Monsanto's Roundup Ready Controversy

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

(Note: In addition to the issues raised on this page, there are a host of other concerns with genetic modification. Furthermore, the issues and statistics in the fast-paced biotech world are ever in flux. The reader is encouraged to visit the other websites here for more and up-to-date info.)

Monsanto is considered the Mother of agricultural biotechnology (1). Their "Roundup Ready" crops have been genetically engineered to permit direct, "over the top" application of the Monsanto herbicide glyphosate allowing farmers to drench both their crops and crop land with the herbicide so as to be able to kill nearby weeds (and any other green thing the herbicide touches) without killing the crops (2). "RR soybeans are heavily herbicide dependent" [1] [2] says Charles M. Benbrook, an expert in the field [3][4] This is because the "Roundup Ready System" is primarily a "no-till" system. Rather than the traditional tilling of the ground to control weeds the RR system relies on its herbicide to control them, "No-till cropping systems are the most demanding with regards to weed control. The crop is seeded directly into untilled soil with no follow-up cultivation. Weed control depends entirely on herbicides" [5]. In fact, the Roundup Ready System was specifically designed to require the exclusive use of Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup, primarily, some say, to increase profits for Monsanto - and at almost 250 million GM acres worldwide which all require Roundup that's a lot of profit [6]. Says David Ehrenfield, Professor of Biology at Rutgers University, "Genetic Engineering is often justified as a human technology, one that feeds more people with better food. Nothing could be further from the truth. With very few exceptions, the whole point of genetic engineering is to increase sales of chemicals and bio-engineered products to dependent farmers" [7]. "In the United States, the widespread adoption of Roundup Ready crops combined with the emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds has driven a more than 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate on major field crops from 1994 to 2005" [8].

The draw for farmers is the promised reduced cost, and increased yield and thus extra profit over traditional systems. Says this Monsanto blurb "no-till soybeans grown in narrow rows add $16 per acre more to a grower's bottom line than conventional soybeans.... On a 1,000 acre farm, no-till can save as much as 450 hours of time and 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel each year. That's 11, 40-hour weeks in time savings and $4,000 less for diesel at $1.15 per gallon" [9]. However that rosy weed and cost control control advantage of the no-till vs. conventional system is no longer valid: "the overall trends in pesticide use on GE crops are clear. Herbicide use is much greater on GE acres compared to conventionally managed acres planted to non-GE cultivars." [10]. Also see [11].

Anti-Monsanto Poster

The rise of the super weeds

Among the issues with GMOs, the manufacture of herbicide tolerant (HT) biotech crops, particularly Monsanto's RR crops, has resulted in the creation of hard-to-kill "superweeds." [12] As stated above, the overuse of Roundup itself (similar to the escalating quandary of antibiotic overuse in humans) is prompting the evolution of resistance to and thus a loss of efficacy for the herbicide, something that Benbrook refers to in his 2004 report Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years as "the unraveling of HT technology". Suggestions to control resistance include increasing the applications which, of course, only exacerbates the problem [13]. Moreover studies indicate that genes engineered to instill resistance to herbicides can migrate to non-GM crops - such as those that may be found on a neighboring farm, and even related wild plants - among the very weeds the herbicides were designed to kill (horizontal gene transfer, transgene escape) via pollen. [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]. See also [21]. This has alarmed many in the scientific community.

In October 2005, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, "On two separate soybean fields in the northwest part of the state [Missouri], scientists have found common waterhemp, also known as pigweed, that shows signs of resisting glyphosate herbicide." Farmers had planted Roundup Ready soybeans on the same fields every year since 1996. "Waterhemp taken from their fields last year withstood eight times the recommended dose of Roundup. If field studies planned for next summer show that the ability is inherited by new generations of waterhemp - something that [University of Missouri at Columbia assistant professor and extension weed scientist Kevin] Bradley considers 'highly likely' - then it will be classified as Roundup resistant," wrote the newspaper. [22] Says the article: Cross-Pollination Leads to Triple Herbicide Resistance [23]:

