Boulder Weekly reports on problems for plants and animals exposed to GMOs.
“When you spray glyphosate on a plant, it’s like giving it AIDS”
One of the experts set to testify at Wednesday’s long-awaited meeting about the county’s policy for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on open space says scientists are seeing new, alarming patterns in plants and animals due to increased use of the herbicide Roundup.
Michael McNeill is an agronomist who owns Ag Advisory Ltd. in Algona, Iowa. He received his Ph.D. in quantitative genetics and plant pathology from Iowa State University in 1969 and has been a crop consultant since 1983. He was among three experts invited by county officials to testify at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Cropland Policy Advisory Group (CPAG).
CPAG, which has been meeting since February, serves as a sounding board for the county’s parks and open space staff as they develop a new cropland policy on matters like what may be grown on county land. The group has only touched briefly on the hot-button GMO issue in its past meetings; the Aug. 10 meeting was devoted entirely to the subject.
McNeill told Boulder Weekly before the meeting that he and his colleagues in the industry are seeing serious, negative effects produced by the use of glyphosate, which is the primary ingredient in Roundup weed killer. (Monsanto, the company that makes Roundup, has generated controversy by genetically altering crops to make them resistant to the herbicide.)
McNeill says that in the Midwest and other areas of the country, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, weeds like water hemp, giant ragweed, lamb’s quarter and velvet weed have become Roundup resistant through natural selection, due to a particular genetic mutation that survived the poison and therefore reproduced successfully and wildly.
The problem is, farmers’ natural reaction has been to simply apply more Roundup to their crops, which is having deleterious impacts, McNeill says.
“Used judiciously, it can be a useful product, but as with anything, if you abuse it, it can have negative effects,” he says.
McNeill explains that glyphosate is a chelating agent, which means it clamps onto molecules that are valuable to a plant, like iron, calcium, manganese and zinc.
“When you spray glyphosate on a plant, it’s like giving it AIDS,” he says.
The farmers’ increased use of Roundup is actually harming their crops, according to McNeill, because it is killing micronutrients in the soil that they need, a development that has been documented in several scientific papers by the nation’s leading experts in the field. For example, he says, harmful fungi and parasites like fusarium, phytopthora and pythium are on the rise as a result of the poison, while beneficial fungi and other organisms that help plants reduce minerals to a usable state are on the decline.
He explains that the overuse of glyphosate means that oxidizing agents are on the rise, creating oxides that plants can’t use, leading to lower yields and higher susceptibility to disease.
McNeill acknowledges that Monsanto could simply find a new chemical that kills the newly resistant weeds, but the weeds will simply find a way around it again.
“It’s mother nature’s plant breeding program,” he says. “It’s very widespread, and it’s a serious problem.”
McNeill says the situation is causing “sudden death syndrome” in soybeans, which means they are dying at increased rates when they go into their reproductive phase. He adds that corn is showing a higher incidence of Goss’s wilt, which has been a problem in Colorado since the early 1970s, and
studies show that glyphosate causes a rise in both diseases.
And the problems are not limited to plants, it’s extending to the animals that eat them, according to McNeill.
He says he and his colleagues are seeing a higher incidence of infertility and early-term abortion in cattle and hogs that are fed on GMO crops. He adds that poultry fed on the suspect crops have been exhibiting reduced fertility rates.
McNeill, who works with universities, the federal government and private companies, says his advice to his farmer clients is to rotate chemicals — or don’t use them at all. While it is more labor-intensive, organic farmers usually cut their weeds as an alternative to herbicides. He says he consults for about 160,000 acres of conventional farmland and 5,000 to 6,000 acres of organically farmed land.
“My clients are my farmers, and I want what’s best for them,” he says. “And my clients are the consumers who consume the farmers products, and I want what’s best for them.”
McNeill compares the Roundup situation to the way science eventually caught up to another poison: Just as DDT was initially hailed as a miracle pesticide and later banned, researchers are beginning to discover serious problems with glyphosate.
“Some issues are starting to arise with technologies that probably needed more research before we started using them,” he says. “It’s a moving target.”
The other two experts invited to the CPAG meeting, Kent Davis of Crop Quest and Phillip Westra of Colorado State University, did not return calls by press time.
You may (hopefully) be asking yourself, why a blog about Eminem, and…wait, what the heck are GMOs?
Well it’s quite simple, actually.
Eminem is the top-selling artist over the last decade. His raw, uncomfortably honest lyrics have had a profound impact on our culture in ways like no other artists. His is a powerful voice, one that stands for uncompromising truth–a rarity in popular music these days. He’s also a dad–a faithful and loyal one at that, invested in the health and wellness of his children. As a recovering drug addict, he’s taken his health back into his hands and knows how good it feels to have regained control of his life and health. But, does he really have control? Like the rest of us in this country, Eminem, and his family are participating in the greatest human experiment in history.
GMOs stands for genetically modified organisms. They are seeds whose genetic materials have been altered through a technique known as recombinant DNA technology, which use DNA molecules from different sources to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Think it sounds like some weird science fiction? It is, and GMOs are so prevalent now in America, you can find them in 80 percent of all processed food. 80 percent.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn and 93 percent of cotton and canola planted in the U.S. in 2010 were genetically engineered, a majority of which comes via Monsanto, the largest biotech seed company in the world.
Some are calling GMOs the greatest human experiment in all of history. Most of Europe has banned GMOs and countries around the world are also taking a stand against them, yet the USDA here in America has essentially deregulated GMOs, making it easier and easier for giant corporations such as Monsanto to plant these seeds across our country with little–if any–research on the long-term effects to our environment and our health.
The risks are startling: 19 studies have linked GMOs to organ damage; they’ve been shown to cause birth defects, cause allergies, and have been linked to several types of cancer. And, because GMOs were only introduced into our diets within the last several decades, the long-term effects are truly unknown, but some studies indicate the genetically modified DNA can continue changing once inside our bodies.
Genetically modified seeds are built to resist high doses of pesticides–mainly the Monsanto glyphosate based pesticide commonly known as Roundup. These Roundup Ready seeds are heavily sprayed with the toxic pesticides, which have been shown to cause neurological disorders, birth defects, infertility and cancer.
And it’s not just our health that’s at risk. GMOs are contaminating conventional and wild seed stocks. They’re creating “super-weeds” that have become resistant to pesticides. A recent study showed a link between declining monarch butterfly populations and Roundup pesticide.
Farmers have no sovereignty either. If crop drift from a GMO farm contaminates a non-GMO neighboring farm, Monsanto has been known to sue those farmers for stealing their patented seeds. That’s right–Monsanto has patented their modified seeds, making it impossible for farmers to save seeds from a harvest, which has been a long-standing practice since agriculture was developed. Now, farmers growing GMO seeds must purchase new seeds every season. And, if they save them, or if Monsanto finds GMO seeds accidentally growing in their fields, those farmers could face a long and litigious court battle.
While the organic food movement in this country continues to boom, and is the only safe-haven from GMOs (by law, certified organic food can contain zero GMOs) we have more deregulated genetically modified crops in large-scale production than any other country in the world. Wikileaks released documents last year showing a strong connection between biotech lobbyists and their corporate interests influencing politicians and legislators here and around the world. Controversial GMO alfalfa–an important food for livestock animals–was deregulated earlier this year, and GMO salmon may soon be the first genetically engineered animal to enter the food system. Many environmentalists and citizens are concerned over the damaging effect this deregulation could have on wild salmon populations, other marine life, and the humans who eat them.
The goal of this blog is to appeal to Eminem–as a parent, an American and an artist committed to truth and integrity. Like most Americans, it’s unlikely that Eminem knows just how much of his food is an experiment. So, we’ll be sharing all the latest information on GMOs here, for Eminem and his fans to read in hopes of empowering them to know what exactly they’re eating, and to voice their concerns. We’ve come a long way in this country from the days of pure food, healthy food, and safe food. It’s time to take the power back. Eminem, won’t you please help us?