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Fight Against GMO

Story at-a-glance -

  • The federal government and US state land managers use glyphosate preferentially to “battle” non-native plant species
  • While creating a war against invasive plants (many of which are beneficial to the environment), genetically modified crops were touted as a sustainable solution
  • DuPont hid the toxic health and environmental effects of its non-stick chemical PFOA for decades, even though they had evidence showing it caused cancer, birth defects, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and more

Science Is No Longer Truth: Death of Democracy and Knowledge

August 25, 2015 | 43,531 views

By Dr. Mercola

You’ve probably heard of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. One of the most widely used herbicides in the world, in the US it’s used most often on genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready crops.

The chemical can be sprayed directly onto the GM crops, which are modified to withstand it, while other living plants in the vicinity wither and die.

What may come as a surprise is the fact that Roundup isn’t only used by farmers growing GM crops (not that that’s a small group – Roundup Ready soybeans make up 94 percent of US soybean acreage, for instance).1

The federal government and US state land managers also count themselves among Monsanto’s clients, as glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – is the “weapon of choice for battling all sorts of invaders.”2

As noted in a Harper’s Magazine expose, a 2014 study by the California Invasive Plant Council revealed that more than 90 percent of the state’s land managers used the compound.3

On what, exactly? The fight against non-native and “invasive” plants – a fight that is itself mired in controversy because many non-native plants are actually beneficial and some have been around for centuries…

US Government Spends $1 Billion a Year on Glyphosate and Other Chemicals to Kill Off Plants

According to Harper’s, Last year, the federal government spent more than $2 billion to fight the alien invasion, up to half of which was budgeted for glyphosate and other poisons.4

This includes the eucalyptus tree in California, which was brought from Australia during Victorian times, the Monterey cypress, and more than 450,000 other trees in the Oakland/Berkeley area of the state that are slated to be destroyed for “wildfire-risk reduction.”

The federal government even describes invasive species as one of the most serious threats to the environment yet, as Harper’s explained:5

Defining ‘native’ and ‘invasive’ in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.

The National Invasive Species Council defines the enemy as ‘an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.’

But the late, great evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould dismissed such notions as ‘romantic drivel.’

Natives, he wrote, are simply ‘those organisms that first happened to gain and keep a footing,’ and he ridiculed the suggestion that early arrivals ‘learn to live in ecological harmony with [their] surroundings, while later interlopers tend to be exploiters.’”

The “invasive” eucalyptus tree, for instance, was planted by the hundreds of thousands in the 1870s, as it was renowned for its grace and appearance. The tree can withstand fires and irrigates soil by absorbing moisture from fog through its leaves and funneling it through its roots, which sounds more like an environmental benefit than a threat…

Residents Outraged by New York’s Plan to Destroy 200-Acre Reed Marsh

Phragmites, or the common reed, is accused of crowding out plants, fish, and wildlife to the extent that, in Delaware, glyphosate is sprayed and re-sprayed annually on a 6,700-acre area of the Delaware River estuary.

In 2013, residents of Piermont, New York also learned of the state’s plans to douse a 200-acre reed marsh with glyphosate – a natural area residents said they loved and viewed as a “beautiful… living environment with lots of wildlife.”

The state had planned to use heavy spraying of glyphosate, despite the fact that the marsh sat next to two playgrounds. And these are but two examples. As Harper’s continued:6

Many states maintain invasive-plant councils (and sometimes exotic-pest-plant councils) to monitor and eradicate alien invaders. Last year, the North Carolina Invasive Plant Council gave its annual Certificate of Excellence to two forest rangers who had detected a small patch of cogon grass. 

This was an invasive unwittingly imported from Asia in packing crates, which the Vietnamese call ‘American weed,’ because it spread on land defoliated by Agent Orange.

As it happens, an erstwhile supplier of Agent Orange, the Monsanto Company, also manufactures America’s most popular remedy for cogon grass: glyphosate… Discussing Phragmites australis, the reed found in wetlands throughout the country, Massachusetts conservation officials similarly tout this ‘effective’ weed killer.

Pennsylvania urges glyphosate’s deployment against purple loosestrife, while Illinois recommends it for Japanese knotweed. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries prescribes it for cogon grass but warns that ‘multiple applications for full control’ may be required.”

How the Fight Against ‘Invasive’ Plants Came to Fully Support the Introduction of GMOs

It might seem strange, first, that non-native plants showing environmental benefits – such as soil remediation and protection against erosion – are considered such an imminent threat. Harper’s noted:7

“David Theodoropoulos, a California naturalist, seed merchant, and the author of Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience, is blunt about what he sees as a deadly inversion of environmental priorities.

