Toxic Industrial Standards Are No Longer Invincible

Toxic Chemicals in Food

Story at-a-glance

  • On January 24, a statement signed by 300 scientists, researchers, physicians, and scholars asserts that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs
  • The paper states that the claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated”
  • Increasing numbers of federal lawsuits against polluting CAFOs demonstrates that opposition against the status quo of toxic food production is strengthening
  • Recent tests found that 62 percent of conventional honeys and 45 percent of organic varieties contained levels of glyphosate above permissible limits


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

A number of developments, including an increasing number of lawsuits, suggest that toxic industrial standards are no longer being shrugged off as a necessary cost of modern living. People really are starting to wake up to the very literal mess that we're in.

For example, large factory farms, so-called confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), generate massive amounts of toxic runoff that threaten water supplies and ecological health.

Genetically engineered (GE) crop fields onto which large amounts of toxic pesticides are applied are also being increasingly challenged by concerned scientists, both for the potential hazard that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pose, and the more well-recognized hazards posed by the chemicals.

Attention Journalists—Start Reporting GMO Science Accurately!

In response to the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) deregulation of the GE Arctic ® apple, the Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, and Pesticide Action Network put out a joint statement1,2 calling on media to start reporting the science of GMOs accurately.

At present, most if not all media coverage discussing GMOs is little more than a regurgitation of biased and inaccurate "facts" churned out by the industry PR machine. The March issue of National Geographic,3 which addresses "the war on science," is no exception to this rule.

If there's a war on science, it's being waged against the real science of GMOs, which tends to produce results that run contrary to the industry's glossy advertisements.

A major objection raised by sustainability advocates such as myself is against false reporting of science that either does not exist or has been convoluted by special interest groups.

In fact, we're all trying to get the media and the chemical technology industry to address the actual science already, which is pointing to the fact that there are serious risks involved.

You can look forward to my upcoming interview with Steven Druker later this month. He is the attorney who sued the FDA for their decision that made GMOs possible in 1992. An absolutely fascinating story that will reveal details you're likely unaware of.

300 Scientists Proclaim: There Is NO Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety

On January 24, a statement signed by 300 scientists, researchers, physicians, and scholars was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe,4 asserting that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.

Moreover, the paper, aptly titled "No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety", states that the claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is in actuality "an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated."

The paper—which, again, bears the signatures of hundreds of scientists and academics—also notes that such a claim "is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue."

The idea of "scientific consensus" has been repeated so many times that many people believe it must be true. It's time to sit up and take notice, and to call journalists out on their lack of professional integrity when making such claims.

According to Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, senior scientist and director of sustainable agriculture at the Center for Food Safety:5

 "Preeminent science bodies like the National Research Council have recognized that some engineered foods could pose considerable risk. It is widely recognized by scientists that those risks depend on the particular engineered gene and crop.

It is unfortunate that self-appointed advocates for the technology have selectively cited the literature and organizations to suggest that GE crops, generally, present no risks that warrant concern."

Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union adds:

"Not one independent, public safety study has been carried out on the Arctic apple, and yet some media stories have reported it is 'safe.'

We call on the press to accurately report on the science of GMOs, particularly the health and environmental concerns raised by scientists and the lack of required safety studies that leave questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods."

Hundreds of scientists have now put it out in black and white: There is no consensus among scientists that GMOs are safe. On the contrary, there are all sorts of concerns—virtually all of which are being ignored by the media. Contrary to what you read or hear in conventional news, the joint statement concludes that:

 "…the totality of scientific research outcomes in the field of GM crop safety is nuanced; complex; often contradictory or inconclusive; confounded by researchers' choices, assumptions, and funding sources; and, in general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered...

Decisions on the future of our food and agriculture should not be based on misleading and misrepresentative claims by an internal circle of likeminded stakeholders that a 'scientific consensus' exists on GMO safety."

Points of Objection to 'Consensus of Safety' Claim

The authors and co-signers of No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety,6 raise the following six points of objection to the claim of "scientific consensus" with regards to the safety of genetically engineered foods:

There is no consensus in the scienceAccording to a comprehensive review7 of peer-reviewed animal feeding studies of GMOs published in 2011, there are as many studies raising concerns about GE foods as there are studies proclaiming them to be as safe and nutritious as conventional foods.

