GMOs: Profit Over Food Security? Not So Much

gmo

A blogger who goes by the handle Tex Shelters wrote up an argument against GMOs. This post can be found here: http://texshelters.hubpages.com/hub/Profit-over-Food-Security-The-Case-of-Monsanto-and-GMOs

He decided that his opinions listed here are more viable than the independent scientific studies done on the subject. A good list can be found here: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/

Now, I’m going to go ahead and take his post point by point, and we’ll see where it takes us.

Monsanto has a lot of propaganda on its website trying to sell the benefits of their GMO, Round-up Ready seeds. However, their statements most often don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. Moreover, if GMOs are safe and beneficial, why is Monsanto vigorously fighting to prevent GM food labeling? And why did Congress, who Monsanto lobbies and donates to in the millions, put language into a spending bill, signed by President Obama, to protect Monsanto from lawsuits?

Ok, we’ll begin here. First, given the title picture of the post and immediately jumping into a rant about Monsanto is ironic. Monsanto doesn’t product any brand of tomato. Well, we can put that aside for the moment. Let’s talk about this “Monsanto Protection Act” that he’s citing.

“…a rider slipped into a Congressional spending bill by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that circumvents judicial authority concerning the planting and development of genetically modified seeds deemed to be unhealthy for human consumption.“Essentially, what that Monsanto Protection Act rider said is that even if a court were to determine that a particular product might be harmful to human beings or harmful to the environment, the Department of Agriculture could not stop the production of that product once it is in the ground.”

Now, here he cites an article about Bernie Sanders fighting this piece of legislation. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bernie-sanders-pressure-monsanto-article-1.1357031#ixzz2UiHs1gCG

This, of course, is why it always pays to “Snopes” before posting something. http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/mpa.asp

You see, the legislation is a protection for farmers. It has nothing to do with the safety of the crops. It has to do with whether courts can order farmers to cease operations while a lawsuit is in progress, BEFORE a decision has been made. Why shouldn’t courts have the authority to do that before a case is completed? Well, in America, we have that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing, and, given that these cases involve science, the courts have NO standing to make a scientific decision before the science has even been brought to the table.

If these products are so healthy for us, or at least not harmful, there would be no need to have such legislative protections against agribusiness liability added to a spending bill.

This is always an argument I hear, and it amazes me how little people often know about business. Why would ANY business take an action to avoid unnecessary costs based on the misinformation of fear mongers? Probably because they’re in business to make a profit. I don’t care if someone comes out claiming that greeting cards are toxic. If they start fear mongering and getting a following, I can guarantee that Hallmark will do everything they can to stop the madness.

Ok, moving it. It just gets better from here.

vin

……there’s really nothing to respond to here. I’d suggest that the author learn how to use Venn Diagrams. Please see below “Venn Diagrams for first Graders”

The evidence on GM food safety is mixed, and we still don’t know the long term affects of eating them. However, the evidence of GMOs harm to our food supply is clear. GMOs dangerously reduce the genetic diversity of our food supply which puts us at risk of a pathogenic food disaster, as happened to the Irish during the potato famine in the 1840s.

For this, I’ll cite a review of the last 10 years of GMO safety research put out by the Genetic Literacy Project. http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Nicolia-20131.pdf

Companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and others in the seed producing business are doing their best to corner the market in seeds and thus control much the world’s food supply. They are also patenting the DNA of seeds to corner the market in food producing genes. If that happens, crop diversity will be reduced and will put our food supply in danger of being wiped out by evolved pathogens that target these crops.

In order to control the seed supply, Monsanto has used their vast propaganda apparatus, Congress, and the legal system, which they employ to harass farmers who don’t use their products. Moreover, they set strict rules for those who do use their seeds.

This bit is really just filler. It’s simply conjecture (and a deep misunderstanding of business again), but has no bearing on whether or not GMOs are safe or not. Come on, Tex, let’s stay on topic here!

Monsanto has, to date, sued 410 farmers and 56 small businesses for alleged patent violations. In 72 judgements in their favor, they have been awarded almost $24 million (ibid). Additionally, small farmers who could not afford legal representation to fight the multi-billion dollar seed company have settled out of court. Monsanto forces farmers to pay royalties for any seed that is descendant from their GMO seeds. So if a farmer accidentally uses the DNA from their seeds due to cross contamination, they can be sued by the agribusiness giant.

To protect their seeds, they have a staff dedicated to investigating patent violators. “As early as 2003, Monsanto had a department of 75 employees with a budget of $10 million for the sole purpose of pursuing farmers for patent infringement,” the Center for Food Safety stated in a new report, “Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers.” Agrichemical companies earn billions of dollars each year, andfarmers cannot possibly compete against such resources.”

Many of the lawsuits have been judgements against farmers whose non-GMO fields had been contaminated with GMO seeds from neighboring farms or seeds that came from community seed banks. Even if you don’t intend to use the GMO seeds, you can be sued.

Such was the case of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser. The Canadian Federal court ruled that the farmer infringed on the Monsanto seed patent for canola even though he was using conventional seed. Due to cross-pollination of his crop from GMO plants in his neighbor’s farm, he was found liable because he failed to inform Monsanto about the cross pollination. Apparently, Monsanto expects farmers to have genetic plant inspectors on the payroll to insure that cross-pollination doesn’t unlawfully spread the GMO genes. It’s ludicrous, but Monsanto is allowed to get away with these lawsuits in most cases.

Another case of legal harassment by Monsanto are the continued lawsuits against the Nelson family of North Dakota. A North Dakota arbitration panel has found in favor of the Nelsons, that there has been no patent infringement. However, the company has continued to take legal action against the family. “They (Monsanto) haven’t got any evidence,” says Mark Fraase, the attorney representing the Nelsons. “They can’t gather any, yet they persist.” (ibid)

Farmer Eugene Stratemeyer, however, did win his case against Monsanto. He was sued by Monsanto for saving his GMO seeds and selling some from his soybean crop. However, the company failed to get his signature on their techology agreement that made it illegal to save GMO seeds. Later, Monsanto was caught forging his signature on an agreement (idid). Monsanto was also caught forging signatures on contracts of other farmers. It is clear that this company will do anything for profit.

This is another long bit that has absolutely nothing to do with GMO safety, however, it’s used so often in the greater discourse on the subject that I think it’s worth addressing. There’s this myth that Monsanto waits for GMO seeds to blow into someone’s field and then has their lawyers pounce on the poor, unfortunate farmer. This is demonstrably false.

NPR covers this and several other myths pretty well. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/10/18/163034053/top-five-myths-of-genetically-modified-seeds-busted

Monsanto makes many claims about its patented “Round-up Ready” seeds that don’t hold up under scientific scrutiny. They argue that the use of their seeds will reduce the need to use herbicides. That argument flies in the face of accepted biological theory and has been proven false.

study by Washington State University agriculture professor Chuck Benbrookfound that use of GMO seeds drove up herbicide use by 527 million pounds, about 11 percent between 1996 and 2011. At first the Round-up Ready crops did reduce herbicide use, but as the weeds became resistant to the herbicides used, more herbicides were needed. Of course weeds that survive herbicide use will reproduce and herbicide resistant strains of invasive plants will crop up. The study just verified accepted scientific theory.

There’s a great article in Discover that breaks down the poor science reporting and poorly conducted study that Tex has cited here. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2012/10/03/when-bad-news-stories-help-bad-science-go-viral/#.UsnfXouzKpg

Also, here’s a good study that shows the exactly opposite of his claim. https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/24459/

Crop yields also didn’t increase as Monsanto and other seed purveyors promised. One comprehensive study of the research into yields for GMO crops by the Union of Concerned Scientists found no overall increase in crop yield for GMO plants. In addition, a University of Kansas study found that soybeans using GMO seed produced 10% less output compared to conventionally grown crops. (ibid) The extra cost for the seeds, herbicides and fertilizer needed to use go GMO is unwarranted.

recent report from India has shown a record crop yield in rice and potatoes without using GMOs. What’s more, Round-up Ready cotton seems to have reduced yields.

We’ve well gone away from any safety discussion again, but let’s look at yield. The “study” that he cites for lower yield, the “comprehensive study” is a white paper, or a non-peer-reviewed paper. This means it hasn’t been vetted by any other scientists for accuracy, methodology, etc. There’s a good study that shows a mixed result of yields. Some is better, some is worse. http://www.skepticalraptor.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/maize_prod_nat-biotech_2013.pdf

This has no bearing on safety, but on sustainability. When you take in the environmental factors of each area, you tend to see a bit of a better yield all around. The better the technology gets, the better these numbers will become, which is one of the primary goals of GM foods.

Studies on the harm of GMOs to human cells are so far inconclusive. “Some of the health concerns of food-safety advocates are warranted. There is plenty of scientific evidence to recommend caution with respect to certain kinds of genetic modification, especially if there are genes involved that confer antibiotic resistance. But some of the studies that portray the most dramatic health effects of GM crops have been called out by other scientists as deeply flawed.”

I’ll reiterate this list of over a hundred INDEPENDENT studies on GMO safety. http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/

However, GM foods have been around less than a generation, around 16 years. That is clearly not long enough to see the affects of GM foods on humans and not enough testing has been done to determine the long term affects of GM foods on our health and environment.

I’ll let National Geographic answer this. They put it nicely.

Genetic modification is not novel. Humans have been altering the genetic makeup of plants for millennia, keeping seeds from the best crops and planting them in following years, breeding and crossbreeding varieties to make them taste sweeter, grow bigger, last longer. In this way we’ve transformed the wild tomato, Lycopersicon, from a fruit the size of a marble to today’s giant, juicy beefsteaks. From a weedy plant called teosinte with an “ear” barely an inch long has come our foot-long (0.3-meter-long) ears of sweet white and yellow corn. In just the past few decades plant breeders have used traditional techniques to produce varieties of wheat and rice plants with higher grain yields. They have also created hundreds of new crop variants using irradiation and mutagenic chemicals.

Monsanto and other seed companies will do whatever it takes to sell their seed. That is capitalism, and as long they can influence Congress and hide behind their hand-picked scientists, they will get lawmakers to protect and promote their their seed-selling without the technology being fully investigated. In 2012, Monsanto spent $654,325 on political campaigns. They also spent nearly $6 million dollars lobbyingCongress last year and this year have already spent over $1.5 million.

The claims of companies like Monsanto that GMOs increase crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides have been refuted by the scientific evidence. Despite the lack of science supporting the use of GMOs, they will continue to be used until there is enough pressure put behind boycotts and on Congress. Until then, support local growers and non-GMO farms, and buy GM-free foods when possible. 

And finally, more about Monsanto.

So, all in all, his post on GMOs amounts to “I don’t understand them and hate big companies, therefore they are bad.” Well, I’m glad we cleared that up.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

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