Our annual GMO Awareness Week is upon us, and in this interview, Ronnie Cummins, executive director and co-founder 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, and Iowa had received 258 reports — a “record number” — by early September. 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. In all, more than 3 million acres in the U.S. suffered dicamba damage last year.
On September 10, 2017, the law firm Morgan & Morgan filed a class-action lawsuit 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.”
California to Require Cancer Warning for Roundup
Despite such ongoing struggles, other victories have been achieved. Early last year, a California judge decreed Roundup must indeed carry a cancer warning label in order to be sold in the state. Ever since the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization, reclassified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” (Class 2A), there has been tremendous debate and upheaval in the world.
The IARC’s decision was based on “limited evidence” showing the weed killer can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with “convincing evidence” linking it to cancer in animals.
“… Monsanto, the biotechnology industry and certain members of U.S. Congress … are trying everything they can to prevent the implementation of this law. But it’s very unlikely they’re going to be able to prevent California Proposition 65 from going into effect, because it’s a very clear law. It’s been on the books since 1986. Glyphosate, the Roundup residue, meets the criteria … [so] it looks like California is going to go forward with the designation of Roundup as a carcinogen.”
Chemical Technology Industry Fails to Regain Popularity
California’s cancer warning on Roundup is expected to be implemented next year. Warning labels will not necessarily be required on food, unless they meet a certain threshold of contamination, but signage will be required anywhere Roundup is sold and used, such as in hardware stores, feed stores and in and around agricultural fields.
“It’s going to be a big black eye for Monsanto,” Cummins says. “That’s one of the reasons they’re starting to market a new generation of Frankencrops such as dicamba-resistant seeds …
[T]he controversy around Monsanto — probably the most hated corporation in the world — is also hampering Bayer Chemical’s attempt to buy out Monsanto for $66 billion. They’ve having great difficulties, especially in the European Union, around that. But I think Monsanto and the rest of the genetic engineering industry recognize that this first generation of crops are no longer working.
The weeds are developing resistance to Roundup. Consumers are getting aware of the fact that Roundup residues damage your health. It’s come out that the Bt crops are also not working — the pests they’re supposed to kill are developing resistance. Also, Bt damages your immune system …
Monsanto and Dow have developed a new generation of 2,4-D and dicamba-resistant seeds and crops but these are even more controversial in the marketplace. Dicamba has damaged thousands of farmers’ crops. It’s even banned right now in Arkansas. It spreads throughout the environment and kills any plant that’s not genetically engineered dicamba-resistant. These crops are not working either.”
Dicamba and 2,4-D Have Long Been Known To Be Too Toxic to Use
Ironically, when Roundup Ready crops were brought to market in ’96, one of the justifications for the use of Roundup was that older pesticides such as 2,4-D (an ingredient in Agent Orange, a chemical warfare agent used with devastating effect during the Vietnam War) and dicamba were simply too dangerous, both to the environment and human health.
Meanwhile, Roundup was claimed to be biodegradable and nontoxic. Now that Roundup has been shown to be far from benign, causing chemical resistance in weeds, antibiotic resistance in soil and damaging human health, the industry’s answer is to reintroduce the very chemicals previously discarded as being far too toxic to use! Clearly, they did not magically lose their toxicity over the past 20 years, yet the industry is pretending as if none of these concerns ever existed.
“Even farmers who would normally be pro-chemical or pro-biotech have been suing Monsanto, because when their neighbors spray dicamba, it kills everything around it,”Cummins says. “Monsanto likes to claim [they’ve] got this new formulation that is not as volatile [and] doesn’t travel as far under ordinary conditions. But that’s just not true.
It just shows that, in their desperation, they’re going to — in the case of dicamba — force every farmer to use it or else their crops are going to be killed by it. I think it’s going to be a hard sell for both dicamba and 2,4-D, especially with consumers becoming more aware of the fact that, for certain pesticides, there are no safe levels at all. We’ve simply must get rid of these pesticides.”
