Obama and Monsanto

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Erin Nanasi is an avid underwater basket weaver, with a penchant for satire and the odd wombat reference.
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In January of 2011, the Department of Agriculture decided to allow the widespread, unregulated use of genetically modified alfalfa, or Round-Up ready alfalfa, created by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International.

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Organic farmers were alarmed at this decision, saying it could “destroy their supply chains and drastically limit the choices and availability of some popular consumer foods.”

Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” noted that consumers do not eat genetically modified alfalfa, but it is used as the main feed for dairy cows and beef cattle all over the country. Pollan also stated that “…organic milk, one of the most successful and popular organic foods, could be compromised if the organic cows eat non-organic feed.”

Monsanto’s crops are for the most part, herbicide resistant, which is resulting in “super weeds” all over the country and around the world. Monsanto claims that Round-Up ready alfalfa has been welcomed by many farmers, because it yields “healthier, faster-growing stands and hay with fewer weeds in every bale.” When a farmer enters into a contract with Monsanto, he or she has to abide by very strict rules. One such rule is that the farmer is not allowed to save seeds, but must buy new seeds every year, from Monsanto. In fact, in 2000, Monsanto sued a family farm because the farmers had saved soybeans. Monsanto sues a lot of family farms.

Over the December break in 2011, the Department of Agriculture made another decision regarding genetically engineered crops and Monsanto. This time it was MON 87640, a genetically engineered corn developed by Monsanto in partnership with German chemical giant, BASF. MON 87640 is drought resistant and in a PDF, the Department of Agriculture wrote that MON 87640 corn and its progeny “would have no significant impacts, individually or collectively, on the quality of the human environment and will have no effect on federally listed threatened or endangered species, species proposed for listing, or their designated or proposed critical habitats.” They made this determination by analyzing data presented to them by Monsanto.

Dow hopes to follow in Monsanto’s footsteps by proposing a genetically altered corn of their own, which is being engineered to be more resistant to 2,4 D, a powerful herbicide. 2,4 D is also one of the key ingredients in Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam War for defoliating forests and croplands. Monsanto and Dow were the two largest manufacturers of Agent Orange for the Defense Department during Vietnam.

In 2009, the Obama administration nominated Michael Taylor to take over the position of senior advisor to the commissioner of thee FDA. Mr. Taylor’s most recent position prior to his nomination and approval, was vice president and chief lobbyist for Monsanto. Mr. Taylor had also worked for the FDA in the 1990’s and oversaw the policy regarding Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rbGH/rbST, which was injected into cows to increase milk supply. The milk from injected cows is filled with antibiotics, growth hormones, often contains pus, and, most importantly, contains more insulin-like growth factor IGF-1. IGF-1 is a huge risk factor for many common types of cancers and is why so many schools, hospitals and medical organizations took a hard stand against bovine growth hormones, and continue to do so to this day.

In 2007, during a campaign speech, President Obama made this statement:

“We’ll tell ConAgra that it’s not the Department of Agribusiness. It’s the Department of Agriculture. We’re going to put the people’s interests ahead of the special interests.”

Genetically engineered corn. Round-Up ready alfalfa. Michael Taylor, former VP and lobbyist for Monsanto in a very key position within the Food and Drug Administration. Dow Chemical hoping for the same treatment with their FrankenCorn. Is this all done in the name of the people’s interests?

I hold all politicians accountable for their words and their actions, no matter the political party to which they belong. If you are a first time congressman or the President of the United States, I hold you accountable. As a mother, I want to know why the Obama administration is allowing Monsanto to run amuck. President Obama works for me, and for you, and even for your crazy right wing neighbor. Odds are, the neighbor didn’t vote for him, but I did, and I will again but we deserve an answer.

What about those of us who volunteered and bought t-shirts and bumper stickers as well as donated money we may not have been able to afford to your campaign? We deserve to know, Mr. Obama, why you brought the fox into the hen house, and why your administration is allowing Monsanto to plant corn with a code name and Round-Up ready alfalfa. We deserve an answer.

