Developments in Chemical Biotechnology Continue to Threaten Environmental and Human Health

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August 01, 2017 | 137,637 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Corporate GMO propaganda is hitting the big screen. Forty-five scientists, academics and writers have signed a statement calling the food industry-funded film, “Food Evolution,” a piece of corporate propaganda that misrepresents the GMO issue
  • EPA has approved RNAi corn for human consumption, which is based on “gene silencing” technology. Research suggests RNA may have the ability to silence genes inside your body as well
  • A new generation of GMO crops resistant to dicamba is wreaking havoc across the U.S., as neighbors to farms growing dicamba-resistant crops report massive crop destruction from dicamba drift

By Dr. Mercola

Pesticides are taking a major toll on health across the globe. According to a recent United Nations (UN) report,1 pesticides are responsible for 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year, and chronic exposure has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.2

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization and the "gold standard" in carcinogenicity research, found glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world — is a probable human carcinogen.3,4 As of July 2017, glyphosate is listed as a known carcinogen under California's Proposition 65,5 which means products containing glyphosate must carry a cancer warning label.

Pesticides like Roundup also threaten the health of the soil, thereby threatening the very future of agriculture itself, as healthy soils are key for growing food.6 So grave are the concerns over the health and environmental effects of pesticides, the UN's report proposes a global treaty to phase them out and transition to a more sustainable agricultural system.

All of this is terrible news for the chemical industry in general, and Monsanto in particular. Last year, Monsanto accepted a $66 billion takeover bid from Bayer AG,7,8,9 which would make the new entity the largest seed and pesticide company in the world. The merger is expected to be finalized by the end of 2017. However, as noted in the Bloomberg video report above, suspicions of carcinogenicity now pose a serious threat to this deal.

Court Will Determine Roundup's Role in Cancer

Plaintiffs10 in a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto claim Roundup caused or contributed to their non-Hodgkin lymphoma.11,12 The outcome of this lawsuit may influence Bayer's decision to acquire Monsanto or back out of the deal. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) reevaluation of glyphosate's toxicity may also have a bearing on the planned merger, although it will not influence the litigation against Monsanto.

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria, who presides over multi-district litigation currently involving 310 cancer victims' lawsuits against Monsanto, has stated that the scientific evidence presented at trial is what will settle the question of whether glyphosate can cause cancer — not the determination by the IARC or the EPA. According to Bloomberg:13

"Chhabria has allowed the plaintiffs wide latitude to collect evidence on Monsanto's health-effects research over the years, which the plaintiffs hope will show the company manipulated the data.

In March he unsealed dozens of Monsanto's confidential documents for the public to see. The records show internal deliberations on how to present the science on glyphosate's health impacts and manage a global public-relations campaign to assure consumers and regulators that Roundup is safe."

EPA Has a History of Protecting Chemical Industry

The litigation has brought to light evidence showing how the EPA has colluded with Monsanto to protect the company's interests. For example, email correspondence reveals Jess Rowland — who was the associate director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs and a key author of the EPA's controversial glyphosate report — helped stop a glyphosate investigation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) on Monsanto's behalf.14,15

Correspondence also suggests Monsanto was planning to rely on Rowland's influence after his retirement from the EPA. In an email to a colleague, Dan Jenkins, Monsanto's regulatory affairs manager, noted Rowland "could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense."16 Indeed, Rowland's post-EPA work includes consulting for three chemical companies that are close associates of Monsanto.17

Adding insult to injury, the new head of the EPA is Scott Pruitt, who has a long history of protecting the interests of the chemical industry. As attorney general for Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the agency he now leads more than a dozen times, each time to prevent environmental regulations rather than enforce them.  He's already canceled the ban on chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic pesticide shown to cause cognitive damage.

As noted by Bloomberg, "The chances that Pruitt will move against glyphosate, with all the attendant repercussions for industrial agriculture, appear slim."

Peer-Review Raises Doubts About EPA's Evaluation of Glyphosate

The expert panel convened last December to peer review the EPA's conclusions on glyphosate has also criticized the agency, raising doubts about its ability to protect public health. As reported by Bloomberg:

"[E]ight of the 15 experts expressed significant concerns about the EPA's benign view of glyphosate, and three more expressed concerns about the data. Their skepticism also raised, again, questions about the independence of the Office of Pesticide Programs, which has the final say on permitting pesticides…

The EPA's report on the peer review … raises obfuscation to a high bureaucratic art. While spelling out the panel's criticisms, the report gives no indication which, or how many, reviewers felt strongly about which particular problems. Instead, it uses the phrase 'some panel members' 76 times — as in 'some panel members noted,' 'some panel members emphasized,' 'some panel members suggested.'

