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Genetically modified crops

Safety asserted, but far from proved

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Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald

Genetically modified organisms have come to the Four Corners area. GMO alfalfa seed and other crops have been planted in Montezuma County as well as the rest of the country. Not to worry though, advocates of GMO technology often compare GMO gene-changing processes with hybridization and cross-breeding, which have been going on for centuries. Unfortunately this could not be further from scientific fact.

Genetic modification involves taking bacterial, animal or other foreign genes and shooting them into the genetic material of a plant or animal. GMOs have only been around since the mid 1990s when they entered the food chain untested and unlabeled. GMO manufacturers such as Dow, Bayer and Monsanto have received patents on GMO seeds, while at the same time claiming “substantial equivalence,” a term meaning GMO seeds are just like their non-GMO counterparts.

The Food and Drug Administration has accepted this assertion of “substantial equivalence,” so GMO seeds are considered “generally recognized as safe” and are on the same list as products such as food coloring. They enter the marketplace without any human or animal safety testing. Companies such as Monsanto are legally allowed to introduce new GMO crops for sale without even notifying the FDA. It may be a little disconcerting to remember that Michael Taylor, President Obama’s food safety czar, was a former lobbyist for and vice president of public policy at Monsanto who supported introducing untested bovine growth hormone into U.S. milk supplies – a practice banned in dozens of countries.

But back to the science: 80 percent of all GMO crops are herbicide tolerant, meaning they survive massive applications of herbicides that would otherwise kill them. GMO alfalfa is an herbicide-resistant crop. These crops can be grown with significantly increased applications of glyphosate-containing herbicides (like Roundup).

The amount of herbicides used in the United States has increased substantially: 383 million additional pounds have been sprayed on these herbicide-tolerant crops just in the last 13 years alone. A huge portion of this – 46 percent – was applied in 2007-08 as a result of the herbicide resistance in weeds that grow in GMO crop fields.

The safety of Roundup has been controversial – it has been shown to bioaccumulate in the soil, bind managanese (an important trace mineral) and make it unavailable for crops. Roundup is also a teratogen (causes birth defects) in amphibians and poultry. Unfortunately for all of us, herbicide resistance in the United States is also resulting in a sizable increase in the use of the toxic herbicide 2,4-D.

It is acknowledged that this overuse of herbicides and planting of Bt-corn (a GMO crop that produces its own pesticide) is in part responsible for the rise of superweeds and invasive superbugs across the Midwest. In some fields, the superweeds have gotten so bad that weeds have to be cut by hand with machetes and are so thick, that along with the unusually strong and sharp cornstalks, farmers are having to buy Kevlar tires for their tractors.

What about the animals and humans that eat GMO food?

The biotech industry asserts that genetically modified material from soy or corn does not makes its way into the bloodstream or have any effect on human gut bacteria.

Monsanto’s own feeding studies, however, showed that the genetic material in GMO corn that makes it pest-resistant was transferred to the beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract of humans eating GMO corn. This potential for creating a pesticide factory in the human gut has gone untested.

Recent research has shown that GMO corn insecticidal proteins are found in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses. Animal research has shown intestinal, liver, kidney and reproductive toxicity from both GM corn and soy. This does not bode well for the assertion of “substantial equivalence.”

The local planting of GMO alfalfa, corn and soy will add increasing amounts of Roundup in our soil, water and the crops themselves. The wind can also carry pollens from GMO crops many miles. Gene cross-pollination contamination occurs from birds and bees. Many thousands of acres of organic and non-GMO crops may be contaminated. One of the real worst-case scenarios is that non-GMO alfalfa gets contaminated by GMO alfalfa. Alfalfa is a food staple for livestock – this could be a real threat to the entire organic meat and dairy industry.

Proposition 37, an initiative that would require labeling of GMOs the same way they’re already labeled in more than 60 countries, was recently put before voters in California, where Monsanto and friends ran a $50 million ad and spending campaign against he measure. There has been no victory yet for the big pro-GMO junk food and pesticide groups that created this blitz: 3.3 million ballots have yet to be counted and results will not be certified until Dec. 14. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

More than 90 percent of Americans are in favor of GMO labeling; we want and deserve to know what’s in our food. A 30-state coalition has already formed to get initiatives for GMO labeling going in every state.

For information about how to help get GMO labeling started in Colorado, contact gmofreecolorado@gmail.com.

Lyn Patrick is a naturopathic doctor. Reach her at dr.lynpatrick.nd@gmail.com.

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