"One of the risks frequently cited in association with transgenic crops is the escape of a foreign gene via sexual reproduction. The recipient plant in such cases may be a non-transgenic variety of the same crop or a sexually compatible relative. Depending on the gene and trait considered, adverse environmental or agricultural impacts may result from such transfers, ranging from issues of genetic purity of neighboring crops to the generation of "super weeds." "While this issue is receiving increasing attention by researchers, a recent report by Hall et al. [3] describes a truly remarkable example of herbicide resistance transfer via pollen among Brassica napus varieties. What is unusual here is not so much that it happened at all, but that it occurred rapidly and multiple times, such that, through completely random crossing, certain plants were found to be resistant to three different herbicides."

Monsanto's reply to the HT transference issue, originally flat-out denial, was to later claim that the actual incidence of transference is very low and thus not a problem. "The risk of creating a superweed is truly an insignificant one" said Thomas Nickson, an ecological technology coordinator for Monsanto, in a 1998 Washington Post article [24]. Monsanto's former CEO, Robert Shapiro, also in 1998, stated in an interview, "If a herbicide-resistant strain were to out-cross... the likelihood of that happening is remote, though it can happen under forced circumstances it is rather remote in nature" [25]. That assertion though is quite deceptive as an Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage demonstration risk assessment quiz demonstrates. Even with an very low initial outcrossing rate but also considering the number of hectares planted, in just two years time the amount of viable HT hybrid seeds and thus plants could number in the millions. They would, of course, continue to mushroom after that.

"On average, canola is grown on 1.1 million hectares in Australia every year. The average yield is 1.1 tonnes per hectare. A kilogram of canola seed contains 250 000 seeds. This means that 1 210 000 tonnes, or 1 210 million kilograms or 302 500 000 million canola seeds will be harvested every year. For every 26 million canola seeds there will be 1 wild radish/canola hybrid seed that will grow into a hybrid plant. From the above information we can expect that the number of wild radish/canola hybrid seeds harvested in one year (assuming that there are no previous hybrid plants growing) will be 302 500 000 million (canola seeds harvested) divided by 26 million (wild radish/canola hybrid formation rate) =11 634 615 radish/canola hybrid seeds." - Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage demonstration risk assessment quiz.

Regarding the need for more study of this Paul E. Arriola, Associate Professor of Biology at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois said in a personal correspondence "Scientists expressing concern about negative consequences for wide scale GM release have recommended for years that GM producing companies make available probes that could be used for long-term monitoring, but the call has fallen on deaf ears in both industry and the federal government". Providing appropriate genetic probes would, he says "violate company policy" regarding Monsanto's "confidential business information" and thus "it is not likely to happen".

See also Monsanto, Genetic Pollution and Monopolism and the report Contaminating the Wild? Gene Flow from Experimental Field Trials of Genetically Engineered Crops to Related Wild Plants.

Herbicide resistance and usage

There is now an attempt to verify worldwide how bad the problem of herbicide resistance has become. WeedScience documents (so far) "393 Resistant Biotypes, 211 Species (124 dicots and 87 monocots) and over 690,000 fields" [26] [27] [28]. Most of the resistances here are due to herbicide overuse in general however because those weeds tolerant of Roundup are closely associated with our food supply and the because of the ubiquity of Roundup Ready crops they are a particular concern. According to Monsanto the 2007 worldwide total of their GM crops are 234-242 million acres [29].

"The explosion in the adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops outpaces any other adoption of technology in modern history (including the tractor, fertilizer and hybrid corn)" [30]. See also Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2006. While glyphosate has been marketed for nearly 30 years, its use in placing significant selection pressure on major weeds has only been since the introduction of RR soybeans in 1996. In six short years, since the introduction of RR crops, the use of glyphosate has grown 2.5 times, and in the Midwest, its use has increased even more. Some 33 million pounds of glyphosate were sprayed on soybean crops alone in 2001, a five-fold increase from 1995, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yet no matter how well glyphosate controls weeds today, take note: resistance is happening. Almost all weed scientists agree the increasing evolution of resistant biotypes is inevitable with the current use pattern of glyphosate. Their warning: increased adoption of a rotation relying solely on RR crops will contribute to the rate at which resistance evolves. [31].

