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Organic Consumers Association

Ten Ways Monsanto and Big Ag Are Trying to Kill You - And the Planet

  • By Alexis Baden-Mayer & Ronnie Cummins
    Organic Consumers Association, February 1, 2012

Energy-intensive industrial farming practices that rely on toxic chemicals and genetically engineered crops are not just undermining public health--they're destroying the planet. Here's how:

#1 Generating Massive Greenhouse Gas Pollution (CO2, Methane, Nitrous Oxide) and Global Warming; While Promoting False Solutions Such as Industrial Biofuels, So-Called Drought-Resistant Crops, and Genetically Engineered Trees

Evaluations of corn grown for ethanol show that whatever reduction in emissions you get from burning corn instead of oil in the gas tank is more than offset by the fact that producing biofuel from corn requires as much fuel as it could replace.

Corn production, like the production of all of the crops (corn, cotton, canola, soy, and now, sugar beets and alfalfa) that Monsanto has so successfully industrialized through its business model of selling patented GMO seeds to increase the use of its pesticides, is very fossil fuel intensive.

But that's just the beginning of Monsanto's contribution to agriculture's green house gas emissions. With ever-increasing acreage, where are all those GMO crops going? They're being fed to animals, and when you look at emissions from factory farms, you'll wish we burned them in the gas tank instead!

Added to the greenhouse gas emissions from crop production and factory farms is the pollution related to heavily processed food and the fact that food in the U.S. travels anywhere from 1500 to 3000 miles to reach your plate and must be either cooled or frozen in transit or storage. That's fossil fuel intensive, too.

Before we total the life cycle contribution of Monsanto's crops to greenhouse gas emissions, we have to take several steps back and acknowledge that clearing land to grow GMO crops for animal feed is the biggest driver of forest and wetland destruction, which generates 20% of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases.

All told, the production and processing of Monsanto's GMO crops, from deforestation to fossil-fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers, polluting factory farms, and fuel-intensive food processing and distribution, is estimated to produce up to 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
#2 Polluting the Environment and the Soil-Food Web with Pesticides, Chemical Fertilizers, and Persistent Toxins, Including Dioxin

Industrial agriculture's heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilizers is responsible for the release of many dangerous toxins into our environment, but since Monsanto first commercialized genetically engineered crops in the 1990s, we've been exposed to one more than any other. It's common name is glyphosate, but Monsanto markets it as RoundUp and has created "RoundUp Ready" crops to promote it. RoundUp Ready crops are genetically engineered to withstand endless amounts of RoundUp. The success of Monsanto's business model has made RoundUp the most-used pesticide in the history of the world.

The trouble is, RoundUp is very toxic. It's known to cause cancer, birth defects and infertility. In fact, some scientists are now saying it's more dangerous than DDT.

It only took about 15 years for the RoundUp Ready technology to begin to fail, with RoundUp-tolerant super-weeds springing up across the country and farmers having to resort to more and more toxic pesticides for weed control. The biotech industry says it has a solution: replace RoundUp Ready crops with a new type of GMO, "2,4-D Ready" crops.

As dangerous as RoundUp is turning out to be, the only thing worse would be 2,4-D replacing RoundUp's as the most popular pesticide in the world. The use of 2,4-D releases dioxin. Dioxin is what has made Agent Orange, which contained 2,4-D, a source of horrific birth defects in Vietnam to this day. Genetically engineered 2,4-D-tolerant crops would be a disaster of untold proportions.

#3 Turning Farmland into Desert, Draining Aquifers and Wetlands

In the U.S., the soil's capability to sequester carbon has been severely deteriorated due to the enormous increase in the use of nitrogen fertilizers, mostly to raise Monsanto's genetically engineered crops for animal feed. The soil should be a sink for excess carbon but has lost about 50% of its organic matter, making it is less than half as effective as it used to be. Many of our most productive agricultural lands have been degraded or desertified because of industrial production.

Recent studies on the University of Illinois Morrow plots (the oldest continuously farmed experimental plots in the U.S.) have shown that since 1955, when synthetic nitrogen was first used, 40-190% too much nitrogen was applied, yet yields dropped and organic matter declined dramatically. These problems on the Morrow plots are writ large on millions of acres of agricultural soils that have been degraded by synthetic fertilizer all over this country.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer kills soil life, including earthworms and microorganisms. In addition to reduced yields, degraded and deadened soils produce less nutritious food.

Contrary to Monsanto's marketing claims that their business is about "squeezing more out of a drop of water," their genetically engineered crops are notoriously thirsty. It takes twice as much water to produce a pound of a RoundupReady crop soybean plant treated with RoundUp herbicide, as it does with a soybean plant that's not treated with RoundUp.

#4 Poisoning Drinking Water, Acidifying the Oceans

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is also responsible for the nitrate poisoning of two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is the major cause of the 405 oceanic dead zones around the world (including the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and the coasts of California and Oregon). Monsanto's genetically engineered corn uses more fertilizer than any other crop.

#5 Chopping Down the Rainforests for Monoculture GMO Crops, Biofuels and Cattle Grazing

Clearing land to grow GMO crops for animal feed is the biggest driver of forest and wetland destruction, which generate 20% of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases. In Argentina and Brazil, Monsanto's genetically engineered soy is the main cause of deforestation.

Argentina has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world with an average of 0.8% of the forest cut down each year, against a global rate of 0.23%. During the period 2002-2006, 1,108,669 hectares of forest were lost. That is 277,000 hectares per year, equivalent to 760 hectares per day or 32 hectares per hour. The speed with which Córdoba's forests are disappearing is unmatched worldwide, it even surpasses that of tropical forests in poor countries. This is a ecological tragedy for the primitive forests which shelter a biodiversity found nowhere else on the planet.

In Brazil, the soy output increased 7.2 percent in 2011, causing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to jump sixfold.

#6 Increasing the Cost of Food, While Reducing Nutrition and Biodiversity

The business press unabashedly links Monsanto's profits to record-high global food prices and increases in the costs of farm inputs, especially Monsanto's patented genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto's profits go up as hunger increases and families lose their farms to insurmountable debt.

Nowhere has the connection between Monsanto's fortunes and farmers' misfortunes been so clear as in India where 200,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997. For many Indian farmers growing Monsanto's genetically engineered Bt cotton, suicide is their only means of escaping the debt they've accrued to obtain the seeds and pesticides.

Monsanto has made food and farming more expensive, while reducing the nutrition and variety of food available to the average consumer. The world's farmers are increasingly growing more of fewer number of crops (especially Monsanto's genetically engineered corn, cotton, soy, canola, sugar beets and alfalfa). The result is that we're eating a lot more of these few genetically engineered crops, mostly in the form of animal products, oils & fats, and sugars. The most notorious genetically engineered ingredients are high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and processed meats.

The concentration of power in the hands of a few chemical companies like Monsanto and the industrial producers who can most easily afford their products, has resulted in a global food system dominated by two extremes: on one hand, a plenitude of industrially produced junk foods, on the other, regular food shortages and drastic price hikes. This leaves a billion people saddled with obesity and diet-related disease, even as more than a billion don't know where their next meal is coming from.

#7 Spawning Pesticide-Resistant "Super" Bugs and Weeds, and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Genetically engineered crops designed to produce insecticides or tolerate herbicides have proven a failure. Herbicide-resistant "superweeds" have increased farmers' weed-control costs to $50/acre, as they battle weeds that can stand up to the most toxic chemicals ever invented, including RoundUp (glyphosate), 2,4-D, dicamba, atrazine, ALS inhibitors, PPO inhibitors, HPPD inhibitors and synthetic auxins. Monsanto's Bt corn and cotton are being mowed down by resistant insects from Iowa to India.

On farms raising animals for food, the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics has created a serious threat to the longevity and effectiveness of certain classes of antibiotics used to treat a host of human illnesses. Doctors concede that antimicrobial drug resistance due to use in animal feed has already cost thousands of lives. In 2006, the EU banned the use of antibiotics in water and feed, proving that raising livestock without drugs is possible.
  • TAKE ACTION
  • No Agent Orange Corn!
  • Ban Monsanto's RoundUp! Experts Say It's Worse than DDT! Tell the EPA to Ban Glyphosate
  • Can You Imagine a World without Antibiotics? Tell the FDA to Protect Human Health and Regulate Antibiotics in Animal Feed

#8 Generating New and More Virulent Plant, Animal and Human Diseases

The following is a summary of a must-watch interview (Part 1, Part 2) that Dr. Joseph Mercola conducted with Dr. Don Huber.

The way Monsanto's RoundUp herbicide (glyphosate) kills weeds and plants is by compromising their defense mechanisms, making them very susceptible to soil borne organisms. It's not a direct killer, but it has a debilitating effect on the weed's immune system, much like the human disease AIDS.

Monsanto's RoundUp Ready gene, which enables crops to withstand glyphosate, doesn't solve the problem of a debilitated immune system, all it does is make it possible for the plant to survive and to accumulate more glyphosate. RoundUp Ready crops aren't killed immediately by the soil diseases RoundUp makes them susceptible to, because they've been engineered with genes from a resistant bacteria, but they are still more likely to succumb to disease than plants that aren't exposed to RoundUp.

Among these disease-causing pathogens are fusaria, which causes sudden death syndrome in soybeans and is a major disease-causing organism for most of our crops. In crops sprayed with RoundUp, we find an increase of up to 500 percent in root colonization by this fungus.

While glyphosate promotes the growth of more virulent pathogens, it also kills off beneficial bacteria that might keep such pathogens in check in the soil and in the guts of animals and humans that ingest the crop.

Scientists have discovered a brand new organism in genetically engineered animal feed, an organism that has since been linked to infertility and miscarriage in cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and poultry. We can anticipate that, with such a broad spectrum of animal species, which is extremely unusual, that humans will face the same problem, and there has been an increasing frequency of miscarriage and a dramatic increase in infertility in humans in just the last eight to 10 years.

The organism was initially identified by veterinarians around 1998, about two years after the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans, which is one of the staple feeds. The vets were puzzled by sudden high reproductive failure in animals. While sporadic at first, the phenomenon has continued to increase in severity. Dairies are reporting rates of spontaneous as high as 70 percent.

The cause-effect relationship between high reproductive failure and this new microbial entity has been established, but the research has not yet been published. The reason for the delay is because they really do not know what the organism is. It's not a fungus. It's not bacteria. It's not a mycoplasma or a virus. It's about the same size of a small virus; you have to magnify it 40,000 times.

When the veterinarians wanted to find the source for this new organism, they went to the feed. The first place where they found high concentrations was in the soybean meal. Since it has been found it in corn and in silage, only where there is a genetically engineered crop that has had glyphosate applied to it. The organism is also found in manure when the animals have been given feeds with high glyphosate residues. When that manure is applied to pastures and cattle graze on it, we also see high infertility rates there.

The organism is found in the placenta, in the fetus, and in the sperm. In the dairy industry, it sometimes takes twice as much semen to get a conception and as many as four to eight inseminations rather than the typical 1.2 to 1.5. One bull breeder had to pull 40 percent of his bulls out of service, because of fertility.

If we continue to douse our crops with ever increasing amounts of glyphosate, we will inevitably see the same effect on human health as we're seeing in plants and animals.

Glyphosate gets inside the plant; it cannot be washed off. Once you eat it, it ends up in your gut, where 80 percent of your immune system resides. Glyphosate can wreak havoc with your health by upsetting the healthy ratio of good and bad stomach bacteria.

Because organically-farmed fields are not doused with glyphosate, organic fields still contain beneficial soil bacteria that actually hinder pathogens in and on the food from multiplying out of control. This may be yet another reason why organic foods are less prone to be contaminated with disease-causing pathogens than conventionally-grown foods.

Pathogens such as E. coli have a high tolerance for glyphosate compared to their natural biological controls. What this means is that it may not be the presence or absence of pathogens per se that determines the safety of our food supply, but rather the presence or absence of the natural control organisms, which are effectively destroyed by glyphosate. Salmonella, Clostridium, and a lot of these disease organisms are ubiquitous. They're everywhere. Our health is dependent on keeping them in check. If we're eliminating that check, we're going to see an increase in Alzheimer's, thyroid problems, autism, Parkinson's -- any disease that has a tie with either the endocrine system or nutrient availability.

Genetically engineered crops are supposed to be nutritionally equivalent to conventional foods, but they're not. On the contrary, they're nutritionally inferior due to glyphosate's herbicidal mechanism, which blocks absorption of micronutrients. Genetically engineered crops contain about 50 percent less manganese and up to 70 percent less zinc. They also contain less copper, iron and magnesium, just to name a few. This affects the overall health of the plant, and its reproductive ability, and when you eat this nutritionally inferior food, you're not getting the micronutrients your body needs for proper function either. Animal products are similarly affected when they're from animals raised on genetically feed.

Studies of pet rats are exposing behavioral differences in animals given genetically engineered feed, as opposed to normal food. The non-GMO-fed rats are docile. They can be pulled out of their cages and patted just like a cat. But try and reach in to the cage where the rats are being fed the genetically engineered feed. The rats are irritated. They don't get along together. They always go off into their own little world. They do backflips. They crawl up and run around the cage. They can't get any peace, can't settle down. That is very typical of what you'd see with autism.

