An international protest planned for later this month against biotechnology company Monsanto is slated to span six continents and include demonstrations in dozens of countries around the globe.
Amid growing concerns over St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto and the impact the company is having on agriculture, activists have planned rallies for later this month in 36 countries.
Monsanto, a titan of the emerging biotech industry, has come under attack from environmentalists, agriculturalists and average consumers over the company’s conduct in the realm of genetically-modified organisms and genetically-engineered foods. Despite research on the effects of GMO crops being largely considered inconclusive, Monsanto has lobbied hard in Washington and around the globe to be able to continue manufacturing lab-made foods without the oversight that many have demanded.
In March, Congress passed a biotech rider dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” by its critics that essentially allows that company and others that use GMOs to plant and sell genetically-altered products without gaining federal permission.
“The provision would strip federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal, potentially hazardous GE crop while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) assesses those potential hazards,” dozens of food businesses and retailers wrote Congress before the bill was passed.
In the weeks since the rider was approved within an annual agriculture spending bill, anti-Monsanto sentiment has only increased. The international day of protest scheduled for May 25 is now looking at becoming one for the record books, and even a number of celebrities have lent their star power to help raise awareness of the movement.
“Here in America you don’t get the right to know whether you’re eating genetically modified organisms,” award-winning music performer Dave Matthews says in a video for the march that has been uploaded to the Web. Comedian Bill Maher and actor Danny DeVito also appeared in the clip to plead with people around the world to rally against GMO companies.
But even as the anti-Monsanto movement increases in intensity, the company itself continues to generate record-setting profits. In April the company announced a 22 percent increase in net profits, and representatives for the companies said they expect to see that trend continue.
“So our bottom line business outlook today means the momentum that we anticipated in our first quarter has clearly carried through into even stronger business results for the second quarter,” CEO Hugh Grant told analysts and reporters during a phone call last month.
Earlier this year, Grant told the Wall Street Journal that despite an international backlash, venues around the world have been unable to link to his company with any concrete health risks caused by their products.
“They’re the most-tested food product that the world has ever seen. Europe set up its own Food Standards Agency, which has now spent €300 million ($403.7 million), and has concluded that these technologies are safe,” Grant said in January. “France determined there’s no safety issue on a corn line we submitted there. So there’s always a great deal of political noise and turmoil. If you strip that back and you get to the science, the science is very strong around these technologies.”
But despite those claims, anti-Monsanto actions are expected to continue as planned around the world — and in those very countries. Four demonstrations are scheduled for Britain, including events in London and Bristol, and two separate events are scheduled for May 25 in Paris. In the US, demos are planned in 48 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.
When scientists first learned in the late 1970s how to sequence DNA and transfer it from one kind of organism to another, improving foods and other crop plants by introducing foreign genes was among the first applications proposed. Given contemporaneous findings in molecular genetics, such as the recognition that a mutation in a single gene could promote a cell’s transformation to cancerous state, it was unsurprising that concerns were raised about the capability of the transgenic methods to dramatically change the biochemistry or ecological stability of plants. Some critics suggested that the quality and safety of fruits and vegetables could be impaired, making them allergenic or toxic to humans and nonhumans who consume them, or that “superweeds” might be created which could disrupt wild or farmed ecosystems.
By 2005, however, when more than 90 percent of the annual soybean crop and 50 percent of the corn crop in the United States had come to be genetically engineered – a transformation in agricultural production that took less than a decade – efforts at testing and regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods were increasingly portrayed as irrational. A perusal of the summaries of recent policy articles on the PubMed database turns up dozens in which reservations about the massive introduction of GM food into the food chain are represented as scientifically ignorant, economically suicidal, and cruel to the world’s hungry. One abstract in the journal Nature reads: “Unjustified and impractical legal requirements are stopping genetically engineered crops from saving millions from starvation and malnutrition.”
These papers-many by European commentators decrying the successful efforts to keep GM foods out of the markets there, and some by U.S. commentators bemoaning the necessity to test these products at all-mainly support their cases by referencing short-term feeding studies of animals. But this type of study is not adequate to allay valid concerns. One group, reviewing the relevant areas, has written, “It appears that there are no adverse effects of GM crops on many species of animals in acute and short-term feeding studies, but serious debates of effects of long-term and multigenerational feeding studies remain.”
According to another group that has looked into these issues:
The most detailed regulatory tests on the GMOs are three-month long feeding trials of laboratory rats, which are biochemically assessed…The test data and the corresponding results are kept in secret by the companies. Our previous analyses…of three GM maize [varieties] led us to conclude that [liver and kidney] toxicities were possible, and that longer testing was necessary.