"The staggering increase in glyphosate-resistant horseweed followed a spectacular rise in the amount of glyphosate products (Roundup, Touchdown and others) being applied in cotton and other glyphosate-tolerant crops. 'We saw a 752-percent increase in glyphosate applications between 1997 and 2003'.... 'On average, glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed could cost cotton producers an extra $40 per acre or more to manage'" Glyphosate-resistant weeds burden growers’ pocketbooks. Also see Culpepper Smith Steckel. "As RR corn acreage roughly tripled in the four years from 2002 to 2005, glyphosate use on corn has increased by more than seven-fold... Clearly, if present trends continue, glyphosate use on America’s most widely planted crop could easily increase by five- to ten-fold by the end of the decade" [32].

Indeed as predicted a recent report shows that, contrary to industry claims of reduced herbicide use, herbicide usage has actually increased in the United States on GM HT crops by 138 million pounds (as of the 2004 date of the report). Benbrook found that after an initial reduction in herbicide useage overall (though, of course, the use of Roundup increases as per the RR no-till system) lasting a few years when GM crops are first planted, herbicide use then begins to rise in response to growing resistance. Under the heading PESTICIDE REDUCTION CLAIMS ARE UNFOUNDED the report states "The increase in herbicide use on HT crop acres should come as no surprise. Weed scientists have warned for about a decade that heavy reliance on HT crops would trigger changes in weed communities and resistance, in turn forcing farmers to apply additional herbicides and/or increase herbicide rates of application. The ecological adaptations predicated by scientists have been occurring in the case of Roundup Ready crops for three or four years and appear to be accelerating". It concludes, "the average acre planted to glyphosate-tolerant crops is requiring more and more help from other herbicides, a trend with serious environmental and economic implications" [33].

"From 1994 to 2006, the amount of glyphosate applied per acre of soya [in the USA] rose by more than 150%, from just 0.52 to 1.33 lbs./acre/year" says this Friends of the Earth report. And as Benbrook stated the report also concludes that "While farmers growing Roundup Ready crops initially used lesser amounts of herbicides other than glyphosate, that trend has changed in recent years. Increasingly, farmers find it necessary to apply both increased rates of glyphosate and large quantities of other herbicides to kill resistant weeds." This upward spiral in resistance/usage can be expected to continue.

Update: Benbrook has revised the numbers. As of 2008 he says, "The basic finding is that compared to pesticide use in the absence of GE crops, farmers applied 318 million more pounds of pesticides over the last 13 years as a result of planting GE seeds. This difference represents an average increase of about 0.25 pound for each acre planted to a GE trait. GE crops are pushing pesticide use upward at a rapidly accelerating pace. In 2008, GE crop acres required over 26% more pounds of pesticides per acre than acres planted to conventional varieties. The report projects that this trend will continue as a result of the rapid spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds" [34]. "'This report confirms what we've been saying for years,' said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety. 'The most common type of genetically engineered crops promotes increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of resistant weeds, and more chemical residues in our foods. This may be profitable for the biotech/pesticide companies, but it's bad news for farmers, human health and the environment'" [35].

Update: In 2012 Benbrook again reports that herbicide use continues to spiral on GM acres: “Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent,” Benbrook said. The annual increase in the herbicides required to deal with tougher-to-control weeds on cropland planted to GE cultivars has grown from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011." [36]. See also this map covering weed resistance to glyphosate (in the US alone) current to 2009.

Self described agricultural nerd, Tom Philpott, happened upon ag periodicals wherein flummoxed food weed managers and farmers discuss what to do about growing weed and resistance problems on GM and conventional fields, "And that is causing farmers to think hard about the pesticide-treadmill problem—the situation wherein weeds and other pests develop resistance to poisons, demanding ever higher doses of old poisons and constant development of novel ones". Philpott reveals "herbicide names being dropped like those of starlets in a gossip column". [37]. It would be humorous if not so serious. "Highly toxic herbicides, some of them banned in other countries, which glyphosate was supposed to replace, have had to be brought back in use in addition to glyphosate. These include 2,4D, 2,4DB, Atrazine, Paraquat, Metsulphuron Methyl, Imazethapyr." [38]. See also Argentina's bitter harvest.

