applied Biology pointed out that mean yields from transgenic varieties were lower; yields of the transgenic varieties showed a higher degree of variability; and that any small increase in yield in the transgenic varieties derived from weed control were usually insufficient to cover the extra cost of the herbicide applied. A report by Benbrook Consulting Services in that same year stated that farmers growing RR soybeans used two to five times more herbicide measured in pounds applied per acre, compared to the other popular weed-management systems used on most soybean fields not planted to RR varieties.

These and other early reports have been largely ignored.

'Fit for consumption'

What about the safety issues concerning human consumption of transgenic foodstuffs? According to a report by The Royal Society, the United Kingdom's foremost scientific society, "the way GM food is tested for safety in Europe must be improved before any GM plants are declared fit for human consumption." In The New Scientist (February 2002) Eric Brunner at University College, London, wrote that "the battery of tests should be spelt out much more clearly. The testing must be independently scrutinized, so that companies cannot submit selective data about their GM crops, otherwise, companies could carry on generating data until they get the answer they want."

However, there are no clear and universal guidelines on what exactly should be tested.

Liebe Cavalieri, Ph.D., a DNA researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and professor of environmental sciences at the State University of New York, has been reported in the CRC Press, which publishes material for the scientific and technical communities, as saying, "No one can honestly assert that a genetically modified food is safe. This implies that an infinite number of tests have been carried out, the fact is, and the tests haven't been done. We don't even know what type of ill effects to look for or which questions to ask. This oversimplification completely denies the reality of the situation. Caution must be the guiding principle."

In an article in The Washington Post on May 18, 1999, The British Medical Association recommended "proceeding slowly with GE foods, as there is no proof of safety or knowledge of the long-term implications of eating GE foods."

There has been no post-market monitoring of the long-term effects of eating GM food. Studies are just beginning to be done on animals.

What are the potential health hazards of GMOs?

Studies indicate that 2 percent of adults and 8 percent of children have food allergies. Inhaling pollen from GM crops is creating new threats that need to be researched and evaluated. In a 1999 statement posted on Soy Info Online, Joe Cummins, professor emeritus of genetics at the University of Western Ontario says that "GM pollen is likely to open an extended range of allergy and may cause autoimmune disease or other kinds of toxicity."

Studies indicate that residues of glyphosate in foods may increase the incidence of certain cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Bovine growth hormone (rBGH) found in most milk (unless the package notes otherwise) has been linked to breast cancer and diabetes. Transgenic cotton contains Bromorynil (brand name Buctril), which causes birth defects and is suspected as a cause of liver tumors. Cottonseed oil is found in many food products — another reason to read labels. Dr. Andre Menache, an official with the Israeli Ministry of Health warns that genetically engineered pigs, a common source for human organ transplants, may carry viruses that are potentially lethal.

It took 60 years of Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (or DDT) use for its health hazards to be recognized by the government and for it to be banned in the United States. (Thank you, Rachel Carson.)

Right to know

Prince Charles of Great Britain is an outspoken anti-GE advocate. Who will speak for Americans?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration consistently maintains that GE foods are safe. Margaret Miller, former lab supervisor for Monsanto, helped the company develop rBGH. She left the company to become the deputy director of Human Food Safety and Consultation services at the FDA, where she helped streamline FDA approval for rBGH.

Consumers are calling for more safety guidelines. In January 2001, the Consumer Federation of America, a coalition of 270 consumer groups — including the American Association of Retired People — called on President George W. Bush and Congress to label biotech food and to require strict safety and environmental testing. In a 250-page report financed by a grant from the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation, the federation said the United States government has basically abandoned its responsibility to ensure the safety of genetically engineered foods. The report also calls for the end of a government policy that holds that GE foods are substantially equivalent to their non-GE counterparts

Some politicians are speaking out. When he introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right To Know Bill in 2001, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, noted that "Government has a moral and legal responsibility to ensure the safety and purity of our food supply. We cannot abdicate this responsibility to global corporations whose goals may be limited to profit-making."

