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On the 25th May 2013 around two million members of global civil society gathered in over 400 cities in 52 countries to protest against the giant corporation Monsanto. It’s been more than fifteen years since the whistle was blown on the safety of GM foods, so why are we still marching against them?

Fancy a glass of Agent OrangeHere are four good reasons:

  1. GM crops do not feed the poor. The fact that all GM seeds are patented means that Monsanto and not the farmer is profiting hand over fist from royalties on those patents.  Small farmers used to being able to save and swap heritage seeds are often left worse off as they spiral into debt to buy more seed and pesticide spray packages for each growing season [1] [2].
  2. GM crops consistently under-perform and have failed to live up to the hype that they would increase yields. Instead, these crops have significantly increased the use of herbicides and pesticides [3]. And newer strains have pesticides built into the seeds. This means that the poison is systemic throughout the plant and can be taken up by the soil and leach into groundwater.
  3. Uncontrollable super-weeds or hybrid plants containing genes for herbicide resistance are produced by accidental crossing of GM crops with wild plants. This has necessitated the use of Monsanto’s older chemicals such as DDT and Agent Orange in combination with their newer and even more toxic herbicide Roundup. Usage on mutant cultivars has increased 25% each year since 2001.
  4. Soils have been degraded by the accumulative effects of chemicals which kill the beneficial microbes and switch off the plants ability to take up key nutrients [4].  Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup causing unprecedented environmental and human health problems throughout South America where the majority of glyphosate tolerant GM soya is grown. An up to date MIT review of all the independent studies suggests that glyphosate is far from harmless. It states that the suppression of enzymes and amino acids in the gut is a pathway for gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, heart disease, depression, autism, Alzheimers and cancer [5].

The world’s first longer term studies on GM crops

There is now a mass of evidence to support the original findings by Professor Arpad Putsztai in 1998 that GM food is not fit for human or animal consumption [6]. The most recent studies come from two other eminent scientists. Firstly, the work of Dr Judy Carmen of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research [7] who took 168 just weaned pigs on a farm (this was a real life study not done in a lab) and fed them their typical mixed diet of soy and corn for over 5 months. Half the pigs were fed GM soy and GM corn and the control group were fed the equivalent non-GM diet. The GM diet contained 3 modified genes and therefore 3 proteins. One protein made the plant resistant to glyphosate and the other two were insecticides, which work by destroying the insects’ digestive system.

Pigs have similar digestive systems to humans, so Judy Carmen was compelled to investigate the reproductive and digestive problems in pigs eating GM feed as reported by farmers, other scientists and veterinarians. In this trial, the vets conducting the autopsies were not told which diet the pigs had received therefore their observations were unbiased.  They found that pigs fed the GM diet got severe stomach inflammation; the males 4.4 times more likely and sows 2.2 times more likely to have inflamed and discoloured stomachs than the controls.  Sows in the GM group ended up with uteruses weighing 25% more in proportion to their overall weight than the control sows. These are striking and significant biological differences.

Dr Carmen said, “Our results provide clear evidence that regulators need to safety assess GM crops containing a mixture of GM plants eaten in the same meal, even if regulators have already assessed GM plants containing single GM genes in the mixture.”

Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini at Caen University in France had already been the target of a Monsanto campaign to discredit his work. However, he has bounced back with the first ever two year study to determine the effect of a Monsanto corn NK603 on rats biochemical markers, the effect of glyphosate on its own and in combination with the corn [8].  This is the first time that NK603 has been tested for more than the 90 day standard industry tests.

His results were that there were 600% more deaths in the GM groups than the controls (fed non-GM corn) and it was only after the 3 month period, between the fourth and seventh month, that the female rats in the GM only group developed massive tumours, 94% of which were in the mammary glands and the males developed renal tumours. This points towards hormonal effects and for the first time ever this study has highlighted that the transgenesis itself could have killed the rats. Similar effects were found in the glyphosate only group which were fed levels much lower than the safety limit set by regulators.

In May this year Prof Seralini was summoned to a session in the EU Parliament to debate the persistent conflict of interest and industry influence over the decision making of the European Food Standards Agency (FSA). He told the meeting that the FSA had failed to examine the real toxicity of glyphosate and their effects in GMOs.

Glyphosate in the water

There are no benefits to consumers from GM crops. And the benefits to farmers are marginal, as bees, birds and non-target insects are all at risk from over spraying – crops are sprayed again with glyphosate 10 days before harvest to dry them. An overview study has discovered that 90% of a bee-killing pesticide ends up in groundwater and soil [9]. And in 18 European countries high levels of glyphosate has been detected in human urine samples [10].

Monsanto spend millions of dollars every year on advertising and lobbying governments to promote the sale of their seeds. But the public has never been fooled by Monsanto. The findings of Dr Carmen, Professor Seralini, Professor Apad Putsztai and a host of independent scientists demonstrate that GM crops are not, as Monsanto and regulators would have us believe, “substantially equivalent” and therefore the same as native crops, which have not been forcibly spiked with proteins, foreign DNA and bacteria. And, the mere fact that they are patented means that GM seeds and crops are something entirely different, an entity of their own. 

The people march against Monsanto because governments are still ignoring the warnings of independent scientists, farmers and consumers, and regulators refuse to monitor the effects of the most widely used chemicals. However, governments are answerable to the public and we will make it so.

References: Available on request.