Wednesday, December 28, 2016


This is Big

Corn kernels

One of the biggest scams Monsanto perpetrated against consumers was getting its GMO crops declared “substantially equivalent” to non-GMO crops—a coup that allowed the biotech industry to unleash GMOs into the food system with no independent pre-market safety testing.

First, a little history on substantial equivalence:

The concept of ‘Substantial Equivalence’ was first introduced in 1993 by the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), an international economic and trade organisation, not a public health body. The principle states that if a new food is found to be substantially equivalent to an already existing food product, it can be treated the same way as the existing product with respect to safety. This concept has greatly benefited the trade of GM produce, allowing it to effectively bypass regulatory requirements that would apply to novel food and other products including novel chemical compounds, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, all of which require a range of toxicological tests and can be subject to legal limitations on safe consumption/intake.

Independent (as in not on the biotech industry’s payroll) scientists who have previously argued that GMO foods are not substantially equivalent to non-GMO foods have been dissed and discredited by Monsanto.

Now there’s a new peer-reviewed study led by Dr. Michael Antoniou at King’s College London, that once again suggests that GMO foods—at least a specific variety of Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready GMO corn—are nowhere near to being “equivalent” to non-GMO foods.

And what makes this Roundup-Ready corn “different,” say the authors of the most recent study, has serious implications for your health.

Read ‘New Study Shows Major Molecular Differences between GMO and Non-GMO Corn’

Read the study



GIPSA Rules, Designed to Protect Farmers, Released by USDA After 95-Year Wait

On December 14, 2016, 95 years after Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act - a law designed to end abusive practices in the meatpacking industry - the USDA has released a set of rules that will finally make key parts of the law enforceable. The three rules published, one interim final rule and two proposed rules, will provide protections against unfair, abusive and anticompetitive practices for contract farmers working in the poultry and livestock industry.

A System that Hurts Farmers

One of the proposed rules will address issues related to the tournament pricing system used in poultry industry by meatpackers to control contract farmers and pay them unfairly. Even though contract farmers are often promised a minimum base pay by the meatpackers that they have contracts with, the farmers often find that their income actually depends on how big their chickens are in relation chickens raised by other farmers. Theoretically this system is supposed to create competition between farmers and incentivize them to raise the biggest, healthiest birds, but in reality the system is used to reward some farmers and punish others that speak out against the system - a system that ends up entirely benefitting the meatpacking industry and hurting the farmers.
According to Christopher Leonard's 2014 book The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business, there's no price or contract transparency in the tournament system, and meatpackers use it to turn farmers against one another. It's also common for producers performing in the lower half of the tournament to lose their contracts after three or four consecutive low rankings. The first proposed rule will help stop some of the worst aspects of this tournament system by identifying and stopping retaliatory practices against farmers like giving them sick chicks to raise or low quality food to use on their farms.
The second proposed rule defines criteria for what would amount to unjustified preference for one farmer over another, and it also defines unfair practices against farmers. However, under the rule, meat and poultry companies will reserve the right to claim a reasonable business justification for their actions in the case that a complaint is brought against them.
The interim final rule will affirmatively establish the USDA's long time position that it is not necessary for a farmer to demonstrate that an unfair practice harms the entire livestock market to prove a violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Such overly broad interpretations have put family farmers at a disadvantage for decades when pursuing their rights under the Act.
All three rules are subject to a 60 day public comment period that will begin as soon as the rules are published in the Federal Register.

What is GIPSA?

The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) is the US Department of Agriculture's agency that markets livestock, poultry, meat, cereals, oilseeds and related agricultural products, and promotes fair and competitive trading practices for the overall benefit of consumers and American agriculture.
GIPSA's Packers and Stockyards Program (P&SP) promotes fair business practices and competitive environments to market livestock, meat and poultry. The P&SP evolved from the Packers and Stockyards Administration, which was established in 1921 under the Packers and Stockyards Act. The organization was founded to regulate livestock marketing activities at public stockyards and the operations of meat packers and live poultry dealers. Through its oversight activities, including monitoring programs, reviews and investigations, P&SP fosters fair competition, provides payment protection and guards against deceptive and fraudulent trade practices that affect the movement and price of meat animals and their products. P&SP's work protects consumers and members of the livestock, meat and poultry industries.

Why Is Enforcing GIPSA Rules Important for Farmers?