Another team actually performed such long-term studies, with the findings that mice that were fed for five consecutive generations with transgenic grain resistant to a herbicide showed enlarged lymph nodes and increased white blood cells, a significant decrease in the percentage of T lymphocytes in the spleen and lymph nodes and of B lymphocytes in lymph nodes and blood in comparison to control fed for the same number of generations with conventional grain.
A central issue for crop foods, of course, is their effects on humans. The most comprehensive review of this subject as of 2007 stated:
…the genetically modified (GM) products that are currently on the international market have all passed risk assessments conducted by national authorities. These assessments have not indicated any risk to human health. In spite of this clear statement, it is quite amazing to note that the review articles published in international scientific journals during the current decade did not find, or the number was particularly small, references concerning human and animal toxicological/health risks studies on GM foods.
The same group revisited the literature four years later, reporting that whereas the number of citations found in databases had dramatically increased in the intervening period, new information on products such as potatoes, cucumber, peas or tomatoes, among others was not available. Regarding corn, rice, and soybeans, there was a balance in the number of studies suggesting that GM corn and soybeans are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns. They also note that “most of these studies have been conducted by biotechnology companies responsible [for] commercializing these GM plants.”
Given the uncertainties of the long-term health impact of GM foods, it is significant that so far, virtually all genetic modification of food and fiber crops has focused on the economic aspects of production (i.e., making crops resistant to herbicides and insect damage, increasing transportability and shelf-life) rather than the more elusive goals of improving nutrition or flavor. Introducing biological qualities that enhance production, transportability and shelf life can compromise palatability, as seen with the Flavr Savr tomato, the first GM crop to be approved by the FDA for human consumption, two decades ago.
To protect its investment against a skeptical public, the biotech food industry has depended on compliant regulators, on its proponents’ ridicule of biotech industry critics’ supposed scientific ignorance,[11,12] and on expensive campaigns against labeling of prepared foods that would draw undue attention to the presence of GM components, which they claim to be natural and ordinary. (These are the same components that when presented to the Patent Office and potential investors are portrayed as novel and unique.) A food crop that actually benefited the people who eat it rather than only those who sell it would likely open the floodgates of greatly weakened regulation. Golden Rice, designed to provide Vitamin A to malnourished children, has failed to overcome the hurdles for approval for dietary use since it was first described in 2000. Though very limited in its ability to alleviate malnutrition, it has some merit in the prevention of blindness, and seems poised for approval in the next year or so. If so, it will almost certainly help agribusiness tighten its grip on the world food supply and increase its capacity to foist products that are much more questionable on their captive clientele-that is, everyone.
10 Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods
Genetically modified foods are nearly impossible to avoid in the USA and the EU is on the verge of following suit. But nothing we were officially told about GM foods‘ safety is true, and the rest of the claims are all demonstrably false. Please, be sure that you know the truth and then get active to end this destruction of our food supply.
Genetically modified (GM) foods are often promoted as a way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices. Biofuels are crops grown for fuel rather than food. GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels and while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!
The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.
Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent, The Independent (UK)
“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that is all bullshit.” — Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology, University of Glamorgan, Wales
2. GM crops do not increase yield potential
Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialised crops. In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.
A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields. The author, former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
“Let’s be clear. As of this year , there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.” — Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman
3. GM crops increase pesticide use
US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” ( Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition
4. There are better ways to feed the world
A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.
5. Other farm technologies are more successful
Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world. Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM. 
“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].” — Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre
6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat
Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing. However, animal feeding tests have shown that GM foods have toxic effects, including abnormal changes in organs, immune system disturbances, accelerated ageing, and changes in gene expression. Very few studies have been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food. One such study found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.
It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.
“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.” — Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist
7. People don’t want GM foods — so they’re hidden in animal feed
As a spokesperson for Asgrow, a subsidiary of Monsanto, said, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.”
The GM industry has got around the problem of consumer rejection of GM foods by hiding them in animal feed. Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labelled. Some studies show that contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed ARE different from those raised on non-GM feed.
Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products and affect the animals’ health. So eating these “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.
8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers
A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the US that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences.”
9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist
GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks. In Canada, the organic oilseed rape industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM rape. In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”.
The time has come to choose between a GM-based, or a non-GM-based, world food supply.
“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it cannot be reversed.” – Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development
10. We can’t trust GM companies
The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception. GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes — even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.
“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” — Tom Wiley, North Dakota