"We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Eddie Anderson, a farmer from Tennessee, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. Farm experts say such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farms costs, and more pollution of land and water. Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts stated, “It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen".... Since the late 1990s, when Monsanto created its brand of RR crops, farmers have sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said. Now RR weeds like horseweed and giant ragweed are forcing farmers to go back to more expensive techniques that they had long ago abandoned. Pigweed can grow three inches a day and reach seven feet or more, choking out crops; it is so sturdy it can damage harvesting equipment. In an attempt to kill the pest before it becomes that big, many farmers are now plowing their fields and mixing herbicides into the soil. However, that threatens to reverse one the agricultural advances bolstered by the Roundup revolution: minimum-till farming. By combining Roundup and RR crops, farmers did not have to plow under the weeds to control them. That reduced erosion, the runoff of chemicals into waterways, and the use of fuel for tractors. Some critics of GM crops say that the use of extra herbicides, including some old ones that are less environmentally tolerable than Roundup, belies the claim made by the biotech industry that its crops would be better for the environment. “The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture when they’ve always promised, and we need to be going in, the opposite direction,” Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety said.... Monsanto, which once argued that resistance would not become a major problem, now warns against exaggerating its impact: "It’s a serious issue, but it’s manageable, said Rick Cole, who manages weed resistance issues for Monsanto.'' Monsanto argues that Roundup still controls hundreds of weeds, yet the company is concerned enough that it is taking the extraordinary step of subsidizing cotton farmers’ purchases of competing herbicides to supplement Roundup. Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds

Remarkably "the USDA has announced it will completely eliminate the program [that tracks pesticide and herbicide use in agriculture] in 2008, due to budget cuts, and won't be collecting any data.... Benbrook finds the USDA's actions curious at a time when herbicide use on Roundup Ready crops has increased: 'The 2007 data would have shown an enormous increase in the pounds of herbicides applied on Roundup Ready crops, especially soybeans. The farm media has been full of stories over the past few years of the problems farmers are facing as weeds become resistant to Glyphosate and other herbicides. I find it curious that at the time of peak interest and need for solid information on pesticide use in soybeans that the Department of Agriculture has decided to stop collecting the data. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some quiet lobbying done by Monsanto to let the program lapse'" [39]. Interestingly "the Agriculture Department is looking into purchasing that information for use in policymaking, but the data would likely not be made public" [40]

Another issue is the growing resistance of insects to GM Bt crops [41] [42] [43] [44] [45]. See also BT Cotton in Andhra Pradesh - A Three Year Assessment [46]. Also see BT Cotton in South Africa: The Case of the Makhathini Farmers and Every Trick in the Book - The Marketing of BT Cotton in India.

Herbicide in Your Food

Most people who aware of the issue are not comfortable with herbicides/pesticides on their food in the first place, let alone in increasing amounts, "Glyphosate ... is absorbed by the foliage and translocated rapidly throughout the plant" says this study from the Centre for Agriculture and Environment. "Residues of the commonly-used herbicide glyphosate have been found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Residues can be detected long after glyphosate treatments have been made. Lettuce, carrots and barley planted a year after glyphosate treatment contained residue at harvest" says Caroline Cox, staff scientist for the NCAP (Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides) and editor of the Journal of Pesticide Reform [47]. See also [48] under Accumulation in Confined Rotational Crops. Also see NCAP's glyphosate factsheets [49].

"In fact, while Roundup and similar products were originally used against weeds, 'they have become a food product, since they are used on GMOs, which can absorb them without dying,' maintains the biochemist Gilles-Eric Séralini. A member for years of the French Commission on Biomolecular Genetics (CBG) [and also a member of Criigen], responsible for preparing the files for requests for field studies, then GMO commercialization, he ceaselessly demands more intense studies on their eventual health impact" [50].

