My Plantcentric Journey

Posts tagged ‘RoundUp’

GMOs Aren’t Meant to Feed the World…They’re Designed to Sell Monsanto’s Herbicide Roundup

Read the article at:

New Study: Genetically Modified Food Linked to Tumors and Organ Damage


A provocative new study is adding fuel to the debate over the potential health effects of genetically modified food. European researchers say rats fed a diet of genetically modified corn developed large tumors and multiple organ damage that led to premature death.

The study, published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, is believed to be the first peer-reviewed, long-term animal study of a genetically modified food. It was funded by the Committee for Research and Independent Investigation on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), which lobbies against pesticides and genetically modified food.

Researchers fed the rats with corn genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to Roundup, a widely used herbicide, or gave them water containing the weed killer at levels permitted in drinking water in the United States. They suffered mammary tumors, severe liver and kidney damage, and died at an earlier age than rats fed a standard diet.

“This is the most thorough research ever published into the health effects of GM food crops and the herbicide Roundup on rats. It shows an extraordinary number of tumors developing earlier and more aggressively – particularly in female animals.  I am shocked by the extreme negative health impacts,” said Michael Antoniou, molecular biologist at London’s Kings College and a member of the CRIIGEN scientific council

“The rat has long been used as a surrogate for human toxicity. All new pharmaceutical, agricultural and household substances are, prior to their approval, tested on rats. This is as good an indicator as we can expect that the consumption of GM maize and the herbicide Roundup, impacts seriously on human health,” said Antoniou.

Researchers studied 10 groups of rats, each containing 10 males and 10 females, over the course of two years, their normal lifetime. They were given different levels of Roundup in their drinking water and different amounts of NK603 maize, the corn genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup.

Many of the female rats in the study developed large mammary tumors.

They found that NK603 and Roundup both caused similar damage to the rats’ health, whether they were consumed on their own or together. Females developed fatal mammary tumors and pituitary disorders. Males suffered liver and kidney damage, skin tumors and developed problems with their digestive system. Researchers say even the lowest doses were associated with health problems. The lowest dose was below safety levels for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

Up to 50% of the males and 70% of the females died prematurely. After two years, over half the females had developed large tumors.

“The research findings raise serious questions about the current regulatory process for licensing industrial chemicals, pesticides and other novel crops. The scientists observe that GM crops have been approved safe for consumption on the basis of 90-day animal feeding trials. They also point out that only Roundup’s active principle, glyphosate, has been tested rather than the commercial product, which includes ingredients that enable the glyphosate to penetrate plants more efficiently,” CRIIGEN said in a statement.

Seventy percent of processed foods sold in the U.S. and 85% of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, according to CRIIGEN.

“On the basis of this study, we have to conclude that there is now a serious question mark over the safety of at least one GM crop. This suggests that all currently licensed GM crops should be re-evaluated and that in future safety studies in laboratory animals must be conducted over significantly longer periods of time that are equivalent to the animals’ normal life span not simply their adolescence,” said Patrick Holden, founder of the Sustainable Food Trust, which lobbies for food safety.

Genetically modified foods are unpopular in Europe, but are widely available and often unlabeled in the United States. Monsanto, which makes Roundup, first introduced a soybean genetically altered to tolerate the weed killer in 1996. Monsanto said it would need time to review the CRIIGEN study.

“Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies performed on biotech crops to date, including more than a hundred feeding studies, have continuously confirmed their safety, as reflected in the respective safety assessments by regulatory authorities around the world,” said Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher.

Some experts raised questions about the CRIIGEN study.

“If the effects are as big as purported, and if the work really is relevant to humans, why aren’t the North Americans dropping like flies? GM has been in the food chain for over a decade over there,” said Mark Tester, a research professor at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide, in an emailed statement to Reuters.

In California, supporters of Proposition 37 moved quickly to call attention to the study. Prop 37 would require that all genetically modified food sold in the state be labeled.

“The results of this study are worrying. They underscore the importance of giving California families the right to know whether our food is genetically engineered, and to decide for ourselves whether we want to gamble with our health by eating GMO foods that have not been adequately studied and have not been proven safe,” said Gary Ruskin, manager of the Yes on Proposition 37 California Right to Know campaign.

The Threats From Genetically Modified Foods

April/May 2012

By Robin Mather

Glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, has been linked to birth defects in birds and amphibians, as well as to cancer, endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, and reproductive and developmental damage in mammals. Roundup-Ready crops are genetically modified to withstand drenching with this weedkiller.

