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.

New Years Inspirational Message

THINK HUGE. Thinking “Big” is so last century

This is the need of the time. HUGE thinking. Life is not content anymore with mere bigness. The demand today is far greater.

Every quarter of our precious world is calling to us. So many threats to our planet, to our food, to our life. Countless species teetering. Future generations line up outside our door to see if we will answer.

We have no instruction manual, no role model or reference point in our long history to tell us what to do.

Nevertheless we say Yes! We cast aside small cramped thinking and leap into that greater role that has been waiting to serve us.

Then comes magic.

As we outstretch our arms to hold the HUGENESS of the world, we at once become held by it. As we seek to lead, we are mysteriously guided. As we draw out the depths of our energy and courage, we become lifted by a greater power, imbued with wisdom and patience.

What seemed insurmountable becomes inevitable.

What seemed oppressive becomes our honor and privilege to unwind.

And our lives, which appeared to us as mere waves, become the ocean.

It’s time to THINK HUGE. Grace will follow.

Are you a GMO Dragon Slayer?

Are you a GMO Dragon Slayer? You remember those heroic stories of dragon slayers where the hero was able to vanquish the beast by targeting the one vulnerable spot in its armor? Well, I believe that we are modern dragon slayers and our dragon is GMOs. I know we can vanquish the GMO dragon if we target its most vulnerable spot — consumer rejection.The non-GMO movement is more fired up in the US than ever before. We have had unprecedented news coverage, high-profile court victories, thousands more products boasting non-GMO labels, and millions of people avoiding GMOs. The signs of a coming tipping point are here.
In January of 1999, GM advocates arrogantly predicted that within just five years they would replace 95% of the world’s commercial seeds with GMOs. But within four months, the tipping point of consumer rejection by Europeans was achieved, and the food companies there committed to stop using GM ingredients.Although this derailed their timetable, it hasn’t stopped the biotech industry from pursuing their ultimate goal — a takeover of the world’s food supply. As they’ve raced to push GMOs into more types of food, our movement has worked to fend off each new attempt, stopping GM rice, wheat, and eggplant; creating GM-free zones; winning court cases against GM alfalfa and sugar beets; kicking out GM bovine growth hormone from most dairies; and much more.Now we’re at a critical crossroads in the US. The biotech industry is pushing hard to re-introduce GM alfalfa, to resuscitate GM sugar beets, and to feed us all GM fish. They are lobbying again to promote GM wheat and rice, and they have hundreds of other GM foods ready and waiting in laboratories. They want to put their plans of replacing nature back on track.

Someone overheard an executive at a recent biotech conference say, “The one person we really have to do something about is that Jeffrey Smith.”

Why would they be worried about little ol’ me? Because it’s not really me they’re concerned about, it’s us — and the tipping point against GMOs that we are going to collectively achieve.

We are preparing bold new dragon-slaying actions for 2011, but need your help.

Please invest in a non-GMO future.

The leverage of your donation is simply enormous.

Click here to donate now.

Our collective work to stop GMOs ultimately influences every person on earth, the entire ecosystem, and all future generations. We have a lot on the line.

Help us slay the GMO Dragon by donating at this important time.

Thank you for making your donation today!

Best Wishes and Happy New Year!

Jeffrey Smith

 

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GE Salmon? Are You Out of Your Minds?!

No Frankenfish! Act Now

To help stop GE salmon, please sign petitions to the food industry and Congress.

Has the FDA gone completely mad? Why are they trying to open the flood gates to genetically engineered (GE) salmon—a move that will go down in history as one of the most asinine and dangerous ever made by our government? What’s it going to take for them to actually start protecting public health?

Frankenfish can promote disease

The FDA is reviewing data submitted by AquaBounty, the company that spliced a growth hormone gene into Atlantic salmon, forcing it to grow up to five times faster, and reach market size in about 18 months instead of 3 years. But according to the evidence, their buff salmon might have higher levels of a cancer promoting hormone IGF-1, more antibiotics, and more of a potentially life-threatening allergen(s).

The FDA failed to learn their lesson with their idiotic approval of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. It also has higher levels of IGF-1 and more antibiotics. Now it’s condemned by the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association, banned in most other countries, and has been banished by most US dairies. Even Wal-Mart won’t allow the stuff into their milk.

The GE soy and corn on the market, which the FDA continues to pretend is just the same as the natural stuff, also has higher levels of allergens, and has been linked to numerous disorders. Now the American Academy of Environmental Medicine condemned genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and urged all physicians to prescribe non-GMO diets. “GMO-Free” is one of the fastest growing health claims among US brands for the past two years, and a tipping point of consumer rejection of all GE ingredients appears to be just over the horizon.

Then there is the threat of Frankenfish escaping into the wild. Here too, the FDA ignores the lessons from GE crops which, in spite of early assurances to the contrary, have been contaminating non-GE crops and wild relatives all over the world for more than a decade. Their self-propagating genetic pollution is irreversible; it can outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. But somehow escaped GE salmon carry an even greater hazard.

Frankenfish can wipe out natural salmon

According to a Purdue University computer model that tracked the effects of releasing just 60 Frankenfish (not salmon) into a population of 60,000, there was a shocking complete extinction in just 40 fish generations. Apparently their bigger size, which attracted mates more easily, combined with a slight reduction in survival rates, was a killer combination.

Canadian scientists engineered their own set of fast growing salmon and tested their behavior in tanks with other fish. When there was sufficient food, all was fine. When food stocks decreased, the Frankenfish freaked. They became cannibals, attacking and killing other fish—whether GE or natural. Their unexpected behavior resulted in population crashes or complete extinctions in the fish tanks. The study also suggested that if released, these ravenous aggressive salmon would pursue and consume other types of fish.

I’m not sure which scenario is worse: The complete extinction of salmon, or gangs of voracious mutant freaks scouring the ocean, attacking anything that can feed their rapidly-expanding, always-hungry bodies. (Heck, let’s just give the fish automatic weapons.)

Never mind that the GE AquAdvantage salmon are supposed to be grown in inland tanks and are supposed to be sterile. In reality, they won’t all be sterile; and there are numerous ways that these salmon, whose eggs will regularly be shipped from Prince Edward Island, Canada to growing tanks in Panama, can escape into the ocean. It only takes one!

Corporate interests and politics run the FDA show

US consumers have been clear for years that we don’t want Frankenfish, Frankenpigs, Frankenmosquitoes, Frankenanything that walks, flies, slithers, or swims. And most Americans are now uneasy about the Frankencrops already growing in our fields. So who is clamoring for GE salmon? Who’s getting the FDA to push open the doors to GE animals against public opinion?

Thank you Union of Concerned Scientists for the answer. Your September 12th survey of 1710 FDA employees explains who is really driving the bus at the agency. One staff member said, “Food safety has succumbed to the higher priority of global corporate profits.” In fact, 38 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “public health has been harmed by agency practices that defer to business interests.”

Another employee points to political interference: “I have been here for 26 years and it still amazes me . . . how politics filter down to the lowest levels of government.”

So its corporate profits and politics. Anyone surprised? About 1 in 4 surveyed admit that they had personally experienced, either frequently or occasionally, “situations where corporate interests [or members of Congress, or special interests] have forced the withdrawal or significant modification of [an agency] policy or action designed to protect consumers or public health.”

If there is one face that best captures the FDA’s conflict-of-humanity’s-interest, it would be Michael Taylor. Taylor is the US Food Safety Czar. You’d think that if there were significant safety concerns about the GE salmon, our Czar would step in to preserve and protect. Don’t count on it.

Back when the first Bush White House had instructed the FDA to promote biotechnology, the agency created a special position for Taylor to be in charge. He had been the outside attorney for biotech giant Monsanto, where he had dreamed up a regulatory facade that would allow GMOs to be brought to market with maximum speed and minimum oversight. Then he took a position with the FDA where he could apparently implement it himself. His GMO policy falsely claimed that the agency was unaware of information showing GM foods to be different. On that basis, no testing or labeling was required. Years later, 44,000 documents made public from a lawsuit revealed that the consensus among FDA’s own scientists was that GM foods were unsafe, and should be carefully tested for allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems.

