The Case Against Monsanto Extended

    The way food is produced and consumed encompasses a kaleidoscope of environmental, ethical, economic, and health rights issues.  Each one of these issues cannot be taken as separate but instead must be seen as part of the bigger picture; indeed, our consumption of food and support of particular production systems speaks to a larger socio-geographical order.  What effect do we want food to have on our bodies?  How much information are producers obliged to share with consumers on their product?  Unfortunately not all systems of food production are equal. 

      When we buy a new car or piece of electronics, with the help of the internet, most of us research every element of the item.  How long will it last?  Is it worth the money?  What kind of quality picture will it take?  If I buy a cheap car, will I have to put more time and money into its maintenance later?  Where was it built?  Yet so many of these questions are not asked around the topic of food production despite their vital importance to our most valued piece of equipment: our bodies.   Lack of public concern coupled with asymmetrical power structures can have, and have had, disastrous effects.  This is nowhere more obvious than in the case of Genetically Modified Organisms in our Food Supply and their marketing by Monsanto.

      Though Monsanto started out as a chemical engineering company, it has become most well known for its production of Roundup, a commercial herbicide.  Roundup is a highly economical and powerful weed suppressant, killing all plants –weeds or crops – in its path.  In order to produce crops resistant to Roundup, Monsanto has created Round-up Ready soybeans, a Genetically Modified seed spliced with genes from other creatures to produce resistance.  Other Genetically Modified (GM) foods produced by the company include Corn, Cottonseed Oil, Potatoes, Canola (Rapeseed), Sugarbeet, Rice, and more. 1 

What’s wrong with GMOs?  

      The largest problem with GMO crops is that, aside from the information we do know, there is so much we don’t know about their effects.  This is because we are in the middle of an experiment that will not be finished for a few decades, and we as consumers are being used as test subjects.  Disease such as Mad Cow Disease can remain dormant in humans for up to thirty years.  The time of production of many GMO crops was in the late 1990’s, so we are still in an incubation period. 

Milk

      Injections of rBGH increase another hormone, called IGF-1, in the cow and the cow’s milk. Too much IGF-1 in humans has been linked in over 60 studies with increased rates of colon, breast, and prostate cancer.2  Monsanto has tried to intimidate farmers and retailers in the USA who label their milk products as rBGH-free. The corporation has actually brought lawsuits against such farmers and, through a related organization, has sued the state of Vermont over its permissive attitude toward rBGH labeling.  

Cotton 

Consider the following developing story of former Monsanto salesman Kirk Azevedo over GMO cotton production: 

In the summer of 1997, Kirk spoke with a Monsanto scientist who was doing some tests on Roundup Ready cotton. Using a “Western blot” analysis, the scientist was able to identify different proteins by their molecular weight. He told Kirk that the GM cotton not only contained the intended protein produced by the Roundup Ready gene, but also extra proteins that were not normally produced in the plant. These unknown proteins had been created during the gene insertion process.  Kirk knew that particle bombardment can cause unpredictable changes and mutations in the DNA, which might result in new types of proteins. 

      Kirk had just been studying mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and its human counterpart, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). These fatal diseases had been tracked to a class of proteins called prions. Short for “proteinaceous infectious particles,” prions are improperly folded proteins, which cause other healthy proteins to also become misfolded. Over time, they cause holes in the brain, severe dysfunction and death. Prions survive cooking and are believed to be transmittable to humans who eat meat from infected “mad” cows. The disease may incubate undetected for about 2 to 8 years in cows and up to 30 years in humans. 

Additionally, Kirk came to find out that Monsanto was feeding the cotton plants used in its test plots to cattle.  Kirk complained to the Ph.D. in charge of the test plot about feeding the experimental plants to cows. He explained that unknown proteins, including prions, might even affect humans who consume the cow’s milk and meat. The scientist refused to destroy the plants. 

