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Genetically Engineered Crops: Coming to a Store Near You?

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View Paul Achitoff's blog posts
16 January 2014, 6:41 AM
Consumers fight for protections and labeling
Clouds over a soy field. New GE corn and soy varieties have been engineered to resist the effects of 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Worster)

This month, Maine became the second state in the nation to require labels on food that contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. The state’s decision is part of a growing, nationwide effort to assert the right of consumers to know what they’re eating. Currently, more than 26 states are considering proposals to require labeling of altered foods, including Hawaiʻi, where Earthjustice is pushing for laws requiring labeling of GE products.

Despite support from 9 out of 10 Americans for labeling, the USDA recently made it even more likely that the next generation of GE corn and soy will soon be on the market—unlabeled and without any restriction or oversight whatsoever.

Are GE crops more nutritious or better tasting? Do they grow with less water or have higher yields? No on all accounts. Most GE crops to date have been created solely to resist herbicides. The most popular have been Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops, which tolerate the Roundup herbicide with glyphosate, its active ingredient. These crops offer consumers no benefit, but they allow farmers to freely douse their fields with herbicides without killing the crop. This convenience resulted in half a billion additional pounds of toxic herbicide being sprayed on U.S. fields between 1996 and 2011.

Increased herbicide isn’t the only problem brought by these crops. When the same herbicide is sprayed on a field repeatedly, a few naturally resistant weeds survive, reproduce and eventually take over. Now, more than 60 million acres of U.S. cropland are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds. Industry’s solution to this problem was just to genetically engineer crops to resist a different, more toxic herbicide: 2,4-D.

These new corn and soy varieties, known by the trade name “Enlist,” are engineered by Dow Agrosciences to resist the effects of the herbicide 2,4-D, and other herbicides. If 2,4-D sounds familiar, that’s because it’s infamous for being a major component of Agent Orange, the Vietnam War-era defoliant. The herbicide itself is toxic to the liver in small doses, is associated with higher risk of Lou Gehrig’s disease, malformed sperm, and possibly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s currently not approved for use on lawns and gardens in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Kuwait and the Canadian provinces of Québec and Ontario. Meanwhile, the USDA acknowledges that allowing these crops on the market will likely more than triple use of 2,4-D in the U.S.—an increase of tens of millions of pounds per year.

In addition to increased use of a toxic herbicide, these new crops carry all the same problems as the old ones. Just as Roundup-resistant crops produced millions of acres of glyphosate-resistant weeds, constant use of 2,4-D on fields of these crops will inevitably lead to 2,4-D-resistant weeds, further escalating the cycle of weed resistance and chemical use. Wildlife living in and around croplands will see 2,4-D drifting into their habitats, threatening their existence. Biodiversity will continue to drop as monocultures of corn and soy dominate the landscape. Neighboring organic and conventional farmers will risk damage from drifting herbicide, and will have to test their crops for transgenic contamination or risk losing their GE-sensitive markets. Contamination will continue regardless, since it can and does happen in so many ways, from cross-pollination to all kinds of human error. And with industry fiercely resisting the labeling of GE products, consumers will continue to be denied the right to know what they’re eating.

Yet the USDA, instead of being more alert to these issues and seeking to ameliorate them, tries harder and harder to avoid dealing with them. It refuses to look at impacts of transgenic contamination or higher 2,4-D use on people, plants, or wildlife. Worse, it takes the position that these are not its responsibility, although it’s USDA’s approval that’s causing these impacts. As for the herbicide’s effects, the USDA says that’s the EPA’s problem, but it remains to be seen whether the EPA will restrict this program in any way. And as far as the USDA is concerned, farmers and consumers are on their own if they want to avoid buying, selling, growing or eating GE products.