Since the 1970s, the meatpacking industry has consolidated and vertically integrated rapidly as small firms have left the industry. In the beef, pork and poultry industries, the top four companies control 85, 74 and 50 percent of the markets respectively. Today, the slaughterhouses that are left are in the hands of just a few corporations who often own not only the meat processing facility but also many of the chickens and hogs they're slaughtering through unfair contract agreements with livestock and poultry producers. Greater consolidation in the meat industry means more power for the handful of meat packers left, which allows companies to charge whatever price they want for meat, eating away at farmers' incomes and hurting rural economies.
In response to this problem, Congress, as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, directed USDA to write rules to enforce key provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act, a 1921 law designed to prohibit meat packers from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices, manipulating prices, creating a monopoly or illegally conspiring. The Act also forbids stockyards from dealing in the livestock they handled. In 2010, the USDA issued proposed rules to help the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) enforce the law, and since that time, lobbyists from big meat and poultry corporations have kept the rules tied up through legislative riders to the annual agriculture appropriations bills.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


What To Do About GMOs in the Trump Era

GMOs - take action
A special guest post from Institute for Responsible Technology founder Jeffrey Smith
Editors note: The vast majority of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified (GMOs). Monsanto and its allies claim that GMO crops reduce pesticide useincrease yields, reduce water consumption, and offer foods that are more tasty and more nutritious. But in the nearly 25 years since GM crops first came on the market, studies have found that they have led to higher pesticide use, and no meaningful improvement in flavornutritionyield or water consumption. Instead, what they’ve created are plants that are engineered to withstand massive dosing of toxic herbicides, and plants that function as living pesticide factories. Monsanto’s Bt. corn, for example, is actually registered with the EPA as a pesticide. Many credible scientists have significant concerns about the safety of these crops for human and animal consumption. And the environmental impacts are documented, and alarming.
Perhaps you, like I, had high hopes for a more enlightened approach to GMOs when President Obama came into office. During his 2008 campaign, he had publicly called for labeling and good science. And boy did we need good science, especially when it came to informing US policy makers.
During the Reagan years, Vice President George HW Bush visited Monsanto headquarters and was recorded on video offering them help with getting their products through the government. “We’re in the de-reg business,” he told them.
When he became president, we realized the extent to which that was true. His Vice President, Dan Quayle, was put in charge of a high-level Competitiveness Council, charged with reducing US export deficits. For some reason, they believed that introducing GMOs would increase US exports and US domination in the trade of food. So on May 26th, 1992, in the Indian Treaty room in the White House, Vice President Quayle announced that they would avoid the unnecessary regulations and treat GMOs just like other foods. Three days later, the FDA policy was unveiled, claiming that “the agency is not aware of any information showing that the foods created by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” On that basis, not a single safety study was required, and GMOs could go on the market without any labeling requirement.
Years later, when 44,000 FDA documents were forced to the public domain because of a lawsuit spearheaded by Steven Druker and the Alliance for Bio integrity, we learned that the entire policy was based on a fraudulent premise. Not only had the scientists working at the FDA come to a very different conclusion, warning about unique health dangers and recommending extensive tests, but the person in charge of GMO policy at the FDA was Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, and later their vice president.
The Clinton administration continued to cheerlead for Monsanto. Dan Glickman, the administration’s Secretary of agriculture, took a road trip trying to convince Europeans to accept American GMO exports. At one point, Glickman veered from his prepared script and indicated that he thought GMOs should be labeled. He later commented, “when I opened my mouth in the Clinton administration I got slapped around a little bit by not only the industry, but also some of the people even in the administration.” He even wondered if he might get fired. A revealing quote from Glickman, which probably applies to all of the administrations so far, is worth a read:
“What I saw generically on the pro-biotech side was the attitude that the technology was good and that it was almost immoral to say that it wasn’t good because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. And there was a lot of money that had been invested in this, and if you’re against it, you’re Luddites, you’re stupid. There was rhetoric like that even here in this department. You felt like you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view on some of the issues being raised. So I pretty much spouted the rhetoric that everybody else around here spouted; it was written into my speeches.”
Europe didn’t accept Glickman’s pitch on GMOs, but the pressure on other countries was stepped up during the George W. Bush years. The State Department took the lead, and, based on extensive exposés by WikiLeaks, we now know that they were in many ways functioning as a marketing arm for Monsanto and the biotech industry. They promoted pro-biotech speeches, media coverage, training, and pressure around the world.
Did all this change with Obama? Actually, if anything it may have gotten worse. The State Department’s promotion of GMOs picked up, Obama walked back on his campaign promise to implement GMO labeling, and, in fact, he reappointed Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s VP, as the US Food Czar.
He also placed former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as Secretary of agriculture. Vilsack had previously been the biotech Governor of the Year. Numerous other appointees were taken from the biotech industry or their lobbyists. And when it came to GMO policy, their position was even more extreme.
The USDA chose to use a very narrow definition of its regulatory scope and jurisdiction over GMOs, and thereby allow now a whole class of GMOs to be deployed without any consideration or oversight by the government. They have allowed the industry to do their own environmental assessments. They approved genetically modified salmon (not yet commercialized). The FDA gave the green light to genetically engineered mosquitoes. And in spite of papers written by their own scientists in the USDA and EPA pointing out that the regulation was insufficient to guard against the potential dangers, the administration approved apples and potatoes equipped with double stranded RNA (dsRNA) technology. Some experts fear that this technology may have the capacity to reprogram the DNA of those of us who consume it.
