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Chinese Government Sued for Genetically Modified Food

GMO Foods in China

Story at-a-glance -

  • Chinese citizens have filed a lawsuit against China’s Ministry of Agriculture, demanding that the agency make public an animal study used to approve Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide
  • To date the Chinese government has refused to release the report, citing Monsanto’s right to protect their commercial secrets
  • While genetically modified (GM) food crops are banned for cultivation in China, the government is reportedly trying to foster positive public opinion of GMOs

By Dr. Mercola

Chinese citizens have filed a lawsuit against China's Ministry of Agriculture, demanding that the agency make public an animal study used to approve Monsanto's Roundup herbicide nearly three decades ago.

Monsanto provided the animal test to the Ministry in 1985, but to date the Chinese government has refused to release the report, citing Monsanto's right to protect their commercial secrets.

The lawsuit is demanding increased transparency over Roundup, with Chinese citizens eager to review the supposed "safety" study used for its approval. The case has been accepted but a date for a hearing has not yet been set.1

While genetically modified (GM) food crops are banned for cultivation in China, the government is reportedly "trying to foster positive public opinion of GMO food crops."2 The country also imports 65 percent of the world's soybeans, many of which are GM and doused with Monsanto's Roundup. China is also the biggest producer of Roundup worldwide.3

Roundup's Active Ingredient Ruled a 'Probable Carcinogen'

The lawsuit comes on the heels of an announcement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A).4 According to Dr. Aaron Blair, a cancer epidemiologist and scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health (NIH):5

"There were enough studies to suggest something was going on, but not enough to be sure that was absolutely happening."

IARC is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) and is considered the global gold standard for carcinogenicity studies, so this determination is of considerable importance. IARC is also one of the five research agencies from which the OEHHA—which is the California agency of environmental hazards—gets its reports to declare carcinogens under Prop. 65.

So, eventually, foods containing detectable levels of glyphosate will likely have to have a Prop. 65 warning label to be sold in California. While glyphosate is commonly used on conventional crops, GM crops tend to be more heavily contaminated.

GM Roundup Ready crops are designed to tolerate greater amounts of the chemical, and farmers growing GM plants tend to have more trouble with resistant weeds, requiring ever-heavier herbicide applications.

Monsanto Doctor Says Glyphosate Is Safe

Monsanto, not surprisingly, has called for the IARC to retract its report, saying it's based on cherry-picked data, a statement GM Watch called hokum:6

"This is pure hokum, as is evident from a glance at the system for regulatory approval of every GMO and pesticide in the world. Approvals are based solely on a set of safety data provided by the GMO or chemical company that manufactures the product and stands to profit from its approval. Independent studies — which are far more likely than industry studies to find risk — do not get a look in.

Epidemiological studies and other studies by independent scientists, which generally do not conform to the outdated protocols designed decades ago for industry toxicology studies, are excluded from the risk assessment as irrelevant and unreliable.

Industry's own safety data on its pesticides are a commercial secret. Independent scientists and the public are not allowed to see them… IARC based its verdict on published studies and publicly available government reports.

This is how real science is done – when findings are published, other scientists are free to build on the work and refute or confirm it."

Meanwhile, Daniel Goldstein, Monsanto's associate medical director, wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times stating that glyphosate is safe and "probably the most thoroughly studied pesticide in history."7

In other words, trust us… it's safe. Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals.

However, the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria, and that's the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both humans and animals.

Glyphosate causes extreme disruption of the microbe's function and lifecycle. What's worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over.

In the interview above, Dr. Seneff reviews a variety of chronic diseases, explaining how glyphosate contributes to each condition. So to learn more, I urge you to listen to it in its entirety. It's quite eye opening. This includes (but is not limited to) the following:

Autism Gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, colitis, and Crohn's diseaseObesity
AllergiesCardiovascular diseaseDepression
CancerInfertility Alzheimer's disease
Parkinson's diseaseMultiple sclerosisALS and more
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US Regulators May Start Testing Food for Glyphosate Residues

It appears that concerns over glyphosate's toxicity are finally starting to be taken seriously. The US EPA recently announced it may start testing for glyphosate residues on food. While thousands of foods are tested for about 400 different pesticides each year, glyphosate is not on that list simply because it's been thought to be safe. According to the EPA:8

"Given increased public interest in glyphosate, EPA may recommend sampling for glyphosate in the future."

While that's good news, it's worth noting that the EPA raised the allowable limits for glyphosate in food in 2013, and the allowable levels may be too high to protect human health, based on mounting research. Root and tuber vegetables (with the exception of sugar) got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm.

Meanwhile, malformations in frog and chicken embryos have been documented at 2.03 ppm of glyphosate.9 And, as reported by the Institute for Science in Society:10

"The amount of allowable glyphosate in oilseed crops (except for canola and soy) went up from 20 ppm to 40 ppm, 100,000 times the amount needed to induce breast cancer cells." [Emphasis mine]

New Study: GM Crops Don't Reduce Pesticide Use

The majority of soybean, corn, canola, and sunflower seeds planted in the US are coated with another type of chemical called neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics).

