The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
By Katie Rucke
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the answer to ending world hunger, at least according to the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI.
According to a 2009 WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in the Vatican, it was discovered that “Vatican officials remain largely supportive of genetically modified crops as a vehicle for protecting the environment while feeding the hungry,” as a result of lobbying efforts by the U.S.
The cables from the U.S. embassy indicated that if the U.S. could convince the church that GMOs were good, the church would be able to convince its members. This would be a boost for the GMO industry since the Catholic Church claims more than 1 billion members.
Given that GMOs have caused controversy around the world recently as questions arise about their impact on human health, it’s uncertain whether the church will be able to convince all its members GMOs are a good thing.
According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, doctors should recommend non-GMO diets to all persons, since some animal studies have suggested that diets with GMO foods can lead to organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility.
Several countries have banned the use of GMO ingredients or require labeling for products containing them. In the U.S., home to the big agriculture businesses that created GMOs, there is no GMO ban and Americans have just begun to demand GMO products be labeled as such.
Though the 2009 WikiLeaks cable revealed the Catholic Church was in favor of GMOs, Monsignor James Reinert, a member of the Vatican Council of Justice and Peace, noted that the Catholic Church has come to a “consensus on the need for GMOs with one caveat.”
“The Vatican cannot force all bishops to endorse biotechnology,” he said, “particularly if their opposition has to do with concerns over protecting profits of large corporations who hold the patents for the crops, versus feeding the hungry.”
Poor Health Epidemic Brought On By GMOs?
Some observers think GMO products, introduced by biotechnology companies such as Monsanto in 1996 to work toward ending world hunger and malnutrition, could be connected to an increase in the percentage of Americans with chronic illnesses, food allergies and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders and digestive problems.
Reports from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development also indicate that GMO crops do not necessarily increase yields.
According to the report, “assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” In addition the report states that GMOs “have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.”
The three most common GMO crops grown today include corn, soybeans and cotton. According to the Organic Valley Co-Op, the corn and soybeans are animal feed crops and nations that don’t consume a lot of meat won’t benefit from their use.
Science seems to have also poked holes in the church’s argument that GMOs protect the environment. In order to grow GMO crops, farmers have to use hazardous pesticides to remove weeds and keep insects away from the crops.
However, studies indicate that farmers with GMO crops not only have to use more pesticides when they have GMO crops, but have to use more hazardous pesticides.
These pesticides and herbicides have been found to harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems and soil organisms. Studies have also found herbicides reduce biodiversity and pollute water.
Not only are these chemicals unsafe, they are expensive. According to the Organic Valley Co-Op, “the only farmers that can afford the seeds and chemicals are those from first-world countries or the wealthy landowners from developing countries, who grow the crops for export, not to feed the poor.”
New Pope, New Stance?
While the Catholic Church’s initial pro-GMO stance was issued under Pope Benedict XVI, the church’s current leader, Pope Francis, has yet to share his view on GMOs.
According to Al Jazeera, Pope Francis is a trained chemist, which gives him more information on the scientific aspect of consuming GMOs than his predecessor. Another factor that may influence Francis is his Argentinian heritage.
Argentina relies heavily on genetically modified crops. But a new documentary demonstrates the high usage of Monsanto-manufactured GMO seeds in the Latin American nation has caused issues with land ownership in addition to health problems.
Filmmaker Glenn Ellis summarized the documentary by saying that “… [D]octors and scientists claim that babies are being born with crippling birth malformations and that in recent years the incidence of childhood cancer has soared. It is a phenomenon, they say, that has coincided with the introduction of Monsanto’s seed.”
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
By Paul Towers
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Last week, the term “bee-washing” emerged in public conversation. It doesn’t refer to some new bee cleaning service, but to the insidious efforts of Monsanto and other pesticide corporations to discredit science about the impacts of pesticides on bees—especially neonicotinoids—by creating public relations tours, new research centers and new marketing strategies.
This week, pesticide makers are showcasing these tactics during National Pollinator Week with offers of free seed packets to people who take their poorly named “pollinator pledge.” The “bee-washing” term has gained traction as scientists and groups like Pesticide Action Network (PAN) continue to cut through the misinformation and point to the emerging body of science that points to pesticides as a critical factor in bee declines.
Monsanto hosted their first so-called Honey Bee Health Summit last week, a gathering at the company’s headquarters in Missouri. Without question, some truly smart, dedicated scientists attended Monsanto's bee summit and are participating in these efforts.
And a similarly committed group of beekeepers who care about bees, beekeeping and our food system have also participated. What’s increasingly clear, though, is that the credibility of these individuals is being used to shield the agenda of a handful of pesticide corporations and their bee-harming insecticide products. The corporate public relation gymnastics on display are truly impressive.
Unfortunately, Monsanto is not alone in its efforts. Just this spring, Bayer sponsored a tour of its “specially-wrapped beehicle” and hosted a talk at Ohio State University in March, over loud objections from local beekeepers.
Industry has largely set its sights on one issue to blame for bee declines. While lack of sufficient forage and diseases are a challenge to bee health and beekeeping, challenges exacerbated by the weakening effect of pesticides on bees, the pesticide industry has focused a large proportion of its attention on the varroa mite. And it’s an easy distraction that places the burden of unprecedented bee losses on beekeepers—while subverting any blame for the widespread pesticide products.
Unfortunately for Monsanto & Co, and as most beekeepers and academics will say, the varroa mite has been around a long time, predating dramatic bee declines in the U.S. that started in 2006. While mites no doubt affect bee colonies, they are unlikely the primary driver of population declines.
There is a correlation, however, between the introduction of neonicotinoid pesticides (or neonics) on the market and bee die-offs. Independent studies show—and beekeepers corroborate from hands-on experience—that these pesticides weaken bees' immune systems, likely damaging their resistance to common challenges like the varroa mite.
Neonics are one of the largest growth sectors for the pesticide industry. And industry has a vested interest in keeping the neonic market growing. But we know that spin efforts to refocus attention on varroa mites were already attempted in Europe, and the approach has been largely unsuccessful. The European Union just put continent-wide restrictions on the use of neonics in place.
Pesticide corporations don’t show any sign of letting up. If this spring and summer are any indication, then the “bee-washing” campaign will continue. Beekeepers will remain the victims of this targeted public relations campaign.
And the costs of are very real. Earlier this month, Jim Doan—a third generation commercial beekeeper from upstate New York—literally sold his farm due to bee losses. For years, he produced over half a million pounds of honey annually and eventually grew his business to 5,300 hives. But when neonicotinoid pesticides started being commonly used in the U.S., around 2006, Jim's bees started dying.
He’s experienced serious losses to bees he brought to citrus groves in Florida and the cornfields of New York. And now, he only has 300 hives left. In an email he circulated last week, he wrote: “I am done. I cannot continue. Sold my farm 2 weeks ago, I am giving up, there is no hope here."
Bees are continuing to die off at unprecedented rates and beekeepers are going out of business. There is clearly something amiss—and the pesticide industry would have us believe that their products play no part in this alarming trend. PAN, beekeepers and our partners will continue to shine a light on corporate "bee-washing" and spin efforts to subdue or obfuscate the growing body of science pointing to this clear message: Pesticides are playing a key role in bee deaths.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Why is a former Monsanto lobbyist currently serving as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) food safety czar waging war on small dairy farms that produce fresh milk?
While factory farm operators are getting away with serious food safety violations, raw milk dairy farmers and distributors across the country have been subjected to armed raids and hauled away in handcuffs.
The FDA is running sting operations followed by "guns-drawn raids usually reserved for terrorists and drug lords" as part of a crackdown on unpasteurized milk.1 Meanwhile, the FDA is letting the highly consolidated industrial meat and factory farm industry off the hook despite growing problems.
Not surprisingly, the person responsible for prioritizing armed raids on small dairies over holding agribusiness accountable is a former Monsanto attorney and chief super lobbyist. Monsanto's Michael Taylor is the second highest-ranking official at the FDA, and as food safety czar is responsible for implementing the day-to-day policies that govern the food safety laws for the U.S. 2
Tell President Obama to fire Monsanto's Michael Taylor from his job as food czar at the FDA.
Whether or not you think unpasteurized milk is a good idea, it's clear that the FDA under Michael Taylor has its priorities wrong. When industrial agribusiness sickens thousands of people, it's absurd for the FDA to target Amish farmers producing fresh milk, much less to engage in "guns drawn" enforcement raids.
CREDO is joining our allies at Food Democracy Now! in calling on the president to fire Monsanto's Michael Taylor from the FDA. Midwestern farmers will play an important symbolic role in President Obama's reelection campaign. We need to let the president know that we stand with small farmers and not Monsanto.
Michael Taylor seems focused on entirely the wrong aspects of food safety enforcement. Rather than making sure that food safety inspections are done properly at our nation's largest factory farms, where antibiotic resistance has run amuck, Taylor has been leading a departmental crusade against small raw milk dairy producers. So far several dairy farmers have been subject to a year-long undercover sting operation from the East Coast to California.
Incredibly, Michael Taylor and FDA inspectors have not arrested or fined the Iowa agribusinessman—Jack DeCoster—who was wholly responsible for the more than 500 million eggs that were recalled in 2010 salmonella-tainted egg recall.3 Though this industrial agribusinessman endangered the health of millions, Michael Taylor thinks Amish farmers producing fresh milk are more deserving targets of his FDA enforcement raids with guns drawn.
While CREDO recognizes the inherent risks that are involved in food production, it's time that the U.S. government start responsibly looking into the real origins of our nation's largest food safety recalls and stop harassing family farmers trying to survive in the excessively consolidated food and agricultural sectors.
For more information, click here.
1. Food Safety Chief Defends Raw Milk Raids, San Francisco Chronicle, June 7, 2011
2. Monsanto's Man Taylor Returns to FDA in Food-Czar Role, Grist, July 8, 2009.
3. DeCoster Gets Warning, Hillandale Sales OK'd, Food Safety News, October 19, 2010.