Strategic Plan for 2018
So, what’s the plan for reversing the spread of GMOs in 2018? Here’s a rundown of OCA’s strategy:
•OCA will continue to provide funding to the U.S. Right to Know organization (USRTK) which, while independent from OCA, has done a masterful job of creating media coverage about the dangers of Roundup residues and pesticides in general. Also, through freedom of information act filings, USRTK has exposed a number of deeply damaging truths about the industry’s use of academics to promote a corporate agenda while pretending to be independent experts.
•OCA will also continue educating consumers about the fact that GMOs are really just delivery systems for pesticides (i.e., their primary cause for being is to increase pesticide sales), and that the only way to avoid dangerous pesticide residues and GMOs is to buy organic food, both when shopping for your daily groceries and when eating out.
As noted by Cummins, evidence suggests there’s really no safe level for Roundup, so the fact that it’s the most commonly used pesticide in the world poses significant problems for public health. French researchers have demonstrated that even at 0.1 parts per billion, glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — severely damages the health of lab animals.
Glyphosate is detected in the urine of 70 to 80 percent of Americans right now (including some who eat mostly organic food) and is found in 90 percent of water samples. On the whole, glyphosate appears to be a significant contributor and driver of chronic disease, and anyone concerned about their long-term health cannot afford to ignore the potential impact of glyphosate any longer.
•This year, OCA will also ramp up independent lab testing of nonorganic products claiming to be “all-natural,” “natural,” “eco-friendly,” “free-range,” “grass fed,” and so on. As noted by Cummins, “There’s a huge fraud going on in the marketplace. Big food companies understand that consumers want organic … 57 percent of American consumers say they know that organic food is superior …
It’s against the law for them to call it organic unless it’s certified, but they’re using terminology … to convince consumers that if … it says all-natural, that means it’s just about like organic, but it’s a lot cheaper.” OCA estimates there are up to $400 billion worth of fraudulently labeled food in supermarkets across the U.S. This includes meat, dairy products, eggs and processed foods. OCA is sending samples of these products to independent labs for testing, to ascertain what’s really in them.
Ben & Jerry’s Still in the Hot Seat
Two of the most heinous deceivers out there are Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Sanderson Farms (the only chicken producer that obstinately refuses to even consider reducing its use of antibiotics). Ben & Jerry’s has since the very beginning presented itself as a company built on environmental values and all-natural ideals. Yet, testing of their products reveal they’re not so natural after all. It’s all just a well-crafted façade.
“When we look at [Ben & Jerry’s products], we’re finding Roundup residues in them, both in the United States and in Europe, where we’ve tested all of Ben & Jerry’s most popular ice cream brands,” Cummins says. “We’re also [assessing] the damage their dairy suppliers are doing to the environment, which is a disaster in Vermont and other areas. They’re basically factory farm-supplied, pesticide-intensive operations, where the cows are not grazing out on pasture.
They’re eating GE corn and grains. It’s showing up in the products. Since August, we have staged demonstrations and press conferences. We’ve done extensive testing. We’ve exposed the fact that Ben & Jerry’s is a fraud. Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever (the third largest food corporation in the world).
We’ve told Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, ‘If you want to get back in the good graces of consumers, because you’re quickly losing your reputation, you need to go organic as quickly as possible. Get those cows grazing on pasture, not eating GE corn sprayed with Roundup and atrazine.’
They have agreed to make nominal changes so far. Unilever announced in October — when we exposed their European brands as being contaminated with Roundup — [that] in 2018, 7 to 8 percent of their production will be organic. They said by the year 2020, two years from now, none of their added ingredients — wheat, chocolate and so on — will be sprayed with Roundup. They’re going to basically clean up their act over time.
But, we’ve seen Unilever’s behavior in the past. It’s easy to make promises. It’s easy to make nominal changes in your production, but we’re not letting up. We’re continuing to test their products for other contaminants. We’re continuing to work with people who are exposing the environmental damage they’re doing …
Roundup use in Vermont has doubled over the last few years. In large part due to the fact that all the corn nonorganic dairy farms feed their cows is genetically engineered. So, their brand image is being tarnished.”