Left with little assistance from the federal government, states are taking it upon themselves to protect their communities from GE foods and their herbicides. Recently in Hawaiʻi, the Kauaʻi County Council passed an ordinance requiring disclosure of pesticide use, buffer zones around sensitive areas, and disclosure of GE crops being grown. The ordinance was passed following several incidents where students at a local school fell sick after pesticide spray drifted into the school yard. Upon the ordinance’s passage, three multinational agrichemical companies—Dow, DuPont, and Syngenta—sued the Council. Earthjustice testified in favor of the ordinance and now is preparing to go to court to intervene on behalf of community groups to defend the county law and Kaua’i’s residents.

If you’re concerned about the impacts of allowing a new generation of GE crops to grow freely, support our fight by submitting comments on the USDA’s Environmental Impact Statement at!submitComment;D=APHIS-2013-0042-0050.

if mankind would be more responsible about reproducing themselfes there would not be so much pressure in the attempt of producing enough food.
so far the world population is growing at a fatal rate. fatal to the environment and all other species.
man does not take measures to keep their life sources in balance.
insane plans to increase crops by genetic modification and toxic tweaking sure does not address the problem in the least.
and a nutrition based on corn infested food products is evidently not desirable.
lets take a close look at the obese, diabetes ridden, average american's main source of food:
cornbased, cornsirup drenched, supersized , massproduced junk manufactured with GE crop.
is that supposed to be our future?
only the educated elite has the knowledge and can afford clean food.
and the masses roll on . ignorantly reproducing into the billions and blindly consuming until earth has turned into a huge toxic garbage pile.

GE crops and many other poisons the USA gov. feeds their citizens are outlawed in almost all other civilized countries. USA is bought and paid for by big companies, screw the people..

Take the first step buy not buying these GMO foods ! If the public stops buying it they won't be able to get the farmers on board any more. Stop the lobbing of Monsanto ! Only eat organic! I no it cost more ,but not as much as the cost of what it's going to cost you if you get cancer! Only the people can stop this insanity! Stop buying these GMO foods!!!

We need to give more information to people about the dangers involved in GE ingredients, that will affect our health!

I am not against all GMO foods, for instance, it will be necessary to splice oranges with spinach or we will not have oranges in the future. This is splicing from food to food. However, splicing from a herbicide to a food source is quite different. This splicing is killing our guts. More and more people are having digestive problems. This will be in our children's DNA in 4 generations. I know that some believe, like Bill Gates. That we must be able to feed the world, but this is not the way. If we allow a hand full of companies to OWN our food supply and our water supply, we are in trouble. Our farmers yields are better than GMO crops. The court has now said that farmers cannot sue Monsanto if Monsanto, seeds come onto their land. This patient should not have been allowed to go through. Splicing agent orange and food will kill us all. Perhaps that is the point. No one talks about over population. Monsanto, Sargenta, Bayer, bill Gates, and several others are preparing to steal land on several continents to spread GMOs. Very soon all of our food supply will be infiltrated. All of these organizations have built a seed bank in the artic. It is called the doomsday vault. (Look it up.) They have created a backup plan if they fail. They will fail. We cannot eat this kind of splicing and survive. By feeding cows, fish,etc. the crops, it passes to our guts and contaminates our bodies. Soon real salmon will be gone forever. To me this is a crime against humanity. I am astonished that this has been allowed to happen. Farmers in India are committing suicide because the cannot pay for Monsanto seeds. The last I read was 2500. Now factor in the TPP, the secret trade pact where Monsanto will be above any government rule, and you will have chaos. Other countries have ban them. Bayer now has a lawsuit against a country because of this. It is the biggest hit on humanity ever. Boycotting is harming the food industry that uses GMOs. Look at Cheerios. They have said the original Cherios will be GMO free. Kellogg's has layer off 2500 workers. There is a surge to grow your own food. Add fracking to this, and you have our ground water disappearing because frack water never goes back to the ground, add religious zealots to the Supreme Court that side with corporations, and I am not sure the human race will survive another 300 years.

Our desire should be to be to protect our resources not destroy them to make a few rich!

Very well said. The powers that be ie our govt, big ag, big pharma, the world banks, wall street etc have been very successful at beating up the middle class to the point where they are so stressed out just trying to survive and take care of their families that they have almost completely "checked out" from trying to fight all this domination and evil. so our govts have hearings of course only on weekdays in the morning, so almost no citizens testify at these so called hearings, and things get passed amidst a totally apathetic population. govt marches on, hand in hand with giant corporations, re-engineering the entire social and political landscape with hardly anyone even knowing about it. our citizens are incredibly ignorant to all this, all the while scrambling to survive. we have no time to even think about all the shenanigans going on in govt- fed state and local. it is scathing to put it mildly. previous monsanto execs rule federal ag dept, high paid lobbyists push all kinds of disasterous legislation thru while we scramble to survive living. our only hope are good organizations who lodge lawsuits against the govt and the evil corporations like monsanto, dow, bayer etc, and also the petitiions thru and etc. our citizens can hardly click and sign an online petition, which is highly pathetic. no excuse in my book. we cannot give up, we need to just click and sign online petitions so govt cant run away with everything. next step is martial law style govt in a modified corporatacracy, isnt that a wonderful thought!

Splicing one food into another has nothing to do with creating a food or foods that have been genetically altered by injecting bacteria, viruses and or insecticides into the DNA of for example, corn so it can produce its own insecticide. Hybridization is the fertilization of the flower of one species by the pollen of another species-or artificial cross pollination. It has been evident that GMO's will never feed the world's hungry....all they cause is sorrow and devastation. Monsanto created GMO's as way of making sure there would be a continuing market for their pesticides and herbicides....they have absolutely no concern for the farmers that Monsanto,Sygenta,Bayer and Dow have devastated.
The digestive issues of Americans has steadily increased significantly increased since GMO's were introduced into the food supply and along with that we have seen an increased rate of food


Just so you know, there are at least two biologists who are successfully saving orange groves using good old soil nutrition and conventional methods. No GMOs are in fact necessary to save the oranges. This is just a ruse created by the GM industry to sneak in yet more GMOS to our food system. They are saying that is the ONLY solution. Not even a little bit true. Just like we got along for thousands of years before this stuff was thought up- we can fix blight with improving the soil and using some conventional means. Yes, it is involving some chemicals, the ones they have already been using for a long time- but it is still MUCH better than introducing more GM "technology". It is not necessary.

anon, your comment is thoughtful but I disagree about your point that we will need to "splice oranges and spinach". Recently with the "green orange" crises in Florida, many thought that gmo was the answer to the problem. Lo and behold, some organic breeders got together and solved the issue. GMO is a technology that to me, is like click clacks. Remember those? Just because they were fun and just because everyone was trying to sell them, they were dangerous and just not that necessary. We had other things to play with that did not pose harm to your eyes or the kids eyes who was standing next to you. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. The problem with gmo technology is once you open that box, there is just no going back and no knowing how the effects on our future generations will play. Organic farming is the best way to ensure the safety of our future generations. The UN report is a great read about organic farming and the new methods that kick gmo ass any day. GMO, not needed, except by the chemical companies that are making $$ from selling toxins.

population control is what this we all get sick and die from gmo

Did you see the just announced week long free GMO webinar?

"Join author and activist Stacy Malkan and 18 leading scientists, farmers, medical doctors, business leaders, advocates, and wellness experts about the genetic engineering of our food system, how to avoid GMOs, and why this matters for the health of your family and future generations. GMOs: What You Need to Know starts January 27, 2014 - sign up for free here"

Why is it that GMO gets all the attention. Is introducing a gene, not a chemical that produces a protein or enzyme in a potato or other crop that is then naturally resistant to disease, drought or herbicides really that bad?

After all farmers have been genetically altering crops for thousands of years through grafting methods and cross breeding. With current science one could produce a Brandywine tomato resistant to round worm by putting the nematode resistant gene from a Red Sun tomato into the Brandywine.

To me many other policies of the FDA and state agencies allowing fluoride and other chemicals in water, antibiotics and hormones to be used when raising beef or poultry, cattle being fed "chicken litter" are far greater concerns.

Truth in labeling of ALL ingredients is a critical issue. To me a more important issue than GMO / GE.

The FDA allows many ingredients / chemicals to be hidden behind it's "common / natural name" labeling policy. The next time you read a label if you see maltodextrin, flavorings or sodium casein you are also going to eat a dose of MSG. FDA policy allows the natural name maltodextrin which includes the chemical in MSG, processed free glutamic acid to be listed on the ingredient label without further explanation.

There are about 100 ingredients that always or often contain or are suspected of creating enough processed free glutamic acid to cause adverse reactions in humans.

Truth in labeling is a far greater issue than Monsanto or GMO.

thanks for the link, Kristi. I'll definitely check it out! Laura :)

Would like to hear more on this topic

Many of us here understand the implications of this overwhelming topic - the webinar should be a great tool to use to share with those around us who have yet to start to learn. For me, the big 'next' piece is education. Gently introducing this topic to the circles and circles around me who don't understand.

Many of us here understand the implications of this overwhelming topic - the webinar should be a great tool to use to share with those around us who have yet to start to learn. For me, the big 'next' piece is education. Gently introducing this topic to the circles and circles around me who don't understand.

Both products are unnecessary; one used to fatten cows, corn--and one can cause cancer. So you're good!! Don't need them..

You are killing the human race by giving everyone poison causing cancer and death at an alarming rate. I am a hospice nurse and see proof of this everyday I go to work and watch a child die.

With the above 1/13 comment, since its clearly, not fact-based....seems your naive mind is working overtime in believing a gov't "report" validates enviro. benefits on this mass-exposed topic....all the proof.... is there through research...clearly, you're laziness and presumptivenes overlooked this...suggest to stop eating all that white Wonder Bread....

How about some effective regulation of genetically engineered food? The state of Maine has set a good example. Federal laxity on this issue promotes monoculture, leads to the growth of resistant weeds, increases financial burdens on small farmers, poisons the soil and water table, weakens rural culture, and menaces public health. It makes me wonder: is USDA a wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto and Dow Chemical?

I totally agree with you! We need to have laws in every state to regulate the GMO's. The GMO's are going to kill our young children and fetuses. Education is the answer. The chemical companies have the money to stop the legislation. I hope that the government can stop them from poisoning our food crops.

Why would you purposely poison people? Our health and the health of our children and their children should be the primary concern! We know that GMO products are not safe so why not banned them like other smart countries that apparently cherish life!

Whatever happen to the conscientious, humane and decent idea of planning for the future of our children and their children and for the rest of the living organisms of our planet long after we are gone?

unless there is a reality show or an app or video game on the topic, I'm afraid we're all in big trouble.

Way don't people understand that we cant eat poison and be all right.John

Environmental benefits? You have got to be joking? My guess is that you probably work for the GE industry. How about the livestock showing liver damage, or loosing fertility after several generations of being fed nothing but GE grain? What about the farmers in India committing suicide because the GE crops have ruined their lives, putting them in debt to the point they will never get out.

No more pesticides on our country's crops!

Someone show us the 2013 and newer studies conducted by non politically and industry motivated independent and not government bought bogus scientists.

I want to have the right to know if I'm eating GM food!

Stop GMOs. We already have a healthcare crisis. Let's NOT add potential health risks to our food.

All GE products should be labeled. If they are so safe, why are they so afraid to label them.
In addition, Monsanto and the USDA should be forced to contribute to cancer research.
People should boycott these products until shown to be harmless to humans and other living things. Organic farmers should be protected from the impact of neighboring fields where herbicides are sprayed. The best thing people can do is buy organic. They are not much costlier these days.

You have no right to hide the truth from us.

There is not enough information on the long term health effects of GMO's and the American public should be given the choice of what they purchase for their families. No matter what, be it food, cleaning products, clothing, etc. We should be able to have all the information on what we purchase on the labels so we can make informed decisions.

Just don't eat anything with corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, soy or buy
anything with these ingredients. Goggle what ingredients listed on boxes contain
corn or soy. Then, don't buy these items. The manufacturers will get the message when these boxes sit and rot on the shelves. Of course, this means that you will have to buy
organic fresh vegetables or at least buy them from farmers who you know grow them safely. Canada doesn't allow high fructose corn syrup. However, Canada is a civilized country whereas the United States is one of the most uncivilized countries in the world regarding its foods, its wallking paths, hiking trails (without going 100 miles from your home) and also toilets available to the average person while out hiking, walking, etc.

Label everything that I purchase or think about buying...let me know and let me decide if I want to buy it or not

Why do you lie? The National Academy oof sciences 2010 report-Impact of GE crops on Farm Sustainability in the US makes it clear there are significant economic and environmental benefits from GE crops

Please list some of the environmental benefits.

Benefits to whom? Monsanto? GMO crops are more costly to plant, and seed cannot be saved, so they have contributed to a rash of bankruptcies and suicides among poor and marginal farmers in other countries. They are less nutritious, and their lower protein content is becoming a definite concern among livestock farmers. And to get the "benefit" of RR genes, you have to buy huge quantities of herbicide. And how have the farmers who had to abandon their lands to resistant weeds "benefited"? This cycle is not sustainable.

Then why do the chemical companies fight labelling requirements? I suppose it's because they know it's POISON.

Environmental benefits of GMOS? Please do tell. I have never heard of such a thing.

Any and ALL economic benefits devolve to those companies producing GMO's, NONE to human beings in general. There are NO, zip zero, no benefits to the environment. All studies indicating opposite were engineered, bought and paid for by those companies manufacturing GMO's. Ask a small, organic, local farmer about the impact on HIS economics and environment. Or doesn't that matter?

It is extremely naive to believe that the National Academy of Sciences or the USDA are out to protect citizens. Monsanto et al. threaten anyone that is not in the fold, so careers are on the line if you don't go along with the herd. They control the money, so they control the power, so they control the powers that be. How many times must we see this pattern repeated before we understand that we don't matter to these twisted corporate "people"?

Missing from this otherwise excellent piece from Earthjustice is all the research that show the harms of GMO technology, itself. Are we now afraid to offer that argument? Monsanto always responds to it with how GMOs are the most tested technology ever, but they never mention how controlled those tests are by the companies who profit from said technology. Meanwhile, dissent, no matter how minor, is quashed, and the government "regulators," many with ties to Monsanto and their buddies in that ever-spinning revolving door of greed, always back up their corporate masters in hopes of advancement to the private sector. Why do what's best for us when a fat salary in a GMO company is just waiting for them if they do the "right" thing?

Glittering tech solutions won't save us. Our war with the Earth is over, and as we pat ourselves on the back for being victorious, we have forgotten that the Earth is our home and that we've burned it to the ground.

The earth will be when homo-sapiens (aka homo-dumbos) are extinct. In the future, aliens will probably land and speculate about how our civilization self-destructed. Also, GMO's represent only one of many choices that appear to support an apparent civilization death wish.
Another thought: how much time remains before Thomas Malthus is proven prophetic? The future can possibly hold much ugliness in so many ways both perceived and unperceived.

You are missing the point! Ok If there are benefits, WHY NOT LABEL GE FOODS? What are they hiding? Give consumers the choice to choose.

You are missing the point! Ok If there are benefits, WHY NOT LABEL GE FOODS? What are they hiding? Give consumers the choice to choose.

Nope...leave my food alone!!!

But what about the impact to people's health?

Unknown...and this is in the greatest country on earth...hmmm

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