Responsible farmers have been improving their crops using traditional cross-breeding techniques since seed was first put to ground. Today, labs full of corporate scientists use a very different method of cross-breeding.
In the world of transgenic biotechnology, Nature is manipulated. By inserting foreign, non-food genes into commercial seeds the very nature of the subsequent food crop is altered. The new species becomes a genetically modified organism (GMO/GE). Depending on the bioseed's DNA blueprint, it emerges as either herbicide tolerant in order to survive extensive spraying by the grower or produces toxic proteins that act as a pesticide so the crop itself becomes lethal to particular insects.
Monsanto dominates the GMO market. While the corporation declares an intention to feed the world’s hungry, the truth may well reflect profit motive rather than altruism. Close to 86 percent of all the GM seed sown across the world is engineered in a Monsanto lab. Besides owning 23 percent of the global patented seed market, they also sell their own brand of specialty herbicide, Roundup. It is the only herbicide that GMO commercial growers can use when planting Monsanto's bioseeds. This win-win scenario for Monsanto has made the corporation the largest seed company in the world and the fifth largest pesticide company in the world. Once planted, much of Monsanto’s biocrops end up in processed foods, as animal feed or as biofuels.
As the planting seasons passed and the alien crops were harvested, growers discovered something strange. The insects the biotech crops were supposedly destroying were growing resistant to the Bt toxins and super weeds, now impervious to the massive amounts of herbicide sprayed on the biocrops were growing so fast croplands were becoming unviable.
Not to be outdone by Nature, the powerful agrochemical company Monsanto partnered with another agrochemical giant, Dow AgroSciences. Each company contributed patented GM traits and called their new GM corn creation SmartStax or Mon863. This mutated biotech corn expressed six different insect-resistant (Bt) traits and two herbicide-tolerant traits ‘stacked’ together in one seed. Unleashed in 2010, this bioseed promises higher yields in the field, but what the seed and pesticide corporations conveniently failed to divulge were any possible effects that may well translate into health and environmental hazards.
A study performed by researchers from the Committee for Independent Research and Genetic Engineering at the University of Caen in France revealed that rats who ate the modified corn were exhibited signs of liver and kidney toxicity as well as signs of hormonal changes. While the mechanism that caused the toxicity is not yet known, the researchers say there is evidence that the Bt toxin may cause the perforation of blood cells. They expressed concern that the methods used by Monsanto in initial tests of the corn were statistically flawed and called their own tests "the best mammalian toxicity tests available."
Who's Regulating the Regulators
The question of how regulators should view this staxed genetic modification is a highly controversial one. Globally the scientific community is expressing fundamental concerns about human health and environmental safety. But it's the government regulators who control how quickly GM foods get into marketplace and into our digestive systems.
While Monsanto continues to make its ominous power play to corner the world food market the Canadian government supports the biotechnology through a regulatory category called ‘novel foods’. This means government regulators can deal with GM foods without actually naming the technology or drawing undue attention to the approval of its commercial application.
This category is unique to Canada. Rather than viewing the process of genetic engineering as inherently risky, the Canadian government focuses on the traits in the end product. Health Canada does not regulate genetic engineering but regulates ‘novel foods’ and ‘plants with novel traits’ which not only includes GM organisms but other organisms created through traditional breeding methods.
Nor does Health Canada automatically view every GM food as a novel food. A GM food is only identified as a novel food if Health Canada agrees it has ‘novel traits’. If not, government regulations are not triggered and no safety assessment is needed. And that’s how SmartStax deftly entered the commercial marketplace.
While each individual GM trait had been previously approved in separate crops, the eight GM traits had never been combined before. So, Canadian regulators did not see anything new in combining the eight traits together in one seed. This despite the fact that the Codex international food safety guidelines, that Canada helped to negotiate, clearly states that stacked traits can lead to unintended effects and should be subject to a full safety assessment.
The Canadian government evaluated the sets of data from Monsanto and Dow but never tested them. According to the regulations, because the traits in SmartStax had previously been assessed separately, they were no longer ‘novel’ and did not need to be tested for safety. Therefore SmartStax was approved as safe for human consumption. In fact, Health Canada did not even officially rubber stamp the approval of SmartStax. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency alone authorized the commercialization of the staxed corn bioseed.