Congressman Jack Metcalf, R-Wash., joined Kucinich and a bipartisan group to cosponsor HR 3883, the GE Safety Testing Bill. He has been quoted as saying, "I am not convinced that enough research has been conducted to determine the long-term health effects of genetically modified foods, and I believe that American citizens should have the right to know what they are eating."

Living with the consequences

There are economic and environmental consequences of transgenics "jumping the fence." Terra Prima, an organic producer of potatoes for their brand of potato chips, had to destroy 87,000 bags of chips, costing them $147,000, because their chips tested positive for GEs and could not be sold as organics. The GE potatoes grown on a farm near their organic fields cross-pollinated, creating unwanted crossbreeds.

Remember the rhyme, "Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home"? We like the ladybug because she eats the aphids that eat our roses and vegetables. When eating aphids that have been fed GE potatoes, though, ladybugs' life span shortens and fertility lowers. Green lacewings, another of our "good guy" insect friends, are dying after feeding on army worms that have fed on engineered corn containing bacteria toxin.

We are reducing pollination by reducing populations of pollinators. Monarch butterflies are threatened. Scientists at Cornell University report monarch caterpillars that ate milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from GM corn laced with BT died in four days. (The milk weed is the preferred food of the monarch butterfly and caterpillar.) When China almost eliminated all its songbirds during the Cultural Revolution, the country saw an increase in insects and decrease in crops, creating a decrease in food supply.

A cultural impact

There also are moral and ethical issues that need to be addressed.

Human genes have been inserted into plants and animals. Should we be "playing" with the building blocks of life? Do we as humans have the right to undo or meddle with a system that has taken thousands of years to evolve?

Biotechnology can have a cultural impact. To the Diné (Navajo), corn is freedom, a gift from the Mother. Corn pollen is a symbol of fertility and of renewal. Its use brings you back into balance and harmony with life.

Corn has been developed over thousands of years for grinding, texture, length of time to grow and length of time to cook. Songs, stories, ceremonies and language revolve around corn. With the new crossbreeds, planting and harvesting may no longer be in sync with the stars.

Clayton Brascoupé, program director of the Traditional American Farmers Association of New Mexico and Arizona, says, "Corn is our Mother. A mother does things for us, feeds us, provides medicine. We have a responsibility to Mother Corn to treat her in a respectful manner."

We don't know the long-term effects of eating transgenic food. Do we want to be guinea pigs for biotech researchers? How will this affect our children, our grandchildren and the human race?

We do not know the long-term consequences of GM plants breeding with native plants. By the time we find out, there may be no biodiversity left on our planet: all food crops may depend on a few seed companies. It has been said that those who control food production control Earth. [/I
]Jessica Emerson is a registered nurse and a certified clinical herbalist.

10-22-2008, 09:41 AM
We don't know the long-term effects of eating transgenic food. Do we want to be guinea pigs for biotech researchers? How will this affect our children, our grandchildren and the human race?

We do not know the long-term consequences of GM plants breeding with native plants. By the time we find out, there may be no biodiversity left on our planet: all food crops may depend on a few seed companies. It has been said that those who control food production control Earth. [/I
]Jessica Emerson is a registered nurse and a certified clinical herbalist.

I'm not surprised. Humans insist on changing the world. Look at medicine and technology. Where do we draw the line? I don't have the answer. I guess when we make these kinds of discoveries, we then should take them seriously. Maybe that is what has happened to the bees.

10-22-2008, 11:40 AM
There are just so many issues here. To name a few: The effect of GM foods on our health. That once you chance the genetic structure of a plant, you can't undo it. That you cannot contain GM crops from accidental cross contamination of non-GM crops. The creation of Terminator seeds which are sterile (imagine cross contamination from these seeds...). Losing bio-diversity be forcing farmer to buy new GM seeds instead of saving their own seeds as has been done for centuries. I just read yesterday about GM vitamins, even.

I just hope people do the research. Read the articles. Make an informed decision.

GM crops are so prevalent in our food now. Most people don't even realize it. Soy, corn and canola are huge GM crops. Look at ingredients on packaged foods. One of these is very likely in it and could very well be GM.