It turns out that the damage done to DNA due to the process of creating a genetically modified organism is far more extensive than previously thought.[1] GM crops routinely create unintended proteins, alter existing protein levels or even change the components and shape of the protein that is created by the inserted gene. Kirk’s concerns about a GM crop producing a harmful misfolded protein remain well-founded, and have been echoed by scientists as one of the many possible dangers that are not being evaluated by the biotech industry’s superficial safety assessments. 

GM cotton has provided ample reports of unpredicted side-effects. In April 2006, more than 70 Indian shepherds reported that 25% of their herds died within 5-7 days of continuous grazing on Bt cotton plants.[2] Hundreds of Indian agricultural laborers reported allergic reactions from Bt cotton. Some cotton harvesters have been hospitalized and many laborers in cotton gin factories take antihistamines each day before work.[3] 

Further Cases of Toxins and Poisons 

      Genetically engineered products clearly have the potential to be toxic and a threat to human health. In 1989 a genetically engineered brand of L-tryptophan, a common dietary supplement, killed 37 Americans and permanently disabled or afflicted more than 5,000 others with a potentially fatal and painful blood disorder, eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), before it was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration.

      In 1999, Rowett Institute scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai's revealed explosive research findings that GE potatoes, spliced with DNA from the snowdrop plant and a commonly used viral promoter, the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMv), are poisonous to mammals. GE-snowdrop potatoes, found to be significantly different in chemical composition from regular potatoes, damaged the vital organs and immune systems of lab rats fed the GE potatoes. Most alarming of all, damage to the rats' stomach linings --apparently a severe viral infection -- most likely was caused by the CaMv viral promoter, a promoter spliced into nearly all GE foods and crops. 

Abuse of power and future goals of domination 

      Aside from the appalling dangers of GMO produced food, what is even more disastrous is Monsanto’s power struggle to singularize and normalize their food as the only way to produce and to eliminate any competition.  Monsanto is coming at this goal from a couple of different angles.  Monsanto has pushed laws through various legislators to protect against any ‘seed stealing’ by farmers.  Well if they don’t steal seed, there’s nothing to worry about, right?  Not so fast.  As shown by the case of Canadian rapeseed farmer Percy Schmeiser, even if GMO seed is carried into your field by cross pollination, you are still considered a ‘thief’ of their intellectual property and must pay a portion of your crop sales as retribution.  Consider the irony of organic farmers who try so hard to defend their crops from such a poisonous imitation sued for theft of it. 3

      Seed is transferred through the process of Cross-Pollination. Cross-Pollination is a very common occurrence in seed ecology. While some may contend that it is the farmers’ responsibility to protect his crops from cross-pollination, others argue that the combination of Monsanto’s careless seed dumping and the natural effects of seed transfer leave it impossible for farmers’ to prevent Cross-Pollination.4

      So, after demanding that seed cleaners somehow be able to tell one seed from another or corrupting legislatures to put in laws about labeling of seeds that are so onerous no one can cope with them, what is Monsanto’s attitude about labeling their own stuff? You guessed it – they’re out there pushing laws against ANY labeling of their own GM-food and animals and of any exports to other countries.

      And what about Roundup, the miracle weed suppressant itself? Studies showed Roundup ready is not biodegradable – and in fact Monsanto’s own studied showed that only 2% of roundup materials degraded after 28 days – meaning 98% of its components were still there.  In two European courts Monsanto was found guilty of false advertising for using the word biodegradable.  Scientific studies show that Roundup is highly toxic (promotes cell division) a study shows that it is highly probable that it provokes cells to breakdown and become cancerous (although this is not certain because we would have to wait 40 years).  Even more disturbing is that these were studies used quantities much lower than typical public use of Roundup.5

      Why doesn’t the public know about this?  Simply put, it is significantly more profitable to pay potential lawsuits and conceal information than to be forthcoming about the toxicity in its products.  The amount of money paid in retribution is a fraction of profits from keeping such secrets hidden to the public.

      We should demand not to be test subjects on a potentially deadly experiment in the name of corporate profitability.  We have the right to symmetrical information, and to know the effects of GM food.  In this case, ignorance could be deadly.

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