The chemicals, which are produced by Bayer and Syngenta, travel systemically through the plants and kill insects that munch on their roots and leaves. Neonicotinoids are powerful neurotoxins and are quite effective at killing the pests… but they're also being blamed for decimating populations on non-target pests, namely pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Neonicotinoids have become the fastest growing insecticides in the world. In the US, virtually all genetically modified Bt corn crops are treated with neonicotinoids. Pesticide makers have claimed that GM crops actually cut down on pesticide use, including the use of neonicotinoids, but a new study found this is not the case.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University revealed that the use of neonicotinoids increased rapidly from 2003 to 2011 "as seed-applied products were introduced in field crops, marking an unprecedented shift toward large-scale, preemptive insecticide use."11 According to study author Margaret Douglas:12

"Previous studies suggested that the percentage of corn acres treated with insecticides decreased during the 2000s, but once we took seed treatments into account we found the opposite pattern.

Our results show that application of neonicotinoids to seed of corn and soybeans has driven a major surge in the U.S. cropland treated with insecticides since the mid-2000s."

Neonicotinoids Treat All Seeds, Even if Pests Aren't a Problem

US pest management policy is supposed to include Integrated Pest Management (IPM), in which insecticides are used only in situations where pest damage threatens crops. Yet neonicotinoids are applied "pre-emptively," whether pests are a significant problem or not. As reported by GM Watch:

"[Study authors] Douglas and Tooker pointed out that many pest attacks are sporadic and not troublesome, which may explain why studies have not found consistent yield benefits from the use of neonicotinoids. They concluded that neonicotinoid seed treatments are being used on many hectares where they do not deliver an economic return and cannot be considered part of an IPM approach.

Douglas and Tooker warned, 'This pattern of use may have unintended consequences, namely resistance in target pests, outbreaks of nontarget pests, and pollution with detrimental effects cascading to wildlife… some of these effects have already emerged.'"

Neonicotinoids have been detected in milkweeds, for instance, which are critical to the survival of Monarch butterflies because they're the only food source for Monarch larvae.13 Milkweed is also very susceptible to being killed by glyphosate, and experts estimate the North American Monarch population has plummeted by 91 percent over the last two decades.

Monarch's Recovery Pledge Nothing More Than Greenwashing

In March 2015, Monsanto announced it would spend $4 million to help the monarch butterfly, including helping to support restoration of the insect's habitat and increase milkweed seed production. This is outrageous not only for the paltry sum they've donated but also because one of the best ways to save the monarchs is to reduce the use of Monsanto's Roundup and Roundup Ready crops. The Center for Food Safety criticized Monsanto's announcement, with executive director Andrew Kimbrell noting:14

"Monsanto brought in $15.85 billion in sales last year. This pledge for monarchs equates to only 2 hours' worth of their sales – hardly a substantial commitment. Regardless of amount, the only way to save monarchs is a major reduction in Monsanto's Roundup Ready crop systems, which are the leading cause of Monarchs' threatened extinction… Throwing a pittance of money at the problem is not a real path to survival; this maneuver is an attempt to greenwash Monsanto's image, nothing more."

Milkweeds that used to abundantly line the Monarch's flight path have been largely eradicated by modern agriculture.15 Not only are chemicals killing the milkweeds, but prairies are being replaced by cornfields, and roadsides are being mowed where milkweeds previously grew wild.

Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety advocates restricting the spraying of glyphosate late in the growing season, when milkweed is flowering and more likely to be killed.16 Freese also supports measures to restore some milkweed plants to farmland, noting that farmers and weed scientists have not found milkweed to be much of a problem.

Of course, representatives of Dow Chemical and Monsanto disagree. Monsanto spokesperson Charla Lord is quoted as saying, "To a farmer, milkweed is a weed that competes with crops in the field for water, soil, and nutrients."17 As Monsanto is pledging their support to save monarchs, they are actively engaged in their demise. According to a press release from eNews Park Forest:18

"The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.

At the same time as Monsanto greenwashes its role in monarch declines, the company plans to introduce additional GE crops that will further threaten monarchs. On deck for Monsanto are their GE dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton varieties, which will be sprayed with both dicamba and glyphosate. These 'next-generation' GE crops will further degrade monarch breeding habitat and kill off other nearby flowing plants used by adult monarchs as nectar sources."

Argentine Farmers Accuse Monsanto of Imposing 'Private Duties'

Argentina's four farm lobbies claim that Monsanto is "abusing its dominant market position" to impose "private duties" via exporters to make producers pay for alleged transgenic seeds property rights."19 The farmers allege that Monsanto has signed confidential accords to charge farmers an extra fee per ton of soybeans grown with Monsanto's GM seeds. The farm lobbies said in a statement:20

"We, the producers, acknowledge that seeds' genetic technology and improvements must get a fair retribution but Monsanto's attempt to charge for royalties is unacceptable and could set a precedent for other technology companies to adopt similar methods to get paid, using third parties not involved in the production process."