A recent study testing the effects of glyphosate on human cells which "corresponds to low levels of residues in food or feed" has found that "the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R[oundup] formulation-treated crops" Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells. And though disputed by Monsanto, studies have also indicated that exposure to glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) increases the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and other serious health concerns. [51][52][53][54][55]. See also [56] [57] [58] [59].

This exposure to herbicides will likely increase if Monsanto/Dow's new SmartStax™ technology gains approval which they predict by the end of the decade. In addition to applications of glyphosate corn can also be doused with Dow's LibertyLink glufosinate herbicide [60]. SmartStax will combine ("stack") eight different genes for insect control and herbicide tolerance. The benefit for Monsanto will be increasing control of the market and greater profit, "Stacking traits not only provides farmers with one-stop shopping, it represents incremental margin on a bag of seed corn for Monsanto" says Monsanto's Robert Fraley [61]. Further, tolerance of other herbicides, such as dicamba will likely be added in time. Though applications of dicamba is meant to alternate with glyphosate as a response to resistance. Unfortunately however, engineered crop volunteers and weeds are even evolving resistance to multiple herbicides requiring ever stronger chemicals to kill [62]. Says Tom Philpott about the glyphosate/glufosinate combination, "Wow. So you’d get farmers dousing their fields with not one but two broad-spectrum herbicides—blotting out biodiversity while conjuring up a few super-duper-weeds that will need their own chemical/GMO 'solution' in the near future" [63]. In another report by the center, Simplifying the Pesticide Risk Equation: The Organic Option, which quantifies and compares the exposures to hazardous pesticide residues on conventional vs organic produce, Dr. Charles Benbrook states that "recent USDA pesticide residue and food consumption surveys show that most people consume three to four residues daily just through [conventionally grown] fruits and vegetables. 'Accounting for residues in conventional milk, tap water and other foods, the average American exposes him or herself to ten to 13 pesticide residues daily'" [64].

Another report by the UK's Pesticides Residues Committee (PRC) found that non-organic fruits and vegetables contained excessive amounts of pesticides. Among other findings, "nearly all the apples (49 out of 52 tested) and every one of the bananas had some form of pesticide in them. Many of the pieces of fruit had more than one pesticide" [65]. For more see the [66].

Pesticide Action Network has created a searchable database, What's on my food, that one can use to easily find out which pesticides and pesticide residues are used on and remain on everyday fruits, vegetables, milk and meat.

Harm to Wildlife

As with other herbicides such as Atrazine, the use of Roundup has been linked to the decimation of frogs worldwide [67]. This is truly unfortunate as it is estimated that a single frog can consume 10,000 garden/farm pests in a growing season [68].

A related issue is news that GM Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) pollen, which Monsanto has engineered to be present in every cell of it's Bt crops, causes harm to non-target insects, e.g. harm to caddisflies harm to swallowtail butterflies harm to lacewings.

In 2001, Pioneer Hi-Bred, another biotechnology firm associated with Monsanto, developed a GM corn variety that contained two Bt toxins, Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab1, to kill corn rootworms. "The company asked university laboratories to test for unintended consequences on ladybugs. Scientists fed the corn to ladybugs and found that nearly 100% died after the eighth day in the life cycle. Pioneer forbade the scientists from publicizing the data. A scientist with the group who wants to remain anonymous said 'The company came back and said ‘you are under no circumstances able to publicize this data in any way’. Pioneer submitted data to the EPA showing no harm to ladybugs and received government approval to commercialize the corn in 2003. A Pioneer scientist says the commercialized variety contains a different genetic construct than the corn that killed the ladybugs. The EPA was told about the independently produced data, but did nothing, according to the anonymous scientist. The same scientist also says Pioneer’s data is flawed" [69]. Read the Nature Biotechnology article here [70]

Unknown and Unintended Effects

Interesting recent research verifying earlier work suggesting that the simplistic notion that "one gene = one function", the basis of much of genetic engineering, is actually a myth is escalating the debate. "Evidence of a networked genome shatters the scientific basis for virtually every official risk assessment of today’s commercial biotech products, from genetically engineered crops to pharmaceuticals. 'The real worry for us has always been that the commercial agenda for biotech may be premature, based on what we have long known was an incomplete understanding of genetics,' said Professor Heinemann, who writes and teaches extensively on biosafety issues" [71] (emphasis mine). For more see the paper The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation. See also the book Living with the Fluid Genome. "Putting the matter plainly", says Craig Holdrege of The Nature Institute, "when foreign genes are introduced into an organism, creating a transgenic organism ... the results for the organism and its environment are almost always unpredictable. The intended result may or may not be achieved in any given case, but the one almost sure thing is that unintended results - nontarget effects - will also be achieved" [64]. These accidental genetic changes are grouped by TNI into categories which include the physiological, morphological and "scrambled" genetic changes of the organisms affected, environmental effects and those affecting feed quality and can be found here Nontarget Effects of Genetic Manipulation. An overview and discussion can be found here. The authors caution that "our compilation of reports is by no means exhaustive and will be expanded over time. The technical literature we have not yet touched remains extensive".

An example of our slowly evolving understanding of the complexities of genetics is in the new field of "epigenetics", which says that, contrary to normal understanding, their may be some inheritance of aquired characteristics [65]. What effects this may have on transgenic crops is now being questioned [66]. See also Evolution in Four Dimensions.

What Increased Yield?

"GM chemical companies constantly claim they have the answer to world hunger while selling products which have never led to overall increases in production, and which have sometimes decreased yields or even led to crop failures" says Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director. According to the report by the Soil Association, "The yields of all major GM crop varieties in cultivation are lower than, or at best, equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties" [72]. "Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis. The study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.... The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.... A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over.... Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development – concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger. Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: The simple answer is no" [73].

Monsanto of course disputes this conclusion by implying that somehow their genetic engineering can inherently cause each individual plant to produce more food than it could naturally. India's Devinder Sharma, Food Policy Analyst and author, however, takes exception to that claim by pointing out that rather than increasing yields, what GM crops were actually designed to do through the use of copius amounts of their herbicides and the inclusion of BT pesticide is to reduce crop losses from from insects and weeds - and that's when working as designed (increasingly not the case) [69].

"This is not amusing. It can't be taken lightly anymore. I am not only shocked but also disgusted at the way corporations try to fabricate and swing the facts, dress them up in a manner that the so-called 'educated' of today will accept them without asking any question ... In scientific terms, these are called crop losses, which have been very cleverly repacked as yield increases. What Monsanto has done is to indulge in a jugglery of scientific terminologies, and taking advantage of your ignorance, to build up on claims that actually do not exist ... When was the last time you were told that herbicides increase crop yields? Chemical herbicides are known to be reducing crop losses. This is what I was taught when I was studying plant breeding. And this is what is still being taught to agricultural science students everywhere in the world ... If GM crops increase yields, shouldn't we therefore say that chemical pesticides (including herbicides) also increase yields? Will the agricultural scientific community accept that pesticides increases crop yields? ... whenever the crop yields are higher the scientists and the companies take credit. But when the crop yields are lower the blame invariably shifts to weather. And it makes me wonder why don't the scientists pat the weather at times of bumper harvest? You guessed it right." [74]

Interestingly, Monsanto director of public affairs Brad Mitchell, recently made the following comment: "The main uses of GM crops are to make them insect tolerant and herbicide tolerant. They don't inherently increase the yield. They protect the yield."[75] (emphasis ours). His comments were in response to a major Union of Concerned Scientists report Failure to Yield which, after reviewing "two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States", concluded that GM offers no real benefit in yields, especially as compared to other, less contoversial methods. It ... makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa" (emphasis ours)

As a side note, the UCS refer to two Monsanto advertising posters. While one states that their "advanced seeds ... significantly increase crop yields" [76] the other says "our goal is to develop seeds that significantly increase crop yields". There is a difference.

Fraud in Testing and Advertising

It should be noted that laboratories that Monsanto employed to do their glyphosate testing, Industrial Biotest Laboratories and Craven Labs were charged with fraud, "Laboratory fraud first made headlines in 1983 when EPA publicly announced that a 1976 audit had discovered 'serious deficiencies and improprieties' in studies conducted by Industrial Biotest Laboratories (IBT).' Problems included 'countless deaths of rats and mice' and 'routine falsification of data." Craven Labs was charged with "'falsifying laboratory notebook entries' and 'manually manipulating scientific equipment to produce false reports.' Roundup residue studies on plums, potatoes, grapes, and sugarbeets were among the tests in question...the owner of Craven Labs and three employees were indicted on 20 felony counts. The owner was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $50,000; Craven Labs was fined 15.5 million dollars, and ordered to pay 3.7 million dollars in restitution. Although the tests of glyphosate identified as fraudulent have been replaced, this fraud casts shadows on the entire pesticide registration process" [77] under Quality of Laboratory Testing.

Another case of fraudulent studies was revealed by Japan's Masaharu Kawata, Assistant Professor, School of Science, Nagoya University. Reseachers there "found clearly intentional misinterpretation" of data on the differences between conventional soybeans and Monsanto's genetically engineered version. "Monsanto patch-worked the results of experiments with analyses that are full of holes, and manipulated the results. They even requested the revision and lowering of safety standards. The Nagoya University team discovered facts showing inadequate and incomplete safety assessment in the application document by Monsanto" [78]. The results provided by Monsanto were skewed to hide negative data. The report concluded, "for such basic facts to come to light eight years after the approval is a clear indication of how incomplete is the state of knowledge about the genetic recombination of crops. It also demonstrates how dangerous it is for governments to rely on a commercial company’s information for data and safety assessments".

Accusations of suppression and/or distortion of unfavorable studies also run to corn Judges order disclosure of secret study on GM risks GM Sceptics Smell a Rat Genetically Modified Corn Study Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up and potatoes Secret Monsanto Genetically Engineered Potato Study Suppressed for 8 Years Monsanto hid GM potato study, campaigners claim. See also Monsanto, Agent Orange and Dioxins under Dioxins. Monsanto has also been found guilty of false and misleading advertising [79][80][81][82].

(1) Though Monsanto is the largest agbiotech company other major players are Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta Biotechnology, Ventria Bioscience, Dupont Biotechnology and BASF. A host of smaller companies exist as well. (2) Glyphosate products such as "Rodeo" and "Accord" along with a lengthy list of other herbicides, are also applied liberally by local governments to aquatic environments such as streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and reservoirs often simply because certain wild plants therein are deemed 'aesthetically undesirable'. A shortened list. (3) Hall L, Topinka K, Huffman J, Davis L, and Good A. 2000. Pollen flow between herbicide-resistant Brassica napus is the cause of multiple-resistant B. napus volunteers. Weed Science 48: 688-694

"What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain" - Robert Fraley, co-president of Monsanto's agricultural sector 1996, in the Farm Journal. Quoted in: Flint J. (1998) Agricultural industry giants moving towards genetic monopolism. Telepolis, Heise.

"People will have Roundup Ready soya whether they like it or not" - Ann Foster, spokesperson for Monsanto in Britian, as quoted in The Nation magazine from article "The Politics of Food" [83] by Maria Margaronis December 27, 1999 issue.

"This is basically chemical-promoting technology by chemical companies leading to more chemical pollution. It is a technology that eventually won't be sustainable" [81] - Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

"That is what drives a lot of people crazy. The scope of the fraud, if you will--I know that's a harsh word--the scope of the fraud that's being sold to the American public about this technology is almost unprecedented" - Interview with Dr. Charles Benbrook on GMOs

"If Monsanto hid what it knew about its toxic pollution for decades, what is the company hiding from the public now? This question seems particularly important to us as this powerful company asks the world to trust it with a worldwide, high-stakes gamble with the environmental and human health consequences of its genetically modified foods" [84]. -Environmental Working Group

Other Sourcewatch Resources


News and Articles

Seeds of Doubt

Benbrook Technical Papers

Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants: The Scope and Adequacy of Regulation

Crop pollen spreads further than expected

If modified plants contaminate your crops it could cost you dear