This blog was originally submitted to the Boulder Daily Camera in response to an opinion piece the paper ran on May 25, 2012, stating that GMOs are safe. In the following letter, we present peer-reviewed evidence on why the commentator - a University of Colorado biotech professor - is wrong about GMOs.
University of Colorado professors who benefit from the multi-billion-dollar biotech industry do the community a disservice by spreading misinformation, hubris and slanted opinion in their guest commentaries of Jan. 8, 2012, and also May 25, 2012, in the Boulder Daily Camera. Meanwhile,the Camera itself has presented little balance from non-GMO experts, and in fact the newspaper endorsed GMOs on Boulder open space land.
While Prof. Andrew Staehelin in his May 25 commentary criticizes one particular study, conducted back in 1999, he fails to acknowledge a growing body of research that clearly demonstrates the significant health and environmental risks associated with genetically engineered (GMO) foods.
In May 2011 researchers at the Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec reported finding insecticide toxins caused from dietary intake of GMO grains in the bloodstreams of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of fetuses tested. What will be the effect of long-term ingestion of GMO crops that produce their own pesticides on human health? There have been no studies done, so how are these CU professors so sure GMOs are harmless?
One Professor Emeritus, Dr. Don Huber of Purdue University, a lifelong expert in agriculture, reported on June 16, 2011, on ABC News that he has identified an alarming unknown new disease infecting plants and animals that is strongly associated with GMO agriculture. GMOs now control more than 90% of our major food and feed crops; could such a disease create a crop collapse? Additionally, the Institute of Science in Society reported in June 2010 that GMO genetic material can persist in plant debris and soil residue and literally cross-transfer, or jump into the DNA of plants, animals and humans.
The US Geological Survey reported in August 2011 that the use of Roundup herbicide (glyphosate)—the main pesticide associated with GMO agriculture—is so pervasive and persistent in the environment that it has contaminated the rain, rivers and air throughout the Midwest during the entire growing season. In 2009, The Organic Center and the Union of Concerned Scientists found that GMO crops have been responsible for an increase of nearly 400 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial adoption of GMO food crops. Yet, Bloombergreported on Dec. 2, 2011, that more than 20 million acres of GMO fields are now infested by Roundup-resistant superweeds, according to research conducted by Monsanto and Syngenta themselves.
In November 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency revealed that Monsanto’s GMO corn also is rapidly losing its effectiveness against insect pests, and EPA admonished Monsanto that it isn’t doing enough to control growing insect resistance to the very insecticides it is splicing into its crops. These same systemic insecticides used in GMO crops have also been identified by scientists as a dangerous contributor to honeybee colony collapse disorder.
Italian researchers in the Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry in 2008 reported that mice fed GMO corn developed compromised immune systems and elevated levels of a cell type associated with asthma and food allergies in children. However, there have been no long-term human health studies ever published on the safety of GMOs in our diet. In fact, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine in May 2009 called for a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) foods, stating: “Avoid GM foods when possible.... Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food.... There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation.... The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies."
Despite the fact that there have been no long-term health studies, GMOs now dominate our agriculture and food system: more than 80% of all grocery products now contain GMO ingredients, with no labeling required—basically, GMO corn, soy, canola, cottonseed oil and/or sugar is in nearly every conventionally processed food product. Yet, 91% of consumers surveyed by the JustLabelIt.org campaign want foods labeled if they contain GMO ingredients. Additionally, more than 971,000 California residents signed petitions to ensure that a measure to require mandatory labeling of GMO foods, the California Consumer’s Right to Know Initiative (www.carighttoknow.org), will be on the voter ballot in November.
In their commentaries, these CU professors did the same thing that a group of CSU professors did at the Boulder County Commissioners’ public hearings on GMOs in December – they presented absolutely no science, but voiced only arrogance and ridicule in seeking to discredit valid research and consumer and economic concerns over GMOs, and in discrediting the organic industry. Yet we need to understand that these same scientists depend on the biotech industry for funding, and they stand to enrich themselves through patents on life.
Organic food comprises only 5% of the overall food market, but it has the most to lose as GMO agriculture presents the greatest threat to the integrity of organic—the only food system in the world seeking to keep toxic chemicals and GMOs out of our food and the environment. Organic farmers have no choice when GMO genetic drift contaminates their crops.
Eat GMO food if you want, but put a label on it so I don’t have to. The consumer’s right to know is a fundamental right that is recognized in 40 countries outside the US that currently require GMO labeling. Until that happens in the U.S., it’s a stacked deck in favor of a handful of multinational biotech companies.
Steven Hoffman writes on issues in sustainable food and agriculture. He is Managing Partner of Compass Natural LLC, a full service marketing and public relations agency serving natural, organic and sustainable businesses. He is Cofounder of the annual LOHAS Forum green business conference, former Director of The Organic Center, former Editorial Director of the Natural Foods Merchandiser, a leading industry publication. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Hoffman specialized in food, agriculture and education in Central America. He is a former agriculture extension agent and director of the Philadelphia Urban Gardening Program, and holds a M.S. in Agriculture from Penn State University. Visit his blog at www.compassnatural.com/blog.