January 7 / 8, 2006
The Global Spread of GMO Crops
Inherit the Wind
By PETER MONTAGUE
Felix Ballarin spent 15 years of his life developing a special
organically-grown variety of red corn. It would bring a high price
on the market because local chicken farmers said the red color lent
a rosy hue to the meat and eggs from their corn-fed chickens. But
when the corn emerged from the ground last year, yellow kernels were
mixed with the red. Government officials later confirmed with DNA
tests that Mr. Ballarin's crop had become contaminated with a
genetically modified (GMO) strain of corn.
Because Mr. Ballarin's crop was genetically contaminated, it no
longer qualified as "organically grown," so it no longer brought a
premium price. Mr. Ballarin's 15-year investment was destroyed
overnight by what is now commonly known as "genetic contamination."
This is a new phenomenon, less then 10 years old -- but destined to
be a permanent part of the brave new world that is being cobbled
together as we speak by a handful of corporations whose goal is
global domination of food.
Mr. Ballarin lives in Spain, but the story is the same all over the
world: genetically modified crops are invading fields close by (and
some that are not so close by), contaminating both the organic food
industry and the "conventional" (non-GMO and non-organic) food
As a result of genetically contamination of non-GMO crops in Europe,
the U.S., Mexico, Australia and South America, the biotech food
industry had an upbeat year in 2005 and things are definitely
looking good for the future. As genetically modified pollen from
their crops blows around, contaminating nearby fields, objections to
genetically modified crops diminish because non-GMO alternatives
become harder and harder to find. A few more years of this and there
may not be many (if any) truly non-GMO crops left anywhere. At that
point there won't be any debate about whether to allow GMO-crops to
be grown here or there -- no one will have any choice. All the crops
in the world will be genetically modified (except perhaps for a few
grown in greenhouses on a tiny scale). At that point, GMO will have
contaminated essentially the entire planet, and the companies that
own the patents on the GMO seeds will be sitting in the catbird seat.
It is now widely acknowledged that GMO crops are a "leaky
technology" -- that it to say, genetically modified pollen is spread
naturally on the wind, by insects, and by humans. No one except
perhaps some officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were
actually surprised to learn this. GMO proponents have insisted for a
decade that genetic contamination could never happen (wink, wink)
and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials want along with the
gag. And so of course GMO crops are now spreading everywhere by
natural means, just as you would expect.
It couldn't have turned out better for the GMO crop companies if
they had planned it this way.
Growers of organically-grown and conventional crops are naturally
concerned that genetic contamination is hurting acceptance of their
products. Three California counties have banned GM crops. Anheuser-
Busch Co., the beer giant, has demanded that its home state
(Missouri) keep GMO rice fields 120 miles away from rice it buys to
make beer. The European Union is now trying to establish buffer
zones meant to halt the unwanted spread of GM crops. However, the
Wall Street Journal reported November 8 that, "Such moves to
restrict the spread of GM crops often are ineffective. Last month in
Australia, government experts discovered biotech canola genes in two
non-GM varieties despite a ban covering half the
country. 'Regretfully, the GM companies appear unable to contain
their product," said Kim Chance, agriculture minister for the state
of Western Australia, on the agency's Web site.
For some, this seems to come as a shocking revelation -- genetically
modified pollen released into the natural environment spreads long
distances on the wind. Who would have thought? Actually, almost
anyone could have figured this out. Dust from wind storms in China
contaminates the air in the U.S. Smoke from fires in Indonesia can
be measured in the air half-way around the world. Pollen is
measurable in the deep ice of antarctica. No one should ever have
harbored any doubt that genetically modified pollen would spread
everywhere on the Earth sooner or later. (We are now exactly 10
years into the global experiment with GMO seeds. The first crops
were planted in open fields in the U.S. in 1995. From this meager
beginning, global genetic contamination is now well along.)
Who benefits from all this? Think of it this way: when all crops on
earth are genetically contaminated, then the seed companies that own
the patented seeds will be in a good position to begin enforcing
their patent rights. They have already taken a test case to court
and won. In 2004, Monsanto (the St. Louis, Mo. chemical giant) won a
seven-year court battle against a 73-year-old Saskatchewan farmer
whose fields had been contaminated by Monsanto's genetically
modified plants. The Supreme Court of Canada court ruled that the
farmer -- a fellow named Percy Schmeiser -- owed Monsanto damages
for having Monsanto's patented crops growing illegally in his field.
Armed with this legal precedent, after genetically modified crops
have drifted far and wide, Monsanto, Dow and the other GMO seed
producers will be in a position to muscle most of the world's
farmers. It is for cases exactly like this that the U.S. has spent
30 years creating the WTO (world trade organization) -- to settle
disputes over "intellectual property rights" (such as patents) in
secret tribunals held in Geneva, Switzerland behind closed doors
without any impartial observers allowed to attend. Even the results
of WTO tribunals are secret, unless the parties involved choose to
reveal them. Let me see -- a dirt farmer from India versus Monsanto
and Dow backed by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Treasury.
