Five 2-minute videos and 1 new song, tell the story of GMOs—Fast

Five 2-minute videos and 1 new song, tell the story of GMOs—Fast

By Jeffrey M. Smith

I like long videos on GMOs, which tell the whole story and change people’s lives in one go. Our video Everything You HAVE TO KNOW about Dangerous Genetically Modified Foods is 84 minutes, but it does the heavy lifting. For example, when I was interviewed by Alex Bogusky for his FearLess TV Show he mentioned that he had tried unsuccessfully for years to get his parents to change their diet. He recently gave his dad (who was on the set with us) the “Everything…” DVD. His father did not watch it, but passed it onto his mother. Then Alex’s dad announced loudly, “And the next day I didn’t recognize anything in the refrigerator!”

But not everyone has 84 minutes to watch a video (or a wife who does). Lots of people have been asking me to produce short films. Even the 18-minute Your Milk on Drugs—Just Say No! is too long for people raised with an MTV time span.

So I asked Alex if he would like to videotape me for a few hours, and help me craft short messages. Alex hesitated.

I thought I was just asking for some lightweight advice during the shoot. But this was Alex Bogusky. He doesn’t do lightweight.

Alex was described by Fast Company as “the Elvis of advertising,” a “pop-culture Houdini,” and the “daddy of 21st-century advertising.” He designed the Truth Campaign for tobacco, brought the king to Burger King, was crowned “Creative Director of the Decade” by Adweek, and was a partner at a $1.5 billion company that Advertising Age named “Agency of the Decade,”…and then he walked away. Alex realized he could no longer speak his truth. Now, under his own banner of The Fearless Revolution, he’s empowering consumers who will counterbalance corporate power.

If he agreed to shoot the videos, Alex knew he wouldn’t stop there. He did agree, and he didn’t stop.

He took the footage, assembled a team, and created five fabulous 2-minute videos, presented now for the first time as the full series.

I’m adding to the mix a funny and brilliant new song about GMOs by the talented Rob Herring. He offers his 5-minute piece on iTunes, donating half of the $0.99 download fee to our Institute for Responsible Technology to help us stop the genetic engineering of the food supply. The download link is below.

My question for you is this: after you watch the videos and listen to the song, will you replace everything in your refrigerator? In any case, please share the links, so others will be enlightened, entertained, and consider adopting a non-GMO diet.

Safe eating.

It’s Time for a Food Fight (3 min)

Dont Experiment with your Baby (2 min)

Double Dipping Danger (2 min)

Double Dipping Danger (2 min)

Cap the Gene Spill (2 min)

GMO song: Question What’s Inside, by Rob Herring

You can DOWNLOAD THE SONG Question What’s Inside from iTunes. Remember to “Like” it and give it a “5 star” rating. You can also “Like” the Question What’s Inside FACEBOOK PAGE to stay updated on upcoming release dates for more humorous health awareness tunes from Rob Herring.

50% of all proceeds will be donated to Jeffrey Smith’s Institute for Responsible Technology to help raise GMO awareness.

Monsanto’s Roundup Triggers Over 40 Plant Diseases and Endangers Human and Animal Health

The following article reveals the devastating and unprecedented impact that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is having on the health of our soil, plants, animals, and human population. On top of this perfect storm, the USDA now wants to approve Roundup Ready alfalfa, which will exacerbate this calamity. Please tell USDA Secretary Vilsack not to approve Monsanto’s alfalfa today. [Note: typos corrected from Jan 16th, see details]

While visiting a seed corn dealer’s demonstration plots in Iowa last fall, Dr. Don Huber walked past a soybean field and noticed a distinct line separating severely diseased yellowing soybeans on the right from healthy green plants on the left (see photo). The yellow section was suffering from Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS), a serious plant disease that ravaged the Midwest in 2009 and ’10, driving down yields and profits. Something had caused that area of soybeans to be highly susceptible and Don had a good idea what it was.

