RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The recent barrage of approvals allowing genetically engineered ingredients to infiltrate our coffee, milk, ice cream, and even apple pie is enough to persuade some health-conscious consumers to rip out the front lawn and start producing their own food free of genetically manipulated ingredients. Knowing where your food comes from is certainly key in avoiding GMOs, since you can't rely on labeling of GMO-containing food products—there are no laws requiring it. (GMOs and chemical pesticides are banned in certified-organic food, however.) While taking a spade or tiller to your front yard and replacing non-nourishing turf with healthy organic edibles is a great way to save money and feed your family fresh produce bursting with anti-cancer compounds, two new GMOs down the pike threaten the very queen of home gardens—tomatoes—among other backyard garden favorites.
THE DETAILS: Most genetically engineered crops have been genetically manipulated to withstand heavy sprayings of herbicides, particularly the chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The company that sells the GMO seeds also sells the chemical it's designed to withstand. Farmers are prohibited from saving seeds containing these genes, something that could occur through cross-pollination. Researchers are turning up startling health problems associated with Roundup. Not only that, it's turning out to be a bad deal for farmers, too. In just 10 years, at least 16 weed species have grown resistant to Roundup. They're referred to as superweeds, and Monsanto is actually paying farmers to use its competitors' pesticides because Roundup is losing its weed-killing ability. To remedy the superweed problem, Monsanto is inserting another gene that would make soy also resistant to the herbicide dicamba, a developmental toxin. Dow Agrosciences is hoping to introduce its 2,4-D–tolerant corn and soy. (2,4-D has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the European Union classifies it as an endocrine disruptor.)
In the '90s, researchers hailed GMOs as a way to reduce pesticide use, but instead, pesticide use is on the rise since GMO corn, soy, canola, and cotton have been widely implemented. Researchers predict that adding crops that are genetically engineered to resist dicamba and 2,4-D will add millions more pounds of toxic pesticides into the food chain and the environment. "This advance in molecular biology that will result in new traits being introduced into the crop will increase, ironically, herbicide use," explains David Mortensen, PhD, a veteran weed ecologist at Penn State University. "And not subtly. We're estimating something in the order of a 60- to 100-percent increase in the amount of herbicides applied if these crops with these added genes were to become commercialized.
"The good news, in my view, is that we have several years to react and think about this more carefully," Mortensen adds. These crops aren't anticipated to hit the market until 2013 or 2014.