Obama’s Deregulation of GMO Crops

alfalfa

Alfalfa reaches our tables within milk, cream, butter, and meat, as it is commonly used to feed dairy cows. Credit: Creative Commons/JMR64.

Early this spring, while the world was distracted by Egypt’s uprising, President Barack Obama pushed the Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets in the United States. The USDA came through as he directed, totally deregulating these Monsanto-patented genes in early February.

In so doing, Obama and the USDA have chosen to override and ignore decisions and injunctions made by the U.S. Supreme Court that banned planting of genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets without consideration of the Environmental Impact Assessments, which showed high risks to organic and conventional (chemical) farmers.

So how does this affect you and me? Neither of us remembers seeing alfalfa or sugar beets on our breakfast table or even on our Seder table. Or do we?

Sugar beets provide over 50 percent of the sugar Americans use in their coffee, cereals, and desserts. For the moment, let’s not focus on the fact that sugar beets can cross-pollinate with red beets and make our borscht genetically modified.

Alfalfa reaches our tables within milk, cream, butter, and meat, as it is used as a major animal feed in the dairy industry. It is also used to enrich soils in organic farming.

At this time, no genetically engineered crops are permitted for sale in the European Union (though WikiLeaks has revealed that the U.S. government is exerting strong pressure on the EU to allow them). Thus this new deregulation will potentially close off present markets for organic farmers’ crops.

Obama’s push for deregulation potentially also means the end of the organic meat and organic dairy industries as we presently know them. Essentially, he is choosing to favor the profits of big agribusiness over the survival of America’s family farmers, and especially America’s organic farmers.

sugar beets

Sugar beets provide over 50 percent of the sugar Americans use in their coffee, cereals, and desserts. Credit: Creative Commons/Dag Endresen.

Our democracy has to work for farmers and consumers and not just for multinational biotech corporations. It makes absolutely no sense that the economic risks to farmers are not considered before genetically engineered crops are put on the market. It is farmers who pay the costs of genetic contamination, not the biotech companies.

How else does this affect you and me?  I’ll defer to Canadian geneticist David Suzuki on this.

In an interview with the True Food Foundation, Suzuki said anyone who claims genetically engineered food is perfectly safe is “either unbelievably stupid, or deliberately lying,” adding: “The reality is, we don’t know. The experiments simply haven’t been done, and now we have become the guinea pigs…. I am most definitely not in favor of release of GMOs in the food stream and given that it’s too late, I favor complete labeling of GMO products.”

In “More Science Needed on Effects of Genetically Modifying Food Crops,” a September 2009 article for the Vancouver news site Straight.com, Suzuki wrote:

Some have argued that we’ve been eating GM foods for years with few observable negative consequences but as we’ve seen with things like trans fats, it often takes a while for us to recognize the health impacts. With GM foods, concerns have been raised about possible effects on stomach bacteria and resistance to antibiotics, as well as their role in allergic reactions. We also need to understand more about their impact on other plants and animals.

And in “Experimenting With Life,” an article in Yes! magazine, he wrote:

We have learned from painful experience that anyone entering an experiment should give informed consent. That means at the very least food should be labeled if it contains GMOs so we each can make that choice.

Like Dr. Suzuki, I think it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that we are also guinea pigs in another big experiment. Ours is the first generation to ever eat food that has been intentionally sprayed with poison before being eaten. While it may be argued that we need greater quantities to “feed the world,” the truth is that we’ve lost quality, we’ve lost fertility in humans and in the soil, and our health care budgets are indicative of the effects of this path.

Maria Rodale’s book Organic Manifesto cites shocking studies that make a strong case against chemical farming, while at the same time highlighting the positive nutritional and environmental benefits of organic farming. And according to a 2009 report from the UN Environmental Program, organic farming may be the only way we can solve the growing problem of hunger in the developing countries. Yes, organic farms can feed the world, and do it sustainably.

GMO

"It is farmers who pay the costs of genetic contamination, not the biotech companies," the author writes. Credit: Creative Commons.

So why is Obama favoring Monsanto? This is the company responsible for more than fifty uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located (“Superfund sites” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites). We also have Monsanto to thank for Agent Orange, PCBs, DDT, and more.

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds already dominate the entire U.S. corn, soy, canola, and cotton crops. About 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn, 93 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of canola seed planted in the United States in 2010 were genetically engineered. Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, explained the company’s regulatory philosophy thus: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.”

