Toxicity Confirmed for Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-resistant GM Maize
As we rolled into a new calendar year, most people were probably unaware of a 'storm in a teacup' that was brewing in one corner of the scientific community. In November of 2012 a team from the universities of Caen and Verona reported their findings after a few years of research into what is currently the single most-used pesticide in the world and a species of corn genetically modified to tolerate it, both patented by the Monsanto corporation.
Their findings show that with life-long studies of the effects of Roundup and R-Tolerant NK603 Maize within the diets of lab-rats, there were sex-dependent hormonal changes within their bodies that resulted in significantly increased prevalence of cancers, mostly occurring in the breasts and pituitary gland of female rats and the kidneys, skin and liver of male rats.
Since prior short-term studies had established a supposed safety to Monsanto's products, this finding met with extreme resistance from some areas of the scientific community, most notably those that had been involved with or financed by Monsanto in the testing of their products, although the response from most of the scientific community was positive. This led the authors to publish a full response to their criticisms and the data of their study, while the data collected by Monsanto remains confidential.
But millions of people eat GM foods every day; surely they are safe?
A problem here is that GM maize (and possibly other GM foods) is not toxic in the same way a bottle or two of vodka is toxic. The kinds of things that usually kill somebody very shortly after consumption do so because they have an acutely toxic effect - an interference with some crucial biological process that results in collapse of the organism-as-a-whole - which can result in measurement of a lethal dose or LD50 (a dose that will kill 50% of those it is given to on average). While regulation of drugs that have such risks has been irregular at best, there is a different issue to consider - that of chronic exposure. There are many things, smoking tobacco for instance, which probably won't kill you today, or this week even, after you do them, but may greatly increase your chances of suffering from some quite horrible diseases after a number of years. With diet-related and smoking-related diseases currently the leading causes of death in the USA, this is a very serious issue (the top causes of death in 2009 were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke respectively, totalling over 1.4 million deaths, followed closely by 118,021 accidents - most of which were due to acute poisoning or motor-vehicle-related injuries; preliminary 2011 data is similar).
It should be noted, however, that not all GM food is dangerous, as almost every modification is different. Some, such as Golden Rice, may have better nutritional characteristics than their natural relatives, and some may be benign but have useful effects for sustainability if they are ever engineered to reduce soil erosion, but when crops are engineered to tolerate or even produce some pesticide you should be worried (not only nutritionally, but crops such as these and the ones Monsanto has engineered for infertility pose a severe threat to biodiversity if they are allowed to cross-pollinate with wild species by planting them in fields), and for this reason all GM crops are subject to a safety approval procedure before they are allowed onto a market; however, these procedures have so far been much too relaxed thanks to industrial lobbying.
Just as the tobacco industry tried to dismiss and distort such scientific findings for the last few decades, GM food industry has been behaving similarly, attacking anyone who might threaten their profits. Such reward-seeking and reality-denying behaviour is typical of many capitalists, is systematically encouraged by monetary economics, and ironically is the same kind of behaviour that is characteristic of the addictions suffered by their customers, which they depend upon for continued profits. While some governments try to regulate deadly drugs after people are already addicted, they do almost nothing to stem any developmental causes of addiction, which are well-established now. When someone is abused or put under significant stress during their childhood, or if the same happens to their mother during pregnancy, they tend to become increasingly sensitive to stress, increasing their likelihood of not only addiction but also suicide and other violent behaviour,[10,11,12,13,14,15] and all of these problems have their roots in inequality generated in market systems.[16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24]
So if you are currently living in America (or any other place where GM-containing foods aren't labelled or where Roundup hasn't been banned yet), you might want to think twice about pouring yourself a bowl of cheap cornflakes, but for those of us living in impoverished communities that currently depend upon such suppliers for mere survival, it is far more important for us to tackle the systemic causes of our misery, so that our children won't have to deal with it.
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- Answers to critics: Why there is a long term toxicity due to a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide - G. Séralini et al, Food and Chemical Toxicity advance online publication, 9 Nov. 2012
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