BIOTECH LOSING GROUND

As Farmers, Consumers, and Politicians Recognize the Value of Biodiversity

“The question we face … is whether this [GMO] cornucopia presents a picture of health and lawful bounty, or instead the hellish image of nature betrayed.” C. Holdrege & S. Talbott, 2008

Ever since biotechnology introduced genetically modified foods in the mid-1990s, biotech scientists have insisted that these foods are “substantially equivalent” to what we’ve eaten since the dawn of time. Yet for the past 15 years, roughly 90% of people around the world have demanded that GMO foods be clearly labelled, so they can be avoided.

How do our regulators respond? At the latest round of CODEX labeling debates in Quebec City in March, the U.S. FDA soothingly suggested that “consumers do not need GMO labeling, as it would only confuse them, and they would then make the incorrect food choices.” The last time we heard this paternalistic BS was at Senate hearings a decade ago from Canada’s then Deputy Minister of Health, David Dodge. He opined that labeling milk and beef products as containing recombinant bovine growth hormone would alarm the public unnecessarily because ordinary Canadians don’t understand the underlying “safe” science. However, the aforementioned 90% of anti-GMO humanity includes a lot of scientists who do understand just how toxic these products are to people and the world’s ecosystem. There’s even a new documentary The Idiot Cycle, which focuses on human cancers caused by GMO-focused agricultural practices (www.theidiotcycle.com).

When change moves a contentious issue out of deadlock, it tends to do so in surprising ways; and so it was at the CODEX labeling meeting this year, too. The governments of Asia, Africa, and South America do not consider the fines – imposed by the World Trade Organization for refusing to import GM crops – as small change (as the EU countries do, which just refuse the crops and pay up). So, ingeniously, those countries bypassed the arguments about safety, food security, the human right to choose what goes into our mouths, and the protection of indigenous crop diversity. As the National Health Federation’s lawyer Scot Tips reported, these countries instead demanded protection from being fined for food import decisions arising from local sovereignty. This could not be denied, as national autonomy is part of CODEX’s constitution. Finally the labeling issue has gained some traction.

THE GMOs / SICKNESS CONNECTION

Carl B. Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, opined on July 23, 1998 in the New York Times: “Archaeologists have documented twelve thousand years of agriculture throughout which farmers have genetically altered crops by selecting certain seeds from one harvest and using them to plant the next, a process that has led to enormous changes in the crops we grow and the food we eat. It is only in the past thirty years that we have become able to do it through biotechnology at higher levels of predictability, precision, and safety.” Now, I happen to have a master’s degree in prehistoric archaeology and know for a fact that this is nonsense. Nothing remotely resembling modern biotechnology happened in the Neolithic period; as for the “precision” and “safety” of GMO production, any undergraduate student of genetics would be baffled by that insupportable assertion.

Here are some recent developments from around the world that bring into focus the deadly impact of genetically modified organisms on human health:

