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“Fed Up!” — A Film About the Risks of GE Foods and the Industrial Food System

August 15, 2015

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Story at-a-glance

  • Industrial agriculture threatens the very foundation of future food production by damaging the soil and destroying biodiversity
  • Instead of solving world hunger, the current system is destroying farms, bankrupting farmers, and posing grave risks for pollinators
  • Pesticide exposure has been linked to serious health effects, including birth defects, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer

By Dr. Mercola

In 2002, the documentary “Fed Up!” was released about genetic engineering (GE), industrial agriculture, and the dangers posed by the present food system. More than a decade later, this film is still relevant.

Despite the lack of credible scientific research documenting the long term safety of GE foods, most foods in the US are still not labeled with respect to GE ingredients.

Industrial agriculture is damaging the foundation of future food production by compacting and eroding the soil, depriving it of nutrients, killing off its biome, and disrupting the natural ecological balance.

These problems and monocropping have resulted in a significant loss of biodiversity, not just in terms of food, but also for the greater plant and animal kingdoms.

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. Weeds are rapidly developing resistance, as well.

“Fed Up!” explores the unintentional effects of toxic agricultural chemicals, the resistance of biotechnology companies to food labeling, and the perpetual revolving door between government officials and the chemical industry.

How the Green Revolution Turned Many Farms Brown

In the 1940s and 1950s, what came to be known as the “green revolution” was largely driven by Ford and Rockefeller foundations who sought to reduce world hunger by helping third world countries increase their food production.

The foundations’ thinking was that poor (and therefore hungry) populations would be less susceptible to communist subversion if they became dependent on American aid.

Mexico and other third world countries were provided commercial fertilizers, pesticides, and high-yield crop varieties in anticipation of increased crop yield. This agricultural system was based on the rather arrogant and erroneous idea that mankind could dominate nature with chemicals.

As a result, this system has largely failed. Smaller farmers have lost their land, tracts have been turned to desert (a phenomena known as desertification), and much diversity has been lost.

The green revolution turned out to be more of a “brown revolution” for peasants and small family farms. Rice and wheat production may have increased, but the availability of crops key to native diets, such as lentils and other legumes, have been dramatically reduced.

Answer to World Hunger Is NOT Genetically Engineered Foods

Industrial agriculture is more profitable for large-scale operations where production can be mechanized and pesticides can be applied aerially despite the fact that science consistently shows that small farms are more productive than large farms.

Small-scale farms produce most of the world’s food but are squeezed into less than one-quarter of the world’s farmland — or less than one-fifth if you omit China and India.1

One sure way to worsen world hunger is to destroy people’s capacity to feed themselves, which is what industrial agriculture has largely done. When financial support is channeled to big agro-corporations, small farms are put out of business, making the poverty problem worse instead of better.

There is probably no more profound example of this than the farmers in rural India where one farmer kills himself every 30 minutes — typically by ingesting the very pesticides he can no longer afford.

More than a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide over the past 16 years after their crops fail and they’re left in financial ruin, largely as a result of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds (especially Bt cotton).

Bt cottonseed is much more expensive than traditional seed, requiring more water and pesticides, and has failed to produce the increased crop yields promised by Monsanto.

This situation is made worse by the fact that the Indian government has largely abandoned its small farmers, discontinuing support programs, and failing to address factors such as lack of rural credit and poor access to irrigation. New government programs have barely scratched the surface of this crisis.

Golden Rice: A Foolish Solution to a Very Real Problem

Improving access to healthy food makes much more sense than genetic alteration of the food supply. Case in point: “golden rice,” industry’s answer to the problem of vitamin A deficiency in developing nations. Vitamin A deficiency is common in third world countries where people lack access to beta-carotene-rich foods, such as vegetables and fruits. More than half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and India are vitamin A deficient.

Industry’s answer is golden rice, genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene, which, theoretically, the human body can convert into vitamin A. The problem with this “solution” is that the beta-carotene conversion occurs only under certain conditions — specifically, beta-carotene is fat-soluble, which means dietary fat is required for your body to make the conversion.

Many people in developing nations have very low-fat diets, because they lack access to animal foods or other healthy fats. Furthermore, malnourished people are less able to convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. The nutritional soundness of golden rice becomes even more dubious when you consider the unrealistic amounts you'd have to consume each day to obtain the recommended dose of vitamin A. As stated in an Iowa State University golden rice study:2

"Even if golden rice is successfully introduced… a woman would need to eat 16 lbs. of cooked rice every day in order to get sufficient vitamin A, if golden rice were her only source of the nutrient. A child would need 12 lbs."

So, taken as a whole, the nutritional usefulness of golden rice is a joke — but it IS a boon for the GE industry, serving as yet another profit base that further increases farmers’ dependence on patented seeds and agricultural chemicals. The real solution would be to help the developing world improve access to REAL sources of vitamin A and other nutrients, including animal products like eggs, cheese, and meat, and vegetables such as dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes.

