The cover story of the December 17, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek was titled Monsanto: Winning the Ground War – How the company turned the tide in the battle over genetically modified crops. Writer Brian Hindo has done us all a service by alerting us to the momentum that Monsanto is enjoying.
This is really bad news for those of us who prefer to eat high quality, organically grown food.
Below are some excerpts from the article and my thoughts on key issues.
While a vocal band of opponents is still protesting biotech crops, a growing multitude of farmers around the world is planting them. The reason is no mystery: Monsanto seeds contain genes that kill bugs and tolerate weed-killing pesticides. So they are much easier and cheaper to grow than traditional seeds. More than half the crops grown in the U.S., including nearly all the soybeans and 70% of the corn, are genetically modified. Just five years ago, China, India, and Brazil planted virtually no genetically engineered crops. Now Brazil can barely build roads fast enough to get all of its biotech soybeans from the fertile interior Mato Grosso state out to ports.
Brazil is clear-cutting the rain forests to grow soybeans. Destruction of the rain forests could eliminate the greatest source of medicinal plants and animals in the world.
Farmers in China and India, meanwhile, planted more than 17 million acres of biotech crops last year. These three countries are now three of the six largest GMO-planting nations in the world, as measured by area planted. At a time when organic food is more popular than ever, about 7% of the world’s entire farmland acreage is now planted with genetically modified crops—the ultimate anti-organic food.
We don’t know the long-term effects of eating foods that were genetically modified. We may know in several decades. By that time, the cross pollenation of GMO crops could mean that there are no traditional seeds left.
The battle over genetically modified food is being won not in scientific journals but on the ground. Global demand for food and fuel have made farmers ever eager to squeeze more yield from an acre of dirt. And the undeniable fact is that during the 12 years since the first biotech seeds were planted, the most dire predictions of Monsanto’s opponents have so far failed to come true. That’s prompted some swaggering at company headquarters. In interviews with BusinessWeek, Monsanto executives variously described the safety objections of adversaries as "scare tactics," "Chicken Little theatrics, "mischief," and "misinformation."
What are the effects of GMO stimulated crops on the top soil? What happens when oil-based fertilizers are too expensive to supplement depleted top soil?
Now, Monsanto GMOs still enter the human food supply, but only indirectly, in the form of processed grain products such as cornstarch, corn syrup, or cooking oil. In fact, in the U.S., about 60% to 70% of all "formulated foods"—processed food with more than one ingredient—contain GMOs, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. That means, essentially, if you see it in a box or a can at a U.S. grocery store, there’s a strong likelihood that it has at least a small quantity of biotech ingredients. The lone table-ready GMO food Monsanto sells is virus-resistant squash, a product it inherited in 2005 with its acquisition of vegetable seed company Seminis. The company says it has no plans at the moment to make more GMO veggies. While Monsanto executives don’t believe they are gambling, there are still plenty of doubters.
In August, Kroger (KR) became the latest U.S. grocery chain to stop selling milk with a GMO bovine growth hormone that increases production, which Monsanto first started selling in 1994. All summer, activists in France trampled fields of biotech crops. Hostility toward GMO foods continues to be widespread in Africa and parts of Asia and Western Europe. This type of persistent opposition is one reason why the investment research firm Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, which gives companies a type of credit rating based on their strategic risk profile, assigns Monsanto a "CCC" grade—its lowest possible mark. "Monsanto is basically saying that its products are very well regulated and therefore safe," says Heather Langsner, director of research for Innovest. "It’s a lot more murky than that."
I have reduced my consumption of soy products since I learned about Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean seeds. The seeds are engineered to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, enabling farmers to spray their fields with the herbicide without damaging their soybean crops. I don’t want to eat soy products that were designed to be sprayed with Roundup. (I know that these soybeans are not supposed to be used for human food, but who can be sure?) Also, what is the Roundup runoff doing to the local animals, plants, and streams near the huge fields that are regularly sprayed with Roundup?
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