We don’t know much about incoming President Trump’s opinion of GMOs. We do know that he doesn’t support labeling foods made with GMOs. And judging from his agribusiness-friendly cabinet appointments, we anticipate that his administration will continue if not expand on decades of US policy promoting the use of biotechnology in agriculture.
Trump has also tapped Congressman Mike Pompeo to be the head of the CIA. Pompeo was Monsanto’s man on the Hill. He authored what became known as the DARK (Deny Americans’ Right to Know) act. With labeling laws enacted by Vermont, and just barely defeated in statewide votes in California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, the biotech industry was desperate to eliminate states’ rights for labeling of GMOs. That’s where the DARK act came in. Eventually also passed by the Senate and made into law, the “DARK Act” eliminates the ability for states to require labeling of GMOs. It gives the appearance of providing its own labeling requirement, but a careful review of the wording demonstrates that it could easily be interpreted by Trump administration to be nothing more than a “voluntary” measure that essentially lets the industrialized food industry do as it pleases.
With labeling largely off the table, and a history of all recent presidential administrations marching in lockstep with the biotech industry, what should the strategy be in the Trump era? For those of us who want safe food, and who don’t want to see Monsanto and the biotech industry dominate our agricultural systems or our dinner plates – what’s next?
I’ve been at the forefront of the movement for responsible technology for nearly two decades, and I learned a long time ago that politics is not stable. This was clearly illustrated some years ago when the Polish government flew me over to give a press conference with the minister of environment. I praised the country’s strong non-GMO position. One week later, that government was voted out of office and a more pro-GMO government took its place.
While in Bangkok, I forwarded materials to the government just before they voted to prevent all GMO field trials in the country. One week later, a new government took over, and reversed the decision – allowing field trials on government land.
In addition to being unstable, the policy of a government is often irrelevant to the actual GMO situation on the ground. For example, few people realize that the European Commission is actually pro-GMO, as is the European Food Safety Authority. There is no law prohibiting the import of genetically engineered foods into the European Union. However, many European food companies refuse to use products that contain GMOs. These companies committed long ago to consumers that they would not use GMOs because there was a general sense among European consumers that GMOs were not safe.
You can trace this back to 1999, when over 700 articles were written in just one month in the UK alone about GMOs. The firestorm followed the lifting of the gag order on a scientist, Arpad Pusztai, who had quite accidentally discovered that GMOs might be dangerous. His highly provocative research had led him to the conclusion that GMO crops may have been responsible for massive damage to the health of rats in just 10 days.
Within 10 weeks of the gag order being lifted, on April 27, 1999, Unilever publicly committed to stop using GMOs in its European brands. The next day Nestlé’s followed suit. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the food industry capitulated — in Europe.
But Project Censored described the whole Pusztai affair as one of the 10 most underreported events of the year in United States. The US mainstream media left most Americans in the dark, and the same companies that removed GMOs for Europeans continued to feed the Americans the stuff that our friends overseas had rejected.
Keenly aware that in the world of GMOs, the customer is King (and more often Queen) the strategy we have undertaken at the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) has been to affect the market through behavior-change messaging.
It’s working!
Depending on which survey you read, the average American now has concerns about the health dangers of GMOs. This has initiated a corresponding cleanout of GMOs by the food industry starting with the natural products sector, and now extending to mainstream food products.
Nestlé’s advertises on television that its coffee creamer is non-GMO. Dannon that its animal feed for dairy cows will be non-GMO within three years. Chipotle has non-GMO signs in their restaurants. Non-GMO Project Verified is the fastest growing label in the natural products industry, representing $19.2 billion in annual sales and more than 39,000 verified products.
And nearly every major food company has products or even product lines that are non-GMO or about to be.
Millions of moms shop supermarket aisles looking for non-GMO and organic products. Social media circulates stories of dramatic health recoveries following the switch to organic and non-GMO. And thousands of patients all over the US are being instructed by their physicians to make the change.
I truly believe that a tipping point is underway in the United States. But so too is the well-organized pushback by the biotech industry. Calling in all their favors, Monsanto’s minions have inspired headlines and even front-page coverage in NewsweekNational Geographic, and many other news outlets. Even a cursory analysis of the arguments reveal that they are often simply the circulation of promotional rhetoric that has been shown to be vacant time and time again. For example, we continue to hear claims repeated that GMOs increase yields, reduce pesticides, and provide more healthful foods, even though each of these points has been authoritatively disproven.
At this point in time, it is my belief that the way we can be most effective in standing for safe and responsible GMO policy is to continue to move the marketplace. As in Europe, that will be the stable basis for a safe, non-GMO food supply.
At the Institute for Responsible Technology, this will be our 2017 strategy:
  1. Finish the tipping point for direct ingredients of GMOs, focusing primarily on moms. Also reach out to those suffering from the diseases (and those who treat them) that we believe are linked to GMOs (and the Roundup weed killer sprayed on most GMO plants).
  2. Implement a strategy to extend the tipping point to include animal feed, which is actually where the majority of GMO crops are being consumed.
  3. Export the successful model used in United States around the world, to generate a global tipping point. Our food supply is global. GMOs anywhere on the planet can spread both in the food supply, and potentially the environment — irreversibly.
If you’d like to make a tax-deductible contribution to this global effort, which we believe will produce powerful behavior-change campaigns in the US and around the world, and will help secure a non-GMO food supply for this and future generations, click here to make a contribution now.
Step-by-step, we’ll keep standing for and working for a safe and healthy food supply for all. Thanks for your partnership in this food revolution.
Safe eating.

