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Roundup, Part II: “Act Now to Stop Genetically Modified Alfalfa”

roundupreadyWhile much of the nation is blissfully unaware that one of the most important environmental decisions in history is due as soon as this week, observers in the organic community are flat-out panicking. The issue is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is on the verge of approving Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa seed in time for the spring planting season. If approved — and it appears to be a fait accompli — alfalfa will be the first perennial crop allowed to contain the inserted gene for resistance to the weed-killing chemical pesticide known as Roundup.

As a crop open-pollinated by the wind, the genetically modified alfalfa will cross-pollinate with non-GM alfalfa; the result, with no hyperbole, will be a landscape forever dominated by experimental genetics. And to go with a few descriptors, it will be scarier than the most freakish sci-fi film you can imagine.

“The real issue here is that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds threaten to destroy the livelihoods of organic farmers and disrupt the organic food industry,” wrote the web site Change.org. “The USDA admitted as much, but due to industry pressure, the agency still seems hell-bent on giving GE alfalfa the green light.”

The truth is, however, that the loss of organic alfalfa is the least of our worries. The real problems with farming and gardening dominated by the pesticide known as Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate run far, far deeper.

“Glyphosate is the single most important agronomic factor predisposing some plants to both disease and toxins,” said Don Huber, a retired researcher from Purdue University. His original work two decades ago was conducted in support of Roundup; his findings, however, have led him to speak out vociferously against the world’s most popular weed killer. “These toxins (in Roundup) can produce a serious impact on the health of animals and humans. Toxins produced can infect the roots and head of the plant and be transferred to the rest of the plant. The toxin levels in straw can be high enough to make cattle and pigs infertile.”

And it’s not a stretch, according to Huber and others, to say those toxins that make cattle and pigs infertile are also having a profound effect on humans.

THE POISON GETS INSIDE US

Thetis Sammons, among so many others, is desperately hoping that concerned citizens will contact President Obama and his controversial choice to run the Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to express concern. