Over the holidays, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its approval of a novel strain of Monsanto genetically engineered (GE) corn, because it's purportedly "drought tolerant."
And the USDA is considering approval for corn produced by Dow AgroSciences that's been genetically engineered to resist the poisonous herbicide 2,4-D, the key ingredient in Agent Orange!
It's also considering a new soybean from Monsanto that's got more omega 3 fatty acids than naturally occur in soybeans. A public comment period for both is now open (see below).
The USDA approved Monsanto's corn even though it received only 23 comments in favor of it and nearly 45,000 public comments opposing it. It can now be freely released into the environment and American food supply, without any governmental oversight or safety tracking.
"This is just the latest in a string of approvals of GE crops. It's clear the Obama Administration doesn't have the courage to stand strong against the powerful agribusiness and biotechnology lobbies," says Mark Kastel, of The Cornucopia Institute.
As for 2,4-D, a key ingredient in "Agent Orange," which was used to defoliate forests and croplands during the Vietnam War, it's widely associated with increased cancer risks. Four US studies report a correlation with its use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, for example.
Researchers find that babies born in areas where high rates of 2,4-D are applied to farms are 60-90% more likely to be born with birth defects, especially if they're conceived in the spring, when application rates are highest.
"The concern is that, just like Monsanto's GE corn that's resistant to RoundUp (glyphosate), approval of a cultivar resistant to 2,4-D will cause an exponential increase in the use of this toxic agrichemical," Kastel says.
In its petition, Dow AgroSciences states that 2,4-D is
increasingly important for farmers because of the presence of weeds that have developed resistance to glyphosate, as a result of the widespread use of Monsanto's GE glyphosate-resistant crops.
Negative Feedback Loop
When Monsanto introduced glyphosate, it was touted as a
safer and less toxic alternative to herbicides like 2,4-D. Now, an emerging body of scientific literature is raising serious concerns about the safety of glyphosate as well.
"The concern that the use of GE crops, which are resistant
to particular herbicides, leads to the creation of 'superweeds' is now shown to be valid and serious, as even the chemical companies now recognize and admit this is a problem," says Kastel.
"In 2012, the USDA proposes approving a new GE corn
variety that is resistant to a different toxic herbicide, escalating the toxic treadmill in chemical-dependent agriculture," says Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides. "This is nothing more than a band-aid solution to a serious problem, and will only give rise to more superweeds, more herbicide pollution in our environment, more herbicide poisoning, while likely leading to the need for even more toxic herbicides a couple of years down the
line. This foolish circle has to end."
Farm research groups like The Cornucopia Institute are also
concerned about the impact of GE crops on organic farmers, whose crops are already at risk of contamination with Monsanto's unnatural DNA, from pollen drift.
In its Environmental Assessment of the "drought tolerant"
Monsanto corn, the USDA conceded that gene flow of corn pollen is likely to occur. It is well-established that corn pollen travels, and pollen from GE plants will contaminate natural corn plants.
Last year, the USDA decided that Monsanto
and other biotech companies should conduct their own environmental impact assessments to determine whether GE plants are problematic.
"The irony, of course, is that organic fields and crops are
much more drought tolerant, because common sense and field trials show healthy and biologically active organic soil retains moisture much better than tired and depleted soil on conventional monoculture farms, and organic crops are healthier and more robust than conventional crops," says Charlotte Vallaeys, a
researcher at Cornucopia.
"But Monsanto can't profit from healthy soil and healthy organic
crops, while they can profit from genetically engineering, patenting, and owning new life forms," Vallaeys explains. "It's unfortunate that the Obama administration is equally misguided by supporting Monsanto and Dow's petitions and ignoring citizens' demand for an immediate end to approving these GE crops in our food supply."
The newest GE soybean petitioned by Monsanto is one of the first to claim a public health benefit, since it has been engineered to contain higher levels of an omega-3 fatty acid, stearidonic
"Genetically engineering a ubiquitous monoculture crop to
contain higher levels of just one particular nutrient will not solve our public health crisis, and might even exacerbate it, since a healthy diet is about much more than simply increasing the levels of one articular omega-3 fatty acid," said Vallaeys. "It's another band-aid solution that will do little to address the root of the problem with our nation's "nutrition" problem, which is
people eating too many processed foods containing corn and soybean derivatives, and not eating a varied diet of nutrient-rich wholesome foods."
Biotech Powerful in the Obama Administration
On the campaign trail in 2007, President Obama said GE foods should be labeled because Americans "should know what they
Still, Obama appointed former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as USDA Secretary, who had gained notoriety in agricultural circles after being named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Obama subsequently appointed two pro-GE agrochemical
company lobbyists to powerful positions in his administration. Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lobbyist, became food czar at the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Islam Siddiqui, a lifelong pesticide lobbyist and GMO advocate, was appointed Chief Agricultural Negotiator.
These appointments revealed the tight grip that Monsanto and
other biotech corporations have on elected officials, and raised further doubts regarding the promises for change by the current administration.
Adding insult to injury, the USDA's timing for announcing GE notices mirrors the Bush administration's approach of burying the news and actively discouraging public participation.
The FDA declared GMO salmon was safe on the Friday before the
long Labor Day weekend in 2010. Then the USDA made their highly controversial decision to deregulate GMO alfalfa during the busy holiday season of 2010. That decision is being challenged by The Cornucopia Institute, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food
Safety and scores of other plaintiffs in federal court.
More recently, the announcement that Monsanto's newest
GE corn had been deregulated, and that Monsanto and Dow had
petitioned for additional approval of GMO corn and soybeans, came the week between Christmas and the New Year Day holiday.
A coalition of nearly 400 businesses and organizations filed a legal petition with the FDA to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Citizens can comment on the proposed approval of Dow's 2,4-D
tolerant corn and Monsanto's stearidonic acid soybeans until February 27, 2012.
You can also sign this online petition opposing Dow's 2,4-D