Friday, December 23, 2016


Let’s Stop the Manipulation of Science

Around a hundred scientists ask Europe and the international community to act against endocrine disrupting chemicals. They condemn the use of strategies for manufacturing doubt employed by industries in the climate change battle.

LE MONDE |  • Mis à jour le 

For decades now, science has come under attack whenever its discoveries raised questions about commercial activities and vested interests. Scientific evidence has been willfully distorted by individuals denying the science and actors sponsored by industry interests creating the false impression of a controversy. This manufacturing of doubt has delayed protective actions, with dangerous consequences for the health of people and the environment.
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The “manufacturers of doubt” work across several areas, including the tobacco and petrochemical industries, and the agro-chemical sector. The petrochemical industry alone is the source of thousands of toxic chemicals and contributes to the massive increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide that drives climate change.

The battle for climate protection entered a new era with the 2015 Paris Agreement, bitterly opposed by skeptics despite widespread consensus among climate scientists committed to working for the public interest. A similar battle is raging over the need to reduce exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals. The European Commission is about to implement the first regulation for endocrine disruptors in the world. While many other governments have also expressed concern about endocrine disruptors, regulations for these chemicals are missing altogether.

What are the objectives and new requirements of ISO 14001:2015? Get your organization informed and trained to be ready for the transition.

Never before have we faced a higher burden of hormonal diseases, such as cancers of the breast, testes, ovaries and prostate, compromised brain development, diabetes, obesity, non-descending testes, malformations of the penis, and poor semen quality. The overwhelming majority of scientists actively engaged in researching the causes of these worrying health trends agree that several factors are involved, among them chemicals capable of interfering with our hormone systems.

Several learned scientific societies have pointed out that these chemicals, called endocrine disruptors, pose a global health threat. Among them are flame retardants in furniture and electronic equipment, plasticisers in plastic items and in personal care products, and pesticides found as residues in our food. They can interfere with normal hormones during critical periods of development, in pregnancy or in puberty, when our bodies are particularly sensitive.

It is not possible to deal with this growing disease burden by providing better medical treatments, partly because there is no treatment, partly because the health effects are irreparable. We also have limited options to reduce our personal exposures by avoiding certain consumer items. Most endocrine disruptors reach our bodies via food that is contaminated with these chemicals.

A key option for stemming the rise of hormonal diseases is by preventing chemical exposures through more effective regulation. But plans to draw up such regulations in the European Union (EU) are opposed vigorously by scientists with strong links to industrial interests, leading to the appearance of a lack of scientific consensus where no scientific controversy exists. The same strategy was used by the tobacco industry, and it has contaminated the debate, confused the public and undermined efforts by politicians and decision makers to develop and adopt more effective regulations.

Both the debates on climate change and endocrine disruptors have suffered from the distortion of the evidence by industrially sponsored actors.