The imprecision obscures that the majority of peer reviewers expressed doubts about the EPA's methods or conclusions. Under the law, the agency must consider the panel's input in its final evaluation of glyphosate, scheduled for completion later this year. By enshrining the reviewers' comments in such vague terms, however, the EPA can more easily ignore them."

Independent Glyphosate Testing Now Available

Tests by the Organic Consumers Association show 93 percent of Americans have glyphosate in their urine,18 and independent testing19,20 by The Detox Project and Food Democracy Now!, published last year, found many popular processed foods sold in the U.S. have potentially unsafe levels of glyphosate in them. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has also reported 30 percent of grains sampled were contaminated with glyphosate. Nearly 4 percent of samples had excessive levels.21,22

I recently got tested for glyphosate and had no detectable levels. According to Health Research Institute Laboratories, where I got my glyphosate testing done, the average level of glyphosate in the U.S. population is 3.3 parts per billion (ppb),23 significantly higher than the average of 0.2 ppb found in Europeans.24

If you're interested in getting tested, I provide both a glyphosate water test kit and an environmental exposure test kit in my online store. As a general rule, people who eat primarily organic foods and/or filter their water will have far lower levels. My own test result is a testament to this. So, yes, it is possible to avoid glyphosate and its associated health risks.

Be aware that desiccated crops tend to be particularly high in glyphosate. Desiccation is the process where the crop is doused with glyphosate just before harvest to increase yield. This includes non-GMO oats, wheat, garbanzo beans and lentils. According to Health Research Institute Laboratories, these foods can contain glyphosate levels exceeding 1,000 ppb, and people who eat organic oats have half the glyphosate levels than those who eat non-organic oats on a regular basis.

How Chemical Companies Have Taken Over International Regulation of GMOs

That there are revolving doors between government agencies and Monsanto is well-known. This is true not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well. For example, GMWatch recently revealed that 26 of the 34 members of the National Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology of Argentina (CONABIA), are either employed by chemical technology companies or have major conflicts of interest.25

As reported by Independent Science News,26 the international conference of GMO regulators, ISBGMO, run by the International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR), has also been hijacked by corporate interests. According to one ISBR board member, the 2015 meeting in St. Louis was primarily paid for by Monsanto, which has its headquarters there. According to Jonathan Latham, Ph.D., writing for Independent Science News:

"[This year] in Guadalajara, industry speakers were clearly working from a scripted list. That list translates as the key regulatory objectives of the biotech industry. Prominent on that list was 'data transportability' … the idea that regulators from different jurisdictions, say India, or the EU, should accept identical biosafety applications.

Implementation of data transportability would mean that although each country has unique ecosystems and species, applicants ought not to have to provide studies tailored to each. For example, when it comes to assessing effects of non-target organisms, for example of a GMO crop producing an insecticide, regulators in Australia should accept tests on European ladybird species or earthworms as showing that a GMO cotton can safely be grown there."

You don't need to be a biologist or scientist to predict that this kind of non-specificity has the potential to be absolutely devastating. The chemical biotechnology industry is also pushing for the global implementation of Canada's "trait-based GMO regulation," which does not take the method of development into account. As Latham explains:

"The trait is the sole focus. So if a GMO crop contains an insecticide it is assessed for risk against non-target organisms. If a GMO improves flavor or nutrition, then since there is presumably no risk from flavors or nutrients, then the crop receives what amounts to a free pass."

In my view, this is insanely risky, as genetically modifying a crop to contain more or less nutrients or altering its flavor can produce any number of environmental and biological side effects that really should be evaluated before being released into the environment and our food supply.

University Professor of Journalism Outed as GMO Industry Shill

Another trick used to promote industry propaganda and shape public opinion is to secretly hire or form mutually beneficial bonds with academics who then present "evidence" supporting the safety and benefits of GMOs. As noted in a recent Huffington Post article, which is well worth reading in its entirety:27

"Few science writers have worked as hard as Keith Kloor to impact public opinion on genetically modified organism (GMO) agriculture. An adjunct professor at New York University and former editor for Audubon and blogger for Discover, Kloor has spent years championing GMO products and portraying skeptics and critics as scientifically illiterate quacks …

The public has known for some time that Keith Kloor loves GMOs. What they haven't known, until now, is how hard he's worked with industry-funded 'experts' to present corporate talking points as journalism and then try to cover his tracks.

An avalanche of documents released through court proceedings and freedom of information requests point to a coordinated effort by corporate front groups, scientists secretly funded by agrichemical industry giants, and allied reporters attempting to portray themselves as arbiters of scientific expertise while condemning critics of GMO technology as 'antiscience.' 

While some of this story has been told, Kloor's level of involvement has so far gone unremarked — and there have been no corrections or retractions of his work."

Kloor and Folta

Kloor, it turns out, formed a close working relationship with Kevin Folta, chair of the department of horticulture at the University of Florida, who in 2015 was publicly disgraced after being outed as having repeatedly lied about his financial relationship with Monsanto.

