GMO Food Concerns: Research to Ponder

GMO Food Concerns: Research to Ponder

It’s taken me awhile to write this one because it’s such a complex issue — and I wanted to better understand it. I still have questions but what I’ve found so far is concerning. And too many people are not talking about it. It’s the rising use of pesticide/herbicide use — and resulting problems — as more genetically modified (GM) are developed and used in agriculture.

The good news is here in California where I live, we will have the opportunity in November to vote on a Right to Know initiative regarding genetically engineered foods.  If passed, this GE labeling initiative will require products sold in California to list any GMO ingredients. Foods can also not be labeled ‘natural’ if they contain GMOs. We would join 50 other countries who already require this labeling.

First, a definition: GM, GMO, GE…..the various names can be confusing –  but they’re all altered genetically.  Genetic modification (GM) has occurred for thousands of years – but slowly – as people have used selective pollination to breed better traits in plants and animals. However, with genetic engineering (GE)  changes occur rapidly. With GE a gene from one organism that contains a desirable trait is transplanted into the DNA of another organism.  The result is as genetically modified organism  or GMO product. Soybean, canola, flax, cotton, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes are all common GMO crops.

My primary concerns:

  • Over 75% of GM crops are engineered to tolerate applications of herbicides. Where such GM crops have been adopted, they have led to massive increases in herbicide use – particularly Roundup.
  • Weeds are becoming increasingly resistant to herbicides such as Roundup and increasingly to alternate herbicides, due to the the overuse of GE crops.

There’s a ton of research documenting this (see below) but   “Why Genetically Engineered Food is Dangerous: New report by genetic engineers” published this June in Open Source is an important read. One of the authors, Dr John Fagan, says the following:

“[GMO crops have] led to the spread of herbicide-resistant superweeds and has resulted in massively increased exposure of farmers and communities to these toxic chemicals.”  Dr. John Fagan (former genetic engineer)

Fagan is a former genetic engineer who in 1994 returned grant monies to the National Institutes of Health due to concerns about the technology’s safety.

  • GE crops and the resulting herbicide are creating significant disturbances in pest and non-pest (including ladybug, bee) populations.

My takeaway:  Buy organic (which does not allow genetic engineered ingredients), and California voters – vote for the GMO initiative and encourage others to do so.

Some of the numerous research I’ve come across, plus where to go for more info:

1) Rootworms Overcome Pesticide (Aug 2011): Iowa State University entomologists have discovered that western corn rootworms in four Iowa fields have evolved and can resist a natural pesticide made by plants grown from Monsanto’s GE corn seeds. (Also reported in The Wall Street Journal.)

2) Increasing Roundup (glyphosate) Use: Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have found significant levels of glyphosate (Roundup) in air and water samples in Mississippi and Iowa. Overall, agricultural use of glyphosate has increased from less than 11,000 tons in 1992 to more than 88,000 tons in 2007. Published in Volume 30 of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and online in Pest Management Science. Copies are available from Paul Capel (capel@usgs.gov).

3) Growing Weed Resistance to Roundup with GE overuse (Oct-Dec 2011, Weed Science): As a result of growing weed resistance to glyphosate due to overuse of GE crops, conventional growers may have to revert to using old herbicide compounds such as 2,4-D and other auxins, according to Dean Rioters, U. of Illinois associate professor of weed physiology.

4) GE Crops Create ‘Superweeds: The October 2011 Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, coordinated by Navdanya International of India, notes that GE crops have failed to deliver higher food yields while creating dangerous superweeds. In China, where insect-resistant Bt cotton is widely planted, populations of pests have increased twelve-fold since 1997, while in India, pesticide use has increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced.

For more info on these 1) – 4) above, see  pg 4 of  this issue of What’s News in Organic Newsletter

1) Roundup and rising birth defects: Earth Open Source in June 2011 posted a 52-page report entitled “Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?” co-authored by a group of international scientists and researchers. The report includes 359 citations showing that industry and EU regulators knew in the 1980s and 1990s that the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) caused birth defects in experimental animals, sometimes even at low doses.

Monarch on Milkweed

2) Monarch Butterflies’ Decline and GMOs: A new study raises concerns about the effects of GMOs on monarch butterflies. The use of crops genetically engineered to resist pesticide applications has resulted in the decline of milkweed, a weed that is key to monarch butterflies’ survival. The study, published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, suggests could be a factor in declining monarch populations.

3) Herbicide resistance: At least 21 weed species have developed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) and some weeds are also developing resistance to alternative herbicides, according to articles published in the May-June 2011 issue of Weed Science. “The herbicide resistance issue is becoming serious,” wrote William K. Vencill, journal editor, adding, “It is spreading out beyond where weed scientists have seen it before.”

For more info on these 1)  thru  3) above see this issue of What’s News in Organic Newsletter -pg 4

And even more on herbicide resistance: A survey by researchers at the U of Illinois’ Department of Crop Sciences has found that Amaranthus tuberculatus, a major weed in Midwest crop fields has developed multiple herbicide resistance, including to glyphosate (Roundup). In the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they noted, “Herbicide resistance in A. tuberculatus appears to be on the threshold of becoming an unmanageable problem in soybean. For more info on this see this issue – pg 4.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)  killing bees:  Researchers from the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health examined the effect of a neonicotinoid pesticide – which is being used more with GMO crops – on bee colonies as part of a recent review. Part of this research involved using HFCS that had been derived from corn crops treated with imidacloprid, for which the pesticide ended up getting into the end product. The team discovered that the vast majority — 94 percent — of hives treated with imidacloprid ended up dying off as a result of what appeared to be CCD, even when very minute levels of the pesticide were added. See article. 

U.S. government data reveal a 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate on soybeans, corn and cotton in the U.S. from 1994 to 2005, according to a 2008 report released by Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety. Four of every five acres of GE crops worldwide are Roundup Ready (RR) varieties, designed for use with the glyphosate driven by the adoption of RR versions of these crops.  See Who Benefits from GM Crops? The Rise in Pesticide Use

For more info on The California Right to Know Campaign  see their website and its list of endorsements to see who is supporting the California right to know. The LA Times had this recent article.

For why to buy organic food, here’s a good tho somewhat dated fact sheet on GMOs by The Organic Trade Association

About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.

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