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The Monsanto Menace

The feds see no evil as a belligerent strongman seeks control of America's food supply.

Never mind that no accepted science backed his theory.

"It's simply a political calculation invented by Michael Taylor and Monsanto and adopted by U.S. federal policy-makers to resist labeling," says Jim Gerritsen, a farmer in Maine. "You have this collusion between corporations and the government, and the essence is that the people's interest isn't being served."

The FDA is a prime example. It approves GM crops by doing no testing of its own; it simply takes Monsanto's word for their safety. Amusingly enough, Monsanto spokesman Phil Angell says the company agrees that it should have nothing to do with verifying safety: "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible," he told The New York Times. "Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."

"Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence," says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen.
"Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence," says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen.
Monsanto's suburban St. Louis headquarters hides behind trees and security checkpoints. Its business hides behind lawyers, lobbying and patents.
Monsanto's suburban St. Louis headquarters hides behind trees and security checkpoints. Its business hides behind lawyers, lobbying and patents.

So if neither Monsanto nor the feds are doing it, who is?

The answer: no one.

We've Got a Bigger Problem Now

So far, it appears that the GM revolution has done little more than raise the cost of food.

A 2009 study by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. Since GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefit seemed questionable at best.

"It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches," says Gurian-Sherman. "It's a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage...like pesticide use, monopoly issues and control of the seed supply."

Use of those pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to them. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide usage has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world's largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn-soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto's pesticides.

Part of the blame belongs to a monoculture that developed around farming. Farmers know it's better to rotate crops and pesticides and leave fields fallow for a season. But when corn prices are high, who wants to grow a less profitable crop? The result has been soil degradation, relatively static yields and an epidemic of weed and insect resistance.

Weeds and insects are fighting back with their own law: that of natural selection. Last year, 49 percent of surveyed farmers reported Roundup-resistant weeds on their farms, up from 34 percent the year before. The problem costs farmers more than $1 billion annually.

Pests like Roundup-resistant pigweed can grow as thick as your arm and more than six feet high, requiring removal by hand. Many farmers simply abandon weed-choked fields.

In order to kill the pests, chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are developing crops capable of withstanding even harsher pesticides, resulting in an endless cycle of greater pesticide use at commensurate financial and environmental cost.

Nature, as it's proved so often before, will not be easily vanquished.

"We are not making our agriculture more resistant to environmental stress, not lowering the amount of pesticides, and not creating a sustainable agricultural system that works," says Mary-Howells Martens, an organic grain farmer in New York. "There are so many things that are short-term, quick-buck kind of things, without any kind of eye to if this is going to be a good deal long-term."

Next Stop: The World!

The biggest problem for Monsanto's global growth: It doesn't have the same juice with foreign governments as it does with ours. That's why it relies on the State Department to work as its taxpayer-funded lobbyist abroad.

Yet this has become increasingly difficult. Other nations aren't as willing to play corporate water boy as America is. The countries that need GM seeds often can't afford them (or don't trust Monsanto). And the nations that can afford them (other than us) don't really want them (or don't trust Monsanto).

Ask Mike Mack, CEO of the Swiss biotech giant Syngenta. The Swiss, he argues, are more interested in environmental safety and food quality than in saving a few pennies at the grocery store.

"Switzerland's greatest natural resource is that it is a beautiful country that brings in a lot of tourism," he says. "If the Swiss could lower their consumption spending by 1 percent by applying high-productivity farming, they probably would not do it if it requires changing their approach to how they think about food. Countries like Switzerland are a good example where such things as GM food would be very difficult and perhaps commercially inadvisable."

Maybe Europe has simply been around the block enough to know better than to entrust its health to a bottom-line mentality. Although the European Union imports 30 million tons of GM crops annually for livestock feed, it's approved only two GM crops for human consumption.

In April, biotech companies took another hit when the European Union banned neonicotinoids – aka "neo-nics" -- one of the most powerful and popular insecticides in the world. It's a derivative of nicotine that's poisonous to plants and insects. German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta both make neo-nics, which are used to coat seeds, protecting crops in their early growth stages. In America, 90 percent of the corn crop comes with the coating.

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2 comments
AmaRose
AmaRose

Thank you for this wonderfully insightful article. So many argue we need GM crops to keep the cost of food down and you have squashed that in this article and you have shed light on these modern day tyrants. I did however stumble across this article to find restaurants that through there partnerships support Monsanto. Would you know more on that? I am anti Monsanto I gear toward buying Organic but everyone likes to go out to eat every now and again. I want to make sure I am not supporting these monsters when I do. Thanks, Ama Rose

paval
paval

Excellent article, but being a food article it should have added some of the likely bad boys in the supermarket shelves for GMO content:

- Huge commercial chocolate makers use soy lecithin as an emulsifier. A very high percentage of all soy grown in the US is GMO. Look for non-GMO soy lecithin labeling on Chocolate bars

- anything containing corn (HFCS, syrup, starch, etc) in any form is rather suspicious, specially if its used instead of sugar. That means its used to make a cheaper product not necessarily better. Huge red flag in my book

-  soy products produced in the US due to the high amount of soy being produced in GMO

- cottonseed oil, the new mass usage oil of the food industry

read further on http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/ 


Labeling is always the best way. If you want to be a cheap producer and use everything the cheapest. But label it as such so consumers can decide if they want it or not. I am certain most consumers will decide against the bad stuff.

 
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