So the question remains. Was this approval adequate for such a complex GM food? Although Health Canada disputes this interpretation, according to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and Consumers International which participated in the UN negotiations, the Codex guidelines are clear. Michel Hansen a senior scientist with the Consumers Union in the United States and leading global expert on the potential health risks of GM food states “Combining many GM traits together can give rise to unintended effects which could adversely affecting health, such as creating new allergies or toxins or exacerbating existing allergies.”
At issue is the insecticidal toxins in Bt crops. They show similarities to proteins that cause food allergies and the evidence was simply overlooked. Back in 2001, a Bt corn known as StarLink was approved in the US for animal feed but not for human consumption because of concerns that it could cause food allergies. When StarLink corn accidentally contaminated the US food supply hundreds of people reported allergic reactions. SmartStax which contains not one but six of the insecticidal toxins significantly increases human exposure to substances that may well be allergenic.
Health Canada does not do any testing. It only evaluates the science provided to it by the companies requesting product approval. Neither the public nor independent scientists have access to the data because its classified as confidential business information. So much for transparency. To make matters worse, Health Canada relies on the corporations to inform them of any change in the ‘safety of the product’. So much for independent assessment.
While Monsanto’s power and size may seem insurmountable, the truth is Canadians have already stopped three major GM products: bovine growth hormone (for milk production), GM potatoes and GM wheat. Dedicated resistance from both farmers and consumers needs to continue if we want to protect our health, our environment, and our right to choose what we feed our families.
- On The Wind
The way of Nature is indisputable. The genetic modification of a plant must, by Nature’s logic, lead to the synchronous genetic modification of the flower’s pollen. When that selfish gene gets onto wind where it can freely invade pristine farmlands havoc begins.
- Death by Nutrition
Both the medical and independent scientific community have declared a nutritional pandemic and the forecast for our children is not promising.
- The Black Swan
Between 1995 and 2004 the US Geology Department took on a monumental task. In the most comprehensive river study to be carried out to date, they surveyed 16 species in nine river systems over nine years. What they found was shocking.
- After initially dismissing the RSC Panel recommendations, the government established an "Action Plan" to address them. But our analysis shows that the government only addressed 2 of the 58 recommendations: "Genetically Modified Organisms and precaution: Is the Canadian Government Implementing the Royal Society of Canada's Recommendations?" by Peter Andrée and Lucy Sharratt, October 2004. http://www.rsc.ca/files/publications/expert_panels/foodbiotechnology/ind...
- GM food regulation: An analysis of efforts to improve genetically modified food regulation in Canada, Peter Andrée, Science and Public Policy, volume 33, number 5 June 2006.
- United States Department of Agriculture: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. July 5, 2007
- Dow and Monsanto Team Up for Eight-Gene Stacked Corn: Bryner, Michelle, Chemical Week 169.31 (2007)
- Biotech Divide Widens: Farm Journal Oct. 2003
- EU: GM Monsanto Corn Vote Delayed: Food 27 Jan. 2005
- Monsanto’s GM Corn MON863 Shows Kidney, Liver Toxicity in Animal Studies: Gutierrez, David, News Target. 10 April 2007
- MON88017 Another MON863: The Independent Science Panel
- Report on an Expert Panel on the Reanalysis of a 90-Day Study Conducted by Monsanto in Support of the Safety of a Genetically Modified Corn Variety (MON 863): Doull,J, Gaylor,D., Food and Chemical Toxicology 45.11 Nov. 2007
- Monsanto’s Corn Crazy: Ackerman Ruthie, Forbes Magazine 9 Oct 2007
- MON88017 Another MON863: The Independent Science Panel
- Vote with your purchasing dollar
- Read the food label
- Buy only from companies that treat workers, animals and the environment with respect.
- Choose foods that are in season and locally grown.
- Buy organic or naturally grown food
- Shop at farmers' markets
- Cooking is fun and easy. Make the time to cook a meal
- Our government agencies are supposed to protect us. Tell them to enforce food safety standards.
There are over 20,000 species of wildflowers in North America belonging to 300 different families. Kissing cousins to the flowering food crops that end up on our dinner table, their colour and beauty grace our landscapes. From the delightful eye candy of wildflower fields to a groaning board full of culinary delights, honeybees make it all happen. Today half of the world-wide honeybee population has vanished.
Often there appears to be a great divide between ecological problems and probable solutions. Not in this case. Without honeybees diversity rich food sources which are naturally grown are in jeopardy. But we can turn things around using practical applications that are accessible to everyone. We just have to shift perspective - abit. Please join us.