Peru bans GMO crops for 10 years

Brazil accelerates the approval of GMO beans to be planted and distributed mainly in the north of the country

GM Watch.org
June 8, 2011

The Plenary Session of the Congress, approved the opinion of the law project that declares a moratorium of ten years that prevents the import of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) on the national territory for cultivation, breeding or of any transgenic production. It was sustained by the president of the Agrarian Commission, Aníbal Huerta (PAP), who declared that in the face of the danger that can arise from the use of the biotechnology a moratorium must be approved to take care of our biodiversity. It received the endorsement of congressmen Elizabeth Leon (BPCD), Franklin Sanchez (PAP), Mauritius Mulder (PAP), Oswaldo Luizar (BPCD), Jorge of Castillo (PAP), Oswaldo de la Cruz (GPF), Luis Wilson (PAP), Yonhy Lescano (AP), Aldo Estrada (UPP), Hilda Guevara (PAP), Gloria Branches (BPDC) and Maria Sumire (GPN). From different viewpoints, they agreed in the defense of the national biodiversity due to our greater climatic diversity, but they differed with regard to the moratorium. Congressman Alejandro Rebaza (PAP), made some precisions to the opinion and, like the colleagues Sanchez and Estrada, proposed a technical commission of prevention and investigation that issues a report in two years. The legislators Raul Castro (UN) and Juan Carlos Eguren (UN) expressed themselves against the moratorium, because they considered that already we consumed transgenic products and that the doors to biotechnology could not be closed because the transgenic production, that is necessary for covering the food needs, has 70% more sale than the organic production. The parliamentarian José Saldaña (AN) remembered that the biologists have asked to file the project in debate because already exists a law on the matter, whereas legislator Yaneth Cajahuanca (GPN) suggested to leave the project for the next session. On the other hand, congressmen Luis Giampietri (PAP) and Édgard Núñez (PAP) said that it is not possible to close the doors to science and that it is possible to decided on a prudential moratorium of five years. Finally, the president of the Commission of Andean Towns, Washington Zeballos (BPCD), informed on the modifications to the opinion and that the term of the moratorium would have to be of ten years. The proposal was approved by 56 votes to favor, zero against and two abstentions and exonerated from second voting by 50 votes to favor, four against and three abstentions. The approved norm establishes a moratorium of ten years, determines as competent authority of the subject to the Ministry of the Environemnt and creates a Technical Commission of Evaluation and Prevention of Risks of Use of GMOs, that in two years will have to issue a report on the subject.

2.Brazilian commission changes its internal statutes to speed up approval of GM crops and hasten the release of modified beans
Update from the GM-Free Brazil Campaign
Brazil | Rio de Janeiro | June 07 2011

On May 17th a public hearing was held in Brasilia to discuss an application for commercial release of the first genetically modified bean variety. Beans are part of Brazil’s staple diet, consumed daily by most of the population. The new variety was developed by Embrapa (the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) for resistance to the golden mosaic virus and is already just waiting for commercial authorization from CTNBio (National Biosafety Technical Commission, the official body responsible for evaluating and authorizing GM crops).

The hearing was held at the head offices of Embrapa itself, the state company making the application. This unprecedented event raised the prospect of CTNBio adopting the procedure of ‘consulting society’ at the premises of all applicant companies, with, who knows, the next hearing being held at Monsanto’s head office. The president of CTNBio, Edilson Paiva, claimed they had been unable to find another auditorium available in Brasilia, hence the choice.

The representative for the NGO Terra de Direitos questioned the confidentiality granted to various sections of Embrapa’s report. CTNBio withheld more information than the areas requested by the company, a fact likely to hinder monitoring of the product’s impacts after its commercial release. In this case access to all the data was denied even to the member of the Commission responsible for reporting on the evaluation process.

Field studies were undertaken in just three localities over a two-year period. Interpreted generously this mean that the environmental impacts of the technology were tested in two biomes at most. Brazil’s legislation requires studies to be undertaken in all biomes where the modified plant might be grown. As the Terra de Direitos representative pointed out, Embrapa is applying for unrestricted release of the new GM bean variety throughout the country, despite the lack of adequate data.

AS-PTA’s representative also questioned the absence of data on the potential impacts of genetic modification on the common bean varieties already consumed in Brazil. All the tests were carried out on a single type of bean, rather than those consumed in the country on a daily basis. At the same time, various parts of Embrapa’s report themselves state that the test results vary according to the type of bean receiving the transgene. Despite these tests not being conducted, the application is for release of the GM variety for subsequent incorporation into other bean plants.

Even more revealingly, only two of the 22 transgenic events generated for resistance to the mosaic virus actually worked. As the evaluation report states, it remains unknown why these produced the expected results while the other 20 events did not. Indeed the report concludes that more studies are needed to understand the transgene in question. In other words, when in doubt, release it. This abandonment of the Precautionary Principle was highlighted at the hearing by AS-PTA.