Moreover, the review notes that most studies declaring GE foods comparable to conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies or associated parties.
There are no epidemiological studies investigating potential health effects of GE food on human health As noted by Friends of the Earth, "with no epidemiological studies, claims that 'trillions of GMO meals' have been eaten with no ill effects have no scientific basis." There's also the inconvenient fact that one GE supplement actually did kill. In the 1980s, the supplement L-tryptophan, which was the result of genetic engineering, was the first major GMO catastrophe, killing dozens of people who took it.

Thousands were seriously sickened, and of those, hundreds contracted a rare and disabling disorder named eosinophilia–myalgia syndrome (EMS).

The idea that you can claim GMOs safe for human consumption over an entire lifetime without presenting so much as a shred of scientific evidence—THAT is "war" on science!
GMO studies are frequently mischaracterized as showing safetyOne example of this is the EU Research Project, which has been internationally cited as providing evidence of GMO safety. Alas, this research was not designed to test safety, and provides no reliable evidence of such.

"Another example is the false claim that 'hundreds of studies' listed on the biotechnology website Biofortified demonstrate GMO safety; in fact, many of the studies on that list do not address safety concerns at all, and several of the studies raise serious concerns," the featured press release states.
International agreements show widespread recognition of risks posed by GMO foods and cropsAgreements such as the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety and the UN Codex Alimentarius agree that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding.  Many pro-GMO reporters compare genetic engineering of plants to that of conventional cross-breeding and hybridization—completely ignoring the fact that nature does not cross-breed across kingdoms, blending insect and plant DNA for example.

According to the World Health Organization8 (WHO), GMOs are "organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination." International agreements also concur in their recommendations that safety assessments are necessary prior to introducing GMOs into the environment or the food supply.
Claims that government and scientific organizations endorse safety are exaggerated or inaccurateThe featured statement9 notes that: "Reports by the Royal Society of Canada and British Medical Association have noted that some GMOs could be of considerable harm.

The positions of some prominent scientific organizations have been misrepresented or opposed by members, further highlighting the lack of consensus among scientists."

In the US, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine10 (AAEM) has called on all physicians to prescribe diets without genetically modified (GM) foods to all patients. They've also called for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), long-term independent studies, and labeling, stating:

"Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system… There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation…"
There is no consensus on environmental impacts of GMOsScientists have also raised a number of concerns about the impact of increased pesticide and herbicide use to human and environmental health. For example, the toxicity of Monsanto's Roundup appears to have been vastly underestimated according to some researchers, and others have discovered previously unknown mechanisms of harm by glyphosate. Serious safety concerns have also been raised about neonicotinoids and other commonly used pesticides.

Federal Lawsuits Over CAFOs Are Increasing

Moving on to other related issues demonstrating that opposition against the status quo of toxic food production is strengthening. This trend includes a rising number of federal lawsuits being filed against confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). As reported by Des Moines Register:11

"From Washington state to North Carolina, federal lawsuits are challenging the efficient, profitable livestock industry to change its ways. The arguments found in the lawsuits are based on studies that increasingly show the impact phosphorous, nitrate and bacteria from fertilizer and accumulated manure have on lakes and rivers as well as air pollution that may be harmful to respiratory health... Earlier this year, a federal judge in eastern Washington ruled that an industrial dairy farm's manure management practices posed an 'imminent and substantial endangerment' to the environment and to thousands relying on well water."

A sobering statistic from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that 68 percent of American lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and more than 50 percent of rivers and streams are now adversely impacted by toxic agricultural runoff. Hog-producing states such as Iowa and North Carolina are seeing an uprising of residents complaining about declining water and air quality.

In both of those states, lawsuits have been filed to curb the growing pollution produced by large-scale pork producers. Des Moines Water Works, for example, recently filed a notice of intent to sue CAFOs in three neighboring counties under the federal Clean Water Act for polluting the city's water supply with nitrates, 12,13 which is costing them $7,000 day to filter out. According to Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager of the utility:

"In this state, obviously, industrial agriculture is king. We'll continue to get a lot of blowback, but our ratepayers are first and foremost in our minds and they're tired of paying for other people's pollution."

New York Passes Bill to Protect Farmers Against Monsanto

In New York, lawmakers have stepped in to help protect farmers in the state against lawsuits from Monsanto and other biotech companies, should they inadvertently end up with genetically engineered plants in their fields. The bill was passed by the state's Assembly on February 16. As reported by the Cornucopia Institute:14

"Seed producers have sued farmers around the country for allegedly growing their bioengineered crops without buying the seed. Farmers often argue the seeds arrived by wind or other natural means. Assemblyman Tom Abinanti said... that his legislation will make it easier for New York farmers to defend themselves against frivolous lawsuits. He says that in the case of organic farmers, genetically modified seeds are seen as a contaminant."

