Monsanto Wins “Sustainability” Award.
To the EPA, sustainability “creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
Taking these definitions into account, it may surprise you to learn that last month, Monsanto—yes, the same Monsanto whose expensive seeds caused an estimated 125,000 Indian farmers to commit suicide—was recognized as one of 2014’s Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World.
Monsanto was ranked 37th on overall sustainability, 5th among American companies, and 5th globally in the materials industry by an organization called Corporate Knights (CK), a media and investment advisory company whose flagship magazine has one of the world’s largest circulations and is published quarterly as inserts in the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail (UK).
Ubiquitous as CK is, we find their criteria for “sustainability”—also called their “key performance indicators”—more than a little absurd:
- Energy productivity
- Carbon productivity
- Water productivity
- Waste productivity
- Innovation capacity
- Percent tax paid
- CEO to Average Employee Pay
- Pension fund status
- Safety performance
- Employee turnover
- Leadership diversity
- “Clean capitalism” pay link (rewards “companies that have set up mechanisms to link the remuneration of senior executives with the achievement of clean capitalism goals or targets”)
University of Toronto business ethics professor noted, “Only the first four actually have something to do with what most of us mean by ‘sustainability.’ The rest are…not relevant to the question of sustainable use of resources, or to the notion of sustainable economic growth that is compatible with environmental conservation.”
And even the first four have nothing to do with the environment, and everything to do with profits. After all, the award-givers define “energy productivity” as how much revenue companies can squeeze out of one unit of energy. The health of the environment literally has nothing to do with it.
For the countless natural health practitioners, organic farmers, consumers, and activists who unceasingly fight and sacrifice to “walk the walk” of sustainability, the bastardization of this important term is not a joke. It is offensive.
Perhaps “excellence in sustainability” is CK’s code for “excellence in propaganda.” There is nothing sustainable about Monsanto and their GMO seeds.
For example, GMOs do not increase crop yields. A 2009 Union of Concerned Scientists report found that GMO soybeans do not produce increased yields, that GMO corn only marginally increases yields, and that no GMO crop has even been found to have intrinsic yield (meaning, yield in “real life,” and not laboratory, conditions).
We’re not quite sure who CK thinks they’re fooling, or what they get out of this nonsense. A more interesting question is why Monsanto is trying so hard to “greenwash” its image.
Meanwhile the Geneva-based Covalence group placed Monsanto dead last on a list of 581 global companies ranked by their reputation for ethics.
Monsanto Wants to Monopolize Conventional and Organic Crops, Too.
Since it purchased the company in 2008, Monsanto has been quietly cultivating its Seminis brand, as well as several other semi-anonymous brands, to breed and sell seeds that aren’t GMO.
To create these seeds, Monsanto and its minions are claiming to use nothing more than traditional crossbreeding (where plants with desirable qualities are laboriously “mated” until they yield progeny with the targeted traits). This process takes quite a bit of “time, land, and patience.”
Don’t be fooled: Monsanto isn’t using your grandparents’ crossbreeding. They’re engaging in a highly technical process that appears to takes place in a lab, not a field, and also appears to involve manipulation on the genetic level.
Worse yet, they don’t seem to want to make foods healthier. For example, Monsanto is attempting to breed fruits and vegetables that taste sweeter than their traditional counterparts. Read: they’re engineering a way to add more sugar than nature intended. The last thing that most people need is more sugar or fructose in their diet.
Is this a blatant attempt to win back the “hearts and minds” of consumers? According to one Monsanto official, “There isn’t a reputation silver bullet, but it helps.”
There is another important question to ask here: If Monsanto truly believes that GMOs are the future, why are they investing in conventional crops?
There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s possible that Monsanto doesn’t have faith in its own product: the company is already facing consumer pressure and emerging long-term health problems associated with GMOs.
For this reason, they could simply be hedging their bets. What if, in the future, the scientific consensus is that GMOs are harmful, or there’s a GMO-sparked environmental disaster, or the government decides to intervene? They may think they have to prepare for the possibility that GMOs may eventually fail. Seminis and its sister subsidies are Monsanto’s “insurance:” if GMOs crash and burn, they have a conventional cash cow to fall back on.
