What's New: The Monsanto Protection Act

How Genetically Modified Seeds Snuck Into Congress, and Out of Accountability

 


Genetic modification isn’t all bad. It’s what allows us to breed adorable Puggles and champion roses, not to mention make significant steps in medical intervention. It’s also what’s allowed us to use genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, to create strains of corn, soybeans, cotton, and tomatoes that are variously herbicide-resistant, have a longer shelf life, and even (yes) create their own insecticides.


But, fairly or not, genetically modified foods have a bit of a low-hanging cloud around them. Are they safe for consumption? Are they harmful to diversified agriculture? And with the recent passage of the so-called Monsanto Protection Act on March 26, that cloud just got a little murkier.


Corn Field image via Shutterstock

So does this matter for you? Kind of, yeah. In short form, the Monsanto Protection Act is a rider wrought in some exquisitely confusing legalese, quietly tucked into a bill that had to be passed to keep the government running (it’s section 735). Just what does it do? According to Salon.com, it “protects genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks,” kinda sorta denying us our right to sue under the National Environmental Policy Act. In theory, it’ll only last for six months, the remainder of the fiscal year. But the fact that the rider snuck its way into an imperative bill without review makes the whole thing a few shades shadier...

 

To be fair, this isn’t really the first time genetically modified foods have snuck into your life. Ever since the shelf-stable Flavr Savr tomato came out in 1994, genetically modified crops have made their way into the food cycle—unlabelled. (A recent push to label genetically modified foods in California failed, some say thanks to $46 million in negative campaigning.) At this point, genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans make up roughly 85 and 90% of the market, respectively—meaning they’re well integrated into the food chain (alas, GM-wary sweet toothers: 42% of the sugar we consume comes from genetically modified sugar beets). 

 

It should be noted—to date, no significant health risks have been discovered relating to genetically modified foods, though concern over risks of gene transfer to humans (for instance, inheriting a crop’s antibiotic resistance) and outcropping (wherein GMO crops take over non-GMO crops) loom.  Then there’s the just plain creepy prospect of the power corporations like Monsanto can wield within our legislative process, not to mention grocery bags.

 

From a scientific standpoint, there’s also the slippery slope that genetic modification creates. Monsanto created corn crops that are resistant to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup (also produced by Monsanto). But according to Marion Nestle at The Atlantic, a new breed of “superweeds” has arrived that’s also resistant to glyphosate, making the use of relatively eco-friendlier Roundup moot. (The industry is now looking into using 2-4, D, the primary chemical in Agent Orange, and destroyer of Iowa’s wine industry, as a replacement; 2-4 D-resistant crops would have to be developed as well).

 

That’s not to say there aren’t definite pros to genetically modified crops. No doubt among their best applications is the ability to provide drought-resistant and nutrient-enriched crops for developing countries. As we speak people are anxiously awaiting the development of “golden rice” to bring Vitamin A to rice-based societies—extremely worthy goals, facilitated by genetic modification.

 

But the question remains: is there enough oversight? Considering the manner in which the “Monsanto Protection Act” sidled its way into law, we’d lean towards no—but we’re curious to hear your thoughts. How do you feel about genetically modified foods? Do you want to see labels? Is this issue even on your radar? 


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Comments

  • Snooth User: sahunt
    344836 6

    I believe we should have an informed choice and therefore strongly support labeling. I also am a strong supporter of independent research and testing prior human consumption which in my opinion has not been sufficient so far.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 2:42 PM


  • Snooth User: jendub
    1274492 9

    We should all have the right to know what we are eating. A government should support this right and even demand it. For the health of the nation. Why would anyone that is out for the people's best interest try to sneak laws into place and deny us the right to know what is in our foods?

    Apr 12, 2013 at 2:51 PM


  • Lets face it - what seems today save for consumption might had a lot of controversy in the past and might be banned in the future. Think only about artificial sweeteners, HFCS, and so on.
    It is a shame, that the industry invest into counter-marketing!
    The problem on genetic modified plants are, that they might contain a serious risk of cross-pollination and there is the threat, that they are extrude non-GM plants.
    Talking about health-risks is for the moment obsolete, because there are not enough data collected yet.