  • In June 2011, a report was published on the largest ever analysis of the world’s prehistoric human remains – from the dawn of agriculture as compared to skeletal material prior to this shift. In the report, archaeologists at Emory University describe how people’s health appears to have dramatically declined when they shifted from hunting and gathering to relying on agriculture. The global bag of bones tells a story of nutritional deficiencies and stress resulting from increasing reliance on just a few foods (i.e. prehistoric monoculture) and the rapid evolution of human diseases arising from animal domestication. Over the next several thousand years, people began to learn more about nutrition through painful and deadly trial and error; it is probably only now that we really know what healthy nutrition means – and it cannot include GMOs. Modern medicine confirms for today what archaeologists know about the past: University of Missouri’s developmental biologist, Frederick vom Saal, goes so far as to suggest that all modern human diseases are being caused by environmental toxins of our own making.
  • Former Health Canada scientist, Dr. Shiv Chopra, wrote in the April 28 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal: “Each year approximately 11 million Canadians suffer from food-borne disease (FBD). But there is more to FBD than food-borne infections. The Canadian food supply is presently the most toxic on earth, which is due to the indiscriminate use of hormones, antibiotics and slaughterhouse waste, along with pesticides and pesticide-dependent GMOs in food production. Sadly, the medical community is paying no attention to these causes of FBD [which] increase the incidence of cancer, diabetes, hormone disruption, neurological, immunological and other metabolic disorders.”
  • Among the rapidly increasing number of biotech disasters are the huge cloning experiments in New Zealand which had to be abandoned because 90% of the animals endured unnecessary suffering and died.
  • Mainstream research has found that GMO foods cause serious problems for human kidneys and the liver; anything that upsets the liver must be assumed to be exceedingly toxic. A thorough analysis of the exact biological pathways now known to be disrupted or poisoned by GM foods can be found in an excellent article by Sharry Edwards of the Institute of BioAcoustic Biology; it goes a long way towards explaining the huge increase in food allergies. The precision with which health effects can now be demonstrated, stemming from GMOs and their prerequisite pesticides, is so great that the exact pathways by which pesticides cause Parkinson’s are now understood.
  • A new pathogen, previously unknown to science, visible with an electron microscope, and as yet unnamed, has been discovered by Perdue University researchers in all crops engineered to be Roundup Ready; these scientists state that this discovery should be treated as a world-wide “emergency” because the pathogen causes many plant and animal diseases.
  • Canadian research recently showed that 93% of all fetuses and their mothers tested were found to be contaminated with toxins associated with GM foods. We now also have proof that GM soy products cause pre-cancerous changes to the ovaries and uterus of animals that consume them.
  • One of the most harmful side effects of GM agricultural practices is the need for  antibiotics to treat sick animals; indeed, 80% of all antibiotics manufactured goes to livestock. This has brought about the rampant antibiotic resistance in life-threatening bacteria so that the use of drugs “of last resort” has increased by 79% between 2005 and 2009. Bacteria transfer such resistance even horizontally to one another as well as via the intestines of food-producing animals.
  • GMO-related health problems affect the plants themselves and the soil in which they are expected to grow. As reported by Global Research this May, the rice crop contamination from Bayer CropScience GM varieties in 2006 caused a huge increase in the use of Roundup (about 400 million additional pounds since GM crops began). Now, seriously reduced crop yields and deformed rice plants are becoming widespread. Not surprisingly, this violent type of agriculture never takes the soil itself into account, which becomes impacted due to the heavy machinery required for large-scale corporate agriculture. The farming methods as well as the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides kill the necessary organisms in the soil – minute creatures on which crop growth depends. American and Dutch scientists are pointing out that “it takes a community of soil microbes to protect plants from disease”.
  • The upshot of this mad-science-inspired dirty agribusiness is that 50% of all children in the U.S. now have chronic diseases and 21% suffer from developmental disorders. The estimated cost of these human-made diseases and malnutrition is estimated at $76.6 billion annually. Now governments around the world are starting to acknowledge that their countries’ children are adversely affected by these deadly agricultural practices. In one example, India’s Supreme Court imposed a temporary ban on the pesticide endosulfan in May, and urged the government to join the international campaign to stop its production and use completely. The judges stated that when something affects the right to life, the “fundamental right to business” has to “take the back seat …because the right to life is higher than all laws and rights.”

MORE BIOTECH COMING DOWN THE PIKE

Since such enormous profits are at stake for those who wish to control the world’s food supply through transnational corporations, they are not likely to give up anytime soon. Supported by the Bill Gates Foundation, they promise medicines engineered into plants, and are ready to bring the first GM foods to market that contain human genes – if we let them. A really appetizing offer comes from Japan where they have developed edible meat from human excrement. Bon appétit! The only new offering that I find worthy of consideration involves “test-tube burgers,” the development of which would stop the horrendous suffering of all those millions of farm animals slaughtered to sustain the current burger industry. I recommend for contemplation the Test-Tube Burgers article published in the May 23 New Yorker.

UNEXPECTED SUPPORT FOR ECOLOGICAL FARMING

A recent United Nations report showed that eco-farming increased average crop yields by about 80% in 57 developing countries in the last decade; in many areas in Africa crop yields doubled at 3 to 10 years, depending on the region. The report states: “Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agro ecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live – especially in unfavorable environments.” In China especially, chemical-free pest management, achieved through intercropping different rice varieties, drastically cut rice losses. And in California, organic strawberry production, which is difficult to manage, took off gloriously.