Many scientists believe that their objectivity and neutrality might be undermined if we publicly express views on political issues and engage in political debates. It would indeed be worrying if any of our political opinions clouded our scientific judgment. But it is those who deny the science who are allowing their politics to cloud their judgment. The result is irreparable harm. The obfuscation of science regarding tobacco cost tens of millions of lives. We should not make this same mistake again.

We believe it is no longer acceptable to remain silent. As scientists we have an obligation to participate in the debate and to inform the public.

We see it as our responsibility to express the implications of our work for society and for future generations and to draw attention to the serious risks we face. The stakes are high, and political action to stem exposures to endocrine disruptors and to the consequences of greenhouse gases emissions is urgently needed.

As endocrine disruption and climate change scientists we have joined forces because many of the actions needed to reduce the burden of endocrine disruptors will also help in the fight against climate change. Most man-made chemicals are derived from fossil fuel by-products manufactured by the petrochemical industry. In reducing the amounts of oil refining we will also diminish the production of by-products that drive plastics and plasticizers. These chemicals compromise male reproductive health and contribute to cancer risks. By reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and encouraging alternative energies we will not only drive down greenhouse gases but also restrict the emissions of mercury. Mercury is a contaminant of coal and, through emissions into the air and accumulation in fish, reaches our bodies and compromises brain development.

Although many governments have expressed the political will to deal with greenhouse gases, the translation of scientific knowledge about climate change into effective policy has been blocked, in part through the use of disinformation to confuse the public and our leaders. Governments are already late.

It is important that we do not repeat these mistakes for endocrine disruptors, and learn from the experiences of climate scientists and the public health community.

The European Commission has the opportunity to decide on regulatory instruments for endocrine disruptors that will set new standards worldwide and protect us from ill-effects. However, we are concerned that the regulatory options proposed by the European Commission fall well short of what is needed to protect us and future generations. They set a level of proof for the identification of endocrine disruptors much higher than for other hazardous substances, such as cancer-causing substances – in practice, this will make it very difficult for any substance to be recognized as an endocrine disruptor in the EU.

Urgent action in both policy areas is needed. We therefore call for the development and implementation of effective measures that address both endocrine disrupting chemicals and climate change in a coordinated fashion. An effective way of achieving this would be by creating an organization within the United Nations with the same international standing and charge as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This body would review the science to be used by decision makers in the public interest and would protect our science from the influence of vested interests.

We owe this to the generations that have to live in the future.

The primatory signatories of this article are : Andreas Kortenkamp, Brunel University (UK); Barbara Demeneix, CNRS/Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (France); Rémy Slama, Inserm, University Grenoble-Alpes (France); Edouard Bard, Collège de France (France); Ake Bergman, Swetox Research Center (Sweden); Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University (USA); Philippe Grandjean, Harvard Chan School of Public Health (USA); Michael Mann, Penn State University (USA); John P. Myers, Carnegie Mellon University (USA); Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University, Cambridge (USA); Eric Rignot, University of California (USA); Niels Eric Skakkebaek, Rigshospitalet (Denmark); Thomas Stocker, University of Bern (Switzerland); Kevin Trenberth, National Centre for Atmospheric Research (USA); Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium); Carl Wunsch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA); R. Thomas Zoeller, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (USA).
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Sunday, December 18, 2016