Eighteen years after the first genetically modified food, the Flavr Savr tomato, came to market, the controversy about genetically modified foods rages. The call to label GM foods continues to build, yet the federal government has not responded. GM foods now illegal in many developed countries have been part of the American diet for nearly two decades. As GMOs have come to dominate major agribusiness sectors, a handful of chemical/biotech companies now control not only genetically modified seeds but virtually our entire seed supply (see the Seed Industry Structure chart).

(You may see genetically modified plants and animals referred to as GMOs, for “genetically modified organisms,” or GE, for “genetically engineered.” The terms are essentially interchangeable. We use GMO as a noun and GM as an adjective. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS)

“Genetic modification” refers to the manipulation of DNA by humans to change the essential makeup of plants and animals. The technology inserts genetic material from one species into another to give a crop or animal a new quality, such as the ability to produce a pesticide. These DNA transfers could never occur in nature and are not as precise as proponents make them sound.

Some genetically modified crops have been engineered to include genetic material from BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural bacterium found in soil. Inserting the Bt genes makes the plant itself produce bacterial toxins, thereby killing the insects that could destroy it. The first GM crop carrying Bt genes, potatoes, were approved in the United States in 1995. Today there are Bt versions of corn, potatoes and cotton.

Roundup-Ready crops — soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton, alfalfa and Kentucky bluegrass — have been manipulated to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broadleaf weedkiller Roundup.

These two GM traits — herbicide resistance and pesticide production — are now pervasive in American agriculture. The Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service says that, in 2010, as much as 86 percent of corn, up to 90 percent of all soybeans and nearly 93 percent of cotton were GM varieties.

You’re eating genetically modified foods almost daily unless you grow all of your food or always buy organic. Federal organic standards passed in 2000 specifically prohibit GM ingredients. Other genetically modified crops — none labeled — now include sweet corn, peppers, squash and zucchini, rice, sugar cane, rapeseed (used to make canola oil), flax, chicory, peas and papaya. About a quarter of the milk in the United States comes from cows injected with a GM hormone, honey comes from bees working GM crops, and some vitamins include GM ingredients. Some sources conservatively estimate that 60 percent or more of processed foods available in the United States contain GM ingredients, because most processed foods contain corn or soy.

GM foods are not labeled in the United States because the biotech industry has convinced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that GM crops are “not substantially different” from conventional varieties. The FDA, however, does no independent testing for human or animal safety and relies strictly on the research conducted by the manufacturers of the products. The main GM producer, Monsanto, makes it nearly impossible for independent scientists to obtain GM seeds to study. Meanwhile, many countries require labeling (the European Union, Australia), and some have even banned all GM foods (Japan, Ireland, Egypt).

Genetic modification technology does have extraordinary potential. In the practice known as “pharming,” animals are genetically modified to give milk, meat or blood from which medicines are manufactured, as when GM goats produce milk containing a blood-thinning drug called ATryn. Research laboratories use GM mice to seek cures for diseases. As much as 90 percent of the cheese manufactured in the United States is made with GM rennet. Yet with current minimal levels of oversight on the crops and livestock produced, many people have serious worries about GMO technology. Many of us simply want the right to know what is in our food.

Bt Crops: Boon or Bane?

Monsanto has led the invasion of Bt crops, starting with corn, cotton and potatoes. Syngenta has developed Bt corn as well, as have Bayer, Dupont and others. Such crops are marketed to growers as pest-resistant.

Some researchers have concerns about the effect of Bt crops on human health. Professor emeritus Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that “there is evidence that [Bt] will impact directly on human health through damage to the ileum [the final portion of the small intestine, which joins it to the large intestine] … [which] can produce chronic illnesses such as fecal incontinence and/or flu-like upsets of the digestive system.”

In 2000, an Aventis brand Bt-corn variety, ‘Starlink’, which the EPA had approved for animal feed but not for human consumption, was found in supermarket taco shells. Uproar ensued, and a number of countries adopted new laws refusing to import GM corn from the United States, which disrupted corn exports, as the Choices magazine article documents.

Widespread testing and introduction of genetically modified crops coupled with absence of independent oversight make it inevitable that such slips will continue to occur.

Corn borer resistance to Bt is already seen as a problem in GM corn. “Protecting against the development of corn borer resistance is the responsibility of all producers using Bt corn,” wrote Ric Bessin, an Extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture. Bessin cautioned growers that they must provide “refuge plantings” of non-GM corn to battle resistance. The same requirement is true for other Bt hybrids.

Since GM crops are often grown from “stacked hybrids,” or varieties that have been manipulated to express several GM effects at once, pests may be developing resistance to many different GM traits. These “super bugs” may make all types of Bt ineffective at pest control.