To assure the Food and Drug Administration and USDA do not regulate genetically engineered crops, biotech has spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying Congress since 1999.

If we follow the “historical” pattern of genetically engineered corn, soy, cotton, and canola, we will likely soon see engineered alfalfa and sugar beets, with their wind- and bee-carried pollen, completely taking over the entire seed industry for those crops. This contamination would disallow farmers’ ancient practice of keeping and breeding seeds from year to year, and drive up expenses for all farmers. This is nothing new from the American government, which has historically supported policies favoring the consolidation of U.S. seed ownership in the hands of a few major corporations.

So let us remind our children that we were “slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt.” For surely having one corporation control the seeds gives it unprecedented control. The state of affairs reminds me of how Pharaoh, at Joseph’s urging, took control of the grain supplies of Egypt, causing Jacob’s family to go down into Egypt and eventually become enslaved. Not worried yet? Chew on this: it’s been said that most U.S. cities do not have three days of food supplies on their shelves.

Extremes of weather in recent years have shown us how vulnerable this situation is. Meanwhile, the National Farmers Unions in the United States and Canada have advocated support for local family farmers and the implementation of local and national programs to ensure food security and food sovereignty — programs that fail to interest corporate-controlled politicians.

The fact that the executive wing of government has chosen to override a recent major decision by the Supreme Court to stop all dissemination of genetically engineered alfalfa until the completion on an environmental assessment of its danger is certainly cause for questioning.

What’s going on here? Did Obama betray us? Did Obama, a man, a charismatic politician, betray the people who voted for him, whose spirits were raised high with the slogan “Yes, we can”?

Perhaps. Yet I am reminded that to run a presidential campaign requires a great deal of money. And since the Supreme Court Citizens United decision — supported by Clarence Thomas, a former attorney for Monsanto — to allow corporations the unlimited ability to anonymously fund political campaigns, it is becoming obvious that Obama owes something to many rich people.

U.S. corporations have gained inordinate power over all our politicians by manipulating the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was adopted in 1868 to protect the rights of newly freed Blacks, yet by 1886 the Supreme Court had begun recognizing it as a protection of the rights of the “persons” called corporations — persons which do not breath, do not have consciences, and are mandated to make a profit for their shareholders.

Which group would you betray? Your funders or your fans?

When Obama cried, “Yes, we can!” he obviously was speaking for a different “we” than those who voted for him imagined.

Monsanto’s seeds are genetically engineered for use with the company’s chemical herbicide RoundUp. Last year we learned that weeds are growing resistant to RoundUp.  Monsanto’s profits and stock prices began dropping.

A failed technology is now getting another chance to dance and prop up a failing corporation. Oddly, alfalfa (Arabic for “king of herbs”) does not need herbicides for more than 93 percent of its common applications. Farmers have been growing it for many centuries and know how to do so without herbicides. The push for genetically engineered alfafa is just a game move toward controlling the food supply.

After all, what will we eat when America’s family farmers are all driven off their farms and into our cities? We would then be dependent on corporate factory farms, whose managers are far from the soil and lack experience in dealing with the whims of nature and weather. We would also be dependent on oil and the prices of oil to supply us with imported food. WikiLeaks has just revealed dispatches from Saudi Arabia to the United States from 2007–9 stating that Peak Oil is happening now: reports of oil in the ground were exaggerated by 40 percent. Thus shipping prices, and agrichemical prices are soon to rise even further.

In the 1970s, the richest 1 percent of American families took in 9 percent of the nation’s total income. Today, the top 1 percent take in 23.5 percent of total income. With median workers earning less than they did thirty years ago, who will be able to afford food, let alone nourishing food?

Even in the face of these dire circumstances, however, the consciousness of humans is rising. People are increasingly demanding to know where their food comes from. People are supporting organic production even in the face of recession. People are taking up gardening and shopping at farmers markets.

Obama taught us not to look for a charismatic messiah, while also teaching us those magic words, “yes, we can!” The coalitions that came together to elect Obama can be revived, as can the networks, and the social media to keep alive the connections.

The Center for Food Safety has already filed a legal brief to halt the actual dissemination of these genetically engineered seeds, and Canadian Organic Growers and several other organizations have joined in on the lawsuit. This struggle needs our support. We all eat; it goes beyond all differences. In addition to supporting the legal struggle for food safety, we can also make our voices heard by refusing to invest in big genetic engineering companies such as Monsanto and Bayer.

We can do it. We can craft food security and food sovereignty for the people of America and beyond.

Robbie Hanna Anderman co-founded Morninglory Farm in Eastern Ontario in 1969 and is blessed to live there with his family (including four grandsons) and extended family. An organic orchardist, gardener, and cook -- as well as a musician and craftsman -- he is grateful to be alive and at home on Liferaft Earth at this moment.
 
tags: Environmental Activism, Food/Hunger   
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14 Responses to Obama’s Deregulation of GMO Crops

  1. Arnold Gore May 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Unfortunately, USDDA,FDA and Michael Taylor of FDA in charge of food safety, did not have to be pushed at all.
    These were appointees who were known principal advocates for the biotechnology indusrty and Genetically modified crops in particular.
    Agriculture Secretart Vilsack was the biotechnology governor of the year from Iowa. Michael Taylor was the attorney from Monsanto who wrote the regulations for the first Genetically Engineered Food, milk. The cows were allowed to be injected with a growtyh hormone the Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) despite causing increased levels of IGF-1 and causing bone deformities to the cows. Taylor prohibitied distributors from claiming that their milk was free of rBGH. In Western Europe and parts of the developing world there is resistance to GMO foods and the Codex commission on food labelling does have a light loophole that will allow a government to decide if it wants to label GMO foods without it necessarily being considered an unfair trade barrier. This is somewhat tepid, but it is an acknowledgment of the widespead objectiona

  2. kyra June 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Great article Robbie, thanks for raising awareness on these issues, scary as they are…

  3. Tikkun June 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Here are some additional resources that Robbie wanted to share:

    http://films.nfb.ca/monsanto/
    The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin

    http://www.foodincmovie.com/
    Food Inc. tells the story of corporate take over of the North American food industry

    The Future of Food – says it well.
    http://www.thefutureoffood.com/

    http://www.kingcorn.net/
    King Corn documentary about how most of North American diet is based on GMO corn

  4. Frederick Grady June 3, 2011 at 5:27 am

    This also forces farmers to buy the expensive GMO seeds. Many farmers simply can’t afford this.

  5. Francis June 7, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    The bible tells us that back in the day, “there were giants in the land”. They were heartless and devoured everything, including people. Nothing has changed.
    Today’s multinational corporations are the modern version of these giants. They too have no conscience and devour everything. Refer to “Confessions of a Corporate Hit-Man” for revealing facts.
    David killed a giant by hitting him in the third-eye with a stone. Hmmm, I wonder how we can accomplish the same thing today! I think we start by admitting that we can’t fight hell’s forces with hellish force. We have been told to call upon the LORD, I AM, and He will deliver our enemies into our hands! The victory is already the LORD’s.
    This is a very difficult test for any activist. It requires the recognition that in order to truly defeat the enemy of mankind we have to give up the selfish ego that thinks it is the doer. That is the primary false god the first commandment is referring to. The biggest battle is not “out there”, but “in here”. If I slay the serpent in my own breast, the serpent must die in my world.
    If enough of us invoke the LORD’s power first, then our activism will mean something and will be truly effective.

  6. Pingback: Obama Deregulates GMO Crops Despite Supreme Court Injunction | The InterChange

  7. Terri K June 8, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Could this be that we are actually seeing the effects of altered food. Diabetes comes to mind. We did not have such as wide spread disease as is being seen now?
    It has taken decades to find out that some things are not good for us. Think about how many people are now allergic to milk and milk products. There have been a growing number of gallbladder removals too. I wonder if the physicians and the scientist even talk about what they are doing to humanity?
    This can be seen with agent orange patients and their spouses and children.
    The government still denies the spouses that lost their loved one prematurely due to their own actions not hers.
    This is dangerous and in ten years or so when we find that it killed millions, these same folks can GO TO JAIL! FOR MURDER!!

  8. Tore B. Krudtaa June 13, 2011 at 7:37 am

    It’s quite interesting how the people in charge of regulating food security in one country after another are backing up the industry instead of taking care of food security.

    In relation to GMO there is two simple questions which need to be asked and answered:

    1.
    How can any of these transgenes, used in genetically modified organisms, ever be stable over multiple generations?
    E.g. trough cross pollination (GM-corn, GM-Cotton, GM-what-ever-you-want).

    The answer is: They cannot be stable.

    2.
    How can the companies/scientists which develops these genetically modified organisms, which are used outside closed laboritories (e.g. GM-soy, GM-canola, GM-corn, GM-salmon), prevent that the transgenes are spread through organisms of same species, closely related species or microorganisms?

    The answer is: They cannot prevent contamination.

    I hereby challenge any GMO-scientist to prove the two allegations above to be false!

    What do we need to do?
    Prove that the GMO-lines are unstable, and therefore not possible to patent. Ouchhh it is allready patented. Well, sample the transgenes that has been transferred to non-GMO-corn via crosspollination, and use the evidence of transgenes ending up in totally different places in the plant genome. A patent require the product to pass the DUS-test. This means the product has to be DISTINCT, UNIFORM and STABLE. I doubt that any GMO-line ever will pass this test.

    See what well informed scientists in India have to say about GMO:
    See the video:
    Genetically modified food – needed to ensure food supply?
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/component/content/article/101-english/environment/gmo-genetically-modfied-organism/gmo-videos/149-genetically-modified-food-needed-to-ensure-food-supply

    WHY GMO SHOULD BE PROHIBITED:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-news/95-why-genetically-modified-organisms-gmo-should-be-prohibited

    GMO Bt cotton linked to livestock deaths in India:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-news/117-gmo-bt-cotton-linked-to-livestock-deaths-in-india

    Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup linked to birth defects in Argentina’s agricultural areas:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-news/92-monsantos-herbicide-roundup-linked-to-birth-defects-in-argentinas-agricultural-areas

    GMO videos:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-videos

    U.S. FDA to be trusted? Think again!
    See this interesting video about how U.S. FDA and NCI (National Cancer Institute) first tried to get rid of a doctor that developed (without any tax-money) and offered the best cancer treatment in the world. And when they could not do that they patented this doctors product (which by the way allready was patented by the doctor).

    This video can be seen for free today here:
    “CANCER IS SERIOUS BUSINESS”:
    http://www.burzynskimovie.com/

    • Ryan October 11, 2011 at 10:21 am

      Well, Tore B. Krudtaa, you’ve kind of dug yourself into a hole with your two questions (by the way learn how to conjugate, please). You argue that transgenes cannot be held to be stable over multiple generations (this first of all isn’t true. A stable transfection will last over dozens of generations, but those of a transient nature will in fact lose the vector and lack expression), but then you follow it up by asking if the prevention of cross contamination is possible. You answer that it is not, but you already “proved” by your first statement that these genes aren’t stable, so even if there was cross contamination it would be lost due to your perception of their inherent instability. Also due to the nature of transgenes they won’t always be at the same locus in a genome AND if you really want to test something test the expression level. If the insert is located at a particular position a polymerase can’t bind and successfully begin transcription giving different levels of expression which is why numerous copies of the transgenes are used. I don’t beleive Monsanto (don’t get me wrong, I beleive they are pure evil) has a patent on the corn, just the DNA, and that is irrelevant to it’s location within the genome based on the patent language. The herbicides they are using in conjunction with the biology seems to be a greater threat. We share 60% of our genome with the banana. Would that make you beleive we are eating 3/5 of a human? The genes get digested as the nucleotide sugars that they are in the human gut and can’t make it further than that. The active Bt toxin may be a different story and require more data.

      You’ve got some good points but your logic is ridiculously flawed. I agree they should be labeled and the revolving door between regulators and industry lacks accountability, but you have to make your argument better if anyone is to take it seriously.

  9. Mama Asantewaa June 14, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I interpreted the story of Loseph as saying that there was a FAMINE in the land and due to Joseph’s wise interpretation of Pharaohs dreams that Pharaoh had JOSEPH to take control of the fat harvests to store them up so that eventually he wound up saving his family from starvation AND installed them in LUXURY in Egypt. His brothers meant evil by getting rid of him but The Almighty meant it for Good. A famine is oming again. Learn how to grow food indoors where you are for the LONG haul.

    • Sean from Hawaii December 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      Thank you ma’am and may you be blessed! That is exactly the right view because it is true the Lord provides as long as we ask… and I don’t mean ask Monsanto!

  10. Pingback: Are you eating GMO foods?

  11. Pingback: Does your food contain GMOs? | The Seven Town Hound

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