Some people (mostly Monsanto and its industry supporters) think the GMO — genetically modified organisms — market is the greatest thing since sliced bread or Dolly the sheep, but is it really? And now the biotech arm of Bayer wants to grow it.
What is GMO?
“GMO” stands for genetically modified organisms. These are organisms “whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering” which results in plants, animals, and organisms not found in nature. Some define this as “unnatural,” others as a godsend and money maker.
The GM Corporate Lens
Herbicides have long been considered necessary to spray over crops such as foods and cotton in order to kill the weeds that kill the crops. However, herbicides that kill weeds also kill crops. Monsanto, the creator of its best-selling herbicide, Roundup, took an industry hit when it first came on the scene because its chemicals that were killing weeds and other things also turned out to be harmful to humans.
When there were too many lawsuits against them, they decided on an additional plan. Scientists hit the labs and began creating genetically modified crops that were resistant to these herbicides. Even when sprayed with Roundup, whose main ingredient is called glyphosate, the crops were resistant to the herbicide and lived. Thus, genetically modified crops are nicknamed “Roundup ready.”
Over the last three decades, the GM market has grown, with Monsanto seeming to have cornered more than one market, having worked diligently to create even more crops that are herbicide resistant, as well as the chemical-resistant seeds that grow the chemical-resistant crops, in addition to still producing the only herbicide used on these GM crops, Roundup.
The most common crops that are genetically modified include canola, alfalfa, corn, sweet corn, cotton, soybeans, sugar beets, zucchini, and yellow squash. Some flax, rice, wheat, and potato crops also are affected by genetic modification.
The positives from a farming and corporate perspective were supposed to be that the “weeds would die while the crops grew unaffected. Problem solved.” In a report by the Miami New Times, Monsanto and the new seeds that grew chemical-resistant crops promised farmers they would not have to till their crops; they could just spray the weed killer all over them. They also promised a higher yield of crops, thus higher yields of income.
However, instead of yielding higher benefits of either crops or income for farmers, Monsanto created a patent on its seed and has forced farmers to repurchase new seed every year instead of letting them be able to use any that was leftover from the previous season. Monsanto has even been accused of having “seed police” that secretly videotape farmers to find out what they are using for that year’s crop, as well as pretending to be surveyors to get close enough to find that out.
Because Monsanto has most of the control over the market, since 1996 when GM crops were introduced, “the cost of soybeans has increased 325 percent. Corn has risen 259 percent. And the price of genetically modified cotton has jumped a stunning 516 percent.”
Additionally, the law of nature is showing its resurrective self. Chemical-resistant weeds and insects have emerged and farmers need to spray even more often, and with additional kinds of chemicals, thus spending more money. In 2012, insecticide use more than doubled, and pesticide use has “increased by 404 million pounds” since the genetically modified crops were introduced.
So not only have the crop yields not grown, but the price of seeds has risen dramatically, and the cost of spraying even more chemicals has increased, so farmers are actually losing money.
The GM Nature Lens
The chemicals that get sprayed on our food still get inside the food, which means we ingest it when we eat it, cook with it, or use it on our bodies (cotton). The GM food is also used as livestock feed which also gets inside our bodies when we consume that. The effects on humans from either directly consuming genetically modified food products or consuming animals that have been fed this food are still unknown; however, there are growing reports that GM products could be linked to cancer, which Monsanto denies.
Not for a serious lack of trying, with Monsanto keeping its products from researchers, “scientists have found greater prevalence of tumors and digestive problems in rats fed GM corn and potatoes, and digestive issues for livestock eating GM feed.” But those who have published any type of studies critical of Monsanto have been attacked in ways that have authorities hesitant about touching the issue for some reason.
That changed in 2010 when a judge had the audacity to rule in favor of organic farmers and their allies after they sued Monsanto, ordering that “all recently planted GM sugar beet crops” be destroyed until further testing could be done.
However, that changed again when Congress passed a measure in 2013 dubbed (not kindly) “The Monsanto Protection Act” or HR 933, which basically protects Monsanto from any kind of repercussions for their monopolistic or even dangerous practices.
Mind Your Own Bees-iness
So now, not only are there new “super weeds” and insects that are resistant to the spray killers, but Monarch butterflies and bees are suffering and dying off also. Glyphosate kills milkweed, which is what sustains the Monarch butterflies. When their food source is gone, so are they. Their numbers have dwindled by hundreds of millions and that prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department to consider putting them on the endangered species list. A request was filed in 2014 to do that, but now a new lawsuit has been filed against the department because two years later, nothing has happened.
Additionally, Bayer CropScience, the biotech arm of the company, makes and sprays something called “neo-nics” which coats seeds. The chemicals are sweated out from the plant and picked up by bees, which kills them and has resulted in the collapse of bee colonies everywhere at triple their normal rate in just seven years.
It is not widely known that “one-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.” Bee farmers have sued the EPA, demanding stricter policies and labeling, but the U.S. is, for some reason, slow to move in this area, even when there is growing evidence of the dangers.
In March of last year, the Huffington Post reported, 17 experts from 11 countries met at the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and unanimously agreed to re-classify glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” based on scientific findings.
Monsanto called the findings “junk science”; however, once those findings were released, other countries including Columbia, Bermuda, Germany, and Sri Lanka immediately halted the use of glyphosate. But not the U.S.
The Exploding Organic Market
Thankfully, not everyone believes crops must be sprayed with deadly herbicides. The organic market is thriving and growing the more proof is found that links genetically modified foods to cancer, damage to the environment, and to animal species. Since the labeling of GM foods or ingredients is not required, it is difficult to know where to find “natural” food.
The Roberts bill failed Wed to get the 60 votes needed to stop GMO labels. The motion failed 48-49. The NPR story https://t.co/C1eB8oFrxp— GMO FOOD LABEL (@GMOFoodLabel) March 17, 2016
Verified non-GMO products can be found here, but if you can’t find a verified non-GMO product, eating a certified organic product will be just as safe because of the rules in place to carry that label.
The result of Bayer’s bid for Monsanto is yet to be seen, but the growth of genetically modified food seems to be continuing, despite questions of its safety.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]