In the American food landscape post pink-slime, any momentary relief consumers may have felt about food safety following the public outcry over ammonia-soaked beef was short-lived, as consumers now have new reasons to worry. Ground-breaking research by a French scientist Gilles-Eric Serlini and the Caen University has revealed that long-term diet of GMOs, specifically those produced by agricultural conglomerate Monsanto, causes tumors, organ damage, and premature death in lab animals fed a steady GMO diet.
The research was the first of its kind, consisting of a long-term “feeding trial” whereby Monsanto’s famous Round-Up resistant “NK603” corn was fed to rats over a period of two years. The study, published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that 50% of male rats and 70% of female rats fed Monsanto’s corn died prematurely, suffered from organ damage, and grew massive tumors. Prior to the French study, the previous studies funded by the agricultural industry found that GM crops were safe for human consumption.
Although GMOs are “deeply unpopular” in Europe and banned in several countries, they sadly “dominate major crops” in the U.S., with no regulation whatsoever. The French Environment and Farm Ministries, in light of the results of the French study, has said it will be asking European authorities to take “all necessary measure to protect human and animal health,” including emergency suspension of all imports of Monsanto corn in the European Union. Monsanto spokeman Thomas Helscher, on the other hand, responded that Monsanto’s scientific studies “continuously confirmed” the safety of Monsanto corn. At least one major news source, Huffington Post, discredits Monsanto’s response, asserting that Monsanto cites “crude statistical data” involving “tests” that lasted only 90 days – too little time to reveal any chronic health problems.
The problem is that Monsanto has a virtual grip over the U.S. agriculture seed industry, controlling over 90% of the production of not only corn seeds, but soybeans, cotton, and other crop seeds. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Round-Up pesticide, has genetically modified its crop seeds to include a genetic trait that resists Round-Up – which is apparently the cause of the premature death, tumors, and organ damage identified by the French study. According to data published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself, the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of U.S. soybean, corn, and cotton seeds today carry Monsanto’s genetic mutations, nearly double the figures that existed in 2000.
Currently, there are no regulations requiring Monsanto or other agricultural manufacturers to disclose genetically-engineered foods. Even “organic” and “natural” food retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Stonyfield Farm have lost in the war with Monsanto over the labeling of food and whether Monsanto needs to disclose to consumers whether foods are sprayed with carcinogenic pesticides. Abroad, university researchers criticizing Monsanto’s pesticides (such as Round-Up, which is used on the NK603 corn), were physically attacked and left with traumatic spine and head injuries after attempting to notify local citizens that Round-Up caused embryo deformities and birth defects in animals, similar to the kinds of birth defects and child cancer growth that had been experienced by nearby populations in recent years.
It is hard to believe the extent of the fortune that Monsanto has made manufacturing products that are toxic, hazardous, or carcinogenic. Monsanto’s first product was saccharin, eventually sold to Coca-Cola and at one point linked to bladder cancer in rats. Monsanto manufactured highly-poisonous DDT for nearly thirty years before it was banned in 1972 due to the high level of toxicity. In the 1960s and 1970s, Monsanto was one of the largest producers of ultra-deadly Agent Orange, which devastated the Vietnamese countryside – killing, maiming, or seriously disabling up to 1 million Vietnamese and 2.6 million U.S. military. Monsanto was the single largest producer of PCBs, banned in 1979 due to causing cancer in animals and humans. Monsanto’s PCB plant in Sauget, Illinois is commonly regarded as one of the most polluted communities in the U.S. In fact, at another PCB plant in Anniston, Alabama, Monsanto dumped approximately 45 tons of hazardous waste into local waterways, resulting in tremendous death and destruction to the fish population and nearby wildlife. A recent Vanity Fair article on Monsanto is as informative as it is chilling in telling the story of Monsanto’s growth from a chemical company to agriculture conglomerate controlling 90% of the nation’s food supply.
Monsanto not only has a long history of making deadly products, it has made a strong investment in concealing its activities: Monsanto has contributed over $7 million to oppose the passage of California’s Proposition 37, which, if approved by voters in the November, 2012 election, would require companies to disclose to consumers whether genetically-modified organisms are used in food products. Monsanto and similar companies have raised a total of over $25 million in total to defeat Proposition 37.
It is hard to believe that so little is being done to stop big agricultural companies like Monsanto from hiding or concealing from consumers how dangerous their products are reported to be, especially when those products concern the nation’s food supply. Even blue-chip companies like Pepsi, Nestle, and Coca-Cola, to name a few, have joined Monsanto in opposing Prop. 37 mandate that consumer foods made with GMOs be disclosed with sufficient labelling.
What can be done? Health-conscious consumers must make their voices heard by demanding that GMO foods and food-products be labelled clearly so as to provide all necessary disclosures. In California, voters will get the opportunity to do so in November through ballot measure, via Proposition 37. For citizens in other states, including those in which no power exists to provide citizens with ballot initiatives, consumers can still take steps to limit their exposure to GMO foods. Some simple steps that consumers can take are as follows:
- Buying Organic. Certified organic food manufacturers are generally not allowed to use GM seeds, though there are no guarantees.
- Buying Certified. Some manufacturers stamp their foods with “Non-GMO” seals verifying that the food-products were not manufactured using GMOs.
- Getting Involved. A number of online resources are petitioning the FDA and other U.S. agencies for change, including requiring mandatory disclosure of GMO products and calling for better regulations. Two notable ones are justlabelit.org and nongmoshoppingguide.com. Change.org also lists a number of GMO-related petitions that consumers can participate in to effectuate change.
- Attention to Advertising. It is illegal in most states for manufacturers to use advertising that is false, deceptive, or misleading to reasonable consumers. Consumers should pay attention to how foods are labelled and advertised. Product manufacturers that have mislabeled or mispackaged products or are employing false advertising could face legal liability.
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Rabeh M. A. Soofi is a lawyer practicing in Los Angeles, California and focusing on consumer and civil rights. She can be reached at email@example.com.