The representative from CONSEA (the National Nutritional and Food Security Council) stressed that the human right to healthy and adequate food will be achieved through agroecology, not through the development of GM seeds. He cited experiments run by Embrapa over an eight-year period that showed considerable success in controlling the bean plant mosaic virus through organic farming methods and without any loss of productivity.

CTNBio approves changes to rules to speed up commercial releases

The day after the public hearing on the GM bean application, the monthly meeting of CTNBio also began in Brasilia. Opening the plenary session, the Secretary of Research and Development Policies and Programs of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Carlos Nobre, emphasized the importance of the Commission’s work and the need for risk evaluation to be based on the Precautionary Principle, much to the incredulity of many of those listening to him. As soon as the Secretary left the plenary session, the president of CTNBio announced that the vote would be taken on changing the body’s statutes. But after hearing the first question, he immediately announced that the process would be sped up to avoid the ‘obstruction principle.’

The regulations were set to be altered at the meeting following a court ruling that obliged CTNBio to introduce more transparent procedures and allow access to the information received for evaluation, except for data covered confidential business information.

The members of the Commission used the chance to alter the statutes to approve changes to the ritual of the evaluation process. They shortened the evaluation periods, meaning that GMOs releases will be even quicker in practice, reinforcing CTNBio’s image as a rubber-stamping institution that has so far never refused a request for commercial release.

The vote to approve the release of GM beans is set to take place shortly.

GM-FREE BRAZIL – Published by AS-PTA Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologia. The GM-Free Brazil Campaign is a collective of Brazilian NGOs, social movements and individuals.

AS-PTA an independent, not-for-profit Brazilian organisation dedicated to promoting the sustainable rural development. Head office: Rua das Palmeiras, 90 | CEP: 22270-070, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Phone: 0055-21-2253-8317 Fax: 0055-21-2233-8363

Obama Deregulates GMO Alfalfa and Sugar Beets

Alfalfa reaches our tables within milk, cream, butter, and meat, as it is commonly used to feed dairy cows.

By Robbie Hanna Anderman
Axis of Logic
June 4, 2011

Early this spring, while the world was distracted by Egypt’s uprising, President Barack Obama pushed the Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets in the United States. The USDA came through as he directed, totally deregulating these Monsanto-patented genes in early February.

About 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn, 93 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of canola seed planted in the United States in 2010 were genetically engineered.

In so doing, Obama and the USDA have chosen to override and ignore decisions and injunctions made by the U.S. Supreme Court that banned planting of genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets without consideration of the Environmental Impact Assessments, which showed high risks to organic and conventional (chemical) farmers.

So how does this affect you and me? Neither of us remembers seeing alfalfa or sugar beets on our breakfast table or even on our Seder table. Or do we?

Sugar beets provide over 50 percent of the sugar Americans use in their coffee, cereals, and desserts. For the moment, let’s not focus on the fact that sugar beets can cross-pollinate with red beets and make our borscht genetically modified.

Alfalfa reaches our tables within milk, cream, butter, and meat, as it is used as a major animal feed in the dairy industry. It is also used to enrich soils in organic farming.

At this time, no genetically engineered crops are permitted for sale in the European Union (though WikiLeaks has revealed that the U.S. government is exerting strong pressure on the EU to allow them). Thus this new deregulation will potentially close off present markets for organic farmers’ crops.

Obama’s push for deregulation potentially also means the end of the organic meat and organic dairy industries as we presently know them. Essentially, he is choosing to favor the profits of big agribusiness over the survival of America’s family farmers, and especially America’s organic farmers.

Our democracy has to work for farmers and consumers and not just for multinational biotech corporations. It makes absolutely no sense that the economic risks to farmers are not considered before genetically engineered crops are put on the market. It is farmers who pay the costs of genetic contamination, not the biotech companies.

How else does this affect you and me? I’ll defer to Canadian geneticist David Suzuki on this.

In an interview with the True Food Foundation, Suzuki said anyone who claims genetically engineered food is perfectly safe is “either unbelievably stupid, or deliberately lying,” adding: “The reality is, we don’t know. The experiments simply haven’t been done, and now we have become the guinea pigs…. I am most definitely not in favor of release of GMOs in the food stream and given that it’s too late, I favor complete labeling of GMO products.”

In “More Science Needed on Effects of Genetically Modifying Food Crops,” a September 2009 article for the Vancouver news site Straight.com, Suzuki wrote:

Some have argued that we’ve been eating GM foods for years with few observable negative consequences but as we’ve seen with things like trans fats, it often takes a while for us to recognize the health impacts. With GM foods, concerns have been raised about possible effects on stomach bacteria and resistance to antibiotics, as well as their role in allergic reactions. We also need to understand more about their impact on other plants and animals.

