USDA Allows More GE Foods to Market Despite Serious Health Concerns
This fall, French researchers released a ground-breaking, peer-reviewed feeding study published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology showing that consumption of genetically engineered (GE) corn and Roundup causes severe health effects including mammary tumors, organ damage and premature death.
Because of restrictions in technology use agreements, researchers are often unable to get access to seeds for independent safety trials. As a result, this is the first-ever study to examine the long-term health effects of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller or Roundup-resistant corn.
The two-year study involved 200 rats who were fed diets containing different proportions of GE corn or water containing Roundup at levels permitted in drinking water and consistent with typical human exposure. A control group was fed an equivalent diet with no Roundup-contaminated water or GE corn.
The results were disturbing:
• The team found that even the lowest doses of Roundup, at levels well within “safe” drinking water standards, were associated with severe health problems.
• Female rat mortality was two to three times greater than in the control group, in part due to high rates of mammary tumors.
• Both male and female rats fed GE feed, regardless of dose, had high rates of severe liver and kidney damage.
• When given trace amounts of Roundup in their water, 70 to 80 percent of the rats had pituitary gland abnormalities.
• The first detectable tumors occurred four to seven months into the study, although biotech companies are only required to conduct rat feeding studies for 90 days to demonstrate safety.
Despite these serious concerns, more GE foods continue to stream onto the market, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is poised to deregulate even more.
Petitions requesting non-regulated status are pending for a dozen GE crops, including a soybean tolerant to the chemical 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange which has been linked to cancer, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and other major health problems, as well as a non-browning apple which is designed to not discolor when bruised or sliced.
While these crops wait for the green light to come on the market, others are already finding their way onto supermarket shelves. This summer, GE sugar beets, GE soybean oil and glufosinate-tolerant, bollworm-resistant cotton were granted non-regulated status. And, Walmart recently agreed to carry Monsanto’s new GE sweet corn, engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and designed to produce a Bt toxin that will kill insects that feed on the plant.
The USDA’s hands-off approach to regulating GE technology means these crops are entering the market with virtually no independent review and once deregulated, the USDA conducts no monitoring to see if a GE crop has harmed the environment and sets no standards for minimizing contamination of non-GE crops.
Meanwhile, this summer, the House Agriculture Committee included controversial riders in their version of the 2012 Farm Bill that would make approval of GE crops even easier. According to the Center for Food Safety, the House Committee’s provisions would set unreasonably short deadlines for GE crop approval, create triggers for automatic approval of GE crops, set strict limitations on what the USDA can consider in environmental reviews, eliminate National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act protections and set “acceptable” levels of GE contamination that would provide no recourse for farmers who are contaminated.
Releasing GE crops without a full understanding of their impacts and without a plan to prevent contamination is gambling with our health, our environment and livelihoods of family farmers. Moreover, despite overwhelming support, the FDA has failed to require labeling that protects a consumer's right to make informed decisions and know whether foods contain GE ingredients.
Visit EcoWatch’s GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.