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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 10/17/13

Who Turned Scientific American?

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-          Genetic spread:  Industry likes to say that farmers have been messing with genomes for eons, but farmers did not previously insert viruses, bacteria, pesticides, and even animal traits into genes.  What we are currently doing is loosing unknown effects that we can't undo into nature.  As Don Huber [1] says, we can get those genes in, but we don't know how to remove them.  "If you have a gene that is spread by pollen, like Roundup-Ready alfalfa, it's just a matter of time before bees or the wind is going to transfer that particular pollen to every alfalfa crop that you're going to grow.  There is a very high probability that you're going to see that genetic component in it."  The toothpaste is out of the tube.  

Huber also notes that, despite breezy public confidence, our knowledge of genetic engineering is still at a rudimentary stage.  He calls it more like a virus infection than a breeding program in that we're inserting genes, but without the regulatory and control mechanisms that normally accompany those genes so that they function when and as they should, or so they turn on or off under initiating conditions.  For this is what epigenetics has taught us:  That a gene functions in relation to its environment and other genes and genetic components in the code.  Without those regulatory mechanisms, what we're doing with gene insertion is not unlike putting materials into a blender without a lid. 

-          Superweeds:  As Nietzsche said, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  Such is manifestly the case now with superweeds, growing tall and strong beneath the Roundup that was supposed to murder them.  First glimpsed in 2000 in a Delaware soybean field, the problem of resistant weeds has blossomed into 22 states infesting millions of acres of soybeans, corn, and cotton, as well as into Australia, Brazil, and China.  The idea was to make crops resistant to Roundup so that weeds could be killed without crops being affected.  Instead, weeds evolved to resist Roundup so more is sprayed, and as more is sprayed resistance mushrooms.  Weeds such as horseweed, giant ragweed, and Palmer amaranth are forcing farmers beyond spraying, to mixing herbicides into the soil.  Palmer amaranth, also called pigweed, can grow three inches in a day to seven feet or more, and is so muscular that it can injure harvesting machines.  So despite promises from the biotech industry that Roundup-Ready seeds would diminish the need for Roundup, it seems the opposite is true. 

-          Colony collapse:  Beekeepers and people who pay attention are alarmed with dying bees and colony collapses, and connections to GMOs (as well as to pesticides) keep emerging.  Pollen of plants that are genetically modified is concurrently modified or sterile.  Bees that depend on that pollen become malnourished and more susceptible to mites and parasites.   And they are dying.  Commercial beehives pollinate over one-third of the crops of North America, and without their pollination, how are we going to grow peaches, apples, cherries, strawberries, and almonds?   Real honey may become a fading memory, like that of how tomatoes once tasted.  And the world will be a drabber place without the colors of many flowers.    

-          Infertility:  In connection with a new organism (more about that below) and nutritional deficiencies in Roundup-Ready GMO corn and soybean livestock feed is a sharp increase in animal infertility. 

-          Terminator technology:  What if you could plant a seed that would grow a plant, but seeds produced by that plant were sterile?  Plants will no longer reproduce on their own and one of nature's most important abilities--seasonal renewal--is no more.  Then farmers, who for eons have saved seeds to plant in future springs, would have no choice but to buy again.  Good-bye saving seeds and hello paying what the market will bear.  In 1998 US scientists came up with such a seed.  Score a big one for Monsanto. 

-          Lawsuits:  When Monsanto has farmers (or anyone who buys from them) sign agreements that they will not save seeds for future planting, the company isn't kidding.  It will sue.  Patents, says the company, "are necessary to ensure that we are paid for our products."  Hmm.  Before Monsanto came along, patenting seeds that it says do not differ from nature's seeds, seed companies sold seeds and did not sue farmers for saving them, and those businesses remained in business, somehow.  But, as Monsanto says, "a business must be paid for its product."  Eternally. 

Monsanto also sues farmers who "steal" its product by virtue of having Monsanto's patented-but-equal genes show up in plants not sold by Monsanto.  Should the wind or a bird deposit Monsanto's pollen into someone else's field, germinating a plant that grows seeds, if the owner of that field replants them, that owner can be sued.  Many of them are. 

It's hardly confined to this country.  Monsanto has sued five million Brazilian farmers for as much as 7.7 billion dollars US.  Back in 2008  MailOnline reported on thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide after borrowing to buy GM seeds and, when the crops did not perform as promised and facing the shame of losing their lands, choosing instead to lose their lives. 

-          Persistent toxicity:  You have heard from agribusiness that the toxicity of glyphosate, the generic word for Roundup, is fleeting, sublimating quickly from the soil.  That is not the case, as residues are found in all the major foods in the Western diet--sugar, corn, soy, and wheat.  Even so, Monsanto might argue, the shikimate pathway through which it kills weeds is absent in animals.  However, the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria, including bacteria in your body. 

-          Glyphosate-induced micronutrient deficiencies:  Glyphosate is not only an herbicide--it was first patented as a mineral chelator.  This means that it immobilizes nutrients, making them unavailable to the plant and to organisms that eat that plant.  The mineral may still reside within the plant, says Huber, but if it's chelated with glyphosate it will not be physiologically available--as if it were not even there. 

That is not the only patent for glyphosate.  It is patented as well as an antibiotic, and it is very effective at killing organisms (although not, apparently, that new one).  And, as antibiotics do, it does not distinguish between bad and good organisms.  It also kills bacteria in soil--because it leaches out from glyphosate-infused plants--sterilizing the biome. 

So, as an herbicide, a chelator of nutrients, and an antibiotic, glyphosate acts on the land and on us.  

-          New life form:   If nothing else unsettles you, what do you think about evidence of a previously unknown life-form apparently associated with GMOs?  A team of top US scientists discovered a new, ultramicroscopic organism about the size of a small virus (and which is capable of reproduction so is something other than a virus).  This organism is culturable, very compatible with other organisms, and associated with glyphosate interaction or Roundup-Ready plants.  Especially where we see certain diseases and conditions, such as sudden-death syndrome in soybeans, Goss's wilt in corn, and infertility in animals, we see also a higher population of this organism, which appears to be infectious to cattle, pigs, and poultry as well as to plants, which by itself is unusual.  "If this organism is associated with alfalfa-glyphosate application like it is with the corn and the soybeans," says Huber, "then I would express a very serious concern.  When you take a number-one forage crop, and you place it in any kind of jeopardy, we have a tremendous impact on the sustainability of our animal production."   

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Schooled in psychology and biomedical illustration, of course I became a medical writer!
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