RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its decision to allow farmers who favor genetically engineered seeds to grow GMO alfalfa, also known as GE alfalfa, anywhere they'd like—even right up against a field of organic or non-GMO crops. Due to the very real risk that genes from GMO alfalfa will transfer to and contaminate the nation's organic and non-GMO alfalfa crops through cross-pollination, organic and conventional farming groups, dairies, consumer, and food-safety groups have united to send a clear signal that a large portion of the population doesn't want GMO-laced food.
But aside from the dire consequences for agriculture and consumer choice regarding GMO contamination—most Americans don't want GMOs in the food chain—the approval of GMO alfalfa raises other serious human health concerns involving the pesticide Roundup (generic chemical name: glyphosate). The new GMO alfalfa has been genetically manipulated in labs to withstand heavy sprayings of Roundup (created by Monsanto, the developer of the GMO seeds), a chemical commonly marketed as "safe" and "biodegradable," but one that scientists are actually learning has unhealthy effects on the human body, livestock animals we eat, and crops themselves. In fact, France’s highest court recently found Monsanto guilty of false advertising for claiming Roundup to be biodegradable. In reality, it takes months, or even years, depending on soil conditions, to break down.
Millions of pounds of Roundup are dumped over and around food crops every year, and many people also use it to kill weeds in the yard or in household driveway and sidewalk cracks. No matter the route of exposure, science suggests we need to keep this chemical out of the food chain, not step up its use on more GMO crops.
Here's what everyone—mothers, fathers, farmers, grocers, and anyone who eats—needs to know about Roundup:
Most Americans are unknowingly eating Roundup every day.
Roundup is systemic, meaning it's taken up inside the plants exposed to it. Using veggie washes on your produce may remove some surface pesticides, but Roundup is likely in the actual vegetable, grain, fruit, or nut if it's sprayed on a field before plants are grown, or if it's sprayed around fruit and nut trees. “It’s the most abused chemical we’ve ever had in agriculture,” says veteran plant pathologist Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus of Purdue University. “We’re using chemical quantities we never would have imagined in the past.”
GMO "Roundup Ready" crops, like most of the soy and corn grown in this country and used in the majority of non-organic foods, tend to contain higher concentrations of Roundup. That's because farmers are having to use two to five times more of the chemical than a normal herbicide application, to kill weeds growing resistant to the overused chemical. (Note—GMOs, as well as Roundup and other toxic synthetic chemical pesticides, are banned in certified-organic farming.)
Roundup creates conditions for estrogenic toxin and neurotoxin buildup in food—and in us.
Huber, one of the world's top researchers of glyphosate, says we're in "epidemic mode" right now in terms of plant diseases induced by Roundup use. These plant diseases could affect humans and livestock eating the diseased plants, too. As Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, points out, some of the fungi that thrive on glyphosate produce harmful toxins that can enter the food chain, either in human food or animal feed. Smith cites a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report that links one such fungus, Fusarium, in the food chain to certain cancers, a blood disorder, and infertility in animals. Smith says USDA researchers have found a 500 percent increase in Fusarium root infection when glyphosate is used on Roundup Ready soybeans. (This toxin can also appear in corn, wheat, and other crops.) "Like glyphosate, Fusarium toxins accumulate in our bodies, too," says Huber.