Doctors working with autistic children are noting many correlations between the rats fed genetically modified feed and autistic children. When you look at the stomachs of the GMO-fed animals, they have all of the severe allergy responses, the inflammation and the reddening. The intestinal lining is deteriorating. The smell of the intestinal contents is very rank. The biology has been drastically changed. Doctors say that's exactly what they're seeing with autistic children.

Another effect of the new mystery organism associated with genetically engineered crops is premature aging. Research done in Iowa three years ago showed that prime beef from a two-year old cow had to be downgraded to that from a 10-year old cow.

Glyphosate can also disrupt a number of other biological systems, including liver function, blood function, and hormonal function. Glyphosate is a potent endocrine disruptor that can affect the endocrine system, thyroid function, and pituitary function.
  • TAKE ACTION
  • Ban Monsanto's RoundUp! Experts Say It's Worse than DDT! Tell the EPA to Ban Glyphosate

#9 Utilizing Wasteful Fossil Fuel-Intensive Practices and Encouraging the Expansion of Natural Gas Fracking and Tar Sands Extraction (Which Destroy Forests, Aquifers, and Farmland)

The industrialized food system is responsible for more than half of greenhouse gas emissions, making Big Ag one of Big Oil's biggest customers. We could deprive the oil and gas industry of a significant amount of income by making the shift from polluting, fossil-fuel-intensive factory farms to carbon-sequestering organic and local agriculture.

Until we do make the shift, we need to acknowledge that the old adage "you are what you eat" applies to energy and the climate, as well as the body. It isn't just Hummers that are pushing the expansion of natural gas fracking and tar sands extraction, it's also Big Macs.

The worst thing about agriculture's wasteful ways that the more fossil fuels we use to produce our food, the more farmland will be destroyed in the search for new sources of that fuel.

Natural gas fracking pumps many millions of gallons of hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, including known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, into the ground during the drilling process, and into the air from evaporation tanks. Pollution of water, air and food from the gas drilling industry is exempt from federal pollution laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clear Air Act, thanks to Dick Cheney's 2005 Energy Policy Act and its 'Halliburton Exemption.'

In upstate New York, the three million acres of superior grasslands which are currently unused are threatened by natural gas fracking. This is enough pasture land to raise local, grass-fed cattle to replace all the factory farmed beef sold in New York City.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry toxic tar sands oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline would cross the massive Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water in 8 US states, and irrigation for millions of acres of farmland. We've already seen the damage the thick tar sands oil laden with volatile compounds can do from spills in the Yellowstone River and the Kalamazoo River. The first Keystone pipeline, developed with state-of-the-art technology, has already spilled 12 times in its first year in operation.

#10 Stealing Money From the 99% to Give Huge Subsidies to the 1% Wealthiest, Most Chemical and Energy-Intensive Farms and Food Producers

The following is a summary of Donald Carr's must-read article, "Why the 2012 Farm Bill is a Climate Bill."

In the 2012 Farm Bill, Congress is poised to cut 7 million acres from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The CRP is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and pays farmers to keep highly erodible land out of production.

Putting land into conservation programs leads to cleaner water, healthier soil, and robust wildlife habitat, and also plays a major role in fighting climate change. According to the USDA [PDF], one acre of protected land sequesters 1.66 metric tons of carbon every year, carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere. The 7 million acres about to be cut from the CRP have been putting 11.6 million metric tons of carbon into the soil every year.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that this amount of carbon is equivalent to the annual emissions of 2 million passenger vehicles. All that stored carbon will be sent back into the atmosphere if those 7 million acres are plowed under to plant more genetically engineered corn for ethanol and livestock feed.

Meanwhile lavish government payments to highly profitable mega-farms continue, and farm state lawmakers and agribiz lobbyists are working toward newer programs that could increase taxpayers' burden, along with agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions.

Save the Planet From Monsanto! It's not enough to stop eating genetically engineered food. If we want a liveable planet we've got to boycott all factory farmed food and make the Great Transition from energy and chemical-intensive agriculture to a re-localized and organic system of food and farming. The World According to Monsanto is a recipe for disaster. Monsanto and Big Ag contaminate every link in the food chain, threatening the very foundation of life: living nutrient-rich soil, clean water, resilient crops, healthy animals, stable climates, and diverse food sources. The good news is that agro-ecological and organic methods can reverse this threat and sustain food production for future generations, but we don't have much time to turn things around.   

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