OCA Takes Legal Action to Stop Deceptive Marketing Practices
As reported in previous articles, Sanderson Farms claims the antibiotic-free trend is nothing but a marketing ploy devised to justify higher prices. This, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence showing this routine practice is a major driver of antibiotic-resistant disease, which is already killing an estimated 23,000 Americans each year.
OCA is presently in negotiations with Sanderson Farms to cease and desist their false advertising. OCA has also taken legal action against General Mills, as their so-called natural granola bar, Nature Valley, is contaminated with Roundup, as well as baby food companies like Earth’s Best, which claims their baby food is organic even though it contains ingredients prohibited in organics.
“What we’re seeing across the board is that if companies are challenged in court — and in the court of public opinion — over their false advertising, they’ll realize at some point that they’re going to lose. They’re already losing their reputation. They will either go organic or they will stop claiming that their stuff is natural, all-natural or other misleading terms that are out there.
There’s a lot of meat being called grass fed that’s not grass fed. There’s a lot of beef that has labels on it that say ‘Product of the U.S.A.’ when it’s imported … Companies are resorting to fraud in their labeling and advertising because they understand that consumers want organic and they want grass fed. Until they can provide that, the only way to keep their profits up is to mislead consumers.”
While the chemical technology industry is rolling out their next-gen GMOs, the organic industry is slowly introducing the next-gen in organics — regenerative organics, many of the principles of which are embodied in biodynamic farming. Organic dairy products are certainly better than conventional factory farmed products, but just because something is certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t mean the cows are 100 percent grass fed, as they should be.
- USDA-backed “factory farm” takeover of organic milk production crushing family-scale farmers and forcing them out of business
Research shows there are clear nutritional differences between herbivores (such as cows) that are fed grain, especially pesticide-contaminated GE grain, and animals fed a wholly natural diet of grass. The American Grassfed Association and others have pioneered standards for grass fed beef. We’re now also starting to see those standards being applied to dairy products, and we’re starting to see 100 percent grass fed organic milk and yogurt products. Cummins adds:
“Across the board, we’ve always had Grade A and Grade B organics. A lot of consumers haven’t fully understood this, but they’re starting to. Biodynamic organic is the higher (A) grade. The way farms are certified under biodynamic is much stricter than the normal USDA organic. It’s been great to move from chemical agriculture, factory farms and GMOs into a situation where organic is a powerhouse now — it’s over 10 percent of all produce …
But we need to take it to the next step, where we focus on organics and traditional principles where you have to improve the soil every year on a continuous basis. You need to pay attention to soil health if you’re going to have optimum nutrition.
Now, people have also realized that … we can actually reverse climate change by making the soil healthier; producing plants that have a supercharged photosynthesis that actually suck down the excess carbon from the atmosphere and put it in the soil where it used to be.
Regenerative organic and regenerative food farming and land use, they’re starting to catch on. It appears it’s going to be a global phenomenon that’s going to make organic move from being just a niche market to where, in 10 years, the majority of food is going to be grown organically and regeneratively.”
Be Part of the Change
Ultimately, regenerative food and farming is the end goal. We not only want to identify and expose market fraud and deception, which the OCA does quite well, but we also want to encourage, inspire and catalyze the transition to regenerative agriculture practices that has stronger standards, such as those developed by the American Grassfed Association and Demeter, the latter of which provides biodynamic certification.
These are the things the annual GMO Awareness Week aims to achieve, and by contributing to this campaign, you support OCA’s work throughout the year. Changing an industry is a slow game, but over time, we see tremendous results. You can make a difference, and we really appreciate your participation. Without your support, none of the changes we’ve seen over the past several years would have been possible.
So, please, consider making a generous donation to the OCA today. As in previous years, I will more than match your gift and donate $3 for every dollar you donate. Remember, OCA is a nonprofit organization and, as such, all your gifts are fully tax deductible.
*Article originally appeared at Mercola. Reposted with permission.