Genetically Modified and Monsanto

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I have some good news, and I have some bad news.  And while I’m not sure how much more bad news we can take in a week like this (with the Haiti earthquake, I mean), I felt this was too important to wait the weekend and post about on Monday.

I’ll give it to you straight: The good news is that Monsanto finally released their studies that showed whether or not genetically modified (GM) crops are harmful to human health.  Greenpeace has been suing Monsanto for some time now for this data, and finally got the results they wanted.  This is fantastic — Monsanto refused to release this data ten years ago when GM foods were new to the U.S., but they claimed that there was absolutely no harm in eating genetically modifed crops.

For those of you who don’t know, among the GM crops is GM corn, also called “Roundup Ready” corn.  It was featured in the movie Food, Inc., and is the corn that scientists modified so that it has a built-in resistance to the weed killing spray Roundup (also produced by Monsanto).  This way, farmers can grow corn and spray Roundup directly on the corn, kill all the weeds growing around the corn, but the corn isn’t affected.

Monsanto patented the gene for this corn and has been employing some very nasty practices to farmers who grow non-GM corn next to farmers who grow GM corn (and other GM crops) — mainly because you can’t prevent cross pollination from the wind in corn, so the next generation of non-GM corn ends up with a few of GM corn’s genes.  And since the GM corn is patented, Monsanto wants to make sure they get every penny that’s coming to them.

If all that isn’t bad enough, there’s still some bad news.  Are you ready?  An outside company called CRIIGEN reanalyzed the studies that Monsanto released, then performed their own studies, and came up with some grim results — the first of which is that Monsanto has no idea how to perform a scientific study.  Seriously.  They didn’t follow the scientific method, they didn’t do enough long-term studies to test to see if GM food is dangerous, and they didn’t report on all of the results they received.

CRIIGEN mimicked the Monsanto studies, but actually followed due process in their animal tests.  When CRIIGEN performed their own studies, they found that there’s no proof of toxicity — meaning that over the 90 day observation period, they didn’t find any proof that GM corn causes the adverse health effects they found in rats.  However, CRIIGEN did find signs of toxicity — that the rats they tested developed certain unnatural kidney and liver functions, most likely due to eating GM crops, but more study is needed. Their report says, essentially, that you can’t figure anything out in a 90 day trial period, let alone whether or not GM food causes long term damage — but all signs point to yes, yes it does.

Phew.

Aren’t you glad we have a governing body that protects the people from foods that may be dangerous to our health? And that they’re doing an excellent job policing companies like Monsanto?  And that they follow up on all the information (or lack thereof) they’re given?

Sarcasm aside, it’s about time we learned about this stuff.  The blog post at Shakesville about this data (to whom I give a MASSIVE hat tip) puts together some conclusions about this information that I’d like to share with you:

Seriously, though, this is an unbelievable mess. You don’t have to stop eating because these are all chronic effects, and it’s not likely to make a big difference if one consumes GMOs for a few more years until we know for sure whether there’s a problem or not. But that’s all the “good” news there is. Regulators in the US bamboozled us and then the rest of the world into not so much as labelling for genetic modification. Now it’s everywhere, and crops are dependent on it. If further research shows chronic toxicity and the RoundUp resistant and Bt products have to be pulled, crop failures will make prices shoot skyward. In the rich countries, that’s an annoyance. In the poor countries, that can mean famine. We are, in short, screwed. For Monsanto’s chance to make a few billion, we’re going to be paying hundreds of billions. (I just saw that line somewhere else before ….)

If you’re interested, I encourage you to read the whole post at Shakesville because the author, Quixote, is pursuing a doctorate in biology and knows how to draw conclusions from the data available.

My final comment for this post is that some time in the future, when another food company is doing all they can to prevent putting labels on food products, I hope we look back at Monsanto in particular and say, “Have we learned nothing from history?  Remember when we didn’t label the genetically modified foods?  Let’s not repeat that mistake again.”

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I still say you should all watch Food, Inc., if you haven’t already, or read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  First image courtesy of MarS.  Second image courtesy of deymosD.  Third image courtesy  of jimmedia.

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