The diseased field on the right had glyphosate applied the previous season. Photo by Don Huber

Don Huber spent 35 years as a plant pathologist at Purdue University and knows a lot about what causes green plants to turn yellow and die prematurely. He asked the seed dealer why the SDS was so severe in the one area of the field and not the other. “Did you plant something there last year that wasn’t planted in the rest of the field?” he asked. Sure enough, precisely where the severe SDS was, the dealer had grown alfalfa, which he later killed off at the end of the season by spraying a glyphosate-based herbicide (such as Roundup). The healthy part of the field, on the other hand, had been planted to sweet corn and hadn’t received glyphosate.

This was yet another confirmation that Roundup was triggering SDS. In many fields, the evidence is even more obvious. The disease was most severe at the ends of rows where the herbicide applicator looped back to make another pass (see photo). That’s where extra Roundup was applied.

Don’s a scientist; it takes more than a few photos for him to draw conclusions. But Don’s got more—lots more. For over 20 years, Don studied Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate. He’s one of the world’s experts. And he can rattle off study after study that eliminate any doubt that glyphosate is contributing not only to the huge increase in SDS, but to the outbreak of numerous other diseases. (See selected reading list.)

Sudden Death Syndrome is more severe at the ends of rows, where Roundup dose is strongest. Photo by Amy Bandy.

Roundup: The perfect storm for plant disease

More than 30% of all herbicides sprayed anywhere contain glyphosate—the world’s bestselling weed killer. It was patented by Monsanto for use in their Roundup brand, which became more popular when they introduced “Roundup Ready” crops starting in 1996. These genetically modified (GM) plants, which now include soy, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets, have inserted genetic material from viruses and bacteria that allows the crops to withstand applications of normally deadly Roundup.

(Monsanto incentivizes farmers who buy Roundup Ready seeds to also use the company’s Roundup brand of glyphosate. For example, they only provide warranties on the approved herbicide brands and offer discounts through their “Roundup Rewards” program. This has extended the company’s grip on the glyphosate market, even after its patent expired in 2000.)*

The herbicide doesn’t destroy plants directly. It rather cooks up a unique perfect storm of conditions that revs up disease-causing organisms in the soil, and at the same time wipes out plant defenses against those diseases. The mechanisms are well-documented but rarely cited.

  1. The glyphosate molecule grabs vital nutrients and doesn’t let them go. This process is called chelation and was actually the original property for which glyphosate was patented in 1964. It was only 10 years later that it was patented as an herbicide. When applied to crops, it deprives them of vital minerals necessary for healthy plant function—especially for resisting serious soilborne diseases. The importance of minerals for protecting against disease is well established. In fact, mineral availability was the single most important measurement used by several famous plant breeders to identify disease-resistant varieties.
  2. Glyphosate annihilates beneficial soil organisms, such as Pseudomonas and Bacillus bacteria that live around the roots. Since they facilitate the uptake of plant nutrients and suppress disease-causing organisms, their untimely deaths means the plant gets even weaker and the pathogens even stronger.
  3. The herbicide can interfere with photosynthesis, reduce water use efficiency, lower lignin, damage and shorten root systems, cause plants to release important sugars, and change soil pH—all of which can negatively affect crop health.
  4. Glyphosate itself is slightly toxic to plants. It also breaks down slowly in soil to form another chemical called AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) which is also toxic. But even the combined toxic effects of glyphosate and AMPA are not sufficient on their own to kill plants. It has been demonstrated numerous times since 1984 that when glyphosate is applied in sterile soil, the plant may be slightly stunted, but it isn’t killed (see photo).
  5. The actual plant assassins, according to Purdue weed scientists and others, are severe disease-causing organisms present in almost all soils. Glyphosate dramatically promotes these, which in turn overrun the weakened crops with deadly infections.
Glyphosate with sterile soil (A) only stunts plant growth. In normal soil (B), pathogens kill the plant. Control (C) shows normal growth.

“This is the herbicidal mode of action of glyphosate,” says Don. “It increases susceptibility to disease, suppresses natural disease controls such as beneficial organisms, and promotes virulence of soilborne pathogens at the same time.” In fact, he points out that “If you apply certain fungicides to weeds, it destroys the herbicidal activity of glyphosate!”

