International Journal of Socialist Renewal – May 14,2020 – Don Fitz
May 14, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Genetically engineered crops are a form of food imperialism. This technology allows mega-corporations like Bayer/Monsanto to patent seeds, lure farmers into buying them with visions of high yields and then destroy the ability of small farmers to survive.
Genetic engineering produces an artificial combination of plant traits that often results in foods with less nutritional value while introducing health problems to animals and humans who eat them. It increases costs of food production, pushing millions of farmers throughout the world into poverty and driving them off their land.
Agricultural corporations get control of enormous quantities of land in Africa, Latin America and Asia, which they use to control the world’s food supply and reap super-profits from the cheap labor of those who work for them, sometimes people who once owned the same land. These crops can be developed in open-field testing, which allows the novel pollen to contaminate wild relatives of the engineered crops.
Agro-industries that dominate this process have the resources to lobby two sections of governments. They tell one government agency that their plants do not need to pass safety tests because they are “substantively equivalent” to already existing plants. Yet, out of the other side of their mouths, corporate lawyers argue that, far from being equivalent to existing plants, their engineered ones are so novel as to deserve patents, which allow companies to sue farmers who save seeds for planting during the next season.
As a resident of St. Louis, a veritable plantation of Monsanto (now Bayer), I have participated in and organized dozens of demonstrations at the company’s world headquarters, as well as forums and conferences. It is necessary to compare the use of biotechnology by food corporations with that of Cuba to decide if they are the same or fundamentally different.
Medicine in Cuba
John Kirk’s Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism (2015) provides a wealth of information regarding Cuba’s early use of biotechnology in medicine. It is a poor country suffering effects of a blockade by the US which interferes with its access to materials, equipment, technologies, finance, and even exchange of information. This makes it remarkable that Cuba’s research institutes have produced so many important medications.
Even a partial list is impressive. The use of Heberprot B to treat diabetes has reduced amputations by 80 percent. Cuba is the only country to create an effective vaccine against type-B bacterial meningitis, and it developed the first synthetic vaccine for Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), which causes almost half of pediatric meningitis infections. It has also produced the vaccine Racotumomab against advanced lung cancer and has begun clinical tests for Itolizumab to fight severe psoriasis.
By far the best known efforts of Cuban biotechnology followed an outbreak of dengue fever in 1981 when its researchers found that it could combat the disease with Interferon Alpha 2B. The same drug became vitally important decades later as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Interferons are signaling proteins that can respond to infections by strengthening anti-viral defenses. In this way, they decrease complications which could cause death. Cuba’s interferons have also shown their usefulness and safety in treating viral diseases including Hepatitis B and C, shingles and HIV-AIDS.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and has
$46.8 billion in assets (December 2018). It is the largest charitable
foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than
any government. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to globally
enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty.
The Gates Foundation is a major funder of the CGIAR system (formerly
the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) – a
global partnership whose stated aim is to strive for a food-secured
future. Its research is aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food
security, improving human health and nutrition and ensuring sustainable
management of natural resources.
In 2016, the Gates Foundation was accused of dangerously and
unaccountably distorting the direction of international development. The
charges were laid out in a report by Global Justice Now: ‘Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?‘
According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is based on
deepening the role of multinational companies in the Global South.
On release of the report, Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, said:
“The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most
influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural
policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that
influence is managed.”
She added that this concentration of power and influence is even more
problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the
Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of ‘corporate
“The foundation is relentlessly promoting big
business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private
health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating
the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the
foundation is supposed to be alleviating.”
The report’s author, Mark Curtis, outlines the foundation’s promotion
of industrial agriculture across Africa, which would undermine existing
sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of
food across the continent.
Curtis describes how the foundation is working with US agri-commodity trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in
southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production
of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM
soya monocrops (and associated agrochemicals) have displaced rural
populations and caused health problems and environmental damage.
According to Curtis, the Gates-funded project will likely enable Cargill to capture a hitherto untapped African soya market and eventually introduce GM soya onto the continent. The Gates foundation is also supporting projects involving other chemical and seed corporations, including DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer. It is effectively promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of agrochemicals and patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified crops.
According the a new study, soybean production in South America now covers over 57 million hectares, more than on any other continent. The consequences for amphibians have been devastating, as is clear from the study highlights and abstract.
The authors conclude in their study: “Our work has triggered alarm
about the detrimental impact of pesticides (insecticides and herbicides)
on native amphibians inhabiting the shallow ponds of the richest
agricultural lands of South America. We documented effects caused by
pesticides on tadpoles which can compromise the viability of populations
living in agricultural landscapes. The intensive agricultural model
based on the GMO technological package currently applied in South
America is expected to expand (and intensify) over the coming years.
Therefore, it is also expected that native amphibian populations will
continue being affected. We suggest that conservation priorities should
be focused on developing a better policy legislation for pesticide use,
including not only the protection of human settlements but also native
terrestrial and wetland habitats.”