As explained by Huffington Post, in 2014, Kloor and Folta collaborated on a strategy to discredit a registered dietitian, Carole Bartolotto, after she'd published a critical article noting that the issue of GMO safety was based solely on animal studies. "These studies are offered as evidence that the debate over GMOs is over. Nothing could be farther from the truth," she wrote. Kloor's article ultimately appeared in an August 2014 issue of Discover Magazine. It read in part:28

"… Bartolotto is a semi-regular Huffpost 'contributor.' She is identified as a registered dietitian. Many of her articles for HuffPost have an anti-GMO bent. On twitter, when I said to Bartolotto that her latest piece was an example of denialism, she suggested I was not qualified to judge it, because I wasn't a scientist or health professional.

So I asked two scientists who receive no funding from the biotech industry and who work in the field of plant biotechnology to review her article for accuracy.

They are Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida, and Karl Haro von Mogel, a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Chair and co-Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. Their comments appear under their initials in the review, after Bartolotto's italicized sections."

Note his qualification of Folta as a scientist who receives NO funding from the biotech industry. Kloor knew this was a lie, as email correspondence shows they discussed the issue. Becky Lang, editor-in-chief of Discover Magazine, told Huffington Post: "Of course, it's not our policy now, and never has been, to prompt sources to write criticism, edit criticism and then run it as independent. It's also not our policy to ever help sources try to hide their industry relationships." Still, Discover has not retracted or corrected Kloor's work.

GMO Propaganda Hits the Big Screen

Corporate GMO propaganda is now also hitting the big screen. Directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, the documentary "Food Evolution" examines "whether GMOs, despite their controversial reputation, are actually a safe and reasonable answer to the inevitable problem of feeding an overpopulated planet."29 As reported by Munchies:

"Earlier this month, 45 prominent scientists, academics, and writers — many from UC Berkeley — signed a statement30 that blasted the film as a 'piece of propaganda.' The eminent nutritionist and academic Marion Nestle wrote her own refutation of the film, dubbing it 'a slick piece of GMO industry propaganda.'

Then, a second backlash followed, with many of the signatories of the letter suddenly receiving Freedom of Information Act requests asking for their emails about the film. Nestle's blog was so overrun by trolls and she had to shut the comments section down."

In her review, Nestle objects to being included in the film despite her firm objections to the director's use of quotes taken out of context:31

"I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film. The director refuses. He believes his film is fair and balanced. I do not. I am often interviewed and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context. This film is one of those rare exceptions. In my 10-second clip, I say that I am unaware of convincing evidence that eating GM foods is unsafe — this is what I said, but it is hugely out of context …

I think there are plenty of issues about GMOs in addition to safety that deserve thoughtful consideration: monoculture; the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and climate change; the possible carcinogenicity of glyphosate (Roundup); this herbicide's well documented induction of weed resistance; and the how aggressively this industry protects its self-interest and attacks critics, as this film demonstrates.

'Food Evolution' focuses exclusively on the safety of GMOs; it dismisses environmental issues out of hand … It says nothing about how this industry spends fortunes on lobbying and in fighting labeling transparency. Instead, this film hammers hard on three out-of-context points: 1. GMOs are safe. 2. Anyone who thinks otherwise is anti-science, ignorant, and stupid. 3. Organic foods are bad and proponents of organic foods are deceitful."

As reported by Munchies, the film was commissioned and funded by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a professional association of food scientists working in the processed food industry.

Nestle suspects Monsanto or the Biotechnology Innovation Organization may have given the IFT a grant to make the film, although IFT insists the funding was generated "primarily through membership dues, scientific publishing, events and advertising, and without contribution from any other organization or company." As the following section will show, such assurances are virtually worthless these days.

More Industry-Funded Shenanigans

Besides hiring academics, researchers and, now, film directors, the food industry (which is now in reality governed by the chemical biotechnology industry) uses dozens of front groups to promote its agenda. As reported by the Huffington Post last summer,32 the nonprofit group Academics Review, described as "a nonprofit led by independent academic experts in agriculture and food sciences," published a report attacking the organic food industry back in April 2014.

Academics Review was co-founded by "two independent professors," Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy, University of Illinois, and David Tribe, Ph.D., senior lecturer at University of Melbourne. At the time, the organization went to great lengths to assure the public of its independence, noting in its press release that "Academics Review has no conflicts of interest associated with this publication, and all associated costs for which were paid for using our general funds without any specific donor's influence or direction."

Alas, correspondence obtained last year by U.S. Right to Know via Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that Monsanto executives and key Monsanto allies raised these funds, and collaborated with Chassy and Tribe on strategy. Emails also reveal discussions about how to hide industry funding. The industry also has zero qualms when it comes to silencing detractors.