By weakening plants and promoting disease, glyphosate opens the door for lots of problems in the field. According to Don, “There are more than 40 diseases of crop plants that are reported to increase with the use of glyphosate, and that number keeps growing as people recognize the association between glyphosate and disease.”

Roundup promotes human and animal toxins

Photo by Robert Kremer

Some of the fungi promoted by glyphosate produce dangerous toxins that can end up in food and feed. Sudden Death Syndrome, for example, is caused by the Fusarium fungus. USDA scientist Robert Kremer found a 500% increase in Fusarium root infection of Roundup Ready soybeans when glyphosate is applied (see photos and chart). Corn, wheat, and many other plants can also suffer from serious Fusarium-based diseases.

But Fusarium’s wrath is not limited to plants. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, toxins from Fusarium on various types of food crops have been associated with disease outbreaks throughout history. They’ve “been linked to the plague epidemics” of medieval Europe, “large-scale human toxicosis in Eastern Europe,” oesophageal cancer in southern Africa and parts of China, joint diseases in Asia and southern Africa, and a blood disorder in Russia. Fusarium toxins have also been shown to cause animal diseases and induce infertility.

As Roundup use rises, plant disease skyrockets

When Roundup Ready crops were introduced in 1996, Monsanto boldly claimed that herbicide use would drop as a result. It did—slightly—for three years. But over the next 10 years, it grew considerably. Total herbicide use in the US jumped by a whopping 383 million pounds in the 13 years after GMOs came on the scene. The greatest contributor is Roundup.

Over time, many types of weeds that would once keel over with just a tiny dose of Roundup now require heavier and heavier applications. Some are nearly invincible. In reality, these super-weeds are resistant not to the glyphosate itself, but to the soilborne pathogens that normally do the killing in Roundup sprayed fields.

Having hundreds of thousands of acres infested with weeds that resist plant disease and weed killer has been devastating to many US farmers, whose first response is to pour on more and more Roundup. Its use is now accelerating. Nearly half of the huge 13-year increase in herbicide use took place in just the last 2 years. This has serious implications.

As US farmers drench more than 135 million acres of Roundup Ready crops with Roundup, plant diseases are enjoying an unprecedented explosion across America’s most productive crop lands. Don rattles off a lengthy list of diseases that were once under effective management and control, but are now creating severe hardship. (The list includes SDS and Corynespora root rot of soybeans, citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC), Fusarium wilt of cotton, Verticillium wilt of potato, take-all root, crown, and stem blight of cereals, Fusarium root and crown rot, Fusarium head blight, Pythium root rot and damping off, Goss’ wilt of corn, and many more.)

In Brazil, the new “Mad Soy Disease” is ravaging huge tracts of soybean acreage. Although scientists have not yet determined its cause, Don points out that various symptoms resemble a rice disease (bakanae) which is caused by Fusarium.

Corn dies young

In recent years, corn plants and entire fields in the Midwest have been dying earlier and earlier due to various diseases. Seasoned and observant farmers say they’re never seen anything like it.

“A decade ago, corn plants remained green and healthy well into September,” says Bob Streit, an agronomist in Iowa. “But over the last three years, diseases have turned the plants yellow, then brown, about 8 to 10 days earlier each season. In 2010, yellowing started around July 7th and yield losses were devastating for many growers.”

Bob and other crop experts believe that the increased use of glyphosate is the primary contributor to this disease trend. It has already reduced corn yields significantly. “If the corn dies much earlier,” says Bob, “it might collapse the corn harvest in the US, and threaten the food chain that it supports.”

A question of bugs

In addition to promoting plant diseases, which is well-established, spraying Roundup might also promote insects. That’s because many bugs seek sick plants. Scientists point out that healthy plants produce nutrients in a form that many insects cannot assimilate. Thus, farmers around the world report less insect problems among high quality, nutrient-dense crops. Weaker plants, on the other hand, create insect smorgasbords. This suggests that plants ravaged with diseases promoted by glyphosate may also attract more insects, which in turn will increase the use of toxic pesticides. More study is needed to confirm this.