Toxins Showing Up Here, There, and Everywhere...

Meanwhile, researchers report finding flame retardants and pesticide byproducts at potentially toxic levels in sharks, rays, and other marine life in the Indian River Lagoon and the ocean off the coast of Brevard County, Florida.15 Shark livers have been found to contain byproducts of DDT and other pesticides banned decades ago, showing just how long these toxins remain in the environment... Further north, in Maryland, lawmakers have started working on proposed legislation that would limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been shown to decimate bee populations. As reported by the Associated Press:16

"The Pollinator Protection Act would require any plants, seeds or nursery stock treated with certain pesticides to include a warning label. It also seeks to prevent people who are not experienced with using the pesticides, which are known as 'neonics,' from using them... 'The critical issues are neonic pesticides are a major contributor to honeybee decline, resulting in Maryland beekeepers losing nearly 50 percent of their hives in 2012,' said Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who is sponsoring the bill."

Under this bill, neonicotinoids would only be available for sale to certified applicators, farmers, and veterinarians. Joe Miedusiewski, a lobbyist representing landscapers, horticulturalists, and golf course superintendents expressed opposition to the bill, saying it would have "a devastating economic effect on our industry." What fascinates me is the pathological shortsightedness of these industry representatives. What good will it do to have money if you kill off all the pollinating insects, without which we cannot produce food? Even the most ignorant must still eat, but they act as thought they'll be able to somehow survive without such basics...

EPA Study Finds No Financial or Agricultural Benefits of Bee-Killing Neonicotinoids

One recent EPA study17 concluded that treating soybean seeds with neonicotinoids provides no significant financial or agricultural benefits for farmers. Moreover, the researchers note there are several other foliar insecticides available that can combat pests as effectively as neonicotinoid seed treatments.

In response to these findings, researchers from the pesticide industry met with EPA pesticide regulators in a closed meeting to discuss the value of neonicotinoids. According to two researchers with Ag Informatics, banning neonicotinoids "would impose $848 million a year in initial transition costs on the agriculture industry and lead to huge increases in the use of older, more dangerous and less effective insecticides," Bloomberg18 reports.

They also claim that neonicotinoids are applied to 56 percent of all corn, soybean, cotton, wheat, and sorghum crops planted in the US, and that (based on a phone survey), 75-80 percent of farmers in the US and Canada say they would continue to use neonicotinoid-treated seeds even if non-treated seeds were available. While it's possible that many conventional farmers would be clueless enough to take that route, I think it's foolish to propose that a toxic substance should remain on the market and/or avoid regulation simply because a phone poll suggests farmers wouldn't switch to less toxic alternatives even if they had the option!

Should We Continue Feeding Antibiotics to Livestock?

Pesticide producers and GE monocropping farmers are not the only ones lacking long-term survival skills. The same shortsightedness can be found among drug companies and livestock producers—not to mention our regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An infographic in National Geographic19 lays out the statistics on the use of antibiotics in livestock, and it's a sad state of affairs indeed. 

Eighty percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are given to poultry and livestock raised in CAFOs, which has led to a man-made plague of antibiotic-resistant infections that is now killing 23,000 Americans each year. Yet livestock producers insist on continuing the practice to keep their meats "affordable." Well, over half of all the "affordable" chicken sold in your local grocery store is tainted with drug-resistant E.coli, and one could definitely argue that should you contract such an infection, you're not getting out of it cheaply!

More Toxic News...

So what else is going on? How about toxic glyphosate being detected in honey, including organic honey... That's the verdict issued by Boston University researchers20 working in collaboration with Abraxis LLC. In all, 62 percent of conventional honeys and 45 percent of organic varieties were tainted with glyphosate.

Health experts in Argentina, which has long struggled with the health effects of pesticides, is also reaching out with dire warnings again. According to Dr. Medardo Ávila-Vázquez,21 a pediatrician and neonatologist at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the National University of Córdoba, glyphosate use in connection to GMO seeds is having a notably deleterious effect on the health of the local people, particularly children.