We thank the following for their contributions:

ABCNews.com, The New York Times, The Omnivore’s Dilemna by Michael Pollan, the USDA, Huffington Post.

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Posted by on January 16, 2012. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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15 Responses to Obama and Monsanto

  1. leeloo Reply

    January 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

    This is very scary because it almost seems like in the near future we will not have a choice as to whether we eat meat that has consumed genetically altered feed! I don’t think they really know what they are doing and this has bad news written all over it!

    • Erin N. Reply

      January 16, 2012 at 9:06 am

      There are a number of groups, including Greenpeace, that have “shopping lists” for consumers, detailing who does and does not use GMO ingredients in their goods. Meat is a tough one, because, thanks to Monsanto, you don’t know if organic meat is really organic, simply because of cross contamination. We live in the rural Midwest, and are surrounded, on all sides, by corn. This is not corn for human consumption, this is not corn to help end world hunger. It’s feed corn and corn for E-85, ethanol fuel. Eat meat, drive a Humvee. What the hell is wrong with the world?

    • Robert Reply

      July 28, 2012 at 11:59 pm

      Ah, Leeloo– they DO know what they’re doing. Unfortunately. What they’re “doing” is INTENTIONALLY introducing transgenic (GMO) alfalfa into the environment with the FULL KNOWLEDGE that it will eventually contaminate ALL alfalfa, and thus prevent truly organic meat and dairy products from being sold to a growing market, thus eliminating competition.

  2. Michael John Scott Reply

    January 16, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I’m very much afraid that this is the future. Scientists predict that in less than 50 years global warming/climate change will create a major global food shortage and “artificial” food may be the only option.

  3. Cheshire Cat Reply

    January 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I had no idea any of this was going on in Washington and certainly didn’t know about injected cow’s milk. Now I don’t even know if I should drink it. This whole thing has scared me but thanks for keeping us informed.

  4. Chris Buescher Reply

    January 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I have often found myself a but puzzled as to so many people’s objections to GMOs. While I agree that many of the companies that produce them are, like all other companies for the most part, concerned about profits and must be watched. People tend to forget how many of us are dependant on genetically modified organisms.

    Where do we get many of are drugs, were do we get our insulin and other hormones for medical purposes? Genetically modified bacteria. No one seems to be afraid of them.

    Most GMO’s are sterile. While this does increase the startup cost for farmers, it does eliminate the fear some people have of it ‘spreading’.

    They also seem to forget that we don’t rely on a single ‘natural’ organism for food. Years of breeding mutated the wild strains into what they are today. Genetic modification is just this but done quickly and done targettedly.

    For those who are afraid, how else do you plan on feeding the growing numbers of humans who are at the brink of starvation?

    As for ‘organic’ foods. This has increased food prices, reduced the per acre production for crops, has increased fertilizer run off, increased the emergence of resistant strains of weeds and diseases and not a lot of positive except making the consumer feel good because it has the word ‘organic’ (which I personally have always laughed at, does this make GMOs cyborgs?).

    I know this is getting a bit long as it is, but one final thing. All that run off from the extra fertilizer needed has polluted the oceans and groundwater at an alarming rate. Increases of toxic phytoplanton blooms that can kill off millions of organisms in weeks have been seen. The increase in the coral destroying Crown-Of-Thorns sea stars that threaten the great barrier reef have been linked to such increases in run off.

    Organic is not harmless as people think (then again, nothing is), it is about finding the best possible answer. For all the data I have seen, and the majority of experts seem to agree on this, GMO is the way to go (gah, that was not intended to sound like a cheesy slogan…)

    • Erin N. Reply

      January 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Super weeds, as they are called, are typically the result of herbicides designed to kill everything in their path, thus the “need” for Round-Up ready crops, such as the alfalfa. I guess I’m not understanding how natural herbicides would have the same effect. As to fighting world hunger, the majority of “Franken Crops” are not grown for human consumption, they are grown for feed. The lust some developed countries have for meat is causing rain forests to disappear at an alarming rate, as well as creating more and more demand for feed crops as opposed to crops for human consumption.