And in “Experimenting With Life,” an article inYes!magazine, he wrote:
We have learned from painful experience that anyone entering an experiment should give informed consent. That means at the very least food should be labeled if it contains GMOs so we each can make that choice.

Like Dr. Suzuki, I think it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that we are also guinea pigs in another big experiment. Ours is the first generation to ever eat food that has been intentionally sprayed with poison before being eaten. While it may be argued that we need greater quantities to “feed the world,” the truth is that we’ve lost quality, we’ve lost fertility in humans and in the soil, and our health care budgets are indicative of the effects of this path.

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Maria Rodale’s book, Organic Manifesto cites shocking studies that make a strong case against chemical farming, while at the same time highlighting the positive nutritional and environmental benefits of organic farming. And according to a 2009 report from the UN Environmental Program, organic farming may be the only way we can solve the growing problem of hunger in the developing countries. Yes, organic farms can feed the world, and do it sustainably.

So why is Obama favoring Monsanto? This is the company responsible for more than fifty uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located (“Superfund sites” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites). We also have Monsanto to thank for Agent Orange, PCBs, DDT, and more.

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds already dominate the entire U.S. corn, soy, canola, and cotton crops. About 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn, 93 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of canola seed planted in the United States in 2010 were genetically engineered. Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, explained the company’s regulatory philosophy thus: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.”

To assure the Food and Drug Administration and USDA do not regulate genetically engineered crops, biotech has spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying Congress since 1999.

If we follow the “historical” pattern of genetically engineered corn, soy, cotton, and canola, we will likely soon see engineered alfalfa and sugar beets, with their wind- and bee-carried pollen, completely taking over the entire seed industry for those crops. This contamination would disallow farmers’ ancient practice of keeping and breeding seeds from year to year, and drive up expenses for all farmers. This is nothing new from the American government, which has historically supported policies favoring the consolidation of U.S. seed ownership in the hands of a few major corporations.

So let us remind our children that we were “slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt.” For surely having one corporation control the seeds gives it unprecedented control. The state of affairs reminds me of how Pharaoh, at Joseph’s urging, took control of the grain supplies of Egypt, causing Jacob’s family to go down into Egypt and eventually become enslaved. Not worried yet? Chew on this: it’s been said that most U.S. cities do not have three days of food supplies on their shelves.

Extremes of weather in recent years have shown us how vulnerable this situation is. Meanwhile, the National Farmers Unions in the United States and Canada have advocated support for local family farmers and the implementation of local and national programs to ensure food security and food sovereignty — programs that fail to interest corporate-controlled politicians.

The fact that the executive wing of government has chosen to override a recent major decision by the Supreme Court to stop all dissemination of genetically engineered alfalfa until the completion on an environmental assessment of its danger is certainly cause for questioning.

What’s going on here? Did Obama betray us? Did Obama, a man, a charismatic politician, betray the people who voted for him, whose spirits were raised high with the slogan “Yes, we can”?

Perhaps. Yet I am reminded that to run a presidential campaign requires a great deal of money. And since the Supreme CourtCitizens Uniteddecision — supported by Clarence Thomas, a former attorney for Monsanto — to allow corporations the unlimited ability to anonymously fund political campaigns, it is becoming obvious that Obama owes something to many rich people.

U.S. corporations have gained inordinate power over all our politicians by manipulating the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was adopted in 1868 to protect the rights of newly freed Blacks, yet by 1886 the Supreme Court had begun recognizing it as a protection of the rights of the “persons” called corporations — persons which do not breathe, do not have consciences, and are mandated to make a profit for their shareholders.

Which group would you betray? Your funders or your fans?

When Obama cried, “Yes, we can!” he obviously was speaking for a different “we” than those who voted for him imagined.

Monsanto’s seeds are genetically engineered for use with the company’s chemical herbicide RoundUp. Last year we learned that weeds are growing resistant to RoundUp. Monsanto’s profits and stock prices began dropping.

A failed technology is now getting another chance to dance and prop up a failing corporation. Oddly, alfalfa (Arabic for “king of herbs”) does not need herbicides for more than 93 percent of its common applications. Farmers have been growing it for many centuries and know how to do so without herbicides. The push for genetically engineered alfalfa is just a game move toward controlling the food supply.

After all, what will we eat when America’s family farmers are all driven off their farms and into our cities? We would then be dependent on corporate factory farms, whose managers are far from the soil and lack experience in dealing with the whims of nature and weather. We would also be dependent on oil and the prices of oil to supply us with imported food. WikiLeaks has just revealed dispatches from Saudi Arabia to the United States from 2007–9 stating that Peak Oil is happening now: reports of oil in the ground were exaggerated by 40 percent. Thus shipping prices, and agrichemicals prices are soon to rise even further.