Write to national grocery chains, and tell them you don’t want any Monsanto products—not “organic,” not conventional, and certainly not under any other name!
The agency determined that, thanks to a tiny technical loophole, they had no oversight over GMO Kentucky bluegrass. This meant that the grass—and any GMOs created via the same GMO technique—could be planted anywhere, at anytime, with zero government oversight.
The public backlash was immediate, though we knew at the time that the true extent of this disastrous decision wouldn’t be felt for years to come. Unfortunately, we were right.
Late last month, Scott’s Miracle-Gro quietly announced that their employees will “test” the Roundup-resistant GMO grass by planting it in their home lawns in Marysville, Ohio. Scott’s hopes to have thousands more consumers planting their GMO grass by 2016—and thanks to the USDA, there’s no framework in place to keep this from happening.
Alarmingly, if your neighbor plants GMO grass, your lawn may become full GMOs, too. Cross-contamination of non-GMO crops is already a reality. Pollen can travel anywhere from the length of three football fields to thousands of miles away. Given this, and the fact there’s little to no space between suburban lawns—it’s completely unrealistic to assume GMO grass will stay where it’s planted.
It will be interesting to see whether GMO lawn grass producers sue you for having their grass when it spreads into your lawn. That is what Monsanto has done for years to innocent neighboring farmers. Since suing each suburban neighborhood is presumably not a workable model, what new one will devised?
The truth is that we are at a now-or-never moment with respect to GMOs in America. The more these seeds are released into the air, neighboring farms, and now suburban lawns, the harder it will be to stop them.
GMOs created via the same GMO technique as this grass could be planted anywhere, at anytime, with zero government oversight.
All Eyes on New Global Precedent for GMO Contamination
GMO crops have been known to contaminate organic crops, bringing severe economic damage to small farmers. The problem has gotten so pervasive that the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association has had to publish a seventy-page booklet on how to avoid (and test for) GMO contamination.
For example, one organic corn grower whose crops were contaminated was forced to sell her corn for $1.67 a bushel—far below the $4 market price for organic corn.
All eyes are now on an Australian court case, wherein one farmer is suing Monsanto for the GMO contamination of his organic wheat and oat crop. The episode resulted in the farmer losing his organic certification and export license (Australia has a zero tolerance policy for GMO material in organic products)—the keys to his very livelihood.
The outcome of this case could set a global precedent, and seriously affect the regulation of organics to protect the interests of GMO growers and producers (sad to say, it will almost certainly not be vice versa). We’ll continue to watch it very closely.
Meanwhile, a recent Supreme Court ruling confirmed that Monsanto can sue farmers whose crops are contaminated—even if it’s not their fault, because Monsanto has promised to behave better and not take advantage of innocent farmers!
The uncontrolled GMO grass “experiment” is even more alarming in light of the growing body of evidence that glyphosate, a main chemical component in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is a major health threat.
Keep in mind that GMO Kentucky bluegrass, like some brands of Monsanto’s GMO corn, cotton, and soy seeds, is engineered to be Roundup-resistant. This means that growers can apply as much Roundup as they’d like to kill the weeds they don’t want, while leaving their plants intact. The GMO seed and the herbicide enter the environment together.
Also remember that many weeds are now learning to be Roundup-resistant. To compensate, growers are forced to spray more and more Roundup—which that means more glyphosate in our foods, ecosystems, and bodies, or use even more dangerous chemicals.
Despite assurances by Monsanto and the EPA, glyphosate is a hazard to humans, animals, plants, and organic and conventional agriculture. As Dr. Joseph Mercola recently highlighted, new research published in the International Journal of Toxicology found that commercial glyphosate-based herbicides—at levels far below the normal agricultural applications—are extremely toxic to human many cells, and are lethal to human liver cells.
This research confirms Dr. Charles Benbrook’s and ANH-USA’s investigation into the environmental, economic, and human health effects of glyphosate. Our research found, for example, that glyphosate is toxic to fish and essentially all plant life (if you haven’t read this comprehensive case study, you can download the PDF here).
