The environmental impact associated with GMOs cannot be overstated. There are broad consequences that can be missed on first glance. The main concerns are cross contamination, weed and pest resistance, damage to beneficial insects and organisms and exposure to chemicals like Roundup.
Cross contamination has already had far reaching consequences here in Idaho and around the world. Organic and non-GE growers are powerless to stop wind, bees and birds from carrying the GMO pollen from GE crops into their own fields.
Genetically modified Bent Grass (which has not been approved) has escaped its test fields and has begun to invade our irrigation canals. Since it has been engineered to resist Roundup and it is in our waterways, authorities are searching for other chemicals to use to kill it. See more here.
Alfalfa is the first perennial plant that has been genetically engineered and since it reseeds and spreads itself, there is no controlling where it ends up. One of Idaho’s local alfala farmers, Phil Geertson of Geertson’s seeds, is in the middle of a lawsuit with Monsanto and the USDA for not completing environmental impact studies prior to release of RR (roundup ready) alfalfa. Mr. Geertson had a seed export business that he had spent significant time and money to build. When his seed stock became contaminated with the GMO gene, his export business ended because many countries have a zero tolerance policy for GMO seed. Mr. Geertson traveled around the Treasure valley, into Malheur county and SW Idaho, where he took samples of feral alfalfa to see if it contained the RR gene. 9 out of 10 samples tested positive for the gene. This means that we are losing conventional alfalfa. The GM gene is already out there and is changing the genetics of conventional alfalfa. You cannot recall this technology. Read Phil’s story here.
In a famous case in Canada, Percy Schmeiser was growing canola. His field became contaminated with GMO canola. Percy always saved his own seed to replant the following year. This time, since Monsanto’s patented seeds were now present on Percy’s field, Monsanto sued him for patent infringement and knowingly saving his seed which contained the GMO gene. Mr. Schmeiser fought back and lost. The case set the precedence that the RR gene is the property of Monsanto regardless of how it came to be present in a farmer’s field. Read Percy’s story here.
GMO corn is contaminating heritage corn varieties even in Mexico where GMO corn was banned. In spite of supposed safeguards and regulations, the gene has made its way deep into Mexico. Read more at motherjones.com.
Currently, Aquabounty is seeking approval for their genetically modified salmon. This would be the first genetically modified animal in the food chain. Last year Aquabounty assured regulators that the fish were sterile and could not reproduce in the wild. However, the USDA recently granted the company $500,000 to research how to make the fish sterile. Read more here.
When the biotech industry claims they have safeguards in place to prevent cross contamination they just cannot be trusted. There are no guarantees and mistakes happen. As we have already seen with canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, corn and even the salmon… The safeguards don’t work. The stakes are high because we cannot go back once these engineered genes are released.
Weed and Pest Resistance
Just as heavy use of antibiotics has caused antibiotic resistant germs, pesticides and herbicides have caused resistant weeds and pests.
A New York Times article dated May 3, 2010 featured Farmer Eddie Anderson who is coping with this problem:
“Roundup-resistant weeds like horseweed and giant ragweed are forcing farmers to go back to more expensive techniques that they had long ago abandoned.
Mr. Anderson, the farmer, is wrestling with a particularly tenacious species of glyphosate-resistant pest called Palmer amaranth, or pigweed, whose resistant form began seriously infesting farms in western Tennessee only last year.
Pigweed can grow three inches a day and reach seven feet or more, choking out crops; it is so sturdy that it can damage harvesting equipment. In an attempt to kill the pest before it becomes that big, Mr. Anderson and his neighbors are plowing their fields and mixing herbicides into the soil.”
The article goes on to explain how the industry is responding to the issue:
“Bayer is already selling cotton and soybeans resistant to glufosinate, another weedkiller. Monsanto’s newest corn is tolerant of both glyphosate and glufosinate, and the company is developing crops resistant to dicamba, an older pesticide. Syngenta is developing soybeans tolerant of its Callisto product. And Dow Chemical is developing corn and soybeans resistant to 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam War.”
Read more about weed resistance here.
BT corn, which is genetically engineered to express its own pesticide, is failing in four or more states according to the EPA. The rootworm has apparently become tolerant and sever crop damage is being reported. Read more here.
Damage to Beneficial Insects and Micro Organisms
Cornell researchers found that Monarch Butterflies are dying as a result of BT corn pollen spreading to milkweed. Butterflies feed on milkweed. According to Cornell news: “Like all grasses, corn is wind-pollinated, and the pollen can be blown more than 60 yards from the edge of cornfields. “Pollen is that yellow dusting your car gets on spring and summer days; pollen is everywhere,” explains Losey. “That’s why we are concerned about this problem.”
“Monarchs are considered to be a flagship species for conservation. This is a warning bell,” says Linda Rayor, one of the researchers. “Monarchs themselves are not an endangered species right now, but as their habitat is disrupted or destroyed, their migratory phenomena is becoming endangered.”
In the laboratory tests, monarchs fed milkweed leaves dusted with so-called transformed pollen from a Bt-corn hybrid ate less, grew more slowly and suffered a higher mortality rate, the researchers report. Nearly half of these larvae died, while all of the monarch caterpillars fed leaves dusted with nontransformed corn pollen or fed leaves without corn pollen survived the study. Read the article here.
There is a lot of controversy about whether or not the decline in bee populations is related to the use of genetically engineered crops. There is evidence that there is a relationship and since we rely on bees to pollinate our food sources it would be ludicrous to dismiss the possibility. There have been some great articles and research papers written on the subject and you can read them from these sites:
Organic Consumers Association – Catastrophic Bee Population Decline May Be Related to Bt-Spliced GMO Crops.
Global Research – Death of Bees
GM Watch – GMO Risks for Bees and Beekeeping
The claim by Monsanto is that the use of GMO crops reduces the use of Roundup. However, as sales of Roundup Ready crops have increased dramatically in the last decade so have the sales of Roundup. In Idaho we have hundreds of thousands of acres of corn, alfalfa and sugar beets planted and many of them are Roundup Ready. It should be noted that a US Geological Study Release shows Roundup is being found in the Mississippi streams, air and the rain. The greatest usage of Roundup is where GMO crops are being grown. I just wonder what that can mean for us during growing season with so many acres of Roundup Ready crops being grown all around us.
Recent report shows that Roundup causes birth defects, endocrine disruption and that Monsanto has known for years that animal studies showed malformations. Here is some good information about the health risks associated with RoundUp.
The issue of Roundup Ready Alfalfa is one to keep an eye on. According to local alfalfa farmer, Phil Geertson, the length of time between spraying Roundup on alfalfa and harvesting it for animal feed is significantly shorter than for other crops. This means that livestock could potentially consume alfalfa with roundup in higher amounts. We know that what a cow eats can cross into the milk supply so it stands to reason that we may need to be concerned about Roundup showing up in our milk. It is a goal of GMO Free Idaho to raise money and conduct tests to find out.
-Last updated January 8, 2012-