Monica Eng, a journalist for WBEZ in Chicago was viciously attacked by industry "sock puppets" after reporting Chassy's extensive ties to Monsanto, revealing how Chassy even instructed the company how to hide those ties by depositing money to a University foundation — a tactic that prevents public disclosure of funding. The University of Illinois accused Eng of being "an activist" rather than a journalist, and industry trolls went to work to discredit her personally. Eng told Progressive.org:33

"I've worked as a professional journalist in Chicago for more than three decades. I've uncovered questionable activity in government groups, nonprofits, and private companies. But I don't think I have ever seen a group so intent on trying to personally attack the journalist covering the issue."

Glyphosate to Dicamba — From Bad to Worse

Unfortunately, even if the EPA finally recognizes glyphosate as the poison it is, there's no shortage of other agricultural toxins in the pipeline. A new generation of GMO crops resistant to dicamba is already wreaking havoc across the U.S., as neighbors to farms using dicamba-resistant crops report massive crop destruction. In July, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture reported investigating two dozen complaints involving dicamba damage caused by drift.34

In essence, any crop that is not resistant to dicamba is severely damaged by the herbicide, even if it's a genetically engineered variety. Farmers in Arkansas are reporting the same problem. Last October, a soybean farmer named Mike Wallace was shot to death in a dispute over dicamba damage caused by drift from a neighboring farm growing dicamba-resistant soy. According to Winona Daily News:35

"Concern about the herbicide drifting onto unprotected crops, especially soybeans, has spawned lawsuits and prompted Arkansas and Missouri to impose temporary bans on dicamba.

Losses blamed on accidental chemical damage could climb into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher, and may have a ripple effect on other products that rely on soybeans, including chicken. The number of complaints 'far exceeds anything we've ever seen,' Arkansas Plant Board Director Terry Walker recently told lawmakers."

EPA Approves New GMO Tech

But that's not all. In July, the EPA also approved RNAi corn for human consumption, which is based on a whole new kind of technology.36,37,38 RNAi stands for RNA interference. Noncoding RNA molecules have the ability to inhibit gene translation and/or expression by neutralizing target messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules. In other words, RNAi is "gene silencing" technology.

The problem is, research suggests these RNAs can survive digestion, and may end up silencing genes inside your body as well. The first product expected to hit the market within the next two or three years is SmartStax Pro corn, a collaboration between Monsanto and Dow. Scientists are also considering using "synthetic biology" (aka synbio) as a tool in environmental conservation to eradicate certain invasive species while strengthening endangered ones. As noted by Yale Environment 360:39

"[M]any conservationists consider the prospect of using synbio methods as a tool for protecting the natural world deeply alarming. Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, and others have signed a letter warning that use of gene drives gives 'technicians the ability to intervene in evolution, to engineer the fate of an entire species, to dramatically modify ecosystems, and to unleash large-scale environmental changes, in ways never thought possible before.'"

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 Global Research March 15, 2017
  • 2 Sustainable Pulse March 7, 2017
  • 3 The Lancet Oncology March 20, 2015
  • 4 Institute of Science in Society March 24, 2015
  • 5, 13 Bloomberg July 13, 2017
  • 6 The Conversation April 3, 2017
  • 7 The Guardian September 14, 2016
  • 8 Mother Jones September 14, 2016
  • 9 Bloomberg September 14, 2016
  • 10 Fox 4 News July 17, 2017
  • 11 CBS News March 16, 2017
  • 12 USRTK.org, MDL Monsanto Glyphosate Cancer Case Key Documents & Analysis
  • 14 Bloomberg March 14, 2017
  • 15 88.9 WEKU March 15, 2017
  • 16 New York Times March 14, 2017
  • 17 Case No. 16-md-02741-VC, Document 261-1, April 28, 2017 (PDF)
  • 18, 23 The Detox Project, May 25, 2016
  • 19 Glyphosate: Unsafe on Any Plate (PDF)
  • 20 Foodbabe.com November 15, 2016
  • 21 Cornucopia.org April 25, 2017
  • 22 Inspection.gc.ca, Glyphosate Testing 2015-2016
  • 24 BUND, June 2013, Determination of Glyphosate residues in human urine samples from 18 European countries (PDF)
  • 25 GM Watch June 13, 2017
  • 26 Independent Science News July 19, 2017
  • 27 Huffington Post July 19, 2017
  • 28 Discover August 7, 2014
  • 29 Munchies June 30, 2017
  • 30 Food First June 16, 2017
  • 31 Food Politics June 21, 2017
  • 32 Huffington Post June 30, 2016
  • 33 Progressive July 11, 2017
  • 34 MPR News July 20, 2017
  • 35 Winona Daily News July 17, 2017
  • 36 Organic Consumers Association July 10, 2017
  • 37 The Atlantic June 23, 2017
  • 38 Collective Evolution July 20, 2017
  • 39 Yale Environment 360