Bt may also harm beneficial insects such as green lacewings and lady beetles.

Terminator Technology

With virtually all GM seed, farmers may soon be unable to save seed from their crops.

GM seed stock can be bred to include “terminator technology,” which prevents the seeds from producing viable second-generation seed for saving. (Most genetically modified crops are hybrids, which wouldn’t breed true anyway. But farmers forced to buy GM seed, as has happened in India and other countries, have lost the food security that centuries of seed-saving brought.)

Although this technology, sometimes called Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT), has not been implemented, the USDA has stated its support of it. The USDA said in 2001 that it is “committed to making terminator technology as widely available as possible, so that its benefits will accrue to all segments of society. ARS [the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service] intends to do research on other applications of this unique gene control discovery. When new applications are at the appropriate states of development, this technology will also be transferred to the private sector for commercial application.”

In 2007, Monsanto purchased Delta & Pine, which owned three of the first United States patents on terminator technology as well as patents in Canada and Europe. Monsanto has said that that it will not adopt sterile seed technology, but has also said it “does not rule out the potential development and use of these technologies in the future.” Syngenta, said to hold more patents on terminator technology than any other company, has won additional patents related to this technology in Australia, Russia, Europe, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt and Poland.

GM varieties can pollute neighboring crops in “pollen trespass.” GM corn has polluted traditional varieties in Mexico, threatening traditional culture and genetic diversity. “Native seeds are for us a very important element of our culture,” said Oaxacan farmer Aldo Gonzlez. “The [Mayan] pyramids could be destroyed, but a fistful of corn is the legacy that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, and today we are being denied that possibility.”

Saving GM seed can land you in court and even bankrupt you. Monsanto has sued nearly 150 farmers for “patent infringement,” alleging that farmers stole the company’s patent-protected seeds, whether by wind-blown pollen, spilled seed on the farmer’s property, “volunteer plants from a neighbor’s property, or in other ways. Monsanto maintains a staff of 75 attorneys, with an annual budget of $10 million, specifically to prosecute these cases, which have resulted in judgments in favor of Monsanto totaling more than $15.2 million. The company requires farmers to sign “technology agreements” before planting its GM seed, authorizing property investigations, but farmers whose property has suffered trespass from neighbors are not protected.

Biotechnology companies can prosecute these cases as patent infringement because they own all rights to the seed. Their ability to patent seeds rises from the 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Diamond v. Chakrabarty that Ananda Chakrabaty’s GM oil-eating bacteria could be patented even though it was a life form, and therefore could be protected under patent law. The landmark ruling opened the door to all GM patents today.

Roundup: Risky Business?

Roundup is one of Monsanto’s powerful broadleaf weedkillers. Since Roundup’s patent expired in 2000, a number of companies have begun to manufacture products using Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate. The Environmental Protection Agency says that glyphosate is among the most widely used pesticides in the U.S.

Glyphosate is not made using genetic modification. Instead, crops labeled Roundup-Ready are genetically modified to withstand drenching with this weedkiller.

In a 2011 report called Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?, eight international scientists cited study after study linking glyphosate to birth defects in birds and amphibians, as well as to cancer, endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, and reproductive and developmental damage in mammals, even at very low doses. Moreover, the report said, Monsanto and the rest of the herbicide industry had known since the 1980s that glyphosate causes malformations in animals, and that EU governments ignored these studies. Here in the United States, the EPA continues to assert that Roundup is safe.

Another concern is environmental damage. Roundup ends up in wetlands due to runoff and inadvertent spraying. In one study, the recommended application of Roundup sold to homeowners and gardenerskilled up to 86 percent of frogs in one day, according to University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Rick Relyea. Even at a third of the recommended strength, Relyea found, Roundup killed 98 percent of all tadpoles. Amphibians, living in water and on land, are considered bellwether environmental species.

Roundup also damages soil. Two Purdue scientists, professor emeritus Don Huber and G.S. Johal, said in a paper published in 2009 that “the widespread use of glyphosate …can significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense to pathogens and disease and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use. ” The pair warned that “ignoring potential non-target side effects … may have dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops nonproductive and plants less nutritious.”

Huber is point-blank about glyphosate’s dangers. “Glyphosate is the single most important agronomic factor predisposing some plants to both disease and toxins,” he said in the interview with The Organic and Non-GMO Report. “These toxins can produce a serious impact on the health of animals and humans. The toxin levels in straw can be high enough to make cattle and pigs infertile,” Huber said.