Roundup persists in the environment

Monsanto used to boast that Roundup is biodegradable, claiming that it breaks down quickly in the soil. But courts in the US and Europe disagreed and found them guilty of false advertising. In fact, Monsanto’s own test data revealed that only 2% of the product broke down after 28 days.

Whether glyphosate degrades in weeks, months, or years varies widely due to factors in the soil, including pH, clay , types of minerals, residues from Roundup Ready crops, and the presence of the specialized enzymes needed to break down the herbicide molecule. In some conditions, glyphosate can grab hold of soil nutrients and remain stable for long periods. One study showed that it took up to 22 years for glyphosate to degrade only half its volume! So much for trusting Monsanto’s product claims.


Glyphosate can attack from above and below. It can drift over from a neighbors farm and wreak havoc. And it can even be released from dying weeds, travel through the soil, and then be taken up by healthy crops.

The amount of glyphosate that can cause damage is tiny. European scientists demonstrated that less than half an ounce per acre inhibits the ability of plants to take up and transport essential micronutrients (see chart).

As a result, more and more farmers are finding that crops planted in years after Roundup is applied suffer from weakened defenses and increased soilborne diseases. The situation is getting worse for many reasons.

  1. The glyphosate concentration in the soil builds up season after season with each subsequent application.
  2. Glyphosate can also accumulate for 6-8 years inside perennial plants like alfalfa, which get sprayed over and over.
  3. Long-term Field 2.jpg
    Wheat affected after 10 years of glyphosate field applications.

    Glyphosate residues in the soil that become bound and immobilized can be reactivated by the application of phosphate fertilizers or through other methods. Potato growers in the West and Midwest, for example, have experienced severe losses from glyphosate that has been reactivated.

  4. Glyphosate can find its way onto farmland accidentally, through drifting spray, in contaminated water, and even through chicken manure!

Imagine the shock of farmers who spread chicken manure in their fields to add nutrients, but instead found that the glyphosate in the manure tied up nutrients in the soil, promoted plant disease, and killed off weeds or crops. Test results of the manure showed glyphosate/AMPA concentrations at a whopping 0.36-0.75 parts per million (ppm). The normal herbicidal rate of glyphosate is about 0.5 ppm/acre.

Manure from other animals may also be spreading the herbicide, since US livestock consume copious amounts of glyphosate—which accumulates in corn kernels and soybeans. If it isn’t found in livestock manure (or urine), that may be even worse. If glyphosate is not exiting the animal, it must be accumulating with every meal, ending up in our meat and possibly milk.

Add this threat to the already high glyphosate residues inside our own diets due to corn and soybeans, and we have yet another serious problem threatening our health. Glyphosate has been linked to sterility, hormone disruption, abnormal and lower sperm counts, miscarriages, placental cell death, birth defects, and cancer, to name a few. (See resource list on glyphosate health effects.)

Nutrient loss in humans and animals

The same nutrients that glyphosate chelates and deprives plants are also vital for human and animal health. These include iron, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, boron, and others. Deficiencies of these elements in our diets, alone or in combination, are known to interfere with vital enzyme systems and cause a long list of disorders and diseases.

Alzheimer’s, for example, is linked with reduced copper and magnesium. Don Huber points out that this disease has jumped 9000% since 1990.

Manganese, zinc, and copper are also vital for proper functioning of the SOD (superoxide dismustase) cycle. This is key for stemming inflammation and is an important component in detoxifying unwanted chemical compounds in humans and animals.

Glyphosate-induced mineral deficiencies can easily go unidentified and untreated. Even when laboratory tests are done, they can sometimes detect adequate mineral levels, but miss the fact that glyphosate has already rendered them unusable.

Glyphosate can tie up minerals for years and years, essentially removing them from the pool of nutrients available for plants, animals, and humans. If we combine the more than 135 million pounds of glyphosate-based herbicides applied in the US in 2010 with total applications over the past 30 years, we may have already eliminated millions of pounds of nutrients from our food supply.