We should be focusing on reducing our addiction to chemical farming, not coming up with new ways to expose ourselves to more and more toxins. We have the opportunity to solve this problem before the disastrous health effects become widespread and irreversible. Future generations will not get the same chance
Another recent study, authored by French researcher Gilles-Eric Séralini and published in BioMed Research International, confirms the International Journal of Toxicity study. It too found that herbicides and pesticides—notably those that are glyphosate-based—are far more toxic than industry and the EPA would lead you to believe. Séralini found that formulations like Roundup were “several times more toxic” than their main ingredient alone (i.e., glyphosate), and that “Roundup was by far the most toxic” of the chemical formulations tested.
Hours after the study’s publication, Dr. Ralf Reski, a BioMed editor, immediately resigned, stating, “I do not want to be connected to a journal that provides [Séralini] a forum for such kind of agitation.”
We wonder: is Dr. Reski really concerned about scientific sensationalism? According to his own résumé, his “independent” research is 53% funded by industry. Did Dr. Reski proactively protect his source of funding? Did industry threaten him?
In September 2012, Séralini published a study suggesting that a long-term diet of GMO corn can cause health problems—including breast cancer and severe organ damage—in animals. After a year of artificial controversy, the paper was retracted, much to the dismay and protest of a significant part of the scientific community.
Séralini’s peers felt the retraction was made on invalid grounds. It was withdrawn for being poorly designed, despite the fact that it followed almost exactly the same protocol of a trial conducted by Monsanto and published in the same journal. Moreover, they saw in the retraction evidence of undue industry influence on the scientific community: a few months before the study was retracted, a former Monsanto scientist was appointed to the journal in a newly created editorial position.
To be published in journals like BioMed, studies go through a thorough editor and peer-review process. BioMed requires an initial review by the editorial office; approval from an editor knowledgeable about the subject in question; and a peer review by between two and five outside evaluators. That’s three layers of intense scrutiny before a study can even be published.
It now seems that Séralini, despite of the integrity of his work, has been blacklisted—a clear warning to other objective, independent researchers.
GMO Human Embryos
In fact, GMO embryos have already been created via in vitro experiments.
Specifically, the FDA is discussing the genetic manipulation of human eggs and embryos in order to prevent inherited mitochondrial disease and treat infertility. The GMO techniques under consideration include manipulation at the mitochondrial level to replace or augment mutant rDNA and methods that could create babies with three parents.
While the FDA has stated that the agency “recognizes” that there are “ethical and social policy issues” to be considered—and despite the fact that forty-four countries have already banned this kind of genetic manipulation—the FDA won’t bother to discuss if human clinical trials should take place (that’s considered to be “outside the scope” of the meeting). Instead, they’ll outline how such trials should be conducted.
An FDA document outlines disturbing potential pitfalls of clinical trials to create GMO humans:
- Sex selection. Because female children produced from mitochondrial manipulation could still pass on mutant mtDNA, the use of “gender selection” could enter into human trials. This means scientists would specifically choose male embryos for implantation, while rejecting female embryos. This could set the stage for sex selection by the American public. The ramifications of sex selection are very real: in India and China, sex selection has led to a skewed ratio of men to women, which may, in turn, be contributing to violence against women.
- Three-parent babies. The FDA discusses the creation and study of “three-parent” embryos, in which the mutated mtDNA from Mom #1’s egg is replaced with healthy mtDNA from Mom #2 (which is then fused, via in vitro fertilization, with Dad’s sperm). This technology could “trigger all kinds of devastating problems (most likely through epigenetic changes)” that might not become evident until the fetus is already developing.
- Dangerous epigenetic changes. As we reported recently, epigenetics considers how outside influences (i.e., environmental factors) may affect the way genes are expressed. As noted above, studies show that techniques like mtRNA could cause unpredictable epigenetic changes in embryos, resulting in birth defects.
- Sick children. “Of particular concern” to the FDA is that it may be impossible to predict how genetic modification will affect a child until it is born. This means these seemingly inevitable GMO human experiments may lead to very sick children.
- The “Gattaca effect.” It’s easy to see how the concept of GMO humans could quickly get out of hand. Beyond sex selection, it’s foreseeable that such technology could be used to genetically engineer children with desirable physical and health traits. This also raises the question of the affordability of these therapies—might there come a day where only the super-rich could afford genetically perfect children?
One thing not mentioned in the FDA document is the risk that non-human genetic material could be added at some point. This is a truly terrifying thought—and a distinct possibility.