March 2014        

Is Monsanto poisoning us?

Monsanto, the agri-business giant, wants to dominate world agriculture by inducing farmers everywhere to use its genetically modified seed. Monsanto claims, correctly, that this seed gives greater crop yields than those from the traditional source: seed from the previous harvest. However, crops grown from Monsanto seed are sterile. The grower is therefore forced to buy new seed yearly from Monsanto. As native lines of seed-bearing crops die out, agricultural communities become dependent on Monsanto.
     The problem for the consumer is that mounting scientific evidence says that genetically modified (GM) crops menace our health. Crops from Monsanto seed, for example, can withstand the attack of huge doses of the powerful weedkiller Roundup (another Monsanto product), used extensively with GM organisms. By killing all competitor weeds, glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, increases yields from Monsanto seed.
     Monsanto says that Roundup is safe and “minimally toxic” to humans. But recent research evidence shows that glyphosate residues, found in many everyday foods because of its use with GM sugar sources, corn, wheat, and soy, “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.” Negative impact, they say, manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.
     Glyphosate affects proteins that detoxify foreign chemical compounds in our bodies, one directly linked to cancer. It destroys our gut bacteria, which produce important substances from ingested food. Significantly, glyphosate has been patented as an antibiotic. It inhibits the ability of these bacteria to manufacture amino acids, essential for health. It interferes with sulphur metabolism, thus greatly lowering the body’s resistance to cancer and many other illnesses, from gastro-intestinal diseases to multiple sclerosis. Very recent British research implicates glyphosate in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
     Monsanto argues that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or mammals, because the metabolic pathways it disrupts in plants are absent in animals. This argument is invalidated by the fact that these pathways are very much present in our gut bacteria.
     Warnings about the consequences of glyphosate poisoning for public health are not new. A report in 2011 showed that “industry and regulators knew as long ago as the 1980s and 1990s that glyphosate causes malformations. This information was never made public.” The report says:
  • Research published in 2010 showed that Roundup (glyphosate) causes birth defects in frog and chicken embryos at levels much lower than used in agricultural spraying. The EU Commission dismissed these findings, in accordance with a rebuttal provided by the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, which cited unpublished industry studies to back its claim that glyphosate was safe.
  • The Commission ignored or dismissed many other findings from the independent scientific literature showing that Roundup and glyphosate cause endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and cancer, as well as birth defects. Many of these effects are found at very low doses, comparable to the levels of pesticide residues found in food and the environment.
  • Monsanto has known since the 1980s that glyphosate causes malformations in experimental animals at high doses, and has known since 1993 that these effects could occur at lower and mid doses. The German government has known since at least 1998, and the EU Commission since 2002, that glyphosate causes malformations.
     Like climate-change deniers, who attack the researcher rather than his research results, Monsanto, supported by highly placed Eurocrats, denies the toxicity of glyphosate, even as evidence for it is compelling and continues to mount.
     This denial affects us all. For, given the unsupervised international reach of agri-business (witness the recent horse-meat scandal), glyphosate from GM crops, such as soya beans, and GMO products, such as corn syrup, is present in the Irish diet with certain, but as yet unquantified, health consequences.
     The radical food supervision procedures we need for minimising the noxious effects of GMOs don’t happen under our current neo-liberal dispensation. Only when the welfare of people is placed before the imperatives of transnational profit can measures to ensure a rigorously toxin-free food supply be realistically imagined.

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