Thursday, July 7, 2016

More on Monsanto

In our previous column, we talked about Monsanto withdrawing eight applications to sell some of their genetically modified products in the European Union. What was their motivation in doing so? Has the EU beaten Monsanto into submission?
Monsanto’s patent protection on glyphosate – the main ingredient in Roundup – ran out in 2000, but that hasn’t slowed them down. The herbicide wasn’t even included in the applications Monsanto had before the European Union. Rather, their applications were for some of their patented “Roundup Ready” crops. What does that mean?
One day, a couple decades ago, some enterprising salesman at Monsanto thought, ‘Instead of just selling farmers one product, an herbicide, what if we could sell them both the poison and the antidote, the herbicide and the seeds for plants that can actually survive that herbicide?’ Do you see the beauty of that?
As we mentioned, Roundup killed everything; if you sprayed it on your soybean field to kill the weeds, you killed the soy as well. But if a soy plant could tolerate Roundup, farmers could use more of the deadly stuff - making Monsanto more profit - without killing off their crop – which also, incidentally would be a Monsanto moneymaker.
Here’s how they did that. First, they found a humble little bacteria valiantly stayin’ alive in the waste stream of a glyphosate factory. They transferred some of the DNA of this bacteria into the DNA of soybeans, and voila! In 1996 they introduced “Roundup Ready” Genetically Modified soybeans.
Since then, they have patented Roundup Ready corn, canola, sorghum, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa.
Nowadays, the typical farmer goes out to his vast, barren acreage. It doesn't even deserve the name ‘soil’ anymore. It has all the nutritive value of ground-up Walmart flyers - probably less. The fields are covered with whatever weeds have managed to climb up through this herbicidal cesspool since his last harvest. He sprays the entire field with Roundup and begins seeding. Of course, just because a plant is ‘Roundup Ready’ doesn’t meant it will actually thrive in this muck, either, so he lays down a healthy dose (and I use the term sarcastically) of ammonium nitrate – a chemical derived from natural gas.
Ammonium nitrate works on plants the way steroids work on a body builder. It forces plants to grow faster than they were ever intended to, and makes them look big and healthy, so much more efficient than waiting for those old fashioned plants that had to actually draw minerals and nutrients from the natural stuff in the soil.
By the time the corn is about knee high, the Roundup has worn off and a few weeds have sprung up, so the farmer hits it again with Roundup. Gotta let those pesky, independent weeds know who’s boss.
Yum! Roundup weed killer and natural gas! Doesn’t that just get you salivating for some freshly picked Franken-corn-on-the-cob?
At last count, over 165 million acres in the U.S. were planted with Roundup Ready crops. 93% of the soybeans grown in this country – and hence the vast majority of all the soy products you consume – are Roundup Ready Soy. Likewise 86% of the corn is genetically modified. What was the last processed food you ate that didn’t have either soy or at least corn syrup in it?
And, don’t forget, unlike pesticides that are sprayed on the outsides of plants which – hopefully – you wash off when you get the plants home, Roundup Ready plants have drawn Roundup up inside them.
Now, the EU is considerably stricter about GM foods than the U.S. While genetically modified soy and corn have literally taken over the market in the U.S., GM accounts for only one percent of the European crop.
The EU has set a maximum residue level (MRL) of 20 milligrams per kilogram for how much Roundup residue is allowable in a ready-to-eat plant. (I don’t know how they decided on 20; but it is not uncommon for soybeans to measure 17. Hmmm, you don’t suppose Monsanto had anything to do with setting the limit at 20?) In any case, “research published in 2010 showed that the chemical causes birth defects in frogs and chicken embryos at far lower levels…” The study actually found birth defects after exposure to just 2.03 milligrams, 1/10th of the MRL! But Americans keep eating it.
Are European Union politicians less corrupt that their counterparts in the U.S? I can’t imagine that being the case. But We’ll take a look at that question in part 3.
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To celebrate, the price on the ebook version of The Minotaur Medallion will drop to $4.99 for the rest of the month. The discount coupon code, TY95N, will still take 25% off the new ebook price. (Sorry, the discount code won't work for the paperback.) Read the preview at or order the paperback at Feel free to leave a comment below or post a review of the book on either site or on Facebook.
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