‘Thirty years ago,’ he told me, ‘the greatest threats to nature were chain saws, bulldozers, and poisons. Now the greatest threats are wild plants and animals. And what do we use to fight them? Chain saws, bulldozers, and poisons. Who does this serve?’”

Stranger, still, is the fact that the US embraces the use of GM crops – which are clearly not natural – while denouncing decidedly more natural non-native plants. It wasn’t always this way, but in the 1990s a Biodiversity and Ecosystems Panel was established to consider the emerging threat of invasive species.

At its helm was Peter Raven, the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden who quickly became the most powerful botanist in America.

While spreading views that accelerating extinction of plant and animal species meant we were past the point of preserving the world’s sustainability, he also stressed a need for biodiversity while blaming (diverse) invasive species and human activities for the ongoing “extinction event.”

But there was one silver lining to the dark clouds – genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which Raven fully supported and endorsed. According to Harper’s:8

“…Raven (who retired in 2010) and Monsanto were close, both geographically and financially. The Missouri Botanical Garden was located just a few miles from Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis, and it owed much of its explosive growth to the beneficence of the corporation, which was in the process of changing its public identity from a chemical manufacturer and purveyor of Agent Orange to a ‘life sciences company’ — one heavily invested in GMOs.

In April 1996, Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro joined Raven to break ground for the Monsanto Center, a four-story structure designed to house the garden’s unique collection of botanical books and dried plants. Monsanto had contributed $2 million toward the center’s construction, and had also donated the land and $50 million for the Danforth Plant Science Center, another GMO-intensive research facility.

‘Monsanto loved Raven,’ a former senior executive at the company told me. ‘They were always showing off the Missouri Botanical Garden, bringing important visitors down to meet him, having him give tours, talks. He was definitely our showpiece.’

For his part, Raven spoke publicly about the virtues of GMOs. The company’s grand scheme was to genetically modify crops — particularly corn, soybeans, and cotton — to render them immune to the glyphosate in Roundup. This would allow farmers to spray weeds without killing the crops.

… I asked Raven whether his efforts to protect the natural world didn’t clash in some way with his support for something very unnatural: GMO technology. ‘What’s natural anymore?’ he replied. ‘If we’re going to play God, we might as well be good at it.’”

As acceptance of GMOs grew, so too did the fight against invasive species. Soon the National Invasive Species Council was created, and a founding member included Nelroy E. Jackson, a weed scientist and product-development manager at Monsanto who, according to Harper’s, “had helped to develop Roundup formulations specifically for “habitat-restoration markets” — that is, for eradicating invasives.”

GMO Crops Drown Out Diversity

Ironically, but not surprisingly, Monsanto’s GM crops didn’t turn out to be a boon for diversity. Instead, monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. Monoculture is at the heart of GMOs, and it destroys biodiversity. Pests are becoming resistant to the plants engineered to produce their own pesticides, while beneficial insects such as honeybees and Monarch butterflies suffer collateral damage from the copious amounts of glyphosate sprayed.

Weeds are rapidly developing resistance to the herbicide, and superweeds – like the native horseweed, which was once prized for its medicinal properties and now grows up to eight feet tall and is impervious to glyphosate – are spreading. Not to mention, it’s now known that glyphosate promotes cancer.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that glyphosate is a Class 2A "probable human carcinogen,” and internal Monsanto documents revealed they knew over 30 years ago that glyphosate caused adenomas and carcinomas in the rats they’ve studied.

And adding even more insult to injury, many farmers are now spraying glyphosate not just on GM crops but also on non-GM crops, simply to kill off the fields and produce early harvests. Harper’s reported:9

“‘You can imagine the residue levels on the damn wheat,’ said Charles Benbrook, an agricultural economist at Washington State University. ‘If you buy whole-wheat bread, the glyphosate will be ground up with the whole-wheat kernel and it will be part of the flour. It’s a very high exposure. When they make white flour, the bran gets separated out and is used in the food supply in other places. That bran will have three or four times the concentration of glyphosate, because that’s where the residues are lodged. It’s insanity.’”

DuPont Knew Health Risks of PFOA but Kept Making It Anyway

It’s not only non-native plants, GMOs, and glyphosate that are intertwined in a deceptive, health-harming web. PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8), was an essential ingredient in DuPont’s non-stick cookware for decades. It’s since been used in hundreds of other products, from microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers to pizza boxes and waterproof clothing. The chemical is now the subject of about 3,500 personal injury claims against DuPont, the first of which are scheduled for September 2015.

