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America's GM plans

August 2019

Since the Big Bang of synthetic pesticides during World War II, US regulators from both major political parties have adopted lax, pro-industry standards that have kept potentially dangerous pesticides legal. This attitude has extended to GMOs.

Early post-war pesticide laws were enacted only after Americans were sickened and killed by arsenic and lead in their fruit and vegetables, but the legislation was drafted hand-in-hand with industry representatives.

These US pesticide laws were overhauled in the early 1970s to require manufacturers to submit health and safety testing data. This should have made a big difference, but within a decade the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pesticide office was drowning in a backlog of registration requests. Rather than commit the necessary resources, it led to the creation of a loophole which allowed companies to avoid proving their product safe for health and the environment by applying for a "conditional" registration.

'Conditional' might sound like a temporary situation, but some pesticides were conditionally registered for more than 20 years. Over two-thirds of the 16,000 pesticides used in the US were initially registered conditionally and went on the market without safety data; one of these was glyphosate [1].

COMMENT Let's face it, if a substance has been on the market for years without anyone dropping dead, it's not likely to be banned because it later made a few laboratory rats ill.


As summed up by one US professor of journalism "This is our (US) system for ensuring that pesticides are safe. They are innocent and on the market until proven guilty. Close relationships between industry and our regulatory agencies help keep them there. By the time enough independent science has produced evidence of harm, it's far too late to reverse the damage done."

President Trump is about as pro-industry as you can get. It would be surprising if he didn't do something about all the GMOs in American fields that other countries don't want.

Sure enough, on 11 June 2019, Trump signed an executive order directing US federal agencies to ease the (already lax) rules on approving GM crops and foods.


COMMENT

Tellingly, this order emerged during a visit to an ethanol (non-food) factory in Iowa where fuel is made from maize, most of which is genetically transformed for insect-resistance and herbicide-tolerance.

Ethanolic biofuel production is a major use of GM maize. Other key uses of GM maize are to feed intensively-reared cattle, and to supply the raw materials for processed junk food.

Because GM maize is increasingly plagued with insect- and weed-resistance, it requires increasing applications of toxic pesticides. This may not be a problem when it's used to feed vehicles, but it may lead to serious chronic health problems when it's part of our food chain.

A recent study on America's excessive subsidy-driven maize monocultures concluded that the air pollution arising from nitrogen fertiliser use on maize is associated with 4,300 premature deaths annually, with estimated damages, in monetary terms, of $39 billion.

Also, maize feeds chronic disease [3].

The setting of the signing of Trump's order was one in which concern for human health just wasn't a factor.


Trump further instructed the brainwashing of the American people with "educational materials" that "clearly communicate the demonstrated benefits of agricultural biotechnology" to be used in both science education and consumer outreach.


COMMENT

Agricultural tuition US-style, seems narrowly focused on chemicals and biotech crops, particularly the ubiquitous GM Roundup-Ready crops.

America's 'education' of weed scientists trained them to believe there would never be a weed able to resist Roundup (glyphosate-based herbicide) because it required too big a change in the plant's biology [4]. This led to the sole use of one single herbicide and to the current plague of pigweed across American farmland.

Pigweed (Palmer's Amaranth) is an aggressive weed which can grow 3-4 inches a day, reach up to 8 feet tall, and produce up to a million seeds per plant. It has reduced corn yields by up to 91% and soya by 79%.

Strains of pigweed are now being found which seem to survive every chemical weed scientists throw at them. In an evident inability to learn, glyphosate-based herbicides remain crucial to the productivity of American agriculture.


The presidential order further directed the development of "an international communications and outreach strategy to facilitate engagement abroad with policymakers, consumers, industry and other stakeholders. The goal of the strategy shall be to increase international acceptance of products of agricultural biotechnology in order to open and maintain markets for United States agricultural exports abroad."


COMMENT

This 'communication' and 'engagement' is aimed at Europe and the UK, as well as all the African countries which are getting sceptical about GMOs [2]


As it prepares to fight Trump's orders, the US Center for Food Safety (CFS) said "With this order (which is a boon to pesticide and GMO corporations such as Bayer/Monsanto and Dow/Dupont), Trump is showing his complete disregard for farmers, human health, and the environment."


COMMENT


The US Secretary of Agriculture seems to think that Europe is a "technology-free (agricultural) zone", which presumably just needs to be educated.

The URGENT ACTIONS needed for new GMOs seem to apply equally to the old ones. Check them out in ACTION ON NEW GMOs - August 2019.

Background
[1] ROUNDUP ON TRIAL - May 2019
[3] FEEDING DISEASE - December 2016
[4] THE GM-GLYPHOSATE GAME - February 2017

SOURCES:
  • Trump aims to force open UK/EU markets to GMOs - within 120 days, GM Watch 20.06.19
  • Trump orders USD regulatory agencies to ease approval of new GMO crops, GM Watch 14.06.19
  • Elena Conis, Why both major political parties have failed to curb dangerous pesticides, Washington Post, 9.04.19
  • US maize farming pollutes the air with deadly effects, GM Watch, 4.04.19
  • Jason Hill, et al., 2019, Air-quality-related health damages of maize, Nature Sustainability
  • Dan Charles, As weeds outsmart the latest weedkillers, farmers are running out of easy options, NPR, 11.04.19
  • Secretary Purdue needs a weed-management 101 briefing, Hygeia Analytics, 11.04.19
  • Palmer amaranth, North Dakota State University

    Photo  Sorah Fukumori [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

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