The Importance of Independent Review

As the system now stands, biotech companies bring their own research to the government body overseeing their proposed products. The agency may be the US Dept. of Agriculture, the federal Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency.

These government bodies do no independent studies on the safety and efficacy of the proposed products. Instead, they rely strictly on the research conducted by the companies.

“We don’t have the whole picture. That’s no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically-engineered crops,” wrote Doug Gurion-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in a February 2011 Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. “They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.”

Concern about lack of independent review extends to university-level research, which is often partly funded and/or controlled by the agrochemical companies, and often gives agrochemical companies exclusive rights to academic discoveries — even though the universities are taxpayer-funded.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska developed a new GM soybean with resistance to an herbicide called dicamba. Their research was partially funded by Monsanto, which gained the company exclusive use of the new soybean through a licensing agreement with the university signed in 2005. Monsanto will “stack” the dicamba resistance gene with a Roundup-Ready genetic change (in other words, creating crops that are resistant to two herbicides, forcing growers to use both).

It seems unlikely that scientists whose research is designed and paid for by agrochemical companies would choose to conduct studies that may reduce or remove that funding, even if they could obtain the seeds they needed to do truly independent research.

Moreover, the agrochemical companies refuse to release their own research, citing concern that “proprietary information” could be disclosed.

Scientific American called on biotech companies to end restrictions on outside research in a 2009 editorial. “Food safety and environmental protection depend on making plant products available to regular scientific scrutiny,” the magazine’s editors wrote. “Agricultural technology companies should therefore immediately remove the restriction on research from their end-user agreements. Going forward, the EPA should also require, as a condition of approving the sale of new seeds, that independent researchers have unfettered access to all products currently on the market.”

When scientists have obtained agrochemical companies’ research data, usually through freedom-of-information requests, they have found entirely different conclusions than the company did. Three French scientists analyzed the raw data from three Monsanto rat studies in 2009 and found that three GM corn varieties caused liver and kidney toxicity and other kinds of organ damage. The European Food Safety Authority, at the request of the European Commission, reviewed the French report and said that it “does not raise any new safety concerns,” although other scientists continue to insist the French report is correct.

All three corn varieties are now in the human food chain in the United States.

rBST: Genetically Modified Milk

BST (for “bovine somatotropin”) is produced in cows’ pituitary glands. It’s also sometimes called BGH (for “bovine growth hormone”). It occurs naturally and, since the 1920s, has been known to increase milk production. It is a peptide, not a steroidal, hormone.

rBST stands for “recombinant bovine somatotropin,” and is a GM version of this naturally occurring hormone. Injecting the GM hormone causes cows to produce about 10 percent more milk. This report shows the reduction in milk production when rBST injections stop. In 1985, the FDA ruled that meat and milk from rBST-injected cows were safe, and consumers in several states unknowingly ate and drank both while Monsanto, Upjohn and others ran tests on their GM hormone.

The FDA approved the GM hormone in late 1993, saying there was “no significant difference” in milk from injected and uninjected cows. Its ruling meant that dairies could not label their milk as coming from uninjected cows, because doing so, the FDA said, suggested that there is a difference and the FDA said there was no difference.

There is a difference. rBST injections in cows raise levels of the naturally occurring IGF-1, (insulin-like growth factor 1), a protein that stimulates cell growth. The IGF-1 in milk from injected cows is easily absorbed in the small intestine. Dr. Samuel Epstein, a professor at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, has warned for more than 20 years that high levels of IGF-1 raise the risk of cancer, especially breast, colon and prostate cancer. He has said that rBST milk is “super-charged with high levels of abnormally potent IGF-1, up to 10 times the levels in natural milk and over 10 times more potent.”

Injecting cows in the same places over and over increases the chance of infection at injection sites, plus rBST-injected cows frequently suffer from chronic mastitis, an infection of the udder. Mastitis is uncomfortable for the cow, causing its udder to swell and making it painful for her to lie down or be milked. Milk from cows with mastitis is lower in the calcium and solids that cheese makers need and oftenhas a “ropy,” unattractive appearance. Both injection site and mastitis infections must be treated with antibiotics.

Monsanto began selling rBST in 1994. In 2003, the FDA charged several dairies with “misbranding,” and Monsanto sued Oakhurst Dairy in Maine for labeling its milk from cows injected with GM hormone!

As the public reacted to rBST by reaching for organic milk instead, American retailers began to pledge not to sell rBST milk. rBST is illegal in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and the European Union banned it permanently in 1999.

