Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Thing With Monsanto

A lot of blogs are carrying a story similar to this one: Monsanto's GMO Corn Linked To Organ Failure, Study Reveals. Everyone's very excited about this because, despite arguably comprehensive testing to determine the effects of GMO products on human metabolism, many people want to believe Monsanto is an evil corporation: the indie documentary Food, Inc. shed some light on their corporate thuggery and unethical practices. I count myself among those naysayers but I also want to step back and look at what public information there is about the company and the issue.

What these blogs are wailing about is a study released by the International Journal of Biological Science, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. The abstract:
We present for the first time a comparative analysis of blood and organ system data from trials with rats fed three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world. NK 603 has been modified to be tolerant to the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup and thus contains residues of this formulation. MON 810 and MON 863 are engineered to synthesize two different Bt toxins used as insecticides. Approximately 60 different biochemical parameters were classified per organ and measured in serum and urine after 5 and 14 weeks of feeding. GM maize-fed rats were compared first to their respective isogenic or parental non-GM equivalent control groups. This was followed by comparison to six reference groups, which had consumed various other non-GM maize varieties. We applied nonparametric methods, including multiple pairwise comparisons with a False Discovery Rate approach. Principal Component Analysis allowed the investigation of scattering of different factors (sex, weeks of feeding, diet, dose and group). Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.
You dig? The artificial corn strain known as NK 603 "tolerates" the pesticide Roundup (also created by Monsanto) and therefore acts as a vehicle for this pesticide into any human or animal who eats that corn. The copyrighted lapsus naturae known as MON 810 and MON 863 contain in themselves proteins from the normally soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly used for pesticides and widely regarded as eco-friendly and safe for human consumption. Yet after three months of consumption, researchers noted in rats a rise in triglycerides (linked to atherosclerosis, heart disease, and pancreatitis) which was not present in the control group--in fact, the control group's triglycerides went down.

The problem with this comparison, of course, is that rat metabolism is not the same as human metabolism. Any dose of a substance that would affect a rat would likely need to be increased dramatically to reproduce a similar effect in humans. However, as scientists mayn't ethically pluck luckless losers from prison and inject them with substances, mammalian testing is done on rats, monkeys, rabbits, &c.

Anti-Monsanto proponents should be pleased to note that the U.S. Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation against Monsanto. In 2014, Monsanto stands to lose its patent protection on the nation's most popular crime-against-nature crop, the Roundup Ready soybean. This soybean was developed to withstand inundation of their Roundup herbicide (but as seen above, the food can still carry the herbicide into the body). Understand that: they were killing their own plants with the amount of herbicide they wanted to use. Using less herbicide was clearly unreasonable, so they decided the simplest, easiest solution would be to genetically modify a plant that could tolerate an unreasonable quantity of Roundup. And in four years, Monsanto will lose the patent to that soybean, so they've created a new product: Roundup Ready 2 Yield, which promises not only to withstand the ludicrous pesticide inundation but also to generate a greater crop yield. What I don't understand is their quote from Bruce Tiffany, of Tiffany Family Farms (Redwood Falls, MN): why would he praise Monsanto's GMO soybeans and then turn around and claim to raise soybean for seed? And why is a Monsanto shill at all interested in being listed with a farming community Web site that espouses sustainable practice? I would think the other people on that site would be disgusted with Tiffany Family Farms, and that one of Monsanto's black SUVs would pull up onto his property in the middle of the night for an off-the-record conversation.

Monsanto insists they only want to ensure their loyal customers will still have access to their A-number-1 products. Their loyal customers, in turn, have complained about Monsanto's price-jacking once they're trapped into using their product, which is deuced hard to cleanse oneself of. It would cost more money to completely wipe the Monsanto blight out of your fields and start all over with buying new seed of normal, natural crops than you would earn from that crop's harvest. And then Monsanto has appropriated neighboring organic farms: those farms did not purchase Roundup Ready but their crops were cross-pollinated with copyrighted DNA from Monsanto-contracted farms. This is equivalent to a child running through a candy store, claiming that everything he he can sneeze on is legally his. Doesn't seem right, does it, but it hasn't stopped Monsanto from ruining American farmers' lives.

In fact, the Indian activist Vandana Shiva has been documenting 200,000 farmer suicides since 1997 which she attributes to Monsanto's presence. In India, Monsanto sells GMO cotton seed to farmers. Somehow, the seed doesn't produce as much as it should, demand for cotton rises (and perhaps Monsanto sees fit to once again raise its prices of its own seed), until the farmer has lost his farm and kills himself by ingesting Roundup. Shiva indicates what previous critics have claimed: the usage of Bt toxin only creates an evolutionary imperative for pests to survive, creating even more powerful insects: we now have a Diamondback moth (a.k.a. cabbage moth) that has developed a resistance to Roundup pesticide. And now India's Union Minister for the Environment has called a series of meetings to question the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee's (GEAC) decision to welcome a genetically modified eggplant into the nation. The GEAC now finds itself in a literal shouting match with scientists, activists, and local farmers, none of whom want this GMO eggplant in their country. Remember in 2002 when Zambia refused GMO-tainted corn?

But, a ray of hope: as this Forbes article relates:
...an Associated Press investigation uncovered contracts showing that the St. Louis company's business practices squeeze competitors and protect its dominance over the genetically altered crops market.
Monsanto wishes to assure everyone that, according to its own standards, everything they've done is "fair, pro-competitive and in compliance with the law." That's for the DoJ to decide.

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