We've Been Sold a Lie for Two Decades About Genetically Engineered Foods

Monday, 05 December 2016 10:44By Reynard LokiAlterNet | News Analysis
(Photo: Unsplash)(Photo: Unsplash)
Editor's note from AlterNet: The terms GE (genetic engineering) and GMO (genetically modified organism) are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are different. GMOs, which are produced when plant breeders select genetic traits that may also occur naturally, have been around for centuries. Common examples are seedless watermelons and modern broccoli. The subject of much recent debate are GE foods, which have only been around in recent decades and are produced by transferring genes between organisms. The resulting GE organisms -- either plant-, or in the case of GE salmon, animal-based -- would not otherwise occur in nature. This article is about GE foods.
In 1994, a tomato known as Flavr Savr became the first commercially grown genetically engineered food to be granted a license for human consumption. Scientists at the California-based company Calgene (which was scooped up by Monsanto a few years later) added a specific gene to a conventional tomato that interfered with the plant's production of a particular enzyme, making it more resistant to rotting. The tomato was given the all-clear by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Since then, both the United States and Canada have embraced the genetic engineering of food crops, while Europe has broadly rejected the use of such technology. Only five EU nations -- the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain -- grow GE crops, and in such minor amounts that all five countries make up less than 0.1 percent of GE cultivation worldwide.
It appears Europe has been right all along to renounce GE crops. An in-depth examination recently published by the New York Times found that GE crops have largely failed to achieve two of the technology's primary objectives: to increase crop yields and decrease pesticide use. Pesticides in particular have come under increasing fire in recent years, not only for their negative impact on human health and wildlife, but for decimating populations of key food crop pollinators; specifically bees, which we rely on to pollinate a third of food crops.
While consumer awareness of the effects of pesticides has grown, the ongoing battle over GE crops has largely zeroed in on whether or not such foods are safe to consume. But as Times investigative reporter Danny Hakim points out in his article about the paper's analysis, "the debate has missed a more basic problem" -- that GE crops have "not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides."
Analyzing academic and industry research, as well as independent data, the Times compared results on the two continents and found that the "United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields -- food per acre -- when measured against Western Europe." The paper also cited a recent National Academy of Sciences report that found "little evidence that the introduction of GE crops were resulting in more rapid yearly increases in on-farm crop yields in the United States than had been seen prior to the use of GE crops."
New York Times: Behind the Times?
For many farmers, researchers and activists, the Times' conclusion was not news. Ronnie Cummins, co-founder of Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Minnesota, told AlterNet that the paper's analysis simply "confirms what many of the world's best scientists have said for years: GE crops have benefitted no one except the corporations selling the chemicals required to grow them."
"I'm glad that the New York Times has now discovered what those of us in agriculture have known for 20 years, that the old and exaggerated claims of genetic engineering by Monsanto and their allies are bogus," Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer, told AlterNet. "They have not panned out and I'm glad that now the newspaper of record has made this clear to a lot of people." Gerritsen and his wife Megan have owned and run Wood Prairie Family Farm in northern Maine for 40 years. "A lot of us have been saying this for a long time," he said.
While it may not be news for those working toward a more sustainable food system, the Times story was unexpected. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, an environmental nonprofit based in Washington, DC, told AlterNet that the Times piece is "a surprising ray of light illuminating the longstanding GE crops debate." He said that the paper "for so many years had ignored the science about genetic engineering and bought the Big Lie" that Monsanto and its cohorts have been telling the public for so long: "that GE crops 'reduce pesticide use, increase yield and are key to feeding the world.'"
Seeing Through Monsanto's Propaganda
These recent findings fly in the face of Monsanto's stated claim that "the introduction of GM traits through biotechnology has led to increased yields." But the company is sticking to its guns. When shown the Times' findings, Robert T. Fraley, the company's chief technology officer, claimed the paper had selectively chosen the data in its analysis to put the industry in a bad light. "Every farmer is a smart businessperson, and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don't think it provides a major benefit," said Fraley. "Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously."
On its website, Monsanto backs its claim by citing statistics reported by PG Economics, a UK-based agricultural industry consultancy. However, that firm that has been exposed as a corporate shill by, a UK-based nonprofit that tracks deceptive PR practices. PG Economics has been commissioned to write reports on behalf of industry lobby groups whose members include the Big Six agrichemical giants: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Syngenta.
"Most of the yield advancement since GE crops were first commercialized is attributable to traditional breeding techniques, not the GE traits," Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Wisconsin, told AlterNet. Kastel, who worked for several agribusiness giants including International Harvester, J.I. Case and FMC before making what he calls the "paradigm shift to sustainable farming," said that since GE crops were introduced in the US, farmers have experienced boom-and-bust cycles and today are "generally hurting," regardless of the scale of their farming operations. "GE crops have not been a panacea for economic sustainability," he said.