In the 1970s, the richest 1 percent of American families took in 9 percent of the nation’s total income. Today, the top 1 percent take in 23.5 percent of total income. With median workers earning less than they did thirty years ago, who will be able to afford food, let alone nourishing food?

Even in the face of these dire circumstances, however, the consciousness of humans is rising. People are increasingly demanding to know where their food comes from. People are supporting organic production even in the face of recession. People are taking up gardening and shopping at farmers markets.

Obama taught us not to look for a charismatic messiah, while also teaching us those magic words, “yes, we can!” The coalitions that came together to elect Obama can be revived, as can the networks, and the social media to keep alive the connections.

The Center for Food Safety has already filed a legal brief to halt the actual dissemination of these genetically engineered seeds, and Canadian Organic Growers and several other organizations have joined in on the lawsuit. This struggle needs our support. We all eat; it goes beyond all differences. In addition to supporting the legal struggle for food safety, we can also make our voices heard by refusing to invest in big genetic engineering companies such as Monsanto and Bayer.

We can do it. We can craft food security and food sovereignty for the people of America and beyond.

Playing with Food: The Scalpers of our Daily Bread

As food prices reach record highs, how much is the speculation in agricultural commodities to blame?

Felicity Lawrence
UK Guardian
June 3, 2011

With food prices reaching record highs again this year, what goes on inside a 650ft Chicago skyscraper topped by a statue of the goddess Ceres is coming under intense scrutiny.

It is here that the world’s oldest futures and options exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), was established in 1848 to serve the great grain belt that had opened up in the American midwest. And it is here that the international price of agricultural commodities is set to this day.

“There’s a lot of weather in the market, the northern growing season has been traumatic, with drought in Europe and China and tornadoes and floods in the US. No one is panicked yet, but any additional crop loss, say in Russia, will quickly bring new worry to the market and that could quickly turn to panic. We may be one more event away from panic,” Dan Basse, president of AgResource, one of Chicago’s most respected commodity analyst companies, warned as we watched the opening of a day’s trading last month.

G20 agriculture ministers will meet in Paris on 22 June to discuss food security and prices. Speculative activity and how to contain it is high on their agenda.

Debate has been raging since 2008, when price rises provoked riots around the world, about whether or not the new money that has flooded into the commodities markets since 2003 is the cause of the problem – and if so, how to regulate it.

In Chicago, before the financial day begins, teams of traders pump themselves up outside on chain-smoked cigarettes and outsize McDonald’s coffees. The coloured blazers they use to make themselves easily identifiable on the trading floor have been reduced to bright jackets with string-vest backs to counter the heat generated by a day’s speculation. They keep on their toes in training shoes.

Inside, when the bell announces the start, there is a frenzy of noise. Traders yell at one another and wave their arms in violent gesticulation, palms out to signal sell, palms in to signal buy. There are “scalpers” who buy and sell within seconds, “floor brokers” hedging for corporate accounts, and hundreds of runners rushing orders to the recorders.

At the end of May, the price of corn was up again – most traders and analysts expected it to continue rising along with other commodities.

Basse is one of those who thinks underlying fundamentals – a serious mismatch between supply and rapidly growing global demand – are behind this year’s price rises.

“Speculation is the easy thing to point the finger at and it’s easy to fix. Back in 2008, when prices were up and there was lots of money pouring in, that may have pushed prices up, but today we don’t see that as having a significant effect,” Basse said.

“Look at growth in world livestock demand and in biofuels demand, and you can see what’s been driving the agricultural bull market.”

He painted a troubling picture of what is likely to come. He estimates the world needs to bring around 10.3m hectares of new land a year into food production “just to keep stocks steady”, but he says that will be increasingly hard to do as the land that remains available is reduced to what is environmentally fragile.

A “weekend” farmer of GM crops himself, Basse admits the promise that biotech seeds would deliver big increases in yields has turned out to be illusory. He also fears that “superweeds are coming on so fast with GM that US farmers are going to have to go back to more traditional cultivation methods [as opposed to the practice with GM seeds of not tilling the soil and simply spraying to control pests] – but they don’t have the capacity to do that.”

Europe, Basse said, will soon have no choice but to lift its ban on imports of GM crops for animal feed. With its own crops suffering drought, it will have to turn to Brazil, the only major supplier of non-GM imports. However, the Chinese have already bought up large chunks of the Brazilian crop. The policies in the US and the EU of promoting biofuels will be unsustainable.

The company that owns CBOT, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange group (CME), also rejects the notion that the enormous rise in speculation in agricultural commodities in recent years has caused food price rises.