— Pesticides in the real world: The consequences of GMO-based intensive agriculture on native amphibians
M. Gabriela Agostini, Ignacio Roesler, Carlos Bonetto, Alicia E.Ronco, David Bilenca
Volume 241, January 2020, 108355 www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320719309905
• Collaborative work with farmers allowed us to test pesticide impacts on amphibians. • Tadpole survival dramatically decreased after pesticides reached the ponds. • 93% of surviving tadpoles exposed to insecticides, exhibited impairment of mobility. • Glyphosate exposures caused sublethal effects, reducing tadpole mobility in 79% [of tadpoles]. • We detected pesticide impacts on amphibians in real exposure scenarios.
Pesticide use has been suggested as one of the major drivers of the global amphibian decline. Laboratory and mesocosm studies have addressed several questions to understand the mechanism by which pesticides cause detrimental effects on amphibians. However, the extrapolation of those results to natural populations may not be adequate to predict environmental impacts or to understand the role of pesticides in the amphibian decline. By using in situ enclosures, we evaluated the effects (survival and mobility) of common pesticides applied by farmers (cypermethrin, chlorpyrifos, endosulfan, glyphosate, and 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) on tadpoles. We assessed these effects in four common amphibian species from South America across 91 ponds located in the Pampas of central Argentina. We found that survival decreased in 13 out of 20 pesticides applications concomitantly with detection of pesticides in water ponds. 48 h after applications, mixtures containing endosulfan or chlorpyrifos reduced tadpole survival to <1% while the cypermethrin mixtures reduced survival to 10%. In addition, we found impairment of mobility in all combination of pesticides, including glyphosate. The ecological context involved in our study represents the common exposure scenarios related to GMO-based agriculture practices in South America, with relevance at regional levels. We emphasize that multifaceted approaches developed to understand the role of pesticides in the amphibian decline need a conservation perspective. This will be achieved by work focusing on the integrated use of state-of-the-art techniques and resources for documenting pesticide effects over wild amphibians’ populations, allowing conservation scientists to generate better management recommendations.
The broader issue which is casually ignored by both the Philippines government and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is that “golden” genetically modified rice (GMO) is slated to replace rice varieties which have been cultivated for centuries in the Philippines as well as throughout Southeast Asia.
The bio-safety evaluation not to mention the focus on “nutritional requirements” is a smokescreen.
The propaganda ploy consists in supporting the interests of the agro-biotech conglomerates to the detriment of the rice farmer and the local economy.
What this means is that farmers can no longer reproduce their own seeds.
Small farmers are obliged to buy GMO seeds. This is revenue for the biotech conglomerates including Monsanto.
GMO agriculture increases the stranglehold of transnational corporations. In turn, the use of GMO seeds undermines the “reproduction of agriculture”.
Small farmers go bankrupt unable to pay their debts. They become landless farmers.
GMO seeds undermine “the reproduction of real life”.
Small-holder agricultural land is taken over. The use of GMO seeds ultimately leads to land concentration, food insecurity and mass poverty.
The unspoken objective of GMO Golden rice is to trigger famine across the land, undermining rice production for local consumption.
The impacts of GMO rice are amply documented.
There is a vast literature. GMO engineers famine and despair.
Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, December 24, 2019
Philippines approves potentially unsafe GM golden rice for food and feed
by GM Watch
According to an announcement by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Philippines Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry has stated that it has found GMO golden rice to be “as safe as conventional rice”.
The biosafety permit, addressed to the Department of Agriculture – Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), details the approval of GR2E golden rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP).
GMO golden rice is engineered to contain the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene and is claimed to target the problem of vitamin A deficiency in developing countries, including the Philippines.
The Stop Golden Rice Network described the move in a press release as “a blow to the millions of rice farmers and consumers not just in the Philippines but also among other countries in Asia where rice is the major staple food”.
The Philippines Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry said it reached its decision “after rigorous biosafety assessment”. In 2018, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Health Canada, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published positive food safety assessments for golden rice. A biosafety application is currently undergoing review by the Biosafety Core Committee in Bangladesh.
Not tested for safety
In spite of these opinions, no animal feeding studies have been released to the public that could attest to the food safety of this GM rice. Human trials have focused on efficacy (ability of the subjects to absorb the beta-carotene in the rice) and not safety. So claims of food safety are assumptions that are not evidence-based.
A paper published in 2008 by Prof David Schubert of The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, noted that there was “no discussion about safety” in a scientific paper promoting GM golden rice, “despite the fact that simple derivatives of beta-carotene are known teratogens [i.e. cause birth defects]”. Over a decade later, proponents of GM golden rice have still failed to engage in such a discussion.
