Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Story about GM Seeds

Susan Brannon-Robens
9, June 2011
Genetically Modified (GM) seeds have been introduced into the world from the early 1990’s.  The seeds are mainly soybean, corn, canola, and cotton. The seed was developed to increase food production, lower production costs and lower the amount of pests that destroy the crops. The process is the insertion, deletion or transfer of genes. They add a genetic material into an organism. GMO’s are used in biological and medical research, the production of pharmaceutical drugs, gene therapy and agriculture.

Monsanto is the company located in Missouri, that develops and patients the GM seeds.  In 2007, Monsanto’s seeds were planted on 246 million acres (1,000,000kn2) throughout the world. Monsanto developed “triple-stack corn” that contains Roundup Ready 2 weed control technology with YieldGard Corn Borer and YieldGard Rootworm insect control and tops the market in the U.S.  The forecast is by 2014 they will plant 56 million acres in the US.  (Check BioTech) I must insert here the concept of growing our food injected with pesticides, that are eaten by cows, pigs, pets and humans does not make any sense.  We all know that what we eat absorbs into our bodies.  Many of the products on the grocery store shelves contain some type of corn by-product.  This is not like the corn of yesterday, but genetically modified with the insertion of Roundup a weed killer accepted by the USDA?

The crops are called “Biotech Crops” that reflects the latest technology, in agriculture in order to “save our hungry world”.  Yet the facts, are that there is enough food for the world, including the developing countries.  The problem is that we don’t get the food over to developing countries.  However, that is another issue for a different article. 

It is said that out of 14 million farmers who grew biotech crops in 2009, 90% of them were poor farmers from developing countries.  In China, 7 million farmers grew cotton (Bt. Cotton), 5.6 million grew cotton in the Philippines. The commercial value of biotech crops grown in 2008 was 130 billion US dollars.  (ISAAA)

As of 2009/2010 data there are a number of seeds that are in our food system:
Soybens:    USA 93%    World 77%
Corn        USA 86%    World 26%
Cotton        USA 93%    World 49%
Alfalfa        produced from 2005-2007 banned until January 2011, currently legal
Papaya        USA 80%
Tomotes    Taken off the market commercial failure
Rapeseed    USA 93%    World 21%
Sugar cane    no data
Sugar beet    USA 95%    World 9%
Zucchini    USA 13%
Monsanto found it easy for the farmers in America to use and purchase the GM seeds, but later discovered the European market is concerned about mixing crops grown from GM seeds next to conventional and organic crops. Japan and the entire European Union, have outright banned GMOs and products associated with them. In the end, Monsanto settled for developing countries as another marketing target.

For example, Monsanto controls more than 60% of commercial seeds in India including “hybrids” that combine different crop varieties. However there has been a reported increase in suicides of over 200,000 Indian farmers since the introduction of the GM seeds. Physicist, Vandana Shiva blames the suicides in part on farmer indebtedness to be forced to buy the seeds each planting year at rising costs.  The seeds cannot be used to plant a new crop from the last years crop. The seeds arrived in India in 2002 and the price of the seeds has jumped from Rs. 7 a bag that covers one acre to Rs. 750.  There are no regulatory systems in India, and “Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1,500 kilograms a year when farmers actually harvest 300 kg a year on average.”  The developing countries are told, you can grow more for less, control the pests, make money from your farms, and help your society to diminish poverty.  Some of the seeds are drought protected, injected with oils for nutrition to increase health.  My question, is this Monsanto a corporation statement really true? 

In America, the Obama administration decided in January 2011 to radically approve unrestricted production of biotech Monsanto “Roundup Ready” alfalfa and sugar beets creating our food system dependent in a handful of corporations, with only profit to guide them.  In spite of the World Health Organization’s concerns over the spread of GM crops and the indirect effect on food safety and security, the GM seed use continues to expand.  The concept of creating and selling patented GM seeds is based on corporate control with the need to be purchased each season eliminating the right for farmers and consumers to choose what they will eat and grow. 

At this time, at least 2,391 farmers in 19 states have been sued for “seed piracy”.  Monsanto has an annual budget of 10 million dollars that is solely devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers.  When a farmer buys the Monsanto seeds, they sign an agreement that they will not save the seeds and replant them.  More than 275,000 farmers buy the seeds under this agreement.  What I do not understand is why America is so willing to “trust” corporate control to the most important of concerns, our food system.

In addition there are health and ethical concerns, the quality and impact of farming, the use of pesticides, and threat to native and natural species are other major issues. Since their commercialization in 1992, GMO’s have had a startling correlation with the explosion in food borne illnesses, obesity, diabetes, and other food-related illnesses.

GMO’s allow for the breeding of super weeds that can both resist their pesticides and decimate the land. GMOs, in essence, stem from an infant science that has been thrust upon the world in the last two decades.  How can cross cropping not exist?  Bees fly around and carry its pollen from one plant and crop to another, the wind blows carrying with it Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. If you eat meat or dairy, you consume alfalfa and corn, the leading source for hay and food for cattle. GMO products are not allowed in the USDA-certified foods and soon it will be all but impossible to find organic milk and meat.  The bill has already passed and the decision was made in spite of organic farming groups, activists, and watch groups who number into the tens of thousands.

Bt. Cotton has also shown some diverse effects through the years, Bt. Cotton first controlled the pests and reduced the amount of insecticides need by 90%, but the Bt. Cotton has created new pests, and to control the new pests, farmers are using 13 times more pesticides than they were using before the introduction of Bt. Cotton.  (Huffington Post April 2009)

Organic farming groups, food outlets and activists responded to the deregulation of GM alfalfa:

"The USDA's decision to allow unlimited, nationwide commercial planting of Monsanto's GE Roundup Ready alfalfa without any restrictions flies in the face of the interests of conventional and organic farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice. USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of American farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment." 

Commenting on the ruling, in a Joint Statement U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Peter DeFazio said:

    "This long approval process began as a search for a workable compromise, but it has ended as a surrender to business as usual for the biotech industry. USDA officials had an opportunity to address the concerns of all farmers, whether they choose to farm genetically altered crops, conventional crops, or organic crops, and to find a way for them to coexist. Instead, what we now have is a setback for the nation's organic and conventional agriculture sectors. Instead of settling this issue, USDA's decision regrettably guarantees further rounds in the courts."

When our leaders approve the expansion of the use of seeds that endanger biodiversity and the farmers’ choice, we should have an outcry as a nation.  This regulated control over our food system; our lifeblood and food supply is not a little thing and is not a democracy.

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