Farmers and processors of physical goods have long used commodities exchanges such as Chicago’s to hedge against risks such as bad harvests. Speculators willing to take the risk perform a useful role in providing liquidity. But much of the recent growth in speculation has been through new “structured” products invented by banks and sold to investors.

After intense lobbying, banks won deregulation of commodities markets in the US in 2000, allowing them to develop these new products. Goldman Sachs pioneered commodity index funds, which offer investors a chance to track changes in a spread of commodity prices including key agricultural commodities.

Between 2003 and 2008, investment in commodity index funds rose from $13bn to $317bn (£193bn). But the CME’s head of product development, Fred Seamon, said: “There is no credible evidence that suggests index funds or any group of traders are a cause for high prices or increased volatility. There may be a correlation, but that’s a completely different thing.”

CME argues that the volume of speculation is not a problem, because the overall composition of the agricultural commodities market has not changed; the increase in activity by index funds has been matched by an increase in trading by those who are commercial participants, that is those who have a direct interest in the physical goods.

“That’s an indefensible position,” Chicago–based hedge fund manager Mark Newell of Quiddity retorted. He and another hedge fund manager, Mike Masters, prepared testimony to the US Senate when it was looking into the effect of speculation on food prices in 2008.

“When billions of dollars of capital is put to work in small markets like agricultural commodities, it inevitably increases volatility and amplifies prices – and if financial flows amplify prices of food stuffs and energy, it’s not like real estate and stocks. When food prices double, people starve ,” Masters said.

The UN rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, added his weight to Masters’ side of the debate at the end of last year when he concluded a speculative bubble was responsible for a significant part of the food price rises.

An OECD study, however, did not find a link. Aid agencies such as Oxfam and Christian Aid are calling for reregulation.

In the US, the regulator – the Commodities Futures Trading Commission – has until July to produce a new framework for the commodities markets for Congress. It has been looking at imposing limits on the size of positions that traders can take, and at regulating the commodity index fund trades that are currently unregulated because they take place “over the counter”; that is, between investors and banks. But the financial industry has proved resistant to reforms. G20 ministers will have to decide their own position soon, too.

Newell, meanwhile, remains convinced that without action prices will continue to go up, partly because of underlying fundamentals, but also because, just like in 2008, “the game’s afoot again”.

Monsanto’s Roundup Triggers Over 40 Plant Diseases

New Diseases Endanger Human and Animal Health

By Jeffrey Smith
January 19, 2011

While visiting a seed corn dealer’s demonstration plots in Iowa last fall, Dr. Don Huber walked passed a soybean field and noticed a distinct line separating severely diseased yellowing soybeans on the right from healthy green plants on the left (see photo). The yellow section was suffering from Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS), a serious plant disease that ravaged the Midwest in 2009 and ’10, driving down yields and profits. Something had caused that area of soybeans to be highly susceptible and Don had a good idea what it was.

The diseased field on the right had glyphosate applied the previous season. Photo by Don Huber

Don Huber spent 35 years as a plant pathologist at Purdue University and knows a lot about what causes green plants to turn yellow and die prematurely. He asked the seed dealer why the SDS was so severe in the one area of the field and not the other. “Did you plant something there last year that wasn’t planted in the rest of the field?” he asked. Sure enough, precisely where the severe SDS was, the dealer had grown alfalfa, which he later killed off at the end of the season by spraying a glyphosate-based herbicide (such as Roundup). The healthy part of the field, on the other hand, had been planted to sweet corn and hadn’t received glyphosate.

This was yet another confirmation that Roundup was triggering SDS. In many fields, the evidence is even more obvious. The disease was most severe at the ends of rows where the herbicide applicator looped back to make another pass (see photo). That’s where extra Roundup was applied.

Don’s a scientist; it takes more than a few photos for him to draw conclusions. But Don’s got more—lots more. For over 20 years, Don studied Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate. He’s one of the world’s experts. And he can rattle off study after study that eliminate any doubt that glyphosate is contributing not only to the huge increase in SDS, but to the outbreak of numerous other diseases. (See selected reading list.)

Roundup: The perfect storm for plant disease

Sudden Death Syndrome is more severe at the ends of rows, where Roundup dose is strongest. Photo by Amy Bandy.

More than 30% of all herbicides sprayed anywhere contain glyphosate—the world’s bestselling weed killer. It was patented by Monsanto for use in their Roundup brand, which became more popular when they introduced “Roundup Ready” crops starting in 1996. These genetically modified (GM) plants, which now include soy, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets, have inserted genetic material from viruses and bacteria that allows the crops to withstand applications of normally deadly Roundup.

(Monsanto requires farmers who buy Roundup Ready seeds to only use the company’s Roundup brand of glyphosate. This has extended the company’s grip on the glyphosate market, even after its patent expired in 2000.)