Beta-carotene levels too low to make health claim – FDA
It’s possible that this particular danger may be averted by the failure of genetic engineers to jack up the beta-carotene in the rice to levels that could actually provide a health benefit – or cause adverse effects. The US FDA stated that GM golden rice does not meet the nutritional requirements to make a health claim. It said, “The concentration of beta-carotene in GR2E rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim.“
However, the truth is that we can’t be sure that this GM crop won’t cause teratogenicity problems. This is because the mechanism through which beta-carotene derivatives can cause birth defects is genotoxicity – damage to DNA. And it is a general principle of genotoxic agents that even when the individual doses are very low, they can cause an accumulation of DNA damage over time.
It has been scientifically proven that the beta-carotene in GM golden rice degrades in storage, meaning that breakdown products will accumulate in the rice that will then be eaten. No one has produced any research showing these breakdown products to be safe.
Dr Chito Medina, member scientist of MASIPAG, a farmer-scientist group in the Philippines that opposes GM golden rice, said, “The risks of golden rice far outweigh its supposed benefits. We will be better off improving and diversifying the food crops in the farms and diets of our children to ensure that proper nutrition is achieved.”
What, no butter?
Even if the GM golden rice destined for the Philippines were miraculously to be found to contain enough beta-carotene to make a difference, that in itself would not help the poor and hungry. That’s because beta-carotene doesn’t work on its own – the body needs fat to absorb it. Subjects in a human trial of GM golden rice (designed to evaluate efficacy, not safety) were given butter to eat with the rice. If the target consumers for GM golden rice are too poor to afford a balanced diet and can only afford rice, as we are told, they are certainly too poor to buy butter. So there’s simply no point in launching GM golden rice.
The Stop Golden Rice Network said that undue focus on rice alone is a dangerous trap: “As a coalition of more than 30 organizations across Asia where most of the world’s rice is produced and consumed, we experiences first-hand the damaging public health impacts caused by promoting a single-crop diet. The Green Revolution launched in the 1960s pushed new, potentially high-yielding forms of rice on Asian farmers as a way to increase food production. As a result, white rice has come to dominate the once-diverse Asian diets — with dramatic health consequences.”
The Network explained, “Today, 60 per cent of all people suffering from diabetes are in Asia, 90 per cent of whom suffer type 2 diabetes, the preventable form of the disease. Scientists from Malaysia’s Endocrine and Metabolic Society claim that the soaring obesity in the country is due not to Western junk food, but to white rice. Unhealthy diets will worsen as long as the corporations continue to exert their influence over agricultural research and production and profit from it.”
The Network added, “The Philippines has managed to slash their Vitamin D deficiency (VAD) levels among vulnerable sectors with conventional nutrition programmes. The country experienced significant decrease more than half of VAD cases from 40.1% in 2003 to 15.2% in 2008, due to various interventions. IRRI also recognized this success but still harp on the slight increase of VAD over the next five years to justify the Golden Rice approval.”
The Network called for the Philippines authoritative bodies – the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry, PhilRice and IRRI – to protect and uphold the safety of the people not just in the Philippines but also in other target countries and halt the commercial propagation Golden Rice. The Network said, “malnutrition cannot be isolated from poverty and inequality,” adding that biofortification crops like golden rice do not address the root causes of poverty and malnutrition, but “risk blindly reinforcing it”.
The question of whether the UK will open its doors to GMOs after
Brexit has become more pertinent after EU Brexit negotiator Michel
Barnier told MEPs on Tuesday (26 November) that in order to secure a
trade agreement, the UK would have to agree to maintain a ‘level playing
field’ and not undercut EU regulation.
Barnier said that if a new UK government sought to diverge from EU
regulatory standards that would weaken environmental standards there
will never be a free trade agreement, MEPs at a meeting in the European
The discussion over science-based policymaking in the EU, in general,
has been heating up in recent years, with genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) front and centre of the debate.
Concerns have been raised particularly regarding the unknown impact
of the release of GMOs into the environment and the food system, with
critics citing a lack of adequate and sufficient risk assessment.
In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that
organisms obtained by new mutagenesis plant breeding techniques should,
in principle, fall under the GMO Directive.
This ruling is one in a long line of resolutions against approvals of
the use and import of GMOs that the EU has adopted in recent years.
However, there could soon be a shift of thinking about GM crops in
the UK, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledging to “liberate” the
UK’s bioscience sector from the EU’s anti-GM regulation post-Brexit.
Opening Britain’s doors to GMOs has also been suggested as key to
allowing the UK to draw up a quick trade agreement with the United
Speaking at a recent plant breeding conference in Brussels, Dr Thorben Sprink from the Julius Kühn-Institute in Germany said he thought the UK would “make the most” of the opportunity Brexit presented for the country to reject Europe’s “very tight regulation” and encourage more GMO research.