Instead, GE crops have been a source of financial growth for the agrichemical industry. Kimbrell said that the Big Six "make tens of billions of dollars in profits by selling ever more pesticides, especially herbicides. Why would they spend hundreds of millions of research dollars and then billions in advertising and lobbying to promote crops that actually 'reduce pesticides' and thereby destroy their bottom line? Are these companies committing economic suicide in an altruistic attempt to feed the world? Obviously not. You can accuse Monsanto of many things, including myriad corporate crimes over many decades, but altruism is not one of them. The vast majority of [genetically engineered crops] are not designed to decrease herbicide use, but to massively increase it."
A Toxic Plague
The Times' Hakim notes that, according to US Geological Survey data, while insecticide use has actually fallen by a third since GE crops were introduced in the US in the mid-'90s, herbicide use has exploded, growing by more than a fifth over that same period. French farmers, by contrast, have been able to reduce insecticide use by a far greater margin -- 65 percent -- while decreasing herbicide use by more than a third. "Although some insecticide use has been reduced, overall agrochemical applications have grown exponentially," said Kastel. 
American tomatoes may take longer to rot than their conventionally grown European counterparts. But with GE tomatoes being one of the most pesticide-contaminated foods in the US food supply -- not to mention the fact they won't feed more people (there'll be a staggering 8.5 billion of us by 2030, 11.2 billion by 2100) -- the Flavr Savr is just a trick, and perhaps ultimately a dangerous one. While the real toll of industrialized GE agriculture on human and environmental health is hard to calculate, its track record is dismal. By some estimates, pesticides have killed an estimated 250 million bees in a just a few years. The Times reported that some commercial beekeepers have lost more than a third of their bees in 2013. Pesticides have also impacted populations of fish, amphibians and songbirds.
But it's not just wildlife that suffers. The general public is ingesting pesticides on a regular basis. Kastel notes that "eaters are consuming copious amounts of biological insecticides built into the genome of corn," adding that "the cumulative health impacts are unknown." People who live near GE crops have to contend with an additional health impact: pesticide drift, agrichemicals blown into their communities by the wind.
The heavy reliance on pesticides has started a vicious cycle, leading to the rise of pesticide-resistant superweeds. "Weeds and insects are becoming resistant to the herbicides and genetic insecticides that are spliced into the plants," said Gerritsen. "To combat resistance, some farmers are using a chemical cocktail of multiple herbicides while biotech companies are introducing resistance to even more powerful and toxic chemicals." He estimates there may be 60 to 80 million acres of farmland in the US with "superweeds" that have built up a resistance to RoundUp. Cummins said superweed resistance has forced farmers to "use higher and higher amounts of increasingly dangerous poisons" so that "soils are eroded and degraded. Water is polluted. Foods are contaminated. And to what end?"
It may take years, even decades to fully understand the unintended consequences of industrialized agriculture. "These chemicals are largely unknown," David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, told the New York Times. His research has linked the loss of millions of IQ points among children 5 years old and younger in the US to a single class of insecticides. "We do natural experiments on a population," he said, referring to human exposure to agrichemicals, "and wait until it shows up as bad."
Activists of the World, Unite
Hakim also points out that "profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades," noting that anti-GE sentiment across the pond has been much more active, with Monsanto drawing the ire of thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, as GE opposition is firmly established as a primary plank of Europe's Green political movement.
The prospect of a Monsanto-Bayer merger has only galvanized the opposition in Europe, even as activists recognize new and different kinds of challenges ahead. Jan Perhke of the Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers, a German NGO, says that Bayer's diversification has made it a more difficult target than Monsanto, whose business is simple: GE seeds and pesticides. Monsanto, which has emerged as the primary worldwide target of the anti-GE movement, has been steeped in controversy recently, particularly since RoundUp's main ingredient glyphosate was deemed a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization in 2015.
"We have tried to put the focus not only on Monsanto, and to let people know that behind Monsanto there are many agrochemical multinationals which are very big and also have very dangerous products," Perhke told DW. There has been speculation that, if the merger goes through, Bayer will drop the Monsanto name, which would force activists to rebrand their campaigns.
Many anti-GE activists can be found in Vermont, the first state to pass GMO-labeling legislation. In its 2016 report "Vermont's GMO Addiction: Pesticides, Polluted Water, and Climate Destruction," the nonprofit group Regeneration Vermont describes the terrible impact chemical-based industrial agriculture has had on the state's economy and environment:
The true nature of GMO agriculture in Vermont today is a stark and dangerous difference from the promises of its corporate advocates. According to data collected by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, pesticide use is up 39% and increasing rapidly while, at the same time, new pesticides are being added to the arsenal. Climate-threatening nitrogen fertilizers have been up about 17% per year in the decade of GMO's rise to dominance (2002-2012) and climbing as our denuded soils require more and more inputs for high production. And the pollution to our climate, water and soil from these increases continues to rise, keeping us on a steady degenerative decline, environmentally, economically and culturally.
Lining Corporate Coffers
"The great economic promise of genetically engineered crops has flowed primarily to bankers, suppliers and the biotechnology industry," said Kastel. "Rather than improving the bottom line, it enabled farmers to grow larger and automate crop production with fewer people involved."
