Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our food supply issues grow

I hadn't blogged about our food supply here in a long time, but then I came across two articles in one day that gently reminded me that I was overdue for an update. I've previously blogged here (and here) about the dangerous (and creepy) nature of genetically modified (GMO) foods, and the evidence continues to pile up in favor of my argument.

From Yves Smith of the Naked Capitalism blog, citing a study from the Committee for Research & Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN):
For the first time, the health impact of a GMO and a widely used pesticide have been comprehensively assessed in a long term animal feeding trial of greater duration and with more detailed analyses than any previous studies, by environmental and food agencies, governments, industries or researchers institutes. 
The two tested products are in very common use : (i) a transgenic maize made tolerant to Roundup, the characteristic shared by over 80% of food and animal feed GMOs, and (ii) Roundup itself, the most widely used herbicide on the planet. The regulatory approval process requires these products to be tested on rats as a surrogate for humans. 
The new research took the form of a two year feeding trial on 200 rats, monitored for outcomes against more than 100 parameters. The doses were consistent with typical dietary/ environmental exposure... 
The results... included increased and more rapid mortality, coupled with hormonal non linear and sex related effects. Females developed significant and numerous mammary tumours, pituitary and kidney problems. Males died mostly from severe hepatorenal chronic deficiencies...
The implications are extremely serious. They demonstrate the toxicity, both of a GMO with the most widely spread transgenic character and of the most widely used herbicide, even when ingested at extremely low levels, (corresponding to those found in surface or tap water). In addition, these results call into question the adequacy of the current regulatory process, used throughout the world by agencies involved in the assessment of health, food and chemicals, and industries seeking commercialisation of products.
As Yves and the study's authors point out, what sets this research apart from previous studies is the duration of the testing. While regulatory analyses of these products last only 3 months, this particular study lasted two years, a significant portion of the rats' lives. This study therefore sheds more light on the long-term effects of these products, which is frankly significantly more relevant from a public health standpoint.

At issue here is Monsanto's GMO corn, an herbicide-resistant product (Monsanto also sells the herbicide in question, Roundup) that is in a distressing number of the products that we buy regularly—one estimate pegs the percentage at 70%, largely because GMO corn is the primary ingredient in high-fructose corn syrup, which is in basically everything in the supermarket these days. Think you're doing your best to avoid GMO corn in the supermarket? So did I, until I read this blog post, which scared the crap out of me.

Finally, since I promised that I'd read two articles that made me want to revisit this topic, here's the second.
If it were a novel, people would criticize the plot for being too far-fetched – thriving colonies disappear overnight without leaving a trace, the bodies of the victims are never found. Only in this case, it’s not fiction: It’s what’s happening to fully a third of commercial beehives, over a million colonies every year. Seemingly healthy communities fly off never to return. The queen bee and mother of the hive is abandoned to starve and die. 
Thousands of scientific sleuths have been on this case for the last 15 years trying to determine why our honey bees are disappearing in such alarming numbers. “This is the biggest general threat to our food supply,” according to Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s bee and pollination program. 
Until recently, the evidence was inconclusive on the cause of the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) that threatens the future of beekeeping worldwide. But three new studies point an accusing finger at a culprit that many have suspected all along, a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids
In the U.S. alone, these pesticides, produced primarily by the German chemical giant Bayer and known as “neonics” for short, coat a massive 142 million acres of corn, wheat, soy and cotton seeds. They are also a common ingredient in home gardening products. 
Research published last month in the prestigious journal Science shows that neonics are absorbed by the plants’ vascular system and contaminate the pollen and nectar that bees encounter on their rounds. They are a nerve poison that disorient their insect victims and appear to damage the homing ability of bees, which may help to account for their mysterious failure to make it back to the hive.
Perfect. Am I the only one creeped out by the fact that we regularly eat chemicals that disorient and kill bees? If it's toxic to bees, then it's toxic to us as well, even if it doesn't immediately kill us or send us wandering aimlessly off the grid in search of our homes. No, we just die decades later from mysterious cancers that we can't seem to cure, never knowing what the hell happened to us or why.

Just because there isn't a short-term problem doesn't mean there it isn't a long-term problem (hey, sounds a lot like our debt situation, doesn't it?), and I'm increasingly convinced that's what's going on with our nation's food supply.

Yes, in the short term it seems like these foods are just the same as the foods that we grew 20 years ago—they look the same, nobody's dropping dead from them, we don't show any visible ill effects in the first few years, so we all assume that everything is hunky-dory. But is that really the case? Increasingly, science is answering "no" to that question, and I think we all need to stand up and take notice. Our food supply is inexorably deteriorating in quality, and it may already be too late to reverse the damage.

[Naked Capitalism]

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