The herbicide doesn’t destroy plants directly. It rather cooks up a unique perfect storm of conditions that revs up disease-causing organisms in the soil, and at the same time wipes out plant defenses against those diseases. The mechanisms are well-documented but rarely cited.

  • The glyphosate molecule grabs vital nutrients and doesn’t let them go. This process is called chelation and was actually the original property for which glyphosate was patented in 1964. It was only 10 years later that it was patented as an herbicide. When applied to crops, it deprives them of vital minerals necessary for healthy plant function—especially for resisting serious soilborne diseases. The importance of minerals for protecting against disease is well established. In fact, mineral availability was the single most important measurement used by several famous plant breeders to identify disease-resistant varieties.
  • Glyphosate annihilates beneficial soil organisms, such as Pseudomonas and Bacillus bacteria that live around the roots. Since they facilitate the uptake of plant nutrients and suppress disease-causing organisms, their untimely deaths means the plant gets even weaker and the pathogens even stronger.
  • The herbicide can interfere with photosynthesis, reduce water use efficiency, lower lignin , damage and shorten root systems, cause plants to release important sugars, and change soil pH—all of which can negatively affect crop health.
  • Glyphosate itself is slightly toxic to plants. It also breaks down slowly in soil to form another chemical called AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) which is also toxic. But even the combined toxic effects of glyphosate and AMPA are not sufficient on their own to kill plants. It has been demonstrated numerous times since 1984
  • The actual plant assassins, according to Purdue weed scientists and others, are severe disease-causing organisms present in almost all soils. Glyphosate dramatically promotes these, which in turn overrun the weakened crops with deadly infections.

    Glyphosate with sterile soil (A) only stunts plant growth. In normal soil (B), pathogens kill the plant. Control (C) shows normal growth.

“This is the herbicidal mode of action of glyphosate,” says Don. “It increases susceptibility to disease, suppresses natural disease controls such as beneficial organisms, and promotes virulence of soilborne pathogens at the same time.” In fact, he points out that “If you apply certain fungicides to weeds, it destroys the herbicidal activity of glyphosate!”

By weakening plants and promoting disease, glyphosate opens the door for lots of problems in the field. According to Don, “There are more than 40 diseases of crop plants that are reported to increase with the use of glyphosate, and that number keeps growing as people recognize the association between glyphosate and disease.”

Roundup promotes human and animal toxins

Photo by Robert Kremer

Some of the fungi promoted by glyphosate produce dangerous toxins that can end up in food and feed. Sudden Death Syndrome, for example, is caused by the Fusarium fungus. USDA scientist Robert Kremer found a 500% increase in Fusarium root infection of Roundup Ready soybeans when glyphosate is applied (see photos and chart). Corn, wheat, and many other plants can also suffer from serious Fusarium-based diseases.

But Fusarium’s wrath is not limited to plants. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, toxins from Fusarium on various types of food crops have been associated with disease outbreaks throughout history. They’ve “been linked to the plague epidemics” of medieval Europe, “large-scale human toxicosis in Eastern Europe,” oesophageal cancer in southern Africa and parts of China, joint diseases in Asia and southern Africa, and a blood disorder in Russia. Fusarium toxins have also been shown to cause animal diseases and induce infertility.

As Roundup use rises, plant disease skyrockets

When Roundup Ready crops were introduced in 1996, Monsanto boldly claimed that herbicide use would drop as a result. It did—slightly—for three years. But over the next 10 years, it grew considerably. Total herbicide use in the US jumped by a whopping 383 million pounds in the 13 years after GMOs came on the scene. The greatest contributor is Roundup.

Over time, many types of weeds that would once keel over with just a tiny dose of Roundup now require heavier and heavier applications. Some are nearly invincible. In reality, these super-weeds are resistant not to the glyphosate itself, but to the soilborne pathogens that normally do the killing in Roundup sprayed fields.

Having hundreds of thousands of acres infested with weeds that resist plant disease and weed killer has been devastating to many US farmers, whose first response is to pour on more and more Roundup. Its use is now accelerating. Nearly half of the huge 13-year increase in herbicide use took place in just the last 2 years. This has serious implications.

As US farmers drench more than 135 million acres of Roundup Ready crops with Roundup, plant diseases are enjoying an unprecedented explosion across America’s most productive crop lands. Don rattles off a lengthy list of diseases that were once under effective management and control, but are now creating severe hardship. (The list includes SDS and Corynespora root rot of soybeans, citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC), Fusarium wilt of cotton, Verticillium wilt of potato, take-all root, crown, and stem blight of cereals, Fusarium root and crown rot, Fusarium head blight, Pythium root rot and damping off, Goss’ wilt of corn, and many more.)

In Brazil, the new “Mad Soy Disease” is ravaging huge tracts of soybean acreage. Although scientists have not yet determined its cause, Don points out that various symptoms resemble a rice disease (bakanae) which is caused by Fusarium.

Corn dies young

In recent years, corn plants and entire fields in the Midwest have been dying earlier and earlier due to various diseases. Seasoned and observant farmers say they’re never seen anything like it.

“A decade ago, corn plants remained green and healthy well into September,” says Bob Streit, an agronomist in Iowa. “But over the last three years, diseases have turned the plants yellow, then brown, about 8 to 10 days earlier each season. In 2010, yellowing started around July 7th and yield losses were devastating for many growers.”

Bob and other crop experts believe that the increased use of glyphosate is the primary contributor to this disease trend. It has already reduced corn yields significantly. “If the corn dies much earlier,” says Bob, “it might collapse the corn harvest in the US, and threaten the food chain that it supports.”

A question of bugs

In addition to promoting plant diseases, which is well-established, spraying Roundup might also promote insects. That’s because many bugs seek sick plants. Scientists point out that healthy plants produce nutrients in a form that many insects cannot assimilate. Thus, farmers around the world report less insect problems among high quality, nutrient-dense crops. Weaker plants, on the other hand, create insect smorgasbords. This suggests that plants ravaged with diseases promoted by glyphosate may also attract more insects, which in turn will increase the use of toxic pesticides. More study is needed to confirm this.

Roundup persists in the environment

Monsanto used to boast that Roundup is biodegradable, claiming that it breaks down quickly in the soil. But courts in the US and Europe disagreed and found them guilty of false advertising. In fact, Monsanto’s own test data revealed that only 2% of the product broke down after 28 days.

Whether glyphosate degrades in weeks, months, or years varies widely due to factors in the soil, including pH, clay , types of minerals, residues from Roundup Ready crops, and the presence of the specialized enzymes needed to break down the herbicide molecule. In some conditions, glyphosate can grab hold of soil nutrients and remain stable for long periods. One study showed that it took up to 22 years for glyphosate to degrade only half its volume! So much for trusting Monsanto’s product claims.

Glyphosate can attack from above and below. It can drift over from a neighbors farm and wreak havoc. And it can even be released from dying weeds, travel through the soil, and then be taken up by healthy crops.

The amount of glyphosate that can cause damage is tiny. European scientists demonstrated that less than half an ounce per acre inhibits the ability of plants to take up and transport essential micronutrients (see chart).

As a result, more and more farmers are finding that crops planted in years after Roundup is applied suffer from weakened defenses and increased soilborne diseases. The situation is getting worse for many reasons.

  • The glyphosate concentration in the soil builds up season after season with each subsequent application.
  • Glyphosate can also accumulate for 6-8 years inside perennial plants like alfalfa, which get sprayed over and over.
  • Glyphosate residues in the soil that become bound and immobilized can be reactivated by the application of phosphate fertilizers or through other methods. Potato growers in the West and Midwest, for example, have experienced severe losses from glyphosate that has been reactivated.
  • Glyphosate can find its way onto farmland accidentally, through drifting spray, in contaminated water, and even through chicken manure!

    Wheat affected after 10 years of glyphosate field applications.

Imagine the shock of farmers who spread chicken manure in their fields to add nutrients, but instead found that the glyphosate in the manure tied up nutrients in the soil, promoted plant disease, and killed off weeds or crops. Test results of the manure showed glyphosate/AMPA concentrations at a whopping 0.36-0.75 parts per million (ppm). The normal herbicidal rate of glyphosate is about 0.5 ppm/acre.

Manure from other animals may also be spreading the herbicide, since US livestock consume copious amounts of glyphosate—which accumulates in corn kernels and soybeans. If it isn’t found in livestock manure (or urine), that may be even worse. If glyphosate is not exiting the animal, it must be accumulating with every meal, ending up in our meat and possibly milk.

Add this threat to the already high glyphosate residues inside our own diets due to corn and soybeans, and we have yet another serious problem threatening our health. Glyphosate has been linked to sterility, hormone disruption, abnormal and lower sperm counts, miscarriages, placental cell death, birth defects, and cancer, to name a few. (See resource list on glyphosate health effects.)

Nutrient loss in humans and animals

The same nutrients that glyphosate chelates and deprives plants are also vital for human and animal health. These include iron, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, boron, and others. Deficiencies of these elements in our diets, alone or in combination, are known to interfere with vital enzyme systems and cause a long list of disorders and diseases.

Alzheimer’s, for example, is linked with reduced copper and magnesium. Don Huber points out that this disease has jumped 9000% since 1990.

Manganese, zinc, and copper are also vital for proper functioning of the SOD (superoxide dismustase) cycle. This is key for stemming inflammation and is an important component in detoxifying unwanted chemical compounds in humans and animals.

Glyphosate-induced mineral deficiencies can easily go unidentified and untreated. Even when laboratory tests are done, they can sometimes detect adequate mineral levels, but miss the fact that glyphosate has already rendered them unusable.

Glyphosate can tie up minerals for years and years, essentially removing them from the pool of nutrients available for plants, animals, and humans. If we combine the more than 135 million pounds of glyphosate-based herbicides applied in the US in 2010 with total applications over the past 30 years, we may have already eliminated millions of pounds of nutrients from our food supply.

This loss is something we simply can’t afford. We’re already suffering from progressive nutrient deprivation even without Roundup. In a UK study, for example, they found between 16-76% less nutrients in 1991, compared to levels in the same foods in 1940.

Livestock disease and mineral deficiency

Roundup Ready crops dominate US livestock feed. Soy and corn are most prevalent—93% of US soy and nearly 70% of corn are Roundup Ready. Animals are also fed derivatives of the other three Roundup Ready crops: canola, sugar beets, and cottonseed. Nutrient loss from glyphosate can therefore be severe.

This is especially true for manganese (Mn), which is not only chelated by glyphosate, but also reduced in Roundup Ready plants (see photo). One veterinarian finds low manganese in every livestock liver he measures. Another vet sent the liver of a stillborn calf out for testing. The lab report stated: No Detectible Levels of Manganese—in spite of the fact that the mineral was in adequate concentrations in his region. When that vet started adding manganese to the feed of a herd, disease rates dropped from a staggering 20% to less than ½%.

Veterinarians who started their practice after GMOs were introduced in 1996 might assume that many chronic or acute animal disorders are common and to be expected. But several older vets have stated flat out that animals have gotten much sicker since GMOs came on the scene. And when they switch livestock from GMO to non-GMO feed, the improvement in health is dramatic. Unfortunately, no one is tracking this, nor is anyone looking at the impacts of consuming milk and meat from GM-fed animals.

Alfalfa madness, brought to you by Monsanto and the USDA

As we continue to drench our fields with Roundup, the perfect storm gets bigger and bigger. Don asks the sobering question: “How much of the hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate that have been applied to our most productive farm soils over the past 30 years is still available to damage subsequent crops through its effects on nutrient availability, increased disease, or reduced nutrient of our food and feed?”

Instead of taking urgent steps to protect our land and food, the USDA just made plans to make things worse. In December they released their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Roundup Ready alfalfa, which Monsanto hopes to reintroduce to the market.

Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop in the US, grown on 22 million acres. It is used primarily as a high protein source to feed dairy cattle and other ruminant animals. At present, weeds are not a big deal for alfalfa. Only 7% of alfalfa acreage is ever sprayed with an herbicide of any kind. If Roundup Ready alfalfa is approved, however, herbicide use would jump to unprecedented levels, and the weed killer of choice would of course be Roundup.

Even without the application of glyphosate, the nutritional quality of Roundup Ready alfalfa will be less, since Roundup Ready crops, by their nature, have reduced mineral . When glyphosate is applied, nutrient quality suffers even more (see chart).

The chance that Roundup would increase soilborne diseases in alfalfa fields is a near certainty. In fact, Alfalfa may suffer more than other Roundup Ready crops. As a perennial, it can accumulate Roundup year after year. It is a deep-rooted plant, and glyphosate leaches into sub soils. And “Fusarium is a very serious pathogen of alfalfa,” says Don. “So too are Phytophthora and Pythium,” both of which are promoted by glyphosate. “Why would you even consider jeopardizing the productivity and nutrient quality of the third most valuable crop in the US?” he asks in frustration, “especially since we have no way of removing the gene once it is spread throughout the alfalfa gene pool.”

It’s already spreading. Monsanto had marketed Roundup Ready alfalfa for a year, until a federal court declared its approval to be illegal in 2007. They demanded that the USDA produce an EIS in order to account for possible environmental damage. But even with the seeds taken off the market, the RR alfalfa that had already been planted has been contaminating non-GMO varieties. Cal/West Seeds, for example, discovered that more than 12% of their seed lots tested positive for contamination in 2009, up from 3% in 2008.

In their EIS, the USDA does acknowledge that genetically modified alfalfa can contaminate organic and non-GMO alfalfa, and that this could create economic hardship. They are even considering the unprecedented step of placing restrictions on RR alfalfa seed fields, requiring isolation distances. Experience suggests that this will slow down, but not eliminate GMO contamination. Furthermore, studies confirm that genes do transfer from GM crops into soil and soil organisms, and can jump into fungus through cuts on the surface of GM plants. But the EIS does not adequately address these threats and their implications.

Instead, the USDA largely marches lock-step with the biotech industry and turns a blind eye to the widespread harm that Roundup is already inflicting. If they decide to approve Monsanto’s alfalfa, the USDA may ultimately be blamed for a catastrophe of epic proportions.