The legal process has uncovered hundreds of internal documents revealing that DuPont knew of the chemicals danger to the public and employees, yet continued using it, despite the known risks. In fact, 10 years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined DuPont $16.5 million for withholding decades' worth of information about health hazards associated with PFOA. As noted in a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG):10

"DuPont had long known that PFOA caused cancer, had poisoned drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley, and polluted the blood of people and animals worldwide. But it never told its workers, local officials and residents, state regulators, or the EPA."

At the time, that fine was the largest the EPA had ever assessed, but it was still too small to act as a deterrent. In 2005, a panel of three scientists was ordered as part of a settlement in order to determine the chemical’s effects on people. After seven years of research, the panel linked PFOA to ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer. Its health effects were deemed to be widespread and occurred even at very low exposure levels. As reported by The Intercept:11

“Another revelation about C8 makes all of this more disturbing and gives the upcoming trials… global significance: This deadly chemical that DuPont continued to use well after it knew it was linked to health problems is now practically everywhere. A man-made compound that didn’t exist a century ago, C8 is in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans, according to a 2007 analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as in newborn human babies, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood.

A growing group of scientists have been tracking the chemical’s spread through the environment, documenting its presence in a wide range of wildlife, including Loggerhead sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, harbor seals, polar bears, caribou, walruses, bald eagles, lions, tigers, and arctic birds.

Although DuPont no longer uses C8, fully removing the chemical from all the bodies of water and bloodstreams it pollutes is now impossible. And, because it is so chemically stable — in fact, as far as scientists can determine, it never breaks down — C8 is expected to remain on the planet well after humans are gone from it.”

PFOA Dubbed the ‘Tobacco of the Chemical Industry’

DuPont, along with seven other companies, including 3M, were involved in producing PFOA over the decades. The chemical is being called the “tobacco of the chemical industry” because of the decades-long corporate cover-up of its health effects, the lawsuits pending, and how difficult it is to make companies accountable for producing disease-causing products, even after the evidence is clear. In DuPont’s case, they had animal evidence of harm – from liver toxicity and kidney damage to death – for decades, but the company did not alert regulators of a potential problem.

Then there were the company’s workers, some of whom gave birth to babies with birth defects after working in the company’s PFOA division. DuPont knew of the problems and was tracking its workers for such health effects, but again failed to inform regulators of their findings.

Worse still, when 3M submitted a troublesome rat study to the EPA suggesting harm, DuPont told the EPA they believed the study was flawed. While continuing to study the chemical’s effects on its workers, DuPont was also tracking the chemical’s spread into nearby waterways, as well as its emissions into the air through smokestacks.

At first DuPont disposed of PFOA by dumping it in the ocean and later moved to disposing of it in unlined landfills and ponds. They knew the chemical was spreading widely into the environment and convened a meeting to discuss what to do about it… but decided to keep using the chemical anyway. According to The Intercept:12

“ … [F]rom that point on, DuPont increased its use and emissions of the chemical… the plant put an estimated 19,000 pounds of C8 into the air in 1984, the year of the meeting. By 1999, the peak of its air emissions, the West Virginia plant put some 87,000 pounds of C8 into local air and water. That same year, the company emitted more than 25,000 pounds of the chemical into the air and water around its New Jersey plant...

Essentially, DuPont decided to double-down on C8, betting that somewhere down the line the company would somehow be able to ‘eliminate all C8 emissions in a way yet to be developed that would not economically penalize the bussiness [sic]’… The executives, while conscious of probable future liability, did not act with great urgency about the potential legal predicament they faced. If they did decide to reduce emissions or stop using the chemical altogether, they still couldn’t undo the years of damage already done. As the meeting summary noted, ‘We are already liable for the past 32 years of operation.’”

When Science Is No Longer the Truth…

Our society is largely built on the idea that science can help us make good, solid decisions. But now we're facing a world so rife with problems caused by the very sciences that were supposed to keep us healthy, safe, and productive, it's quite clear that we're heading toward more than one proverbial brick wall. In a sense, the fundamental role of science itself has been hijacked for selfish gain. Looking back, you can now see that the preferred business model of an industry was created first, followed by "scientific evidence" that supports the established business model.

When the science doesn’t support the company’s economic gains, it’s swept under the rug, even if people are dying and the planet is becoming irreparably poisoned as a result. Today we live in a world where chemical companies and biotech giants can easily buy and pay for their own research studies, as well as the lobbying to support whatever legislation they need passed in their favor. Conflicts of interest have become the norm within virtually all fields of science, which creates a completely unworkable – and dangerous – situation in the long run.

If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest reading the Harper’s and Intercept stories in their entireties. These are but two examples of what happens when science is no longer truth and corporate interests instead dictate the future health of the planet and its population. The first step toward change is awareness that there’s a problem…

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