    The problem seems a lot like nuclear power plants. On the first sight, they seem very economical and even ecological, but in depth they contain very high risks for the environment as well as public health

    Apr 12, 2013 at 4:31 PM


  • There should not even be the question 'should consumers be
    Told via labels if the food they will give their children is genetically
    Modified. There has not been enough research on the long term
    Implications of these modified foods. People just have to be able to
    Decide if they want to eat these foods. No question. Inform us. Period.
    End of story.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 6:54 PM


  • Snooth User: Oran Spotts
    1091872 39

    If the general public is found to insist on labeling and 85 -90% of all produce is already genetically modified, would it not make more economically sense to label only those products which are NOT genetically modified?

    Apr 12, 2013 at 7:13 PM


  • A correction, Puggles and champion roses aren't from "genetic modification"; the first is a cross breed of two existing dogs breeds, and the second is obtained through hybridisation. There is no inserting of outside genetic material into either of these examples.
    It also appears the writer is stating that herbicide-resistance is a positive thing, while this actually means we are able to spray even more toxic herbicides on these plants therefore increasing out toxic load on consuming them. How is this good? This is stated in the same sentence as noting the positives of longer shelf-life and a plant producing it's own insecticides. Longer shelf life is great for the companies making money for it to travel numerous miles, sit in a warehouse and then a supermarket. I could care less and want my food to be as fresh as possible and straight from the farm or at least locally produced. There was a strain of GM tomatoes that was promised to stay fresher for longer, these disappeared from the market after 1998 when they failed to meet expectations.
    As for making it's own insecticides, plants do this already in the form of naturally present phytochemicals. What they are doing is allowing the plant to create insecticides not natural to their own normally occurring phytochemicals which will in the long-term be harmful to biodiversity of plant-life as well as other organisms (including ourselves).
    Whoever wrote this article obviously hasn't read much about the third world countries who do not want GM plants on their land,and there has been no conclusive evidence that GM crops have offered a solution. A greater solution would be introducing traditional farming and agriculture practices that would provide sustainable returns for communities. The Union of Concerned Scientists has also summarised peer-reviewed studies that showed that agricultural methods have produced greater crop yield increases than GM crops in recent years in the US, with similar findings in other nations expected.
    In regards to the vitamin A issue, many African nations have promoted the eating of sweet potato for years in an effort to increase the vitamin A status of the population with great success. Food is the answer, but not this Frankenstein food. We already have the tools and GM is an area that requires long term testing before being unleashed on the world as it has been. I would never eat nor grow a GM plant, there are too many risks and we are largely unaware of the consequences.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 7:30 PM


  • Snooth User: piaffe4me
    513787 10

    I am glad that Alison-Murray pointed out the errors and misinformation in this blog. Please check your facts and your sources. It is good to not be alarmist in most instances, but where the public's right to know is being trampled to death by a MegaCorp with unlimited lobbying resources and NO concern for public health and safety, I think "alarmist" is exactly the right track.......

    Apr 12, 2013 at 8:53 PM


  • Snooth User: daney
    798846 86

    Monsanto developed GMO corn for Ethanol, not consumption by humans. The truth about ethanol it is more damaging to the atmosphere than regular petrol. Why have other countries like Europe banned GMO. Think people have been lead into thinking they are safe as Warren Buffet's son grows them and Bill Gates is a large promoter of GMO!!
    Monsanto has worked itself into the government positions and should be booted out and take their poison seeds with them!

    Apr 13, 2013 at 12:08 AM


  • Snooth User: Glenda
    Hand of Snooth
    1034451 1

    On an additional note, Monsanto and any other company should be required to test A LOT more than they do. There are many very credible theories and a lot of testing being done examining the relationship between GMO products, a few specific chemicals (produced by Monsanto) and the alarming rate of bee die offs occurring & increasing annually.
    And on another note...if a politician could get a bill passed out-lawing all these sneaky riders that get inserted in to every bill, law etc. I'd vote for them for almost anything!