Soon after leaving the FDA, Michael Taylor went to work as Monsanto’s vice president.

So the person who lied about GMO safety to push them on the market now sits above the folks that are looking at GE Salmon. Not a comforting thought.

Stacking the deck for approving salmon

How else does corporate influence play out in the current FDA debacle?

Consider Alison L. Van Eenennaam. She too used to work for Monsanto, and now has been added as a temporary voting member on the committee that advises the FDA about the salmon. She also advises the USDA and promotes GE animals on Youtube.

Kevin G. Wells was also added as a temporary voting member for salmon. He works at Revivicor, a company that genetically engineers pigs. Do you suppose there is any conflict of interest for him establishing an easy ride for GE animal approvals? Perhaps.

Gregory Jaffe was also imported into the committee as their supposed consumer advocate. In reality, he is with the pro-GMO Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an organization that consistently ignores the mounting evidence of adverse health impacts from GE crops. Jaffe even filed a complaint to the FDA in 2001 complaining of companies that label their products as non-GMO. What further qualified Jaffe for his committee position was his published article Questions About Genetically Engineered Animals, where he touts the environmental benefits of AquAdvantage salmon.

The engineered bias of the FDA advisory committee is made even more clear by who is absent. There are no experts on allergies or hormones who can address the possible health damaging effects of the fish, and no fish ecologists who can figure out whether our grandchildren will live in a world without wild salmon.

Institutionalized stupidity

But even before the committee was picked, the deck was stacked in favor of approvals. In 2008, the Bush administration rolled out a policy in which GE animals would be approved as if they were animal drugs. This latest square peg is part of a continuing effort to regulate GMOs without asking Congress to pass any new laws. So, since 1992, the government has been jerry-rigging inadequate pre-existing laws to handle the unique and complex safety and environmental considerations of genetically engineered organisms.

Even if GE animals weren’t infinitely more complex than some drug compound, using the FDA drug approval process shouldn’t give us great confidence. Between 1976 and 1985, for example, more than half of their drug approvals turned out to have lethal or serious side effects, forcing withdrawal or added label warnings. Try conducting a recall of GE salmon from the ocean.

Failing grades all around

Even with stacked committee membership, an antiquated approval policy, and an agency that is officially mandated to promote biotechnology, the Frankenfish did not swim past the advisory committee on September 19th and 20th. That’s because the committee agreed with safety experts like Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union (they publish Consumer Reports) that the evidence presented by AquaBounty was abysmal and insufficient. Using a sample size of only 6 fish, employing insensitive detection methods that could easily miss cancer-promoting hormones or allergens, and testing fish that were raised in a completely different climate than what is planned, were among the sloppy science that the FDA had accepted. (See addendum below for examples.)

In fact the only person on the committee who had any experience with fish, Gary Thorgaard, completely disagreed with the FDA’s conclusion that the Frankenfish didn’t threaten the environment. He called for a full Environmental Impact Statement.

Hansen says, “The data and analysis of food safety risks from the AquAdvantage Salmon are so sloppy and inadequate that, if this were an undergraduate paper, it would get a failing grade.  No self-respecting scientist could conclude that these data demonstrate that AquAdvantage salmon are safe to eat.”

Thus, in spite of the fact that the company had been submitting data to the FDA for more than ten years, the advisory committee concluded that the evidence was insufficient to conclude that GE salmon was safe for the environment and for human health. They told AquaBounty to go back and to do more testing.

I propose a different recommendation. This little exercise made it perfectly clear that AquaBounty is either completely incompetent to evaluate the safety of their own creation, or they’re intentionally hiding evidence. In either case, let’s not send the same folks back to do more research, hoping they’ll get it right. Instead, tell these jokers that they have proved to the world that they are never ever ever to be trusted with the future of salmon or the safety of the human food supply.

And what about the FDA—the brain cell behind the Don’t-ask-don’t-tell food safety assessments? They have again demonstrated that they too are not competent to protect the public from the unique unpredictable dangers of genetically engineered foods.

If you want to GE salmon stopped for good, now is the time to raise your voice. Since the FDA has been ignoring US citizens in favor of business interests and politics, please join me in inviting the food industry and Congress to stop in and stop this madness. Go to our action alert pages to sign the petitions today.

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Addendum: How Not to Do a Food Safety Assessment

The FDA’s evaluation of GE salmon is the first of its kind. Because it will set a precedent for all future GE animal approvals, the bar should be set very high. According to Dr. Michael Hansen, who testified at the FDA advisory committee meeting on behalf of Consumers Union, the FDA set the bar a foot off the ground.

When AquaBounty looked for potentially dangerous growth hormones in the salmon, for example, they used a detection method so insensitive, it couldn’t find any hormones in any fish. The FDA therefore concluded that there was no relevant difference in hormone levels in GE salmon. Dr. Hansen told the committee, “This would be like the police using a radar gun that cannot detect speeds below 120 mph and concluding that there is no ‘relevant difference’ in the speed of cars versus bicycles.”

Because the company also used an insensitive test to measure cancer-promoting insulin-like growth hormone factor one (IGF-1), levels were detected in only a few fish. Of these, the GE salmon was 40% higher. Again, insufficient data combined with faulty reasoning allowed the FDA to conclude that IGF-1 from GE salmon is not a problem.

Even then, these test results were not from the type of GE salmon that the company plans to market. Instead, the tests were conducted on the GE salmon variety that will produce the fish eggs in Canada. The DNA of these “egg-layers” have the normal two sets of chromosomes (diploid). The GE salmon to be grown from their eggs in Panama, however, end up with three sets of chromosomes (triploid)—so that most will be sterile. It’s the Panama-grown triploid variety that will go onto our dinner table if the FDA has their way. So what was the response by the FDA and AquaBounty when asked for the IGF-1 levels of the actual fish (raised in the actual conditions) that people would actually eat? “Well…er….uhm…we’ll get back to you.”

The situation with allergies is worse. According to Hansen, the tests conducted by AquaBounty confirmed that “the act of genetic engineering did lead to an increase in allergenic potency.” In fact, when the flesh from egg-laying (diploid) fish was exposed to the blood (sera) of people who are allergic to salmon, there was a whopping 52% increase in reaction levels. Furthermore, the specific allergen that had increased in the Frankenfish was not supposed to be affected. It did not come from the inserted gene. Rather, the increase in this potentially life-threatening allergen was just one of the unpredictable side-effects that can result from the process of genetic engineering itself.

The FDA decided this time to ignore this troublesome finding, since it was from the egg-laying diploids. The company did test the allergic reaction to the triploids (the ones we’ll eat), but used fish that were raised in Canada, not Panama. This should have disqualified the fish study, according to Hansen, since the composition of GE salmon can obviously be affected by water temperature, and growing conditions. Still, the Canadian raised Frankenfish still elicited an allergic response level that was 20% higher than normal salmon. But the FDA dismissed this figure since it was not statistically significant and concluded that the GE salmon was safe to eat. But of course it wasn’t statistically significant. They used just six fish in the sample size! The easiest way to prevent statistical significance is by using a pathetically small number of subjects in your experiment. Hansen said:

“To base a conclusion of no additional risk on exactly six engineered fish, when those data themselves suggest a possible problem, is not responsible science or responsible risk assessment. FDA owes it to the thousands of Americans who are allergic to finfish to demand more data on the allergenicity of these engineered salmon from AquaBounty.”

Thank you Dr. Hansen for helping to protect us from the bungling Frankenfish promoters. Let’s hope they will listen.

Don’t forget to sign the petitions to the food industry and Congress.

International bestselling author and filmmaker Jeffrey M. Smith is the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology. His first book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, is the world’s bestselling and #1 rated book on GMOs. His second, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, documents 65 health risks of the GM foods Americans eat every day. Both are distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing. To help you choose healthier, non-GMO brands, use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.