This loss is something we simply can’t afford. We’re already suffering from progressive nutrient deprivation even without Roundup. In a UK study, for example, they found between 16-76% less nutrients in 1991, compared to levels in the same foods in 1940.

Livestock disease and mineral deficiency

Roundup Ready crops dominate US livestock feed. Soy and corn are most prevalent—93% of US soy and nearly 70% of corn are Roundup Ready. Animals are also fed derivatives of the other three Roundup Ready crops: canola, sugar beets, and cottonseed. Nutrient loss from glyphosate can therefore be severe.

This is especially true for manganese (Mn), which is not only chelated by glyphosate, but also reduced in Roundup Ready plants (see photo). One veterinarian finds low manganese in every livestock liver he measures. Another vet sent the liver of a stillborn calf out for testing. The lab report stated: No Detectible Levels of Manganese—in spite of the fact that the mineral was in adequate concentrations in his region. When that vet started adding manganese to the feed of a herd, disease rates dropped from a staggering 20% to less than ½%.

Veterinarians who started their practice after GMOs were introduced in 1996 might assume that many chronic or acute animal disorders are common and to be expected. But several older vets have stated flat out that animals have gotten much sicker since GMOs came on the scene. And when they switch livestock from GMO to non-GMO feed, the improvement in health is dramatic. Unfortunately, no one is tracking this, nor is anyone looking at the impacts of consuming milk and meat from GM-fed animals.

Alfalfa madness, brought to you by Monsanto and the USDA

As we continue to drench our fields with Roundup, the perfect storm gets bigger and bigger. Don asks the sobering question: “How much of the hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate that have been applied to our most productive farm soils over the past 30 years is still available to damage subsequent crops through its effects on nutrient availability, increased disease, or reduced nutrient of our food and feed?”

Instead of taking urgent steps to protect our land and food, the USDA just made plans to make things worse. In December they released their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Roundup Ready alfalfa, which Monsanto hopes to reintroduce to the market.

Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop in the US, grown on 22 million acres. It is used primarily as a high protein source to feed dairy cattle and other ruminant animals. At present, weeds are not a big deal for alfalfa. Only 7% of alfalfa acreage is ever sprayed with an herbicide of any kind. If Roundup Ready alfalfa is approved, however, herbicide use would jump to unprecedented levels, and the weed killer of choice would of course be Roundup.

Even without the application of glyphosate, the nutritional quality of Roundup Ready alfalfa will be less, since Roundup Ready crops, by their nature, have reduced mineral . When glyphosate is applied, nutrient quality suffers even more (see chart).

The chance that Roundup would increase soilborne diseases in alfalfa fields is a near certainty. In fact, Alfalfa may suffer more than other Roundup Ready crops. As a perennial, it can accumulate Roundup year after year. It is a deep-rooted plant, and glyphosate leaches into sub soils. And “Fusarium is a very serious pathogen of alfalfa,” says Don. “So too are Phytophthora and Pythium,” both of which are promoted by glyphosate. “Why would you even consider jeopardizing the productivity and nutrient quality of the third most valuable crop in the US?” he asks in frustration, “especially since we have no way of removing the gene once it is spread throughout the alfalfa gene pool.”

It’s already spreading. Monsanto had marketed Roundup Ready alfalfa for a year, until a federal court declared its approval to be illegal in 2007. They demanded that the USDA produce an EIS in order to account for possible environmental damage. But even with the seeds taken off the market, the RR alfalfa that had already been planted has been contaminating non-GMO varieties. Cal/West Seeds, for example, discovered that more than 12% of their seed lots tested positive for contamination in 2009, up from 3% in 2008.

In their EIS, the USDA does acknowledge that genetically modified alfalfa can contaminate organic and non-GMO alfalfa, and that this could create economic hardship. They are even considering the unprecedented step of placing restrictions on RR alfalfa seed fields, requiring isolation distances. Experience suggests that this will slow down, but not eliminate GMO contamination. Furthermore, studies confirm that genes do transfer from GM crops into soil and soil organisms, and can jump into fungus through cuts on the surface of GM plants. But the EIS does not adequately address these threats and their implications.

Instead, the USDA largely marches lock-step with the biotech industry and turns a blind eye to the widespread harm that Roundup is already inflicting. If they decide to approve Monsanto’s alfalfa, the USDA may ultimately be blamed for a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Please send a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging him not to approve Roundup Ready alfalfa, and to fully investigate the damage that Roundup and GMOs are already inflicting.

*The earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Monsanto requires farmers who buy Roundup Ready seeds to only use the company’s Roundup brand of glyphosate.

Wikileaks: US Should Retaliate Against EU for Genetically Modified Resistance

IRT NEWS TEAM UPDATE: Jeffrey Smith talks to Democracy Now! about the U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks which reveals that the Bush administration drew up ways to retaliate against Europe for refusing to use genetically modified seeds. Watch the interview.

2010-12-20-wikileaks.jpg“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU” [Emphasis added] –Recommendation by US Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton.

Wikileaked cables released over the weekend revealed more about the US’ role as a global bully, trying to thrust unpopular genetically modified (GM) crops onto cautious governments and their citizens. In a 2007 cable from Craig Stapleton, then US Ambassador to France, he encouraged the US government to “reinforce our negotiating position with the EU on agricultural biotechnology by publishing a retaliation list.” A list, he added, that “causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility.”

The stated reason for their attack was that “Europe is moving backwards not forwards” on GMOs, with “France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the [EU] Commission.” The Ambassador was concerned that France and others would put a ban on the cultivation of Monsanto’s GM corn seeds called Mon 810, engineered with a gene that produces a toxic insect-killing pesticide in every cell. Mon 810 is the first GM crop approved for planting EU-wide and has been a test case for biotech expansionism into the continent.

According to the cable, the Ambassador also rejected the France’s new “Grenelle” environment process, which looks beyond just the science of new technologies to also take into account “common interest.” Evidently a government that looks out for common interest is just too much for Ambassador Stapleton. He wrote, “Combined with the precautionary principle, this is a precedent with implications far beyond MON-810 BT corn cultivation.”

He was also upset about France’s draft biotech law that “would make farmers and seed companies legally liable for pollen drift.” This concept that the “polluter pays” is a foundational principle of US law–except for GMOs. Here Stapleton also wants France to give a free pass for Monsanto and the other GM seed companies.

The French government and EU Commission tried to placate the US suggesting that the rejections of Mon 810 “are only cultivation rather than import bans.” But Stapleton says, “We see the cultivation ban as a first step, at least by anti-GMO advocates, who will move next to ban or further restrict imports.”

The ambassador fails to point out that a de facto ban of GM ingredients in food has been in place since 1999, not by the government, but by the food industry. They have kept GMOs out of their products due to widespread consumer concern about the health effects. Since foods containing GMOs must be labeled in Europe, companies always source non-GMO food to avoid that label.

The exception is animal feed. EU law does not require meat or other animal products to label whether GMOs were fed to the animals. This loophole has allowed lots of US- and Brazil-grown GMO animal feed to be shipped to Europe. According to the cable, “The [French] environment minister’s top aide told us that people have a right not to buy meat raised on biotech feed.” Offering consumers a choice on GMOs is not on the US government agenda.

Ambassador Stapleton had been a co-owner with George W. Bush of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Once Bush was in office, Stapleton became US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and then in France. His pro-GMO stance was in-line with the Bush administration, which used a WTO lawsuit to try to force Europe to accept GMOs.

Stapleton’s tone in the letter was insistent. “We should not be prepared to cede on cultivation because of our considerable planting seed business in Europe.”

He said, “Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices. In fact, the pro-biotech side in France — including within the farm union — have told us retaliation is the only way to begin to begin to turn this issue in France.”

