Our annual GMO Awareness Week is upon us, and in this interview, Ronnie Cummins, executive director and cofounder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) details the current state of the opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A lot has happened since last year’s campaign.
At present, there are 457 million acres of GMO crops growing around the world according to the genetic engineering (GE) industry. That’s about 10 percent of the 4 billion acres of cropland in the world. The good news is this GMO acreage has remained largely unchanged for the last three years. There’s even some evidence of a slight decline. This lack of growth is undoubtedly a reflection of growing consumer awareness about GMOs and the toxic chemicals that accompany them.
Organic Sector Is Growing
Evidence of growing consumer awareness and concern about chemical hazards can also be seen in the growth of the organic and grass fed sectors. In the U.S., the organic food and products sector has grown to $50 billion a year and the certified non-GMO sector is now at $30 billion annually.
“It’s a healthy section in the marketplace that is not genetically engineered, and it’s growing,” Cummins says. “In response to consumer demand, more and more farmers are moving away from GMO crops in the U.S., either planting less or making the transition to non-GMO and organic [as] consumers are becoming aware of the fact that GMOs are really just delivery systems for toxic pesticides.
The whole reason why Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont and the rest are patenting and manufacturing GMO seeds is so they can sell their proprietary pesticides. There’s no such thing as a GMO crop that’s not accompanied by toxic herbicides or insecticides. They’re also always accompanied by massive amounts of chemical fertilizers.
[GMOs] are primarily grown to feed animals on factory farms and to produce ethanol or biodiesel. Animals in factory farms that are eating the GMOs with the pesticide residues in them are also being injected with or consuming antibiotics and other veterinary drugs to keep them alive under those hellish conditions. All in all, it doesn’t add up to a very attractive thing for consumers. That’s the reason why this first generation of GMO crops is leveling off.”
New Generation of GMOs Coming to Market
Unfortunately, we now face a new generation of GMOs, and they may be even more dangerous than the first generation of glyphosate-resistant and Bt-producing crops released in 1996. Glyphosate-resistant GE plants are designed to withstand otherwise lethal doses of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides, whereas Bt crops are engineered to produce their own insecticide — Bacillus thuringiensis — internally, inside each cell of the plant.
While these traits were touted as a godsend for farmers, the promise of weed-free fields didn’t pan out as promised. Instead, chemical-resistant superweeds and superbugs rapidly developed, necessitating the use of more and more chemicals to keep them in check. The illogical and ultimately devastating answer provided by the chemical technology industry is a new generation of crops engineered to withstand more toxic chemical combinations, such as 2,4-D and dicamba-resistant crops.
With the release of these next-gen crops, the devastation was near-immediate and undisputable. Dicamba is extremely toxic and prone to drift. It’s nearly impossible to apply it properly and avoid damaging non-target areas. Almost immediately, farmers started reporting severe crop damage caused by drift, and it quickly became apparent that the only way to avoid such damage is to grow dicamba-resistant crops.
By late September last year, 368 complaints had been filed in Illinois,1 and Iowa had received 258 reports — a “record number” — by early September.2 Farmers in Arkansas reported the same problem. The damage was so extensive, a number of states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi, imposed temporary bans on the use of dicamba-containing pesticides last summer.3 In all, more than 3 million acres in the U.S. suffered dicamba damage last year.4
September 10, 2017, the law firm Morgan & Morgan filed a class-action lawsuit5 against Monsanto, BASF and DuPont, the three largest manufacturers of dicamba-based herbicide formulations in the U.S., alleging dicamba “is highly volatile and can travel considerable distances and cause injuries to plants several miles away,” and that dicamba makers “deceptively marketed their latest dicamba formulations as ‘low-volatility’ herbicides that would not be as prone to off-target movement.”