The agrichemical industry is the chief beneficiary of those economic benefits. Over the past 15 years, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto and Syngenta have grown more than sixfold. And these companies are profiting on both ends. "They sell the seeds and the poisons sprayed on those seeds. Great for their bottom line, terrible for the rest of us and the planet," said Kimbrell. "For Monsanto and the other chemical companies, genetically engineering crops is just another way to significantly increase profits." If the mergers of Monsanto and Bayer on one side, and Syngenta and ChemChina, a Chinese state-owned agrichemical company, on the other, were to go through, the two newly created behemoths would each have combined values in excess of $100 billion.
Meanwhile, bees are dying in worrisome numbers, in part due to the increased use of neonicotinoids, a dangerous class of pesticides produced by Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical and commonly used on GE corn, soybean, canola and cereal, as well as many fruits and vegetables. But because bees work for free, the estimated $15 billion in ecosystem services they provide to society each year is not included in economic calculations.
Is It Too Late?
Even as crop yields have shown no improvement versus conventional methods, US growers have increased their use of herbicides as they have converted key crops -- including cotton, corn and soybean -- to modified varieties. Meanwhile, American farmers have been overtaken by their counterparts in France, Europe's biggest agricultural producer, in the overall reduction of pesticides.
Is it too late for the US and Canada to get off this ruinous track of industrialized agriculture? For advocates of sustainable agriculture, regenerative agriculture and agroecology -- who seek to place farming within the context of natural ecosystems as opposed to objects of chemical-based production -- the answer is a resounding no.
"Research has shown that agroecologically based methods -- such as organic fertilizers, crop rotation and cover crops -- can succeed in meeting our food needs while avoiding the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture," argues the Union for Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "As farmers incorporate these practices into their work, many benefits emerge: Less pollution. Healthier, more fertile soil that is less vulnerable to drought and flooding. A lighter impact on surrounding ecosystems, resulting in greater biodiversity. Reduced global warming impact. Less antibiotic and pesticide resistance."
In fact, a 2015 global study conducted by researchers at Washington State University and published in the peer-reviewed Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences found that despite lower yields, the profit margins for organic agriculture are significantly greater than conventional agriculture. Part of that increased profit margin may come from not having to pay a premium for Big Ag's seeds and pesticides.
"Why would a farmer want to pay a premium for RoundUp Ready soybeans if the RoundUp is no longer working?" Gerritsen says. "What has been happening, widespread, is that farmers are going back to non-GE soybeans and growing them as they did before the RoundUp Ready soybeans came in 20 years ago. Then, the best among them have figured out that there is a growing market worldwide for a non-GMO soybeans." He notes that some US farmers raising conventionally grown, non-GMO soybeans have found competitive markets in Asia, where they receive a premium for their produce. An added benefit for these farmers is that they can save their seeds instead of having to buy them each season from Monsanto, which actually leases its seeds and regulates them as intellectual property. For thousands of years prior, seeds were considered a part of the wealth of the commons, free and available to anyone who planted and grew crops.
But moving from industrial agriculture to organic farming isn't easy, especially when the transition period to get organic certification exposes growers to financial risk. The authors of the Washington State University study say that the impetus for change must come from policymakers, who should "develop government policies that support conventional farmers converting to organic and other sustainable systems, especially during the transition period," a 36-month withdrawal period from the time a farmer last used an unapproved material, like a pesticide.
But considering the powerful Big Ag lobby, getting policymakers to help farmers move to organic is a daunting task. Gerritsen acknowledges that "it's hard to out-gun the tremendous resources of Monsanto and what basically amounts to a calculated propaganda effort to misrepresent reality, to gain position and dominance." He says the deck is stacked against farmers. "Sadly, this is nothing new to agriculture. The history of agriculture is one where farmers who were spread out and independent by nature and by geography have a hard time competing with the concentrated power structures within agriculture. This has gone on for 150 years. Only now, the accelerated rates of concentration is no more stark than in the seed industry. Just a small handful of companies now control the vast majority of world seed resources. Monsanto is chief among them."
If regulators approve the $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger, the resulting corporation would have control of nearly a third of the world's seed market and nearly a fourth of the pesticide market.
"In all probability, one story, albeit a major one, is probably not enough to finally debunk Monsanto and friends' Big Lie about GE crop technology," Andrew Kimbrell said about the Times' analysis. "You will probably continue to see the common sense-defying claims for a while yet. But if as the ancients said, the truth is like a lion; just let it loose. Then maybe we can finally go past the already failed but still dangerous GE experiment and move to an ecological agriculture that really will reduce and eventually eliminate pesticides and provide a secure sustainable food future for us all."
Whether or not the US and Canada will move toward a more sustainable agricultural model remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: The 20-year-old experiment with genetically engineered crops has proven to be a false promise, suggesting that the creation of completely new organisms is better left in the hands of Mother Nature, not scientists in laboratories.
"When you begin to genetically engineer organisms by mixing plant and animal genes, you now have the ability to alter ecosystems, which can have unintended consequences," Robert Colangelo, founding farmer and CEO of Green Sense Farms, America's largest network of commercial and sustainable indoor vertical farms, told AlterNet. "Mankind does not have a good track record when it tries to alter nature."
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