Update:

  • France banned Mon 810 in early 2008. Several other EU nations have also banned it.
  • In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine stated that animal feeding studies on GMOs showed significant health disorders. They called on the US government to institute an immediate moratorium, and asked all doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets in the meantime.
  • This year, the major French retailer Carefour introduced a new “Reared without GMOs” label for meat raised on non-GMO feed.
  • The Non-GMO Shopping Guide released in the US lists thousands of products that do not use GM ingredients, either directly or via animal feed.

Obama’s Team Includes Dangerous Biotech “Yes Men”

Biotech “Yes Men” on Obama’s team threaten to expand the use of dangerous genetically modified (GM) foods in our diets. Instead of giving us change and hope, they may prolong the hypnotic “group think” that has been institutionalized over three previous administrations—where critical analysis was abandoned in favor of irrational devotion to this risky new technology.

Clinton’s agriculture secretary Dan Glickman saw it first hand:

“It was almost immoral to say that [biotechnology] wasn’t good, because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. . . . If you’re against it, you’re Luddites, you’re stupid. That, frankly, was the side our government was on. . . . You felt like you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view”

When Glickman dared to question the lax regulations on GM food, he said he “got slapped around a little bit by not only the industry, but also some of the people even in the administration.”

By shutting open-minds and slapping dissent, deceptive myths about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) persist.

  • The industry boasts that GMOs reduce herbicide use; USDA data show that the opposite is true.
  • We hear that GMOs increase yield and farmer profit; but USDA and independent studies show an average reduction in yield and no improved bottom line for farmers.
  • George H. W. Bush fast-tracked GMOs to increase US exports; now the government spends an additional $3-$5 billion per year to prop up prices of the GM crops no one wants.
  • Advocates continue to repeat that GMOs are needed to feed the world; now the prestigious International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development has joined a long list of experts who flatly reject GMOs as the answer to hunger.

Food Safety Lies

Of all the myths about GMOs, the most dangerous is that they are safe. This formed the hollow basis of the FDA’s 1992 GMO policy, which stated:

“The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”

The sentence is complete fiction. At the time it was written, there was overwhelming consensus among the FDA’s own scientists that GM foods were substantially different, and could create unpredictable, unsafe, and hard-to-detect allergens, toxins, diseases, and nutritional problems. They had urged the political appointees in charge to require long-term safety studies, including human studies, to protect the public.

Their concerns stayed hidden until 1999, when 44,000 pages of internal FDA memos and reports were made public due to a lawsuit. According to public interest attorney Steven Druker, the documents showed how their warnings and “references to the unintended negative effects” of genetic engineering “were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement,” in spite of scientists’ protests.

“What has happened to the scientific elements of this document?” wrote FDA microbiologist Louis Pribyl, after reviewing the latest rewrite of the policy. “It will look like and probably be just a political document. . . . It reads very pro-industry, especially in the area of unintended effects.”

Who flooded the market with dangerous GMOs

Thanks to the FDA’s “promote biotech” policy, perilously few safety studies and investigations have been conducted on GMOs. Those that have, including two government studies from Austria and Italy published just last month, demonstrate that the concerns by FDA scientists should have been heeded. GMOs have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions in humans, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. GMOs are unsafe.

At the highest level, the responsibility for this disregard of science and consumer safety lies with the first Bush White House, which had ordered the FDA to promote the biotechnology industry and get GM foods on the market quickly. To accomplish this White House directive, the FDA created a position for Michael Taylor. As the FDA’s new Deputy Commissioner of Policy, he oversaw the creation of GMO policy.

Taylor was formerly the outside attorney for the biotech giant Monsanto, and later became their vice president. He had also been the counsel for the International Food Biotechnology Council (IFBC), for whom he drafted a model of government policy designed to rush GMOs onto the market with no significant regulations. The final FDA policy that he oversaw, which did not require any safety tests or labeling, closely resembled the model he had drafted for the IFBC.

Michael Taylor is on the Obama transition team.