In 2008, a group of rBST-using farmers formed a group called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology, or AFACT, with help from Monsanto. AFACT tried to ban no-rBST labeling claims in many states, but dropped those efforts in most states — except Ohio, where the ban effort ended in a lawsuit. An Ohio circuit court found in 2010 that there was a compositional difference between rBST milk and milk from untreated cows, and that the FDA’s position was “inherently misleading.” The court found higher levels of a cancer-causing compound, lower-quality milk because of higher fat and lower protein, and higher white cell counts, which means the milk sours more quickly.

Packaging for injectable rBST lists a number of other side effects for cows, including abscesses, ulcers on udders, reduced pregnancy rates, visibly abnormal milk and hoof disorders.

Despite Monsanto and other biotech companies’ claims that rBST would be a boon for farmers, the University of California at Davis reported that its use in California between 1994 and 1996 “probably resulted in an increase in milk production of less than 1 percent per year.”

Can GMOs Feed the World?

Fans of GMOs assert that genetically modified crops and livestock can help end hunger. They also claim that GMOs can help stop climate change, reduce pesticide use and increase crop yields.

Are these claims true? We conclude no.

The international report The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes outlined the evidence in detail gleaned from many sources.

Genetically modified crops do not produce more food or use fewer pesticides, the report said. As resistant weeds and bugs develop, farmers have to apply ever more herbicides and insecticides. “The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture, and we need to be going in the opposite direction,” says Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C.

If GM crops don’t increase yield, don’t reduce pesticide use and show no significant promise for feeding the world, why should government and industry promote them?

If GMOs fail, shareholders in Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta will see their investments plummet. And who are those shareholders? Very possibly, you. According to Yahoo! Finance, more than 80 percent of Monsanto’s stock is held by institutional holders and mutual funds such as Vanguard, Davis, Fidelity and Harbor Capital.

If GMOs don’t benefit the farmers who pay more to buy GM seed, and if they don’t benefit the customers who eat them unknowingly, who gains from GMOs?

Stockbrokers. And you, if you have investments that own stock in Monsanto or other biotech companies.

Seed Company Monopolies

Monsanto now controls so much of the world’s seed stock that the U.S. Justice Department launched an “unprecedented series of public meetings” into the company’s business practices as part of a formal antitrust investigation in March 2010. “The price of a bag of soybean seed, for example, has roughly quadrupled since Monsanto began licensing genes,” the Wall Street Journal reported in that article.

The Seed Industry Structure chart demonstrates how tightly and startlingly consolidated the seed industry has become. That’s one reason why Monsanto’s name comes up again and again in any conversation about GMOs: The company is far and away the largest involved in GM patented seed.

(The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes also includes an appendix detailing Monsanto’s long corporate history of misleading research, cover-ups, bribes, and convictions in lawsuits covering a range of issues, from Agent Orange to toxic waste discharge to GM soybeans.)

GMO Food Labeling: The Right to Know

The FDA and GMO supporters say that labeling genetically modified foods would be cumbersome and costly, ultimately raising food prices.

Labeling proponents point to the European Union, Russia, Brazil, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, all of which require labels for GM foods, and report costs are far lower than the industry and the FDA claim.

Survey after survey and poll after poll have shown that consumers overwhelmingly favor labeling.

In October 2011, the Center for Food Safety, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, filed a petition demanding the FDA require labeling on all food produced using genetic engineering. The center filed the petition on behalf of the Just Label It! campaign, a coalition of more than 350 organizations and individuals concerned about food safety and consumer rights. The FDA’s governing rules require it to open a public docket where citizens can comment on the petition.

That doesn’t mean the FDA will listen to those comments, however. The agency received nearly 6,500 comments on its proposed 1992 policy, and more than 80 percent demanded mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. Despite that outpouring, the FDA did not respond to those comments and decided against labeling.

Part of the reason for the FDA’s lack of responsiveness may be the revolving door between government and the industries they regulate.

Just one example is Michael R. Taylor, now Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA. Taylor is an attorney who started his career at the FDA in 1976. In 1981, he moved to the law firm of King & Spaulding, representing Monsanto, and developed the firm’s food and drug law arm. While there, he worked to get Monsanto’s GM bovine growth hormone, rBST, approved.

In 1991, Taylor left King & Spaulding to return to the FDA as the newly created Deputy Commissioner for Policy. One of his first acts was to draft and implement language that prevented dairy farmers and milk producers from labeling their milk as coming from cows not injected with rBST. The FDA approved rBST two years later, in 1993.