"We must recognize that the agrochemicals used are all poisonous: herbicides like glyphosate, 2,4-D...or Atrazine, are designed to kill plants, and endosulfan, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, cypermethrin, imidacloprid, etc. are designed to kill insects and are the most widely used; they all have deleterious effects on human health and the environment," he writes.

"The use of these pesticides has been increasing exponentially since 1990: back then, 30 million liters of poisons were used; during the 2012/2013 crop season more than 318 million liters were applied. On the same hectare where 2 or 3 liters of glyphosate were used per year, today 8 or 12 liters are used with 1.5 liters of 2,4-D in addition. In Santiago del Estero, Salta, and Chaco (north-western Argentina) up to 20 liters/ha/year of Round Up are used."

The Results of Global 'Live' Testing of Chemical-Based Agriculture Are In

Nearly two decades-worth of heavy pesticide use is now showing its real-life effects in Argentinean disease and mortality statistics. There has been a notable increase in respiratory problems, chronic dermatitis, depression, immune and endocrine disorders, for example. Miscarriages have skyrocketed, and 23 percent of women of childbearing age report having had at least one miscarriage in the past five years. Infertility among both men and women has significantly increased.  Among animals—those proverbial canaries in the coal mine—up to 100 percent of spontaneous abortions and premature deaths have been due to malformations linked to pesticide exposure.

Birth deformities are also rising—especially among mothers exposed to pesticides during the first few months of pregnancy. In some towns, birth deformities and defects such as Down's syndrome, spina bifida, and neural tube defects occur at three times the normal rate. Data also show that 30 percent of deaths in areas where pesticides are sprayed are due to cancer, while the average cancer death rate is less than 20 percent.

"Significantly, the date coincides with the expansion in the use of glyphosate and other agrochemicals massively applied in those areas. In May 2014, the Ministry of Health of the Province of Córdoba published data from its cancer registry, confirming that in the most intensive agricultural areas, deaths due to cancer exceed by 100 percent those in the city, and by 70 percent the provincial average," Dr. Medardo Ávila-Vázquez writes.22

"For 100 000 years our species was in contact with minimum amounts of these toxins, but now, thanks to biotechnology, we are exposed to massive amounts of these proteins... Today we know that 40 percent of the genes of the human genome are shared with plants and regulate our cellular activities as in the plants, we also know that 60 percent of the genes of insects such as the fruit fly are in our genetic code.

In other words, we share with insects and plants many mechanisms of cellular metabolism. When we attack these mechanisms with a heavy arsenal of chemicals, to block or distort them, to kill plants or insects, we cannot ignore the fact that these toxic products can reach people, either through occupational exposure, residential exposure or by ingesting food or water contaminated with residues, and may well have adverse effects on them; we cannot presuppose that they are harmless."

What Are We Doing, and Where Are We Headed?

Last but not least, an article by Elizabeth Grossman23 titled "What Are We Doing to Our Children's Brains?" raises the issue of toxic exposures via food, air, and water, and neurological health. Clearly all these toxins are not making our children smarter. I think that's a fairly reasonable assumption. The question is when will our lawmakers and industry bigwigs recognize the true cost of doing business as usual? How many people must be completely dysfunctional before food is recognized as something that actually must be pure? Grossman writes:

"The numbers are startling. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.8 million more children in the US were diagnosed with developmental disabilities between 2006 and 2008 than a decade earlier. During this time, the prevalence of autism climbed nearly 300 percent... CDC figures also show that 10 to 15 percent of all babies born in the US have some type of neurobehavorial development disorder."

Statistics like these tell us that we are well past the point where one can argue that "a little bit of toxin won't do any harm" because our environment and food supply is filled with tens of thousands of substances thought to be "harmless," in and of themselves, in the amounts used. But it's not just one chemical; one toxin. Even those who make an effort to avoid known toxins are undoubtedly ingesting and breathing and absorbing a plethora of chemicals every day, most of which have never even been studied for safety.

It's the combination of all these exposures that spell doom for future generations—unless we act swiftly. Toxic industries have been allowed to flourish and dictate how our food is grown, processed and sold. But this is not the only system available. There are other non-toxic agricultural systems that can feed the world more efficiently, while simultaneously nourishing and protecting soils and wildlife. We need to make a U-turn, and we need to do it now. Regrettably, it may already be too late in some respects, considering just how long some toxins linger in the environment, but doing nothing will assure the end of our species... The choice is ours. You vote for the world you want to live in every time you open your pocketbook, so please take each of those opportunities seriously. Together, we can steer the food industry in a new direction.


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