GMO stands for “Genetically Modified Organism.” Most genetically modified organisms are plants, although cows, mosquitoes and salmon have also recently had their genes tweaked in questionable directions. Several multinational corporations produce GMOs; a few of the largest are Monsanto, Dow Agroscience, and Syngenta. These companies, among others, are collectively referred to as biotechnology companies, or simply “Biotech.”
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds have genes microscopically spliced into their DNA so that the plant can express traits not naturally found in the plant. An example of one GE trait is resistance to the toxic herbicide Roundup. Plants that resist Roundup are called “Roundup Ready,” as in Roundup Ready corn and Roundup Ready soy, sugar beets, and the more recently deregulated (approved for planting) alfalfa. Roundup Ready crops are resistant to Roundup because the gene inserted into them confers resistance to the herbicide, which means farmers can spray the crop with Roundup and kill the weeds while not killing the GE plants.
In short, it makes weeding easy. Or so it once seemed. Several weed varieties, such as Pigweed, have developed resistance to Roundup and are quickly evolving “superweeds,” spreading across the nation’s heartland. The superweeds grow bigger, stronger and more prolifically than their original form. Because of their mass and strength, superweeds break farm equipment and ruin entire crops.
The Roundup-resistant gene spliced into Roundup Ready seeds is from a bacteria. The Roundup Ready concept was hatched when employees noticed that bacteria in a dumpster near Monsanto headquarters (where the idea should have stayed) were not dying while exposed to Roundup. This discovery led to the isolation of that gene and its insertion into plants to confer resistance against the active ingredient in Roundup, called glyphosate. Glyphosate is toxic and has been linked to numerous health problems in humans and in the environment.
In addition to Roundup Ready GE crops, biotech companies such as Monsanto have also bioengineered crops that contain a slight variation of a naturally occurring pesticide, called BT toxin. BT stands for bacillus thuringiensus. This bacteria naturally occurs in soils and secretes a toxic substance that protects it against other soil organisms. Monsanto has taken this substance secreted by b. thuringiensus and modified it to increase its potency thousands of times. When the gene that codes for Bt-toxin is spliced into GE seeds the plant systemically (throughout the whole plant) produces Bt toxin in a modified and increased concentration than what is naturally found in soil from bacillus thuringiensus.
Bt-toxin in this synthetic and concentrated form has no research or studies to prove its safety for human consumption. It’s one thing for bacterial poison to exist in the dilution of soil and quite another for a variation of this poison to be artificially and systemically produced in a plant in extremely high concentrations and then directly consumed by humans.
Many experts and lay people are particularly concerned about the health and environmental impacts of cross-species genetic engineering. In the case of the gene for Roundup Ready resistance and Bt-toxin, genetic material from bacteria is being inserted into plants, a process that would likely never occur in nature. Biotech companies argue that there is no need to worry because it is only one gene being spliced into the seed. But other scientists argue that even one gene spliced into a seed creates relatively massive collateral damage in how other genes in that plant will function. Genes code for proteins, which perform all sorts of functions in our bodies. With aberrant genetic coding, anomalous proteins are produced, which have unknown and potentially devastating effects on our health and in the environment, most notably allergic reactions in humans. GMO-induced allergies are a primary concern among health experts and scientists critical of GMOs.
In addition to superweeds, superbugs have also developed. Where superweeds developed resistance to Roundup, superbugs have developed resistance to Bt-toxin. One such superbug is the corn rootworm, a pest to corn plants for which Bt-toxin technology was originally developed to mitigate. Another is the pink bullworm, affecting GE crops in India. But just like with superweeds that developed resistance to Roundup through the evolutionary process of natural selection, superbugs have developed resistance to genetically engineered Bt-toxin. Monsanto once denied the possibility for development of superweeds and superbugs, but here we are in reality with both. Big surprise. Both are now destroying GMO crops, and Monsanto and Syngenta have received bad press because of it.
To save their multi-billion dollar business of destroying the environment, biotech companies are now scrambling to remedy the havoc caused by their inadevertant (yet predictable) selective breeding of superbugs and superweeds. By natural, organic means, you might be thinking? Wrong! They’re now offering and creating new technology for what are called “stacked trait” seeds. This means that the GE seeds now contain multiple genes spliced into them for resistance to various substances and/or to enhance production of supposed beneficial traits. In order to make plants that survive superweeds and superbugs, biotech now has to engineer plants (seeds) to survive both their original target pests (weeds, rootworms, bullworms) and their super-varieties: superweeds, super-rootworms, and super bullworms.
Incidentally, where does the advent of stacked traits (multiple gene splicing) place biotech’s argument that we should not worry with only one gene spliced trait inserted into plants?—not that this argument was valid to begin with.
With the development of Roundup Ready resistant weeds and Bt-toxin-resistant worms, we arrive at the current situation where DowAgroscience and Monsanto are awaiting approval of their new stacked corn variety that’s both Roundup resistant and 2,4-D resistant. 2,4-D is the highly controversial and potent herbicide comprising about half the volume of the cancer-causing defoliant used in Vietnam, Agent Orange. If the corn variety is approved, this means that each year GMO farmers will now spray hundreds of millions of pounds of Roundup and 2,4-D on their new generation GMO crops.
Many studies show that 2,4-D exposure is associated with various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, nerve damage, hormone disruption and birth defects,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, told Reuters reporters. “USDA must take these significant risks seriously and reject approval of this crop.
Critics of this stacked trait GMO corn variety are rightfully outraged, claiming that we’re dangerously advancing our position onto the toxic pesticide-dependent treadmill. What happens when the inevitable future generations of superweeds and superbugs develop resistance to 2,4-D? Biotech will have to stack their GE seeds even more to add another herbicide and/or pesticide to fend off the newly adapted super-pests they created with their last GE incarnation.
According to most sources (non-Biotech), GMO foods offer no better nutrition or shelf life than conventional foods. In fact, some studies show GMO foods are nutritionally inferior to organically grown counterparts, as are conventional non-GMO foods that use pesticides but are not GMO. In the words of Dr. Andrew Kimbrell, Head of the Center of Food Safety in Washington, GMO foods “offer no benefits, no more nutrition, no more flavour, no nothing; they only offer risks.” These risks include health risks to GMO food consumers (especially children), to our soils, to our water, to farm workers, to wildlife, to the whole planet. The only reason, then, for genetically engineering Roundup Ready crops is to better control the weeds that grow in the crop furrows.
What a price to pay for a lousy convenience that does not even deliver on its promise anyway! It’s all a stinky big business lie.
What can we do? Lots! Grow and buy organic food only. Support your local farmers. Keep it simple, keep it whole. Check labels in stores and learn the basic steps to identify GMO ingredients on your food. Join the GMO Eradication Movement and stay tuned to WuW for more articles on the hazards of GMO.
Monsanto and other biotech companies would love nothing more than to see the end of organic foods. Organic food is the only real competition standing in their way of taking over the world’s food supply. If all corn seed, for example, became genetically contaminated (by GMO corn) there would be no organic corn and no real competition for Monsanto.
If GMO crops continue to proliferate, and organic seed continues to become contaminated, this could spell the end of major organic staple crops such as corn, soy, and even rice, wheat and alfalfa (for livestock) one day. We’re all in this together and have to pull together now, during this small window of time where there is still hope to save organic food. Please join the effort for yourself, your children, and out planet.
Last but not least, please join us here in supporting the organic farmers coalition in their lawsuit against Monsanto, and voice your sanity!
photo courtesy Krappweis (sxc.hu)