RODALE NEWS, NEW YORK, NY—This year is the 30th anniversary of the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which first hit the scene way back in 1981. And Monsanto, Syngenta, and other chemical companies that develop GMOs marked the occasion with successful U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approvals of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa (otherwise known as hay), sugar beets, and corn grown to make ethanol—approvals that could seriously threaten the growth of the $25 billion-per-year organic foods industry. And it's not just the organic food industry at stake. Genetically engineered foods have never been tested for safety by anyone other than the biotechnology companies that make and sell them, and evidence from organic groups like The Organic Center have shown that they have actually increased farmers' reliance on pesticides by as much as 200 percent—despite repeated promises that plants genetically engineered to produce their own pesticides would lower reliance on toxic chemicals. Gary Hirshberg, CEO of the organic dairy company Stonyfield Farms, has said that genetically engineered foods "make guinea pigs of us all," and here's why:
THE DETAILS: GMOs have been under development since 1981, when researchers at a university in Belgium discovered that they could successfully transfer a gene from one species and insert it into a totally different species, explained Andrew Kimbrell, director of the anti-GMO Center for Food Safety. Thirteen years later, we had the Flavr-Savr Tomato, genetically engineered to delay ripening and stay fresh longer by the addition of fish genes. Ironically, that was the first GMO product that was labeled in stores, and people not only didn't like the taste, they also were opposed to the idea of GMO foods. The tomato was pulled off the market three years after it was introduced. Since 1996, Kimbrell said, so many GE varieties of corn, soy, canola, and cotton have been introduced that now 80 percent of corn and 90 percent of the other three crops are now genetically modified, many to resist applications of Roundup, the trade name for the toxic pesticide glyphosate.
"Now we have weeds awash in glyphosate," he added, "and as a result, we now have tens of millions of acres covered in glypohsate-resistant weeds." So rather than turn to organic or mechanical methods to deal with these "superweeds," the chemical companies are developing new seeds resistant to even more potent pesticides, such as 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, and dicamba, "one of the most toxic pesticides known," Kimbrell said.
To say nothing of the health problems associated with GMOs and the associated pesticide surge—"The FDA's own scientists said [back in 1996] that GMOs would create new allergens and lower the nutritional value of food," Kimbrell emphasized—all these new GMO crops could be exacerbating climate change, said Debi Barker, international policy director of the Center for Food Safety. "The irony is that 30 percent of global warming is caused by industrial agriculture, and 60 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions in the atmosphere are from synthetic nitrogen fertilizers," she said. At the same time, nearly every study coming out of groups like the UN Human Rights Council is showing that sustainable, organic farming actually will feed the world, while also reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. In early March, the Human Rights Council released a report stating that small-scale farmers could double food production in 10 years by using ecological farming methods—methods that don't involve the GMOs being pushed by the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta, and Bayer. In Africa, where the pressure to adopt GMOs is very intense, according to State Department documents, yields from ecological farming increased 116 percent annually.