    Apr 13, 2013 at 1:23 AM


  • I agree with all of you - and believe Allison's comment is particularly notable! Ans, Daney, they may have developed GMO corn for ethanol as you said, but most of the corn we eat is ALSO GMO (unless we eat local) - and that means all the products with cornstarch and, even more ubiquitous, corn syrup! It's being put into new things every day - just yesterday I found that all but one brand of canned kidney beans had corn syrup and the other had sugar.!

    Apr 14, 2013 at 1:56 AM


  • Alison Murray said it best. I don't particularly like the way this article is written. Also, as for health risks, it has already been proven that GMO foods, such as corn, do in fact cause cancer. Unfortunately, this was tested on rats, but it does prove the safety risk of these damaging crops. If you look at a satellite view of earth, a GMO crop field looks dead and brown, where an organic crop field looks green. That alone is a significant damage caused to the earth. I will never consume GMO foods and if that means I have to stop eating most foods on the market, I will do just that.

    Apr 14, 2013 at 7:53 PM


  • Until Liberals can read and understand "Science", they really should stay out of the conversation. Every comment and argument they make is based on an "Emotional" premise, which totally negates their argument. GMOs have been in use world wide for many years and are providing much needed food, without any physical harm to the served populations. Even the man responsible for creating the Anti-GMO movement, has since apologized and touted the virtues of GMOs. http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/le...

    Apr 14, 2013 at 11:03 PM


  • Unlike the blatant cigarette coverup over the past few decades, I doubt Monsanto or other producers of GM seeds, really has the needed research data to assess the health risks. It will probably take many years to make the assessment. I do, however, believe that these producers suspect future problems. The rider legislation clearly originated with Monsanto and their strategy has to be legislative renewals and extensions. If no negative effects appear in a year or so, they'll say 'I told you so' and permanent laws will be passed to protect them. If 5 years from now serious problems are shown to be caused by the GM's, the producers will have been protected. It is an unfortunate fact of life that our taxes pay for agencies like the FDA, FTC and EPA and yet we all know these agencies do not have the needed competence for proper independent data collection and analysis. Where is Nader when we need him?

    Apr 15, 2013 at 12:10 PM


  • Snooth User: Emily Bell
    1177900 519

    Just to respond briefly to some comments: In the introductory sentence, I use the term “genetic modification” colloquially, with “modification” in the loosest sense of changing something with intentionality, e.g. cross-breeding dogs. I then narrow the term down to its modern technical usage. The conversational tone might have caused confusion. I know Puggles are not the result of the cross-insertion of canine DNA sequences, and perhaps mistakenly assumed the reader would grasp the liberty I took stylistically, in which case apologies for the confusion. As for the idea that I present herbicide resistance as a “positive thing,” tonally I have no stance, I only enumerate some of the traits GM crops have been built for. Indeed, the emphatic parenthetical “(yes)” in the last sentence indicates surprise that crops were ever modified to create their own insecticides (which, if anything, suggests I’m not happy about it). Ultimately however, I do not intend to present my stance. The only, and central, reaction I do present is surprise at the means by which the so-called Monsanto Protection Act found its way into law, which allowed me to bring up issues of genetically modified crops for discussion. Negatives (which I present in quantity, gene transfer, outcropping, superweeds, etc.) outweigh one potential positive, the conceptually worthy goal of using GM technologies to create crops that can withstand otherwise impossible conditions and/or provide added nutrition. I do not argue that as a priority (or exclusive) solution, or even pretend to expertise on its impact, but simply present the idea as one possible argument for specific usage. And I respect the counter arguments that GM crops may not be good for developing (or any) nations, and assume the common sense implication stands, namely that any long-term ramifications of GM crops for the U.S., as enumerated in the article, would apply globally. I hope this clears up any confusion, and in any event, I applaud the general passion and interest.

    Apr 15, 2013 at 1:38 PM


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