Pesticides Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, Endocrine Disorders, and More

Besides the loss of biodiversity that results from industrial monoculture, heavy use of pesticides poses a serious threat to both humans and the environment. Every year, 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides are spread over crops, contaminating the soil, polluting the water, and making their way up the food chain.

Pesticides were introduced after WWII when certain companies were looking for new ways to market surplus war chemicals. Poisons originally designed to kill people were successfully repurposed as bug killers. Of course, no long term safety testing was done — the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t even exist at that time.

One commonly used type of pesticide, organophosphate, was first developed during World War II as nerve gas. It works by inhibiting cholinesterase, an enzyme that regulates a key messenger in your brain called acetylcholine. In effect, these poisons disrupt the signals between neurons, an action that’s been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. In children, there is increasing evidence that these pesticides are especially damaging, not only at high exposure levels but also at the low levels to which millions are chronically exposed.

One of the most widely used chemicals in the US is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. In late March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), published their assessment3 of the carcinogenicity of a number of organophosphate pesticides, including glyphosate. Glyphosate was determined to be a “probable carcinogen” (Class 2A), based on evidence showing it can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer in humans.

Unfortunately, regulators and politicians are not hearing the real science, which is drowned out by corporate propaganda. Instead, they’re told, “Not using pesticides will lead to food prices tripling, food shortages and starving families” — none of which are true. In addition to the above, studies suggest pesticide exposure may be linked to the following health problems.4 It’s important to keep in mind that research in this area is in its infancy, and the biological effects of these chemicals are complex and cumulative. As a result, this list is by no means comprehensive.

Lowered IQ and poorer cognitive function in children, related to neurodevelopmental problems Increased risk of attention problems and behavioral problems in children
Shorter duration of pregnancy Poorer neonatal reflexes and other nervous system abnormalities
Increased incidence of birth defects and malformations Asthma
Impaired immune function Impaired thyroid function
Endocrine dysfunction Sexual dysfunction
Diabetes Cancer
Dysbiosis Liver problems

Pesticides Are Not Degrading in the Environment as Quickly as Expected

The damaging effects of pesticides in the environment are escalating. You have undoubtedly heard of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Honeybees around the world are dying in shocking numbers — many hives literally disappearing without a trace. Certain pesticides, neonicotinoids, have been identified as having a particularly devastating impact on bee health and survival by weakening a bee’s immune system.

Recent research shines new light on why these particular pesticides are taking such a heavy toll on our pollinators. One such study5 found that, although sunlight plays a role in degrading pollutants such as pesticides, its effects on neonicotinoids diminish dramatically in water, even if the water is shallow.

So, as these pesticides make their way into rivers and streams, they can persist because the water is shielding them from solar degradation. Even three inches of water was found to be enough to protect neonicotinoids from degradation. If these pesticides persist in the environment, they tend to bioaccumulate, which means they’re more likely to negatively affect bees and other living things — including you.

The bees are just one example of the many problems that can result when chemicals are rushed to market without any real safety studies — effectively using the entire planet as one big uncontrolled science experiment. In the US, more than 84,000 chemicals are put into food and products each year essentially without safety testing, and strong scientific evidence points to their roles in cancer, reproductive abnormalities, early puberty, and a host of other endocrine, neurological, and metabolic problems.

Solution: Working WITH the Earth, Rather Than Against It

With all of the problems in the world today, it would be understandable if you felt a sense of futility or hopelessness. But don’t despair — there is good news! Some very enterprising people are doing things differently, and it’s working. There are many examples of successful small-scale farmers in the US and abroad who’ve returned to more traditional ways of farming, supporting the land rather than destroying it, working in partnership with nature as opposed to trying to exert dominance.

There is a complex food web that begins in the soil and ends up on your dinner plate. Ignoring factors that decrease soil health will ultimately impair yours.  We need to reconnect with this complex food web, which is the message so well portrayed in the film “Origins,” linked above. My goal is to motivate, inspire, and encourage tens of millions of people to start growing their own food, which can radically transform our current food system.

Building a system that relies heavily on locally grown foods would go a long way toward solving many of our global health problems. I encourage you to withdraw your support from companies that poison you and your children, and redirect it to those who are raising food in a way that’s a win-win for all of us, and the earth.

Your most powerful tool for change is your fork — you vote with your fork three times a day. But you can also vote with your shovel! Start growing some of your own food, no matter how small of a space you have. I believe this is one of the best ways of facilitating a TRULY green revolution.

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Sources and References

  • 1  Global Research May 29, 2014
  • 2 Iowa State University Golden Rice Study
  • 3 The Lancet March 20, 2015
  • 4 Beyond Pesticides Disease Database
  • 5 Science Daily July 8, 2015
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