Genetically engineered bovine growth hormone and unhealthy milk

Taylor was also in charge when the FDA approved Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH or rbST). Dairy products from treated cows contain more pus, more antibiotics, more growth hormone, and more IGF-1—a powerful hormone linked to cancer and increased incidence of fraternal twins (see www.YourMilkonDrugs.com.) The growth hormone is banned in most industrialized nations, including Canada, the EU, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. But under Michael Taylor, it was approved in the US, without labeling.

As more and more consumers here learn about the health risks of the drug, they shift their purchases to brands that voluntarily label their products as not using rbGH. Consumer rejection of rbGH hit a tipping point a couple of years ago, and since then it has been kicked out of milk from Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Kroger, Subway, and at least 40 of the top 100 dairies. In 2007, Monsanto desperately tried to reverse the trend by asking the FDA and FTC to make it illegal for dairies to label their products as free from rbGH. Both agencies flatly refused the company’s request.

But Monsanto turned to an ally, Dennis Wolff, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture. Wolff used his position to single-handedly declare rbGH-free labels illegal in his state. Such a policy would make it impossible for national dairy brands to declare their products rbGH-free, since they couldn’t change packaging just for Pennsylvania. Wolff’s audacious move so infuriated citizens around the nation, the outpouring caused the governor to step in and stop the prohibition before it took effect.

Dennis Wolff, according to unbossed.com, is being considered for Obama’s USDA Secretary.

Although Pennsylvania did not ultimately ban rbGH-free labels, they did decide to require companies who use the labels to also include a disclaimer sentence on the package, stating that the according to the FDA there is no difference between milk from cows treated with rbGH and those not treated. In reality, this sentence contradicts the FDA’s own scientists. (Is this sounding all too familiar?) Even according to Monsanto’s own studies, milk from treated cows has more pus, antibiotics, bovine growth hormone, and IGF-1. Blatantly ignoring the data, a top FDA bureaucrat wrote a “white paper” urging companies that labeled products as rbGH-free to also use that disclaimer on their packaging. The bureaucrat was Michael Taylor.

Betting on biotech is “Bad-idea virus”

For several years, politicians around the US were offering money and tax-breaks to bring biotech companies into their city or state. But according to Joseph Cortright, an Oregon economist who co-wrote a 2004 report on this trend, “This notion that you lure biotech to your community to save its economy is laughable. This is a bad-idea virus that has swept through governors, mayors and economic development officials.” He said it “remains a money-losing, niche industry.”

One politician who caught a bad case of the bad-idea virus was Tom Vilsack, Iowa’s governor from 1998-2006. He was co-creator and chair of the Governors’ Biotechnology Partnership in 2000 and in 2001 the Biotech Industry Organization named him BIO Governor of the Year.

Tom Vilsack was considered a front runner for Obama’s USDA secretary. Perhaps the outcry prompted by Vilsack’s biotech connections was the reason for his name being withdrawn.

Change, Truth, Hope

I don’t know Barack Obama’s position on GMOs. According to a November 23rd Des Moines Register article, “Obama, like Bush, may be Ag biotech ally”, there are clues that he has not been able to see past the biotech lobbyist’s full court spin.

- His top scientific advisers during the campaign included Sharon Long, a former board member of the biotech giant Monsanto Co., and Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate who co-chaired a key study of genetically engineered crops by the National Academy of Sciences back in 2000.
- [Obama] said biotech crops “have provided enormous benefits” to farmers and expressed confidence “that we can continue to modify plants safely.”

On the other hand, Obama may have a sense how pathetic US GMO regulations are, since he indicated that he wants “stringent tests for environmental and health effects” and “stronger regulatory oversight guided by the best available scientific advice.”

There is, however, one unambiguous and clear promise that separates Obama from his Bush and Clinton predecessors.

President Obama will require mandatory labeling of GMOs.

Favored by 9 out of 10 Americans, labeling is long overdue and is certainly cause for celebration.

(I am told that now Michael Taylor also favors both mandatory labeling and testing of GMOs. Good going Michael; but your timing is a bit off.)

Please sign a petition asking President Obama to make his GMO labeling plan comprehensive and meaningful.