More than 18 million hectares in Argentina are covered by genetically engineered soy, on which more than 300 million liters of pesticides are sprayed. Studies strongly suggest that the glyphosate these crops are doused with can cause cancer and birth deformities; both of which are occurring at increasing rates in areas where spraying is done. Sterility and miscarriages are also increasing in the area. Experts warn that in 10 to 15 years, rates of cancer, infertility, and endocrine dysfunction could reach catastrophic levels in Argentina.

Do You Want to Avoid Pesticides in Your Food?

Your best bet for minimizing health risks from pesticide exposure (even those the government claim are "safe") is to avoid them in the first place by eating organic as much as possible and investing in a good water filtration system for your home or apartment. If you know you have been exposed to pesticides, the lactic acid bacteria formed during the fermentation of kimchi may also help your body break down pesticides. So including fermented foods like kimchi in your diet may also be a wise strategy to help detox the pesticides that do enter your body.

One of the benefits of eating organic is that the foods will be free of GM ingredients – and this is key to avoiding exposure to toxic glyphosate. The following are some great resources to obtain wholesome organic food. Eating locally produced organic food will not only support your family's health, it will also protect the environment from harmful chemical pollutants and the inadvertent spread of genetically engineered seeds and chemical-resistant weeds and pests.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to voice your opinion about Monsanto's herbicides, or get involved with saving Monarchs and other pollinators, there are specific action steps you take below.

  1. Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  2. Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  3. Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  4. Eat Well Guide: Wherever you are, Eat Well -- The Guide is a free online directory of more than 25,000 restaurants, farms, stores, farmers' markets, CSAs, and other sources of local, sustainably produced food throughout the US.
  5. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
  6. FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.

Action Step #1: Petition for Classifying the Monarch as 'Threatened'

A 2014 White House memorandum calling for a federal strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators, by way of a multiagency Pollinator Health Task Force, has been introduced.21 The petition also urges the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USDA, and President Obama to protect the Monarchs' breeding habitat by halting the approval of Monsanto Roundup Ready™ and other glyphosate-resistant and pesticide-promoting GE crops. As noted by the Los Angeles Times:22

"Since federal glyphosate rules were last updated a decade ago, its use has spiked tenfold to 182 million pounds a year, largely due to the introduction and popularity of corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist the herbicide... 'The tenfold increase in the amount of glyphosate being used corresponds with huge losses of milkweed and the staggering decline of the Monarch,' said Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC senior scientist. 'We are seeking new safeguards desperately needed to allow enough milkweed to grow... The good news is that butterflies are resilient and can rebound quickly... All they need is milkweed on which to lay their eggs.'"

Sign the Petition

Action Step #2: Ask Retailers to Stop Selling Pesticide-Treated Plants

If you live in the US, I would also encourage you to contact your local garden centers, either by phone or in person, and ask them to stop selling bee-killing pesticides and neonicotinoid-treated plants. Neonicotinoid pesticides are a newer class of chemicals that are applied to seeds and taken up through the plant's vascular system as it grows, where it's expressed in the pollen and nectar that pollinators consume.

Due to pressure from consumers and environmental groups, retail giant Lowe's recently announced they would eliminate neonicotinoid pesticides from its stores by the spring of 2019, which is a major victory.23

Action Step #3: You Can Support Bee and Butterfly Populations from Home

To avoid harming bees and other helpful pollinators that visit your garden, swap out toxic pesticide and lawn chemicals for organic weed and pest control alternatives. Even some organic formulations can be harmful to beneficial insects, so be sure to vet your products carefully.

Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant an edible organic garden. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honeybee habitats. It's also recommended to keep a small basin of fresh water in your garden or backyard, as bees actually do get thirsty.

In order to support the Monarch butterflies, consider planting a locally appropriate species of milkweed in your garden, on your farm, or wherever you manage habitat.

You can use the Milkweed Seed Finder to locate seeds in your area. Whatever you choose to grow, please avoid purchasing pesticide-treated plants. Cut flower growers are among the heaviest users of toxic agricultural chemicals, including pesticides, so if you must buy cut flowers, make sure you select only organically grown and/or fair-trade bouquets.

Ideally, you'll want to grow your own pollinator-friendly plants from organic, untreated seed, but if you opt to purchase starter plants, make sure to ask whether or not they've been pre-treated with pesticides. Plant a pollinator-friendly garden by choosing a variety of plants that will continue flowering from spring through fall; check out the Bee Smart Pollinator App for a database of nearly 1,000 pollinator-friendly plants.

Be sure to choose plants native to your region and stick with old-fashioned varieties, which have the best blooms, fragrance and nectar/pollen for attracting and feeding pollinators.

Keep in mind that you also help protect the welfare of all pollinators every time you shop organic and grass-fed, as you are actually "voting" for less pesticides and herbicides with every organic and pastured food and consumer product you buy. You can take bee preservation a step further by trying your hand at amateur beekeeping. Maintaining a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time each week, benefits your local ecosystem—and you get to enjoy your own homegrown honey!