News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, November 19, 2012


UPDATE:  An important piece to read: 
California genetic food vote is no victory for science

Among the big losers of the election this month was California Proposition 37.  It would have required that any food processed from ingredients that came from Genetically Modified plants be labeled.  After a very heavy influx of money from corporations which are heavily invested in GM products, the proposition lost 54 to 46 percent.  But the opposition to genetically modified foods and the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is just beginning. A number of countries have banned GMO seeds and products:

  • Japan:  The Japanese people are staunchly opposed to genetically modified crops and no GM seeds are planted in the country.  However, large quantities of canola are imported from Canada (which is one of the world's largest producers of GM canola) and there is now GM canola growing wild around Japanese ports and roads to major food oil companies.  Genetically modified canola such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola have been found growing around 5 of the 6 ports that were tested for GM contamination.
  •  New Zealand:  No GM foods are grown in the country.
  • Germany:  There is a ban on the cultivation or sale of GMO maize.
  • Ireland:  All GM crops were banned for cultivation in 2009, and there is a voluntary labeling system for foods containing GM foods to be identified as such.
  • Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Luxembourg: There are bans on the cultivation and sale of GMOs.
  • France:  Monsanto's MON810 GM corn had been approved but its cultivation was forbidden in 2008.  There is widespread public mistrust of GMOsthat has been successful in keeping GM crops out of the country.
  • Madeira: This small autonomous Portugese island requested a country-wide ban on genetically modified crops last year and was permitted to do so by the EU.
  • Switzerland:  The country banned all GM crops, animals, and plants on its fields and farms in a public referendum in 2005, but the initial ban was for only five years.  The ban has since been extended through 2013.
  • India:  The government placed a last-minute ban on GM eggplant just before it was scheduled to begin being planted in 2010.  However, farmers were widely encouraged to plant Monsanto's GM cotton and it has led to devastating results.  The UK's Daily Mail reports that an estimated 125,000 farmers have committed suicide because of crop failure and massive debt since planting GM seeds.
  • Thailand:  The country has zigzagged in its support and opposition of GM crops.  The country had widespread trials of GM papayas from Hawaii but reversed its plans when the seeds got wild and began contaminating nearby crops. 
  • Russia: Bans all GM corn imports; EU may also ban Monsanto GMO in wake of shocking cancer findings
  • Several countries such as Japan moved to restrict the importation of Thailand's papayas as a result, not wanting to import any GM foods.  Thailand is currently trying to embrace both sides -- producing organic foods for some countries at a high price while moving towards embracing more and more GM crops.  The country has also tried declaring some areas GMO-free zones in order to encourage other countries to trust their foods.
A French study linking GMOs and the herbicide Roundup to an accelerated growth of malignant tumors in rats has spurred interest--and controversy--about GMO products.  While there has been much criticism over the protocol of the study, scientists also warn that it must be  taken seriously with further investigations into the effects of GMOs on animals and humans who eat them.

Super weeds have evolved from GMOs. 
The problems GMOs are numerous.  The biggest problem is the that uncertainty about their effect on human and animal health.  In India, questions have been raised about whether Bt cotton lives up to its productivity claims and whether the cost of the seeds and chemicals have any economic benefit,.  A number of farmers who handle the crop have broken out with a virulent skin disease.  The seed producers tout the virtues they claim for the crop and deny that it can cause disease, but the outbreaks of disease raise serious questions about the health and safety aspects of Bt cotton.

In the U.S, the most widely used foods derived from GM crops are corn and canola oil.  Some people have developed a furious, itching skin disease which physicians could not diagnose, and through trial-and-error found that the disease was controlled by avoiding GM-containing foods.  Other scientific studies have found that diseased lesions from some diseases contain the same materials as GM foods. The seed producers are, of course, very quick to deny that GM products have any connection to the diseases, but the circumstances clearly indicate that GMOs need to be tested and studied for their health effects.  

This rootworm is pesticide resistant,
Other results of GM seeds have produced very clear reactions in the natural system.  A major attribute of some GM crops is that they are Roundup resistant.  A They can withstand the application of Roundup herbicide, which kills all other vegetation, and makes for very efficient weed control in crops.  However, the weeds absorb the GM characteristics and evolve super weeds that are Roundup resistant.  A number of farmers have reverted to mechanical, labor-intensive cultivation of crops to control weeds.

Similary, some GM crops produce their own insecticides to kill insect pests.  The bugs have developed their own resistance to the poison produced by the plants.  While the bugs seem to find ways to survive and thrive, the question is whether these modified crops are safe for humans and animals.  

Huge agribusinesses  such as Monsanto could face disaster, should GM-based food products be found unsafe for consumption,  The amount of money raised, as in California, to label and prevent independent testing of GM products is huge.  it is not only influential; it is controlling.  

The organic food movement is in response to the qualilty of food produced by industrialized agriculture, which is dependent on the extensive use of chemicals, anti-biotics, and hormones.  Organically raised meat and vegetables are used increasingly by gourmet chefs who find them superior in achieving high quality cooking.  Smaller, moderate-sized farmers find switching to organic agriculture viable, while large producers would face serious economic hardship.

It is not only agriculture that is beset by the advance of super-organisms that have evolved from the overuse of chemicals and anti-biotics.  Hospitals are also battling strains of disease organisms that are impervious to the established medical controls. 

Foreign countries can afford to be more cautious about GM and chemically-raised food products because huge corporate interests do not exercise the degree of control that they do in the U.S.

GMOs deserve much research and testing of their safety, but given the political makeup of the U.S., the testing and research that can examine the safety of the food we eat will have to be done in foreign lands.  The USDA and FDA are too allied with the huge corporations to even undertake such studies. Some potential economic and political upheavals are in the offing if GMOs are found to endanger human health.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States