      Then there’s this:

      Dr. Stanley Korneman, an endocrinologist at the University of California, Los Angeles says that environmental exposure to estrogens in plastics, chemicals and foods has been going up and that estrogens stimulate breast development. And he says that could be the link to early onset of puberty. Makes sense. (from Huffington Post)

      Meat and milk laden with antibiotics and hormones are dangerous, and pose numerous health problems. Since, much like fracking, companies are not required to share the “ingredients” that combine to make GMO, we have no idea what we’re eating. Our family is lucky-we have our own produce gardens, and have organic beef available from local farmers. We have a choice. Many do not.

      • Chris Buescher Reply

        January 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm

        Super-weeds is a catch all term for weeds that have from multiple resistances to various substances. This does include natural herbicides. The reason for resistance is evolution. It is the same reason as the evolution of infections agents such as MRSA. It does not matter if the substance that the resistance is formed is natural or synthetic, a resistance can evolve in exactly the same manner, and has been seen in all cases.

        In fact, this was why synthetic herbicides and pesticides were seen as such a boon originally as so many organisms had evolved resistances to the ‘natural’ herbicides. Also, remember that natural isn’t always better. Some of the most potent toxins known are ‘natural’.

        As for the fact that most GMOs are not for human consumption, there is a reason for this that has nothing to do with them being nonviable as a human food source. It has to do with fear. Producers know that people are afraid of genetically modified organisms and won’t buy it. As such, the only buyers are often for animal feed. There is nothing in the nature of GMOs that makes them harmful for human consumption.

        To clarify, look at what your general GMO is. It is taking a gene that, often, is found naturally in a certain strain of organism and transplanting it into a different, be it the same species or not. It is using the genes that naturally evolve and just helping that gene proliferate a bit faster. It is guiding and speeding up evolution, nothing more.

        As for your comment about hormone and antibiotic laden animal products. I agree with you entirely. But this has nothing to do with the case at hand. It is actually closer to an argument for my point then it is yours. Consider that the analog to all those hormones and antibiotics in plants are the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are required to grow ‘normal’ plants. GMOs are less reliant on such supportive chemicals and, as such, have far less of them on consumer level products. GMOs actually make food safer for human consumption by reducing the levels of such chemicals.

        They are not the final answer, as nature will always evolve a defense. GMOs are just trying to use natures own tactics against her.

        Other advantages of GMOs that I haven’t even touched on is things such as increasing nutrient and vitamin loads in plants. Altering growing conditions to allow previously barren terrain to be harnessed for food production. Decreasing waste by decreasing the number of dead plants as well as increasing size of the usable plant.

  5. Erin N. Reply

    January 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Maybe we’re talking about two different things, or, and I’m guessing that this is more likely, you’re a lot smarter about this than I am. It concerns me that I have no idea what’s in a product created by an agribusiness partnering with a chemical company, but I’m supposed to just trust them? Never. If I have to eventually grow and butcher my own chicken and pork, so be it. I don’t want any of this on my table, or in my child. When I talk about natural herbicides, what I mean is herbs and spices combined to combat weeds, not chemicals at all. We have a well, and we can’t put anything into the ground that would damage the water supply. Next year, I’m learning to can so we don’t have to buy jam in the store. We’re trying like hell to stay away from all the “Franken Food.” And as someone who does really live in the middle of acres and acres of inedible corn, I have to say, we have our priorities screwed up. Why do we grow millions of tons of feed corn, when we need to grow corn for people?

    • Chris Buescher Reply

      January 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      Whenever I hear the word ‘chemicals’ thrown around, I cringe/laugh a little. The word chemical does not mean what it seems you think it means. Water is a chemical, your body is made of chemicals. Chemicals are non-elemental substances. Substances based on two different atoms or more bonded together.

      As for the idea that ‘organic’ herbicides are safer, this is not true. Organic ones are those that are produced by organisms, though this term is actually a lot more vague then people give it credit for. This is the best definition one can provide without spiraling down into meaningless words.

      Often it is chemicals produced by organisms that is then synthesized artificially for cost effectiveness. Many are produced by micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi, as natural deterrents. Because of this they are the easiest for other organisms to evolve resistances to (as many organisms already have genetic pools within their species with either the resistance itself or the fore-runners to the resistance). This is why purely synthetic herbicides were formed, as ‘organic’ ones were creating resistant strains far too quickly.

      It is the same reason that we are having to create stronger and stronger anti-biotics as the microbes evolved resistances to the ‘organic’ penicillin.

      As for automatically trusting a company, no, of course not. One should never do this and one should educate oneself on the science behind it. But just don’t do what many have done and listen to the loudest voice, as they almost never represent the actual science (think of Jenny McCarthy and the rest of the anti-vaccination wack-jobs).

      Read up on the science behind this and, if you do not understand it, ask those that are trained in it. It isn’t an easy task, nor is it one that can be done in a day. Just like any complex issue, it takes a long period of time.

      As for the feed corn statement, refer back to my earlier statement about how the only reason GMOs aren’t used more often for human consumption is fear and ignorance, not science. GMOs have been used for human consumption in cases of modified Tilapia, a species of fish that is the prime source of food for large parts of Africa and was being over-fished to the point of mass starvation and elimination of the fish. With a bit of genetic modification, the fish was able to be adapted to the change in the environment and keep up with human demand. This is all genetic modification of any food product is. Adapting it quickly to a rapidly changing environment. It is guided evolution, nothing more. It has nothing to do with sticking chemicals in them, it is just picking the genes that allow the species to survive naturally and spreading it around. Most of the genes that are used in GMOs are found in the environment in smaller quantities. They would probably become the dominant ones in hundreds or thousands of years. We are just identifying them sooner and speeding this up.

      Completely novel genes are rare and are almost always alterations of those that are existing in nature. Though they are becoming somewhat more common as we understand the inherent science more often.

      • Erin N. Reply

        January 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm

        (think of Jenny McCarthy and the rest of the anti-vaccination wack-jobs).

        Funny you should mention that. We decided, after 2 weeks of research, questions and phone calls, to have our son vaccinated against meningitis. From some of the comments I received, you honestly would have thought I had him injected with arsenic. He’s perfectly healthy, and we want him to stay that way.

        I concede that your scientific knowledge on this is heads, shoulders and skyscrapers above mine. I just don’t like the idea. I prefer to know what’s in my food, be able to pronounce it, and pull it out of the ground myself. I learned a lot from your comments, though, and thank you for your patience with my limited knowledge of the “nuts and bolts”.

        • Chris Buescher Reply

          January 16, 2012 at 11:53 pm

          But of course Erin. If nothing else it gave me a chance to ramble on, and as I’m sure you can tell by the length of my comments that I tend not to shy away from them when it is something I am familiar with.

          If nothing else, I think you may have given me my next article in the process, so thank you for that.

          Also, thank you for your patience as well. You were willing to take the time and look at alternative ideas to your own and analyze them on their own merits, something that many are not willing to do. In fact, this whole thing reminds me a bit of a quote by Carl Sagan:

          “In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”

      • circus trainer Reply

        February 6, 2012 at 12:03 am

        since you are ok with chemicals and the ones that oppose GMO’s are basing it on fear and ignorance. Is it possible that you are an idiot? You justify chemicals by calling water a chemical and that is supposed to make it seem ok to dump GMO products on the American food supply?Is that why Europe gave monsanto the boot along with China with its GMO rice? You have to be a spammer for Monsanto no one could be that stupid to try and justify GMO’s.

        • Nathan Reply

          July 27, 2012 at 4:07 pm

          Yeah, I was wondering how much his monsanto paycheck was.

      • Bill Reply

        July 28, 2012 at 7:55 pm

        No one cares what the word chemical means to you! But forcing a plant like corn to produce a bacterial toxin is not natural. You say that it’s bound to happen in a few hundred or thousand years well it hasn’t happened naturally in 10,000 years so why force it now. May be you don’t understand the difference between cross pollination and genetic modification.

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