By Elena Day
Genetically modified and engineered food crops are just rolling off the chemists’ lab benches and agribusiness testing fields for approval these days. And now the Environmental Protection Agency, initiated and funded in 1970 during the Nixon Administration to protect the public’s health and our environment, is proposing to raise the allowable amounts of glyphosate in many fruits and vegetables.
Glyphosate is the chemical in Monsanto’s weed-killer Roundup. It has been in use since the mid-1970s. With the introduction of GM/GE crops resistant to glyphosate/Roundup, its use has been increasing. As its use increases, so does weed resistance. Currently there are 14 varieties of Roundup-resistant “superweeds.”
As superweeds flourish, Monsanto encourages increasing Roundup applications and also adding a cocktail of other pesticides. More glyphosate residue is therefore likely on numerous vegetables we eat including carrots, sweet potatoes and even sunflower and flax seeds.
Increasingly, studies in Europe and the U.S. link glyphosate to food allergies, reproductive and digestive disorders, and autism. In a position paper issued in May 2009,
the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (which has been around since 1965) urged the application of the “Precautionary Principle” in regard to GM/GE crops. “When an activity raises threats to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof [of the safety of the activity].”
The Precautionary Principle has been the primary regulatory tool of the European Union since 1998. The U.S. is the only developed country in the world that does not require disclosure of whether foods contain GM/GE modified ingredients.
In the same position paper the AAEM also urges medical doctors to educate their patients, the medical community and the general public to avoid GM/GE foods.
The GM/GE industry led by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and Dupont has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby for relaxed regulations and, unfortunately for the public, they get results. EPA wants to raise glyphosate residue limits because Roundup-using agribusinesses need to spray more Roundup on those pesky resistant weeds. (Unfortunately, the public comment period regarding residue ended July 1, 2013.)
The Bill Gates Foundation is heavily supportive of GM/GE crops. Recently Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement that GM/GE foods are the answer to world hunger. A 2009 Wikileaks memo from U.S. Vatican diplomat Christopher Sandrolini highlighted the close association of the U.S. government and chemical agriculture. The document indicated that lobbying efforts by the U.S. embassy would result in rendering the science and safety of GMOs a nonissue for the Vatican and thereby result in a big boost for GM/GE crops among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Fortunately, a caveat exists that the papacy cannot force bishops to endorse this biotechnology if their opposition has to do with concerns over wrongfully protecting corporations that hold seed patents versus feeding the hungry.
Pope Francis has yet to weigh in on the GM/GE issue. His own country, Argentina, is heavily invested in GM/GE soybeans. Health issues, including an epidemic in childhood cancers due to increased spraying of Roundup and other pesticides to kill superweeds, abound. Small farmers have lost land to large agribusiness concerns and hunger and malnutrition are significant in a country that once produced 10 times as much food as the population required.
Argentina concluded a trade deal with China this past June to export Roundup Ready soybeans and corn. One can predict increasing deforestation, more corporate land ownership and of course, even more superweeds to be sprayed.
Environmental activist Vandana Shiva says that one billion people worldwide are without food because industrial monocultures robbed them of their livelihoods in agriculture. In India alone there have been 270,000 farmer suicides, largely among cotton farmers, due to debt caused by the high cost of Monsanto’s patented seeds.
Soybeans, corn, and cotton are the three most cultivated GM/GE crops. Most soybeans and corn are grown for animal feed. So, how can these crops benefit Third World cultures whose diets are largely plant-based? Monoculture of Roundup-Ready crops in underdeveloped countries, grown largely for export, exacerbates hunger and further crowds urban areas with dispossessed farming families.
And coming soon: GE potatoes! Apparently the J.R. Simplot Company, the giant potato supplier for McDonald’s potatoes, has spent years genetically engineering potatoes. It will be offering five different varieties of potatoes if approved by the USDA. It has also applied to Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Canada for approval.
These potatoes have lower levels of acrylamide, a carbohydrate that might cause cancer, and lower levels of black spot bruising. The potatoes are meant for frozen French fries, potato chips, and shoestring fries. It’s likely that these GE potatoes will be served up fried in Monsanto’s “new and improved” omega-3 soybean oil and marketed as a “healthy” fried food.
Is there no end to chemically engineered food? I once had thought the height of chemical engineering was Cool Whip!