I'm struggling to predict who might win such a politico- legal
dispute conducted by a secret tribunal in Geneva, Switzerland.
During 2005, it was discovered that GMO crops have not lived up to
their initial promise of huge profits for farmers and huge benefits
for consumers. It was also discovered that the U.S. Department of
Agriculture has not enforced its own strict regulations that were
intended to prevent experimental GMO seeds to accidentally
contaminating nearby fields. GMO crops were supposed to produce
important human health benefits - and the be developed under super-
strict government control - but all these promises have turned out
to be just so much eye wash.. GMOs were supposed to reduce reliance
on dangerous pesticides -- but in fact they have had the opposite
effect. Monsanto's first GMO crops were designed to withstand
drenching in Monsanto's most profitable product, the weed killer
Round-Up -- so farmers who buy Monsanto's patented "Round- up ready"
seeds apply more, not less, weed killer.
But so what? Who cares if GMO seeds don't provide any of the
benefits that were promised? Certainly not the seed companies.
Perhaps benefits to the people of the world were never the point.
Perhaps the point was to get those first GMO crops in the ground --
promise them the moon! -- and then allow nature to take its course
and contaminate the rest of the planet with patented pollen. The
intellectual property lawsuits will come along in good time.
Patience, dear reader, patience. Unlike people, corporations cannot
die, so our children or our grandchildren may find themselves held
in thrall by two or three corporations that have seized legal
control of much of the world's food supply by getting courts (backed
by the threat of force, as all courts ultimately are) to enforce
their intellectual property rights.
The Danish government has passed a law intended to slow the pace of
genetic contamination. The Danes will compensate farmers whose
fields have become contaminated, then the Danish government will
seek recompense from the farmer whose field originated the genetic
contamination, assuming the culprit can be pinpointed. This may slow
the spread of genetic contamination, but the law is clearly not
designed to end the problem.
Yes, it has been a good year for the GMO industry. None of the
stated benefits of their products have materialized -- and the U.S.
government regulatory system has been revealed as a sham -- but
enormous benefits to the few GMO corporations are right on track to
begin blossoming. For Monsanto, Dow and Novartis, a decent shot at
gaining control over much of the world's food supply is now blowing
on the wind and there's no turning back. As the Vice-President of
plant genetics for Dow Agrosciences said recently, "There will be
come continuing bumps in the road, but we are starting to see a
balance of very good news and growth. The genie is way out of the
Peter Montague is editor of the indispensable Rachel's Health and
Democracy, where this essay originally appeared. He can be reached
And here is another story about how GMO may well be poisonous to mammals (sweet!, yet another reason to find non contaminated sources of food. Boulder belt grows and sells such)
The Independent 8 Jan 2005
GM: New study shows unborn babies could be
harmed Mortality rate for new-born rats six times higher when mother was fed on a diet of modified soya
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Published: 08 January 2006
Women who eat GM foods while pregnant risk endangering their unborn
babies, startling new research suggests.
The study - carried out by a leading scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences - found that more than half of the offspring of rats fed on modified soya died in the first three weeks of life, six times as many as those born to mothers with normal diets. Six times as many were also severely underweight. The research - which is being prepared for publication - is just one of a clutch
of recent studies that are reviving fears that GM food damages human health.
Italian research has found that modified soya affected the liver and pancreas of mice. Australia had to abandon a decade-long attempt to develop modified peas when an official study found they caused lung damage. And last May this newspaper revealed a secret report by the biotech giant Monsanto, which showed that rats fed a diet rich in GM corn had smaller kidneys and higher blood cell counts, suggesting possible damage to their immune systems, than those that ate a similar conventional one.
The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation held a workshop on the safety of genetically modified foods at its Rome headquarters late last year. The workshop was addressed by scientists whose research had raised concerns about health dangers. But the World Trade Organisation is expected next month to support a bid by the Bush administration to force European countries to accept GM foods. The Russian research threatens to have an explosive effect on already hostile public opinion. Carried out by Dr Irina Ermakova at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, it is believed to be the first to look at the effects of GM food on the unborn. The scientist added flour from a GM soya bean - produced by Monsanto to be
resistant to its pesticide, Roundup - to the food of female rats, starting two weeks before they conceived, continuing through pregnancy, birth and nursing. Others were given non-GM soyaand a third group was given no soya at all.
She found that 36 per cent of the young of the rats fed the modified soya were severely underweight, compared to 6 per cent of the offspring of the other groups. More alarmingly, a staggering 55.6 per cent of those born to mothers on the GM diet perished within three weeks of birth, compared to 9 per cent of the offspring of those fed normal soya, and 6.8 per cent of the young of those
given no soya at all.