GMO stuff for Guy

Toby Hemenway hemenway at
Wed Aug 4 11:05:52 EDT 1999

Guy: Here are a few bits on GMO's, though I haven't the time to find
references for you-this is just off the top of my head.

GE plants require more fertilizer and other inputs to grow; this has been
established and the reason is simple physics. They are producing extra
proteins (Bt protein, or an anti-glyphosate enzyme for Roundup-Ready) and
it takes more energy to do this, hence more fertilizer. This is why yields
of GE plants are lower. And obviously a Roundup-ready plant will not lower,
but raise, the use of pesticides: that's the whole point of Monsanto's
marketing it. Glyphosate (Roundup) does not break down in the soil as
quickly as Monsanto says (3 weeks in ideal lab conditions); field tests
show that it remains in soil for at least a year, in river sediments for up
to 4 years. One study showed that when a field was sprayed with Roundup in
fall and planted with lettuce in spring, the lettuce contained significant
amounts of Roundup. It's also toxic to soil organisms, fish, and birds. It
is the largest cause of pesticide-related illness among farm workers in
California. The Journal of Pesticide Reform, circa 1996, is my source for
the Roundup data.

Bt-containing potatoes and other plants will, as Monsanto researchers have
stated, eliminate the usefulness of Bt within 5-10 years as insects develop
resistance to such a widespread toxin. 5-10 years profit is enough
justification for Monsanto to wipe out a primary tool for organic farmers.

Bacteria and viruses readily pick up useful DNA from other organisms (we
found viruses with human immune-suppressing genes in them-an awesome
adaptation!), so spreading the antibiotic resistance genes via Bt- and
other GE-crops will surely breed antibiotic-resistant microbes. I believe
it's already been documented (by the way, this weakens the argument that GE
crops are significantly different from hybrids or natural ones, since
nature swaps genes between species all the time. But I think the ethical
and economic arguments against GE are far more potent than the technical

The revolving door is real. My old employer's head of Regulatory Affairs
was a former FDA official (he had lots of buddies on the drug approval
panel; the other panel members were scientists that many of our researchers
had worked with; that's not a conspiracy, though, it's just how the world
works since everyone knows others in their field, like we do. I will admit
that the scientist-panelists were very tough and fair).

I'm not sure if you mentioned that we don't need more food, just better
distribution of what we have. The whole  bovine growth hormone thing is
nonsense, since we generate vastly more milk than we use already: we don't
need more productive cows. It just puts small farmers, who can't afford the
extra expense, out of business. Cows with BGH have far greater instances of
bovine mastitis and other disease, and die at a much younger age.

A recent issue of "The Ecologist" printed a letter that Monsanto sent to
30,000 farmers, informing them that they had sued the crap out of two
farmers who had dared to save seed from Bt-engineered soybeans. The letter
began "we thoght you'd like to know how this case is going" or something
like that; a simple threat. So farmers can no longer save seed, something
they've always done, because a company took a plant from the public domain
that thousands of breeders had worked on for centuries, made a very simple
change in the genome, and then removed it from the public domain.

Enough for now; if I run across references I'll send them.

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