Tuesday, April 15, 2014


   April 14, 2014

Image courtesy of Organic Consumers

Moderator’s Note: Since 1992, when I joined the Board of Directors of the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG),[1] I have carefully monitored scientific developments related to the predictive ecology and public health and environmental health impacts of transgenic technologies.  Throughout this period, there have been very few moments when former or current EPA, USDA, or FDA scientists served as ‘whistleblowers’ on  the dismal and ultimately unscientific processes these federal agencies rely on to review and approve GMO crops.
Yesterday was one of those profound moments when a former EPA biosafety scientist by the name of Ramon J. Seidler revealed that scientists – including government employees – have long had multiple problems with GMOs. Dr. Seidler is a professor of microbiology and a retired senior scientist and team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency’s biosafety program.
This is dramatic news and comes in the midst of a gathering in Jackson County, Oregon addressing a countywide ban on the planting of GMO seed beets and seed grasses by Monsanto and Syngenta. The May 20 ballot is a pivotal moment in the struggle against GMOs in the Pacific Northwest and comes as Monsanto and its allies continue to pressure Congress to pass legislation banning state-level labeling laws requiring identification of GMO crops and processed food ingredients.

Just this past Thursday, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) introduced legislation to the House for a Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 (a.k.a. HR 4432) The industry-supported legislation would “amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to food produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism, the labeling of natural foods…”

The Jackson County election could become a vital turning point in the strategy of the nonGMO and pro-sustainable and organic farming communities because it seeks to address the production of GMO seed rather than the consumption of GMO foods. This shifts the focus from the equally important right of the consumer to know their food through labeling to the establishment of GMO-free farming communities inside zones designed to protect key bioregions involved in the invaluable production of heirloom native and naturalized gene lines for all commercial food, fodder, turf, orchard, and bramble cultivars.

In an article dated April 13, 2014 and appearing in the Ashland, Oregon-based newspaper, Daily Tribune, Dr. Seidler punctures holes in nearly every major industry-articulated argument made in defense of GMOs. For example, the former EPA scientist affirms what a growing number of scientists have been arguing for decades – including CRG and more recently the Center for Food Safety and the Biosafety Alliance – that GMO crops do not have a significant increased yield compared to conventional nonGMO or organic crops.

Another key point made by Dr. Seidler is that the patenting system that undergirds the development of GMO technology actually “stifles research” which contradicts biotechnology industry claims that patents are necessary to conduct research and promote innovation. I have been making this same argument in this blog since 2006 and the most significant research I believe is being stifled is related to the development of the agroecology paradigm. But Dr. Seidler declares that he is “…deeply troubled to report that promises of patent enforcement by American agrichemical seed companies have prevented U.S. scientists from researching what some exclaim are ‘problems’ associated with GMO crops.” In other words, agrichemical seed companies are using patents to block research on environmental risks, productivity, and public health.

There are several other important rebuttals offered by Dr. Seidler but these two points  should suffice to retract the unwise, unscientific, and highly politicized federal and state governmental support for transgenic technologies. As Seidler notes, quoting the chief technology officer for Monsanto, “American farmers are smart and wouldn’t adapt a technology that didn’t have tangible benefits.” And so, what? The USDA, a veritable subsidiary of Monsanto et al., went ahead and promoted the technology anyway despite scientists’ warnings to governmental authorities during both Republican and Democratic administrations since the 1990s.
The writing is now more clearly on the wall: Monsanto seems desperate and dead in the water. Since August 2013, hedge fund managers and even some Monsanto executives have dumped the company’s stock.  Other large institutional investors are under increasing pressure to divest from Monsanto, Syngenta, and other biotech stocks and these trends will likely increase as transgenic technology failures become the focus of attention in the socially responsible investment community.
The principal reason for these corporate troubles is the persistent record of failure of transgenic and post-transgenic technologies (i.e., RNA interference). The same will happen with the upcoming replacements for glyphosate and Bt Cry protein applications. These ‘second generation’ stacked-traits transgenic crops are touted as a movement toward a futuristic sustainable agriculture but instead constitute a perverse back-to-the-future nightmare scenario: The second gen transgenic technologies involve returning to older and even more deadly biocides like the case of a new genetically engineered (GE) soybean crop called FG72 produced by Bayer CropScience that will be paired with Isoxaflutole (isox), a pesticide the EPA classified as a human carcinogen in 1998 (see our post of September 5, 2013).
This is the same pesticide that Syngenta proposes for use on their U.S. soybeans. Dr. Seidler also reports “scientists predict…isox use will greatly accelerate and…become one of the new controversial poisons used on our foods.” He wonders “if Syngenta will conduct exploratory experiments [in Jackson County, Oregon] with sugarbeets using isox or 2,4-D.” Syngenta currently uses land in Jackson County to produce glyphosate-resistant seeds for Midwest sugarbeet plantations.
The EPA, USDA, and FDA – all with somewhat overlapping and contradictory regulatory processes – are captive to serving these narrow corporate interests with their constant need to amplify and modify the scientific, legal, and political economic frameworks that prevent scientists from the conduct of accurate and independent (preferably professional third party) verification of all relevant cumulative risk and environmental justice impacts of GMO crops including all new pending transgenic and post-transgenic technologies.
As a service to our readers, we are reposting Ramon J. Seidler’s article. The original source is here: The Ashland Tribune.

Image courtesy of Our Family Farms Coalition
Scientists find multiple problems with GMOs

Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D. |  Jackson County, Oregon | April 13, 2014

“GMO seeds have not been shown to definitively increase yield potentials” and “in fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties.”
A February 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture report declared what many scientists already knew: There are no significant differences in yields of GMO and non-GMO crops. When asked about the USDA report, the chief technology officer for Monsanto declared, “American farmers are smart and wouldn’t adapt a technology that didn’t have tangible benefits.”
Are the USDA and scientists around the world wrong in their conclusion about failure to yield? No.
Agroeconomists have shown repeatedly that the best-yielding, most-affordable crop varieties, to “feed the world”, are those derived from conventional non-GMO hybrids (U.N Commission on Trade and Development).
Furthermore, CNBC’s chief news correspondent, Mark Koba, quoted Mark Spitznagel, the chief investment officer of a billion-dollar investment firm, as saying GMOs are “distorting the natural process and will eventually lead to ruin,” and, “Agriculture is heading for a wall.”
Patented GMO crops stifle research
As a lifelong scientist, I am deeply troubled to report that promises of patent enforcement by American agrichemical seed companies have prevented U.S. scientists from researching what some exclaim are “problems” associated with GMO crops. We will not know the facts as long as the seeds and plants that we, our children, pets and livestock consume are not made available for conducting long-term, controlled experiments.
Norwegian scientists recently detected Roundup in 10 of 10 farms using genetically engineered soybeans. We had to also learn from these Norwegian (not American) scientists that the nutritional composition of soybeans grown on 31 Ohio farms differed depending upon the type of farm management system employed. Soybeans harvested from organic farms had higher concentrations of protein and essential amino acids, and higher concentrations of two minerals, and no Roundup residues (Food Chem. 2014).
Now we know from the scientific literature that the same concentrations of Roundup residues in soybeans is sufficient in laboratory assays to: induce hormone disruptions during frog development (mixed-sex frogs); kill young trout and tadpoles; stop the growth of earthworms in soil; inhibit activities of beneficial soil and human gut bacteria; and stimulate the growth of human breast-cancer cells assayed under laboratory conditions.
Toxin-resistant corn rootworm outbreaks are plaguing at least five Midwest corn-growing states, and the problems are related to failures in GMO management techniques (Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences, March 2014). An entomology professor from Cornell stated resistance problems could have been resolved sooner if Monsanto had allowed American scientists access to investigate and confirm the presence of the toxin-resistant insects (http://wrd.cm/1qogw9e).
A premier seed-growing location
Syngenta, a foreign corporation, is here in Jackson County producing Roundup-resistant seeds for Midwest sugarbeet plantations. The history of this agrochemical corporation goes deep to the first productions of DDT, 2,4-D, and manufacture of the controversial herbicide, Atrazine. This history seems consistent with the recent announcement that Syngenta will use a probable carcinogen, isoxaflutole (isox) initially on their U.S. soybeans. Scientists predict that isox use will greatly accelerate and will soon become one of the new controversial poisons used on our foods. One can only wonder if Syngenta will conduct exploratory experiments locally with sugarbeets using isox or 2,4-D.
More secrecy
Unfortunately, seed buyers have canceled local Swiss chard contracts because of the likelihood of cross-pollination by sugar beets. Sugar beet pollen travels two to four miles (Beta Seed Company, Oregon) and cross-pollination is likely with chard because GMO farms are usually secretly located. Syngenta contributes little to the local economy, while closing down business opportunities of permanent, local, tax-paying American farmers. Since glyphosate is already in our urine, air and rain, it was frightening to learn one of the known Syngenta crop farms is situated in proximity to two of Ashland’s schools.
I, personally, resent this intrusion since my stepdaughter is a student at this school. She doesn’t have the opportunity to know when the Roundup-containing hormone disruptor(s) will be flying through the air and be inhaled by young, developing students. Residents can take control of these insensitive practices by voting yes on 15-119 to return local control to where it belongs, here in Jackson County, not in Salem, not in Washington, D.C., and certainly not in Switzerland.
Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., of Ashland, is a professor of microbiology and a retired senior scientist and team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency’s biosafety program.

[1] Disclaimer: I served on the Board of Directors of the CRG between 1992-2002.

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