At the event, Secretary-General of Euroseeds Garlich Von Essen said
that neither breeders nor farmers want to be in the “second league” and
that Brexit would allow the UK to implement “science-based regulation”.
Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, a UK non-profit organisation
which campaigns against GM, told EURACTIV that GM regulations have
already been identified as a non-tariff barrier to trade, citing that
Donald Trump signed an Executive Order in June, aiming to force the UK (and the EU) to open the door to GM crops from the US.
She said that there will undoubtedly be pressure on the UK to accept
GMOs, and that Brexit has the potential to “change everything with food
and farming and open the floodgates to unregulated GMOs”.
UK National farmers union (NFU) chief science and regulatory affairs
adviser, Dr Helen Ferrier, told EURACTIV that biotechnology and GMOs
“have the potential to offer multiple benefits to the public, farmers
and the environment, and could help tackle some intractable issues in
the production and consumption of food”.
She said “there may be opportunities to look at different regulatory
approaches after Brexit to the way technologies are developed and used.
The potential impact on trade with key partners, whether the EU or
the US, needs to be kept in mind, as well as the need for access to the
full toolbox of innovations to help find solutions to major challenges
such as climate change and diet-related illness.“
However, she highlighted that the use of biotechnology “must be
regulated using sound science in terms of its environmental and health
The UK department for environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA)
said they were unable to comment on future policy decisions during the
Low consumer acceptance
However, NGOs and anti-GM campaign groups say that public support for GM remains low in the UK.
O’Neill told EURACTIV that “the UK public consistently rejects the
use of GM in food and farming, both in polls and at the checkout” and
that they “simply do not sell”.
In April 2018, an IPPR poll found
that only 8% of the public thought the UK should lower food safety
standards to secure a trade deal with the US, with 82% preferring to
keep standards as they are.
O’Neill said that UK politicians will, therefore, have a “very hard time” persuading the electorate that a “US trade deal is more important than the high food standards they consistently support”.
provides a scientific overview of the concerns with genetically
engineered food animal experiments that are underway, and reveals the
risks to human health, the environment and animal welfare. It sheds
light on the unintended consequences of genetic engineering techniques
known as gene editing, and considers the implications for U.S.
regulations. The report also highlights the gaps in what scientists know
about the effects of editing DNA to confer certain desirable traits.
The report summarizes peer-reviewed
research on genetically engineered animals in development, including
super-muscly pigs, hornless cows and disease resistant chickens and
pigs. Studies show that, far from being “precise,” gene editing can
cause genetic errors, even if only a genetic “tweak” is intended.
Genetic errors can lead to unexpected effects in gene-edited animals,
such as enlarged tongues in rabbits and extra vertebrae in pigs. Studies
also suggest that common gene editing traits, such as hornless cows and
disease resistance, will perpetuate the poor animal management, such as
crowding, often found in animal factory farming. Rather than creating
genetically engineered animals to fit into factory farming systems, the
report recommends it is critical to develop sustainable and ecological
animal agriculture systems that support preservation and restoration of
biodiversity, public health and animal welfare.
The report was co-authored by Dana Perls,
senior food and technology campaigner, Friends of the Earth and Dr.
Janet Cotter, Logos Environmental.
that, far from being “precise,” gene editing can cause genetic errors,
even if only a genetic “tweak” is intended. Genes can be changed at
additional locations and gene editing can interfere with gene
editing traits, such as hornless cows and disease resistance, will
perpetuate the poor animal management, such as crowding, often found in
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This will magnify the
current ethical, health and welfare concerns for animals housed in
engineering of animals often involves cloning, which leads to birth
defects, spontaneous abortions and early postnatal death. Genetic errors
can lead to unexpected effects in gene-edited animals, such as enlarged
tongues in rabbits and extra vertebrae in pigs. These raise concerns
for animal health, welfare and consumer safety.
effects include the production of abnormal proteins in gene-edited
animals. Allergens are proteins, so abnormal proteins could create new
food allergies and have significant implications for food safety.
significant gaps in research about how genetic errors at the cellular
level manifest as unexpected effects and how these unexpected effects
may impact the animal’s health, interact with complex environmental
factors and affect food safety.
at the hypothetical stage, gene drive systems could drive a specific
trait through a herd or population of farm animals and could
accidentally spread to the natural population, potentially affecting
biodiversity and even an entire ecosystem.
Rather than creating
genetically engineered animals to fit into factory farming systems, it
is critical to develop sustainable and ecological animal agriculture
systems that support animal welfare, preservation and restoration of
biodiversity and public health.
engineering techniques should fall within the scope of government
regulatory oversight of genetic engineering, including gene editing,
using the Precautionary Principle to protect human health and the
regulations for GMOs, including gene-edited animals, should include
independent assessment for environmental and food safety and long-term
impacts before entering the market or environment. Products of all
genetic engineering should be traceable and clearly labeled as GMOs.