So we've been writing a series of posts entitled "What Does Organic Mean, Anyway?" Almost immediately you have to start talking about GMOs because GMOs are a big no-no in the Organic World and we want you to understand why. Last week we revealed that GMOs exist in the marketplace for one reason - to proliferate the sale and application of chemicals. A lot of people out there say, so what? So we are going start to introduce you to the answers to that question today.
GMOs allow herbicides to be sprayed directly on crops without killing the crop. GMOs also incorporate insecticides right into the DNA of a plant. So we are eating a lot of herbicides and insecticides. These chemicals are biocides which are toxins to the organism they are designed to kill. So Just how toxic are they?
We’ll focus RoundUp and RoundUp Ready crops. RoundUp is the commercial name for glyphosate. It isn't the only herbicide on the market but it was the first herbicide to be paired with a GMO plant. Monsanto and all of the other companies selling glyphosate and glyphosate tolerant crops have always claimed that there is no toxic residue from the herbicide left on the surface plant itself and that no significant amount finds its way into our food system or the environment.
However, we are now questioning whether presence of glyphosate on the surface of crops is an adequate measure. This is because, for example, Glyphosate has been found in breast milk, cord blood, in soy plants, and in drinking water. In addition, the other ingredient chemicals that are in RoundUp (the so-called inert chemicals such as solvents, preservatives, surficants and others) are themselves very disruptive to living things.
But, again, you may be thinking, so what? The FDA says these chemicals aren’t harmful, the companies say they aren’t harmful. Where’s the evidence that all of this is bad for us? Well, there are many ways that glyphosate and biocides like it are bad for us and this is why in at least 50 countries GMOs are banned or heavily regulated and/or foods containing GMOs are required to be labeled.
So why is that? Is the organic movement just so wealthy and powerful that it can influence all of these countries to regulate GMOs? Personally I don't even think we need to spend time on this argument. The idea that multi-billion dollar companies could be outspent by small groups of consumers or organic farmers or that somehow these groups could wield more political influence than these giant multi-nationals is, on its face, unfounded. Chemical lobbying groups and the Grocers Manufacturing Association of America spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying against legislative initiatives to restrict or even label the use of GMOs. No, governments across the world are acting because they acknowledge the mounting scientific evidence of the deleterious effect of wide-spread use of GMOs.
From what I can find and analyse it appears that we shouldn’t love the wide-spread application of these agrochemicals because:
- Glyphosate and other herbicides are not great for our health. The chemical has been linked to birth defects, kidney disease, and cancers. More recently, and very controversially, there is work being done to study the effect of glyphosate on human gut flora and glyphosate’s disruption of the shikimate pathway in human gut bacteria begins a cascade of systemic disorders and deficiencies. There is a study out earlier this year linking agricultural chemicals to autism. In addition, the carrier chemicals, especially the surfacants in RoundUp are also linked to diseases. Plus, the exposure risk is not just to the general public through the consumption of GMO food, it is also agricultural workers who are exposed and have been tested to find glyphosate in their urine which is a potential precursor to cancer. What’s more, glyphosate and other agrochemicals have never been shown to be safe to be consumed or to be used in the amounts applied to our agricultural land today. The science is out there and it is growing. Realize that the use of GMO chemicals directly on crops is relatively new, only twenty or so years old. So the science is catching up on individual biocides such as glyphosate and also on the cumulative effective of the total load of biocide consumption and absorption through the various food and environmental channels that we all come into contact with on a daily basis.
- Glyphosate is not so great for the environment. The direct application of these herbicides, for example, will kill any plant except those genetically engineered to withstand exposure. But even though the industry claims there is little soil residue or leeching into the environment, glyphosate is found in drinking water and breast milk. In addition it is toxic to animals, it causes birth defects in frogs and in chickens. Most notably of late is the link between glyphosate and Bee Colony Collapse Disorder. With hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate used in 2013 by US farmers alone, we believe it is time to understand all of the potential health and environmental impacts.
- Weeds and pests develop resistance to biocides, creating super weeds and super bugs. Nature will find a way and the wide spread application of biocides is increasing the evolution of plants and animals that can tolerate these toxins. The emergence of super weeds threatens not only GMO crops but organic and sustainably grown crops as well as those weeds migrate across fields. This means farmers have to spray more biocides on their crops which increases the cost of farming and consequently the cost of food.
- Which leads to another reason to not like biocides and their related GMO crops: I’m not a huge fan of the business practices of these Gene Giant/AgroChemical companies. I must make it clear that I do not believe in vilifying big business. I do not think it serves any cause to create enemies. Companies like Monsanto are made up of people. People who are our neighbors. Smart people and caring people and people looking to make a good living and live a good life just like you and me. However, we do know that farmers have been pressured to use Monsanto products through the use of law suits and outright intimidation. There is a very enlightening article in Vanity Fair from 2008 that details the intimidation practices of Monsanto. Google it, it's easy to find. So think about this: Glyphosate is used on 80% of the world’s crops, of that Monsanto apparently controls 70-90%, depending on whose assumptions you are reading. As a practice I always question any corporation that controls that much of a market segment.
- There is even more. There are other effects of the use of bioengineered crops, such as RoundUp Ready crops. They speed soil erosion and reduce biodiversity on the land because of low crop rotation practices. Mono crop culture does nothing to restore the soil’s organic composition which we need in order for our crops to give us the nutrients we need. In addition, if a particular agrochemical tolerant seed is used in a geographic area that the seed is not designed for, crop collapse can occur and farmers can experience an entire season of loss.
What we and other companies like us are asking is for consumers to stop and think about how our food is currently being produced. Now GMO crops are limited to soy, corn, sweet corn, cotton, canola, alfalfa, and a few others. GMOs are showing up in zucchini and yellow summer squash. We'll talk about how these crops show up in our food supply in future posts. We will also start talking about the world beyond GMOs and why GMO Labeling is only part of the shift towards Organics that is happening throughout the world.