In the U.S., the state of Maine was the first to assert its right to food sovereignty, for which it was vigorously attacked, but was able to prove that food sovereignty is a constitutional guarantee. In California, people forced the powers-that-be to label GM fish, and now the state is poised to ban GM salmon outright. The E.U. also refuses GM fish products.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto’s shares fell after this news, but it plans to succeed with GM wheat. That seems unlikely, given that the U.S. made itself unpopular in the E.U., as Wikileaks revealed earlier this year, by trying to bully the E.U. into accepting GM crops with heavy-handed threats.  That backfired: the E.U.’s agricultural commissioner, Dacian Ciotos, made it clear that traditional agriculture will be favoured above all, and that the diversity of diets arising from natural biodiversity is the EU’s primary interest. In March, the member states’ agricultural ministers got together and discussed how to ban all GM crop cultivation within the E.U. outright; their main concern is the protection of biodiversity, something that GM agribusiness simply cannot do if it wishes to pursue a profitable business model. Europe as well as Japan cancelled their grain contracts with Australia because of GM contamination.

This spirit of rebellion gave rise to a law suit launched against Monsanto by some 60 Canadian farmers, seed businesses, and organic organizations to protect themselves preemptively against the tactics the company used in the infamous Schmeiser case some years back. Organic Seed Growers & Trade Organizations vs. Monsanto was filed by the 270,000 member strong group on March 30 in federal district court in Manhattan, and hopes to achieve protection from GM seed contamination for organic farmers.

Even more surprising is the National Research Council report, released in May, which calls for a radical transformation of U.S. agricultural practices, marketing, policies and science in order to achieve sustainable farming. This report was followed by a frontal attack on the ultimate sacred cow of modern capitalism – globalization – and was delivered at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans on May 23. It declared that globalization was to blame for many food-borne diseases, all preventable if food production was done locally and consumed locally.

The greatest surprise for me was an editorial in the venerable journal Nature, which for almost two decades has been biotech’s most powerful cheerleader. But now Nature’s editors have come back down to earth and declared that “poverty, not lack of food production, is the root cause of world hunger” and that “GM crops are not the panacea  for world hunger, despite many assertions to the contrary by their proponents.”


References

  1. C. Holdrege & S. Talbott, Beyond Biotechnology, University of Kentucky, 2008
  2. P. Weirich ed. Labeling Genetically Modified Foods, Oxford University, 2007
  3. G. Tansey & T. Rajotte, eds. The Future Control of Food, Earthscan, 2008
  4. B. Esterbrok, Tomatoland: How Modern Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Food, Andrews McMeel, 2011
  5. S. Chopra, Corrupt to the Core – Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower, Kos, 2009
  6. Alternative Medicine Review, April 2010 issue on the nutritional science of organic food
  7. www.cban.ca – Canadian Biotechnology Action Network for information on how to avoid GM products
  8. National Health Federation – US-based source for all Codex-related issues: www.thenhf.com
  9. http://anh-europe.org/news for updates on EU decisions re GMOs

On GMOs in general and the labeling battle:

  1. Why Monsanto Always Wins, www.truth-out.org Feb. 22, 2011
  2. Report on labeling debate and partial victory at CODEX May 2011 meeting in Quebec City by Scot Tips of the National Health Federation, www.thenhf.com May 31, 2011
  3. “Genetically Engineered Rice is a Trojan Horse: Misled by Bill Gates and Monsanto” on Dr. Mercola’s website, June 21, 2011
  4. On Monsanto, GMOs etc. in India: www.kisanswaraj.in, www.indiagminfo.org, www.iamnolabrat.com
  5. Statistics on GMO crops in developing countries: Nature, March 3, 2011
  6. “Massive animal cloning research project ended due to 90% death rate and unnecessary suffering,” www.NaturalNews.com, May 5, 2011
  7. GM food crops with human genes, see www.narmer.wordpress.com 2011/01/25
  8. Japanese scientist creates edible meat alternative made from recycled human waste www.inhabitat.com/poop-burger-ja
  9. M. Specter, Test-Tube Burgers, The New Yorker, May 23, 2011

On human, animal and environmental health effects of GMOs:

  1. A. Mummert et al, Stature and robusticity during the agricultural transition…, Economics & Human Biology, vol. 9/3, July 2011
  2. Dr. Shiv Chopra’s comment on Canada’s food being toxic is in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, April 28, 2011
  3. R. Mendes et al. Deciphering the Rhizosphere Microbiome for Disease-Suppressive Bacteria, Science, 2011, May 7 issue
  4. The Research Council of Norway, May 5, 2011 Report: Heavy agricultural machinery can damage the soil.
  5. “The Disappearing Nutrient” on phosphate-based fertilizers, Nature, October 8, 2009
  6. On health-promoting soil bacteria, see Nature October 9, 2008, article “What lies beneath”
  7. S. Edwards, Study Finds Links Between GMOs and Current Health Care Crisis, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, April 2011.  See website of Institute of BioAcoustics Biology and Sound Health www.SoundHealthOptions.com
  8. Emergency: Pathogen New to Science Found in Roundup Ready GM Crops by Institute of Science in Society on I-SIS, website www.i-sisi.org/uk
  9. “Genetically Modified Soy Diets Lead to Ovary and Uterus Changes in Rats” in Huffington Post, July 10, 2010
  10. “Dangerous Toxins From Genetically Modified Plants Found in Women and Fetuses by Jeffrey M. Smith, www.responsibletechnology.org  May 27, 2011
  11. “93% of unborn babies contaminated with GMO toxins” on http://www.NaturalNews.com May 24, 2011, based on a Canadian study published in Reproductive Technology, May 2011
  12. “When Food Kills” by N. D. Kristof, The New York Times, June 12, 2011
  13. Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, April 5, 2011: “Last resort antibiotics use on the rise” via www.sciencedaily.com story 2011/04/110403141320htm
  14. Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, April 13, 2010, Report: Impact of antibiotic treatments on bacteria in the intestines of animals.
  15. F. Meng et al. Oxidation of the Cysteine-rich regions of Parkinsons perturbs its E3 Ligase activity and contributes to protein aggregation. Molecular Neurodegenration vol. 6/1, 2011
  16. The studies showing that 50% of US children have chronic diseases and 21% developmental disabilities is found in the June 2011 issue of Pediatrics
  17. L. Trasande et al. Reducing the staggering cost of environmental disease in children estimated at $ 76.6 billion in 2008, Health Affairs, May 2011
  18. The story about the Supreme Court of India temporarily banning endosulfan was in The Times of India, May 14, 2011
  19. R. Ananda, “More problems with glyphosate [Roundup]: US rice growers sound alarm, May 23, 2011, from www.globalresearch.ca
  20. “The toxic origins of disease” in PLoS (Public Library of Science – web-based medical journal), July 2007, vol. 5/7, www.plosbiology.org

On public and policy changes in the making:

  1. On the UN admitting that ecological agriculture outperforms all GM methods, see www.stltoday.com/business
  2. Report on chemical-free pest management cutting rice waste, see Eureka March 19, 2011
  3. On strawberries grown organically see www.grist.org/organic-food
  4. On the State of Maine passing laws to protect food sovereignty see www.globalresearch.ca and www.globalmotherdivine.org
  5. NDP Leader Jack Layton on food labeling, e-mail from canadasndp@ndp.ca April 26, 2011
  6. The editorial on need for more than the GMO message in world farming is in the journal Nature, July 29, 2010; the whole issue is devoted to agriculture
  7. J.P. Reganold et al. Transforming U.S. Agriculture, Science, May 5, 2011
  8. The editorial on the harmful effects on agriculture and food safety from globalization was published in American Society for Microbiology, May 23, 2011
  9. Wikileaks publication on U.S. political pressure on the EU to accept GMO foods was published by NaturalNews, December 24, 2010, www.naturalnews.com
  10. The State of Maryland refusing/banning arsenic in poultry was in www.i-sis.org/uk and www.news.change.org Feb 15, 2011
  11. For details on the U.S. moving to ban GM salmon, GE rice etc. see www.cban.ca, June 17, 2011
  12. The EU’s stance on GM foods as being inferior see www.euractive.com February 15, 2011
  13. On the cancellation of grain contracts with Australia by Japan and the EU, see www.naturalnews.com, January 3, 2011
  14. See CBAN also for the labeling on GM fish and the EU refusing “supersalmon,” and the stock shares of Monsanto being affected, May 8, 2011
  15. On the U.K. ripping up ignoring requirements for cloned meat products, see Mail Online, May 28, 2011 www.dailymail.co.uk

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