Why Monsanto and pals are working so hard to defeat Measure 92

We can’t afford to give industry any more time to spread their seeds via a technology that is diminishing our capacity for health on so many levels. This has to be stopped as soon as possible.

By Eecole Copen of Portland, Oregon. Eecole is a registered dietitian and an advocate for sustainable food systems. Last week, she received the 2014 Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Excellence Award at the national conference for dietitians in Atlanta, Georgia.

Let's talk about labeling GMOs. We need to look at the bigger picture. Some are saying that measure 92 may not be written effectively and that it may increase the cost of food, hitting poor families particularly hard. People are afraid of the repercussions.

Let’s take a look at the effectiveness of this bill first.

Whether or not Measure 92 is the perfectly written law, it is a great first step. If it weren’t going to be effective on some level, Monsanto and their industrial allies would not be spending over $14 million in attempts to make it fail. They could be putting that $14 million into labeling, if their priorities were something other than bottom line financial profiting. No, they are more concerned that GMOs continue to progress without any barriers. And this is critical for them, because they need the next few years to take GMOs to the point of no return.

Just this last year, Syngenta (Swiss company who makes GMO seeds) was found to be strategically checkerboard planting their genetically modified sugar beet seeds in Southern Oregon. Whatever their reason, the inevitable result was that all of the surrounding family farmers who grew non-GMO or organic seed would find some portion of their seeds crossed-pollinated with Syngenta’s GMO seed. According to Raymon Seidler, Ph.D., former Senior Scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency, these seeds have been known to contaminate fields 11 miles away.

What are the repercussions of this? Family farms would no longer be able to sell to the Organic or foreign export market. This puts farmers out of business. This takes our opportunity to buy organic away. This is sneaky and strategic. This was a secret... until some farmers figured it out. Then they banned GMO seeds from being planted in their county.

This is intentional. GMO makers need to get their seeds dispersed far and wide, so they can claim patent rights and ultimately, claim our food rights. We think it’s scary to have our water privatized? Think if all of our food is privatized. It won’t take long. GMO canola can cross with Brassicas... think broccoli, chard, kale, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. And until we decide that corporations are no longer people, their patent interests will continue to take over our food system. This is one hell of a greedy & hungry big brother.

And cross contamination is just one scary road eerily travelled. Let’s talk about microbes, pesticides and gene transfer.

Right now, the 2 major genetic modifications approved by the FDA are “Round-up Ready” crops, which confer resistance to the well known herbicide, Roundup (glyphosate), to corn, alfalfa, soy, canola and sugar beets, and the Bt gene which enables corn, sweet corn and potato plants themselves, to manufacture an internal pesticide that kills unwanted pests. Round-Up ready crops depend on all surrounding weeds to fall victim to Round-Up. However, studies tracking the use of glyphosate show that the “annual increase in the herbicides required to deal with tougher-to-control weeds on cropland planted to GE cultivars has grown from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011.” And as of Sept 17th, the USDA “plowed ahead with a highly controversial decision to deregulate new seed varieties of “Agent Orange” corn and soybeans, so-called for its ability to withstand the weed killer 2,4-D, a major component in the infamous dioxin-laden defoliant used in Vietnam. The USDA environmental impact study predicted that approval of the crops would lead to a 200 to 600 percent increase in the use of 2,4-D nationally by 2020, but deferred to the EPA for analysis of the effects of the increase. The idea is that these seeds will have both genes to now resist two herbicides, since they see the ultimate failure of Round-Up ready alone. When does it stop? How much herbicide can our soils, our water system and ultimately our bodies handle? There is no lack of evidence around the links between herbicides and cancer, reduced fertility, fetal abnormalities, etc., and there is an unfolding story on the horizon…

Bear with me through this logic…

We’ve all heard that gut bacteria play a role in our digestion. And now we are finding that gut bacteria have many other jobs like harvesting energy, producing vitamins, metabolizing drugs & modulating the immune system (Cerf-Bensussan and Gaboriau-Routhiau, Nat Rev Immunol, 2010). And studies show that they likely play a role in our body’s response to all sorts of issues, including hunger signaling, chronic inflammation, auto-immune diseases, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and much more (read Dr. Gerard E Mullin, “The Inside Tract”). There are even services now available to get your gut flora analyzed for $100.

We are finding that certain bacteria predominate with certain diseases. Could it be that the kinds of bacteria fostered by our bodies determine our health? What we know is that diversity of gut flora increases resilience for our immune system. And where do these bacteria come from?? Our food. Both literally attached to the food we eat, the dirt on our fingers, & the soil our food is grown in. These are called probiotics. Plus, food acts as food not just for us, but for the bacteria in our guts, called pre-biotics. The kinds of foods we eat will determine the kinds of bacteria that will proliferate.

Now consider that the average farm is 441 acres and is usually planted with very few crops at a time, essentially creating large swaths of land that are mono-cropped. In 2012, 88 percent of corn (maize) and 94 percent of soy grown in the United States were genetically modified, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The big farms are filled with mostly GMO crops.

As mentioned, these crops are requiring increasingly heavy doses of herbicides in these fields, decimating bacterial diversity, and thus decreasing the resilience of the soil’s immune system. As crops become more susceptible to disease, more chemicals are needed to keep the pests out, and the plants growing. Does this situation sound familiar? The health of our bodies is reflected in the health of our soils. And literally, when we kill all the diversity in microbial organisms in the soil, we diminish the diversity of bacteria available to our own guts to help us resist disease. The more GMOs planted, the more herbicides & pesticides needed to deal with super weeds and resistant bugs, the less diversity in our soil bacteria, the less diversity in our gut bacteria, the more risk both humans and plants have for disease.

There’s one more super scary element. The Bt gene that helps the plant manufacture its own pesticide originally comes from bacteria in the soil. Genes are exchanged all of the time in the bacterial world. According to Dr. Robert Kremer, Ph.D., microbiologist formerly with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Adjunct Professor of Soil Microbiology at the University of Missouri, gene transfer is totally possible from plant to other organisms. So, the feasibility exists that our own gut bacteria could pick up the pesticide making genes, making our guts into pesticide factories.

Is the research final on all this? Not yet, but it’s coming. And the longer we wait for absolute conclusions, the more time we give to industry to weave their GMO seeds into our food system in this country. Europe has already banned GMOs and labeling happens in 64 countries around the world. We are one of the only 1st world countries available to enable this industry’s success. They need us. And they will do anything to keep the barriers from forming.

Finally, the last point is about whether poor families are going to spend hundreds of dollars per year in extra food costs. Industry is malleable. They have an incredible amount of flexibility to please the consumer. In 2014, General Mills’ net profit was 1.82 billion. If they see the consumer interest shift away from their products, you better believe they will find a way to attract their customers back. They don’t want to lose business. And they won’t inflate their prices and risk that loss. And, if 64 countries have already labeled GMOs, and the poor didn’t go hungry there, what makes us think it will be any different here?

We can’t afford to give industry any more time to spread their seeds via a technology that is diminishing our capacity for health on so many levels. This has to be stopped as soon as possible. We have an amazing opportunity to put up one of America’s first major barriers to their progress.

Carpe Diem. Let’s seize this day on November 4th and exert the power of our vote to stop this harmful progress. Yes on Measure 92.

guest column

connect with blueoregon