Taylor moved to the US Dept. of Agriculture the following year, where he became Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service. During his two-year tenure, Taylor oversaw the adoption of the National Organic Standards Act, including its original proposal to have GM crops labeled as organic. The organic industry launched an all-out effort to protect its standards, and the GM proposal was dropped (as was a proposal to allow crops fertilized with raw sewage sludge to bear the organic label).

Taylor next returned to King & Spaulding for a short time, but then joined Monsanto as its vice-president for public policy. He was there until 2009, when he was appointed senior advisor to the FDA commissioner, and was named to his current position at the FDA in 2010.

Among other former Monsanto employees now or formerly holding posts in the agencies which oversees the company’s practices: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Dr. Michael A. Friedman, a former FDA deputy commissioner who subsequently joined Monsanto as a senior vice-president; and Linda J. Fisher, an assistant administrator at the EPA before joining Monsanto as a vice-president and then returned to the EPA as deputy administrator.

FDA officials have openly criticized efforts to label GM crops and food. When Oregon voters considered Measure 27, a mandatory GMO labeling law, in 2002, FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford said in a letter to the governor of Oregon that mandatory labeling could “impermissibly interfere” with the food industry’s ability to sell its products, and could violate interstate commerce laws.

The Oregon initiative was soundly defeated, and money was the reason why. “In campaign financial disclosure reports … Monsanto took the financial lead against Measure 27, with contributions totaling $1,480,000. Next was Dupont, with $634,000. Other large contributions came from biotech companies Syngenta, Dow Agro Sciences, BASF and Bayer Crop Science. Grocery Manufacturers of America [a trade organization], PepsiCo, General Mills and Nestle USA contributed a total of $900,000 by the reporting date,” said Cameron Woodworth in Biotech Family Secrets, a report for the Council for Responsible Genetics.

Other high-ranking federal officials have lobbied against labeling. “If you label something, there’s an implication there’s something wrong with it,” said Jose Fernandez, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs. He was speaking on an October 2011 panel organized by CropLife International, a trade organization representing the biotech industry.

The assertion that labeling somehow implies inferior quality is transparently specious. Fruits and vegetables labeled “organic” made up the highest growth in sales of all organics in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association, up 11.8 percent from 2009 sales. Total U.S. organic sales were nearly $28.7 billion in 2010, up 9.7 percent from 2009.

What You Can Do About GMOs

  • If you think GM foods should be labeled, you can sign on to the Just Label It! campaign and send letters to the FDA and your congressional representatives to urge them to require labeling of GM foods. You’ll find sample language and a petition at the Just Label It! website.
  • If you grow your own food, buy your seed from companies that have signed the GMO-free pledge. See the Safe Seed list, maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics.
  • Buy organic whenever possible and look for foods labeled “Non-GMO verified.” The Non-GMO Project is an independent nonprofit that requires independent, third-party verification before awarding its label.
  • Help combat seed industry monopolies and build local food security by supporting local growers who refuse to use genetically modified seeds and GM drugs on their livestock, and work to pass food sovereignty laws in your community. Food sovereignty laws can prohibit GM foods in your community. Learn more from food sovereignty expert Dr. Vandana Shiva’s blog.
  • Finally, if you have investments, consider moving out of funds that invest in biotech stock. If you are unable to do so, write letters to your fund’s managers to tell them of your objection to this investment policy.

Robin Mather, a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, has written about genetically modified crops and livestock since the early 1990s. She is the author of A Garden of Unearthly Delights: Bioengineering and the Future of Food (Dutton, 1995) and of The Feast Nearby (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

Is Certified Organic Always Non-GMO?


Thanks for asking, Tracy!

Is Organic Always GMO Free?

May 5, 2011

Organic is Usually GMO Free

Buying 100% Organic, Certified Organic, and USDA Organic-labeled products is usually the easiest way to avoid genetically modified ingredients.

The United States and Canadian governments do NOT allow companies to label products “100% / Certified Organic” if they contain genetically modified foods.

To put it in more detail:

100% Organic: Must contain 100 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). This is the only label that certifies a completely organic product AND completely GMO-free ingredients.

Certified Organic / USDA Organic / Organic: At least 95 percent of content is organic by weight (excluding water and salt). The <5% remaining ingredients must consist of substances approved on the USDA’s National List. GMOs are NOT on this list, so these products are also usually GMO-free.

Made with Organic: Up to 70% of the ingredients are organic. These products can NOT carry a “USDA organic” label and are NOT typically GMO-free.

But lately, even organic products are at risk….

Why Say “Usually?”

If USDA certification requires at least 95% of content to be organic, and a GMO ingredient can’t be included in that 5%, then USDA Organic is GMO-free, right? Not always.

Says Barry Estabrook in this excellent article: “The casings for those tasty USDA Organic sausages can come from conventionally raised animals that have been fed antibiotics (or GMO-laden corn). The hops in your favorite organic beer can be sprayed with all manner of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Strawberries can be labeled as organic even if they had their start in a conventional nursery.”

How is this possible? He answers that question too: “the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which has the power to determine what materials can — and cannot — be used in organic production, too often weakens regulations in the face of intense lobbying by corporations who are more interested in the higher profits conferred by the word “organic” than in strong and meaningful standards.” And let’s just remember how much Monsanto has invested in corporate lobbying dollars…

Getting discouraged yet? There are more loopholes…

Despite rigid organic certification procedures, organic certification is about the *process* of growing food, not about the actual resulting food. There is no testing process for organic ingredients, so there is a chance that GMO contamination could occur.

And sadly, GMO contamination is growing steadily, year after year. Just look at this recent response from the USDA regarding a series of questions raised by organic farmers after GMO alfalfa was approved.

Even more sobering is the impending contamination from genetically engineered Kentucky Bluegrass. This grass is used in animal forage — including organic beef that comes from grass-fed animals. Now that Kentucky Bluegrass been genetically engineered for RoundUp resistance, not only is does it contain genetic material that is no longer natural, but it can be heavily sprayed with RoundUp to remove weeds. And because grass spreads rapidly, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the next superweed.

Between cross-pollination and wind-borne seeds, organic pastures all around our nation are soon going to be contaminated. It’s already happening in Australia— a farmer just lost his organic certification due to wind-borne contamination from a neighboring GMO crop.

How Does Contamination Occur?

Contamination can happen any number of natural ways: 1.) via cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops, 2.) from trace amounts of GMO ingredients found in animal feed (as per the alfalfa/bluegrass section above), 3.) from seeds traveling by wind or by migratory birds that take root in the soil of an organic farm, and 4.) from ingredient suppliers that co-mingle various sources.

It can also happen when it takes nearly three years for a manufacturer who illegally uses the term “organic” in their labeling to be noticed, reported, investigated, and forced to amend their label. The oversight of organic manufacturers “falls far short of assuring standards are met.”

Is there a Certification Process for Being GMO Free?

Yes. When you see this label on a product, it means the producer took the time to go through a certification program similar to the one used to obtain organic certification, only it’s designed to focus on GMO-free processes.

Started initially by retailers, the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program (PVP)‘s core requirements include “traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points.” Compliant products bear the Non-GMO Project Seal shown above (explained in detail here), indicating that the product has been produced in accordance with the best practices of the Non-GMO Project Standard.

Sadly however, just like organic certification, the word “usually” once again comes into play: the Non-GMO Project says directly that its label does not guarantee that a product is 100% GMO-free, because contamination is an ever-growing threat.

Read a great article about the reasons why this program was started, despite similar process testing procedures for organic products.

GMO Free Labels

When you see a “GMO free” label on an organic product, how does it compare to certified organic or certified Non-GMO Project standards? Hard to say.

Because there is no certification program associated with this label, it is simply the producer’s word that all fields, ingredients, processes, and storage avoid contact with, and contain no genetically modified ingredients.

This doesn’t mean this label isn’t valid; sometimes producers can’t afford the cost of becoming certified organic or certified through the Non-GMO Project, and thus use this label as a sign of good faith.

And because so many consumers don’t know that Certified Organic = GMO free (I didn’t, until I did the research), it can be a more obvious and affordable way of letting customers know.

No label in sight? Sometimes you need to read the fine print: some manufacturers don’t include a little GMO free icon, but they do include the words “we don’t use genetically engineered ingredients” (or similar wording) on the back of their labeling (hope you brought your reading glasses to the grocery store). :-)

Organic versus Certified Naturally Grown

When the USDA Organic program started in 2002, many small farms were forced to make a difficult choice: either pay high certification fees and complete mounds of paperwork to become “Certified Organic,” or give up using the word “organic” to describe their produce and/or livestock.

Believing that neither choice was very attractive, a group of farmers created Certified Naturally Grown (CNG), to provide an alternative way to assure their customers that they observed strict growing practices. Their methods include using natural biological cycles – incorporating a careful balance of micro-organisms, soil flora and fauna, natural pollinators, plants and animals – to create a sustainable farming system.

The resulting products meet and in some cases exceed the USDA standards but do not carry any of the official government approved organic seals. CNG now consists of more than 500 member farms in 47 states and growing.

Note: the majority of the CNG farm listings that I perused included the words “GMO free” in their product descriptions.

Other “Natural” Product Labeling Terms

Additional labeling terms – such as Natural, Cage Free, Free Range, Certified Humane (raised and handled), Vegetarian Diet, Fair Trade, and Locally Grown – have no direct relevance to whether a product is GMO free (genetically modified vegetables can and do get used in animal feed sometimes… particularly corn fed to pigs, cows and chickens).

For a helpful description about each of these, click here.

For a helpful ranking chart about egg labeling in particular, click here.

The Even Longer Story Behind GMOs and Organics
(includes excerpts from The Organic and Non GMO Report website)

To have a product certified as organic, a producer/manufacturer/farmer must undergo third party verification to ensure that the requirements of USDA National Organic Program are met. These requirements certify the process of growing the crop (they do not test the resulting crops/food). Processes that are reviewed include:

• All production methods — which must be free from most synthetic chemicals (e.g. pesticides, herbicides & fertilizers, antibiotics & hormones), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and use of biosolids;

• All farmlands — which must be free from synthetic chemicals for generally 3 or more years;

• Storage procedures — producers must keep strict physical separation of organic products and non-certified products

• On-site inspections — producers are subject to initial (and sometimes subsequent) inspections.

Want to read an even more detailed description about organic certification? click here.

Organic certifiers want to ensure that GMOs are not used in organic products, but getting 100 percent verification that all substances are non-GMO may not be possible. Apparently the effort is significant, and requiring 100 percent verification could grind a processor’s operation to a halt.

Due to a lack of guidance from US National Organic Program (NOP), organic certifiers have developed their own methods to address GMO challenges posed by non-organic ingredients (for that <5% of non-organic ingredients allowed in foods labeled organic).

Oregon Tilth Certified Organic and CCOF developed flowcharts or “decision trees” to evaluate the GM status of ingredients. Quality Assurance International (QAI) developed a GMO Declaration that it asks clients to submit to verify the non-GMO status of ingredients.

Says Gwendolyn Wyard, Oregon Tilth’s processing program reviewer, “The problem is that “organic” is a process certification. We’re asking whether they use GMOs, not whether there is GM DNA or protein in the final product.”

Verifying the non-GM status of some ingredients can be challenging. For example, the supply of the ingredient tocopherol/Vitamin E has been controlled by one or two companies who collected soybean oil from many co-mingled sources. Oregon Tilth requires that tocopherols come from an identity preserved, non-GM source, but Quality Assurance International (QAI) does not require an IP (identity preserved) tocopherol, says Jessica Walden, QAI technical specialist.

Instead, QAI developed a “GMO Declaration” to address questions raised by the NOP’s rule on genetic engineering. The declaration describes QAI’s policy toward GMOs focusing on three categories:

When a product is a non-organic agricultural ingredient such as cornstarch, in order to qualify as non-GMO in “Organic” and “Made with Organic” categories, the original organism that produced the ingredient must be non-Genetically Modified. When a product is a non-organic non-agricultural ingredient, such as flavors and colors, the product must be free from Genetically Modified DNA or proteins. Lastly, ifmicroorganisms such as citric acid are used, the microorganism must be a non-GMO.

On the declaration, the supplier must highlight measures taken to verify their non-GMO claim, such as traceability/identity preservation, GMO testing, and independent audits.

QAI’s GMO declaration has streamlined the response from suppliers for GMO documentation. Instead of receiving various GMO statements, QAI has its clients submit the GMO declaration.

Reading all of this, you gain a new respect for farmers who not only buck the industrial farming system by going organic, but by their perseverance in navigating the volumes and diverse methods of certification!

So what does this all boil down to, when you’re trying to choose a product?

Just this week I was looking for mayonnaise at my local natural foods co-op. They had a fairly broad selection of various organic mayonnaises from different manufacturers.

All of the mayo labels said “organic” somewhere on the label. Two of them said USDA Certified Organic. But only one had “GMO free” in addition to “organic” on the label. Coincidentally, it was the only mayonnaise that was not made from one the “Big Four” GMO crops (corn, soy, canola or cotton/seed).

Does that mean it was the only mayo that was GMO free? No. The others were labeled organic, which technically means they couldn’t be GMO. Yet they didn’t have a “non-GMO” label, and they were sourced from crops with high incidences of GMO farming (soy and canola).

I tried consulting my two “non GMO shopping list” iphone apps, but none of the mayo brands on the shelf were mentioned (either as a pro or a con).

So I ended up playing it uber safe and buying the safflower-based mayo with the Non-GMO label.

What would you have done?

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: