Cracks in Monsanto’s Toxic Veneer
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For the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting articles about the Monsanto corporation and the perils of genetic modification of natural organisms. Now I’m going to give you an executive summary of those articles:
A former Monsanto employee claims that foreign genes implanted in the genetic make-up of plants and animals by Monsanto and other genetic engineering firms don’t just express what that single gene does in its original creature, but can produce unforeseen effects. The researcher, Kirk Azevedo, in an interview on Food Nation Radio Network, said that, “I saw what was really the fraud associated with genetic engineering: My impression, and I think most people’s impression with genetically engineered foods and crops and other things is that it’s just like putting one gene in there and that one gene is expressed. If that was the case, well then that’s not so bad. But in reality, the process of genetic engineering changes the cell in such a way that it’s unknown what the effects are going to be.”
The U.S. House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the proposed Farm Bill recently that includes attached provisions severely weakening USDA’s oversight of GE crops. Not only does the bill provide backdoor approval for any new GE crop before meaningful environmental review, but it also protects the biotech industry from lawsuits brought by organic farmers whose crops are contaminated by GE crops through “genetic drift.” According to the Center for Food Safety, “all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act or Endangered Species Act would be banned, even if a crop approval would harm protected species.”
Thirty genetically modified children have now been born, courtesy of a process in which genes from a female donor are inserted into a woman’s eggs before being fertilized. Two children that were later tested were found to have DNA from three parents—two women and one man. And this happened in New Jersey in 2001, according to an article in the UK’s Daily Mail.
No one really knows what the ramifications of having DNA from three parents might be for the individual, or for their subsequent offspring, says Dr. Joseph Mercola. Many follow-up reports continue to tout the high success of this method of treating infertility. But some do warn about the dangers and risks of this procedure. Researchers have found a link between chromosomal anomalies and oocyte (egg) manipulation, and one of the babies was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a spectrum of autism-related diagnoses, at the age of 18 months.
“It’s relevant to understand that these children have inherited extra genes—that of TWO women and one man—and will be able to pass this extra set of genetic traits to their own offspring. One of the most shocking considerations here is that this was done—repeatedly—even though no one knows what the ramifications of having the genetic traits of three parents might be for the individual, or for their subsequent offspring,” Dr. Mercola wrote on his website.
“Monsanto Linked to Coup That Ousted Paraguayan President,” reads the headline from Reader Supported News. The lead paragraph of the story, quoting Ethan Huff of Natural News, says that, “The political system in Paraguay is undergoing some major turmoil right now following the forced impeachment of President Fernando Lugo, a left-of-center politician democratically voted into office by the people of Paraguay back in 2008. And among those who initiated and brought about this controversial coup was multinational biotechnology giant Monsanto, which was apparently threatened by Lugo’s resistance against the company’s genetically-modified (GM) crop agenda…Many of Paraguay’s family farms have been eliminated over the years and forcibly replaced with large mono-crop plantations that now grow GM soy and other cash crops…Lugo had at least tried to fight back in some ways against Monsanto’s gradual takeover of Paraguay’s agricultural land, the vast majority of which is now owned by less than three percent of the entire population.”
As an added feature of its recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), now fed to about 20 percent of the dairy cows in the U.S. to force them to produce more milk, the Monsanto-developed genetically modified milk booster hormone makes cows sick. Among other things, it causes mastitis, an infection of the udder. This infection causes pus to be released into the milk. Yes, pus in your milk—as well as hormones and antibiotics that lactating mothers may be passing on to their nursing children.
According to Dr. Samuel Epstein of the Organic Consumers Association, rBST milk is chemically and nutritionally different than natural cow’s milk.
Milk from cows injected with rBST is contaminated with the hormone, traces of which are absorbed through the gut into the blood of people who consume this milk or products made from it.
This rBST milk is supercharged with high levels of the natural growth factor IGF-1, which is readily absorbed through the gut. Excess levels of IGF-1 have been incriminated in well-documented scientific publications as a cause of breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Additionally, IGF-1 blocks natural defense mechanisms against early submicroscopic cancers.
The European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and New Zealand have all banned hormones in milk—but not the U.S.
When Monsanto took the gene that produces a toxin that kills insect larvae from a soil bacterium—Bacillus thuringiensis—and inserted it into corn and cotton, the public was assured that it was safe and would only target pests of corn and cotton. Then we discovered it was killing butterfly larvae. Now we find it’s killing ladybird beetles (ladybugs), which are a beneficial insect that eats pest insects like aphids and red spider mites.
Proponents of genetic engineering claimed that studies showing toxicity to non-target beneficial insects were flawed. Well, now it turns out that the supposedly scientific experiments discrediting the toxicity studies were deliberately designed not to find any toxicity. In other words, the rigging was really done by supporters of Monsanto and Syngenta, another biotech firm involved in GM crop seed production. If you would like to read more about these studies, follow this link:
The bottom line? For Californians, vote YES on Proposition 37 this November, which will require labeling of all foods containing GM products. For everyone, eat organic—where GM products are never allowed.
More Benefits of Organic Foods Listed
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Flavonoids, compounds, found in many fruits, are major contributors to human health. Two of the most common are quercitin and kaempferol—both found in tomatoes.
Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have been conducting long-term research on agricultural systems for over a decade, handling one field organically and another conventionally. After growing tomatoes on both plots, they reported their results in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry. They found that the level of quercitin was 79 percent higher and kaempferol 97 percent higher in tomatoes grown organically compared to tomatoes grown conventionally.
The longer a field was managed organically, the greater the difference in flavonoids between organic and conventional tomatoes.
Evaluation of two similar kinds of bread, one organic and one conventional, showed some striking differences, according to The Organic Center of Boulder, Colorado. Organic bread on average contains more whole food ingredients (49 percent) than conventional (12 percent). On average, 28 percent of conventional bread ingredients are preservatives and/or additives. On average, 63 percent of organic bread ingredients are significant sources of important nutrients, while only 27 percent of conventional bread ingredients are nutritionally beneficial. And if you exclude the chemical vitamins that are added to enrich conventional bread, only 19 percent of conventional bread ingredients are nutritionally beneficial. And of course, eating organic bread helps lower one’s exposure to pesticides.
Rhizobia bacteria live in the soil and form a symbiosis with the roots of legumes such as alfalfa, clover, vetch, soybeans, and other types of edible peas and beans. The rhizobia take nitrogen molecules (N2) from the air, split the two nitrogen atoms apart, and recombine them with oxygen to form plant food: nitrates that plant roots absorb. And they do it for free.
However, there are two things that happen in conventional agriculture that harm rhizobia and turn off their ability to fix free plant food from the air. The first is that conventional farmers flood their fields with chemical nitrogen. The rhizobia have a built-in mechanism that tells them to stop fixing nitrogen from the air if the element is already abundant in the soil. Once off, those bacteria will never again fix nitrogen.
The second way conventional agriculture harms rhizobia is detailed in a scientific study reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and entitled, “Pesticides Reduce Symbiotic Efficiency of Nitrogen-Fixing Rhizobia and Host Plants.” The scientists report that pesticides interfere with the chemical signalling between the bacteria and the roots that is necessary for the free plant food to be created and absorbed. They estimate that legume crop yields are reduced by one third due to this interference. Glyphosate herbicide (Round-Up) has a similar effect.
So the conventional farmer, in order to overcome reduced crop yields, adds chemical ammonium fertilizer to increase nitrogen in the soil and bring his yields back up.
In effect, the conventional farmer wipes out a natural soil system that provides free nitrogen fertilizer to his crops and replaces it with a system that requires environmentally damaging and very expensive factory-made chemical nitrogen fertilizer. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, does it? Well, if you are an agribusiness corporation selling that costly, damaging fertilizer, it makes a lot of sense. And it’s those guys who are running American agriculture.
What Are You If You Are What You Eat and You Eat GMO Food?
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Silly question? Not really. The food we put into our bodies becomes our bodies. That’s what the alimentary canal does, turning hamburgers and fries into that nice muffin top of fat around our middles.
Now a new report, just released, presents a large body of peer-reviewed and scientific evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically-engineered crops and organisms. This report was issued by actual genetic engineers who believe there are good scientific reasons to be wary of GMO foods and crops. One, Dr. Michael Antoniou is a reader in molecular genetics and head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College, London School of Medicine, in London. He’s spent 28 years in the field of genetic engineering technology and over 40 of his peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published.
In a nutshell, the report says that GMO foods have never been properly tested for toxicity and should be considered dangerous. You can see the report at www.openearthsource.org. At the site, click on “GMO Myths and Truths.”
This fall, folks in California will be able to vote on a referendum requiring all foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be so labeled. Anyone interested in organic, clean, properly grown crops or humanely raised meat, milk, and eggs should be sure to vote for this referendum.
You know Monsanto will be out there with as much money as it takes to convince people that labeling foods is another government intrusion of their rights—or whatever other nonsense they dream up to scare people away from voting for labeling. But you and I also know that the real reason is that once people see a label on their food that says, “Contains Genetically Modified Ingredients,” and people know the content of Dr. Antoniou’s GMO Myths and Truths report, those foods will languish on the supermarket shelves.
Shortly after I wrote the above, I got an email that listed at least one of the tactics Monsanto will use in California to defeat the ballot initiative requiring GMO foods to be so labeled. The ballot measure, by the way, has been cleared to go on the November ballot. It’s been assigned # 37. So the word from now until November for all eligible California voters is “Yes on 37!”
The email said, in part, “Leaders in the disinformation campaign launched against the labelling initiative say that it would be like the infamous Proposition 65, ‘The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986’–a way for bounty-hunting lawyers to file suits against companies for supposedly selling products containing undisclosed GMOs. Of course, GMO’s ally StopCostlyFoodLabeling.com receives funding from the Council for Biotechnology Information. It should be no surprise that Monsanto is a member of that organization.
“James C. Cooper, PhD in economics from Emory University, dismisses the comparison between California’s labelling initiative and Proposition 65. In his report, he delineates the key differences between the two programs:
• The Label GMO initiative allows producers 7 years to reduce GMO exposure of products from under 5 percent to zero.
• Producers are immune from suit if they can provide a statement from their supplier or an independent organization that the food is certified organic and/or GMO-free.
• Producers have 30 days to rectify violations with no liability.
• Whereas plaintiffs were able to keep ‘bounties’ of 25 percent of civil penalties under Prop 65, the labelling initiative provides none.”
Some surprising benefits await those who dig out their raised garden beds by hand. I lived for many years in an old—early 19th Century—stone farmhouse in Pennsylvania. There I made 13 raised beds, each about three feet across and 10 feet long. I dug out the old compacted soil to a depth of about two feet using a small trowel, taking a deep slice of soil and loosening it with my fingers, removing any roots of tough weeds like greenbriar and multiflora rose, taking out any stones larger than a pingpong ball, but also finding artifacts from the generations of farmers who had lived and worked that land. It became a way to get to know those people, and making the raised beds became like a sort of local archeological dig for me. Because I did the work so slowly, and in such small chunks, it took me about three years to make all 13 beds.
I saved all the artifacts and made a list. The list included lots of broken crockery, some with Pennsylvania Dutch designs. Metal springs and gears. A part of a broken harrow tine. Some child’s glass marbles. Pieces of broken glass. The frame of a pair of what must have been bifocals. Buttons. Clamshells from a long-ago clambake. Eating utensils like a knife and fork, several spoons, and a small ladle. All in all, a trove of things from the folks who lived on that land.
After I went through each little segment of soil, removing stones as well as artifacts, I returned the soil to the trenches, mixed 50-50 with compost I’d made. The beds grew a prolific amount of vegetables for many years, until I pulled up stakes and headed west.
Learning from the Master
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Some years ago, Rodale published a book called, “The One-Straw Revolution,” by a Japanese rice farmer named Masanobu Fukuoka. It seemed to me then, and still does now, to sum up something essential about the way organic food should be grown. I say “should be” because many organic farmers in the western world farm in ways similar to their conventional peers, except they dispense with the chemicals and use organic techniques. But the mindset is essentially the same: get out the tractor and plow, plant, weed, harvest, plow, etc.
Fukuoka-san, as I came to call him after I met him and absorbed what he had to teach, was different. He did not farm his rice like his neighbors. At the core of his method, which he invented over a lifetime of thought, trial and error, and a firm grounding in Buddhism, was a simple dictum. Instead of asking, “What can I do next to bring in a good crop of rice?”, he asked himself, “What can I stop doing and yet continue to bring in a good crop of rice?” In other words, he was doing what Henry David Thoreau recommended: simplify.
While his conventional neighbors plowed their fields with heavy equipment, used chemicals to weed and fertilize, killed pests with poisons, flooded their paddies and used tractor-driven, gas-guzzling planters to pop the young rice plants into the mud, Fukuoka-san took another route, and did none of those things.
In the fall, he scattered rice grains in his fields, as rice would fall naturally from plants in the wild. He also scattered white clover seeds. Clover adds nitrogen to the soil and improves its fertility, and the clover grew thickly over the winter in his mild-climate part of southern Japan, while the rice grains lay dormant. He scattered barley straw over the fields, as a mulch that kept down weeds. In the spring, he allowed water to flood the paddies. The water killed the clover, which, along with the barley straw, naturally decayed to enrich the soil as a form of green manure. The water also caused the rice seed to germinate, as it would naturally in the wild. And the rice grew to provide bountiful harvests.
That was it. No chemicals. No gasoline. No heavy machinery. Just three things to do: scatter seeds, scatter straw, flood paddies. The result? Soil that constantly improved year after year, and rice yields about equal to those of his conventional neighbors.
His whole idea was to take human interference with nature out of the equation and allow nature to do her thing. Understand the nature of rice, clover, straw, and flood water. With very little work, and with all labor by hand, he showed us the way to sustainable organic farming.
At the time Rodale published the book, I was working at the company as an editor on Organic Gardening magazine. Fukuoka-san was a sort of organic superstar then, and one day he stopped by our offices in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. I, and many of my colleagues there, was thrilled to meet him. He was a slender, intense-looking man with a twinkle in his eye yet a serious demeanor. He had a pad of paper, brushes, and ink with him and he painted an image for me that illustrated how his method worked. It showed a pit in the ground with a small figure wielding a pick in the bottom of the pit. Through a translator, he told me what his painting was about.
The man in the pit was like anyone who is trying to do something that nature doesn’t intend—he’s digging himself into a hole, and the harder he tries, the deeper the pit gets. What’s needed is for him to stop digging and turn his attention to getting out of the pit.
Today that painting is in my office here in California and it is a constant reminder to stop digging and start asking not what I can do next, but what I can stop doing.
There is a small soil-borne, single-celled bacterium scientists call Bacillus thuringiensis. It produces a protein within its cell that is toxic to insect larvae—that is, when insects are in their worm-like stage, which is also when they do the greatest damage to field crops.
Organic gardeners and farmers have used Bt, as it’s called for short, for years to control pests like European cabbage worm, corn rootworm, corn earworm, and other larvae that damage crops. It works like a disease, infecting the larvae and rendering their gut unable to process food, and so they die. It’s specific for insect larvae. No other creatures contract the disease. Organic growers used it only when pests became a real threat to a crop. It worked beautifully and safely as a spot treatment.
Then along came Monsanto and its genetic engineers, who said, “Gee, that Bt poison works great. Let’s find the gene in the bacterium that expresses it.” So they looked and found the gene. Then Monsanto’s bright boys and girls said, “Let’s put that gene into corn. Then every corn plant will become a source of the larvae toxin.” And so they inserted the gene for the Bt toxin into corn, patented the resulting seed, and sold it widely around the world until now, 95 percent of the corn grown in the United States, for one example, is Monsanto’s GMO corn—and woe to any farmer who tries to save its seed for planting next year, because they will be sued for infringing Monsanto’s patent rights.
Everything seemed hunky-dory for Monsanto. They had this corn protection racket sewn up. Except they didn’t quite think it through. They forgot about Nature.
The force of nature is like the force of water. It will eventually go where it wants to go. Nature spent a lot of time and effort developing both Bacillus thuringiensis and the primeval ancestor of corn. They were never meant to be combined in one organism. How dare the pipsqueaks at Monsanto create this Frankenstein’s monster of a corn plant? Nature protects her own, and her own includes insect larvae, of which she is evidently especially fond, since they are so ubiquitous. Her protective field is called evolution. If you suppress one of her children by stepping on its neck, she will evolve it to become able to get out from under your boot.
With Bt toxin everywhere—about 67 billion acres of Bt corn grown in the United States alone every year—not only corn rootworms started dying, but also butterfly larvae, and many other species of larvae-producing insects. All they had to do was eat some of the corn, or even its pollen, to die. Nature threw the evolutionary lever to “ON” pretty quick, given this staggering assault on her children. And so now we have western corn rootworm that has evolved to be impervious to Bt toxin.
Now it’s nature’s turn to push back. Now that western corn rootworm likes Monsanto’s Bt corn, what are farmers to do? Before Bt corn, they used pesticides. Now they’ll have to go back to using pesticides. But now the larvae are more resistant to pesticides. It’s like an arms race, and Monsanto started it. How many other insect species are developing a tolerance to Bt toxin? I’ll bet the answer is, “Many.”
So not only has Monsanto thrown a monkey wrench into nature’s finely devised works, it has taken a perfectly useful, safe, and organic insect control—the original Bt—from the hands of organic growers and made it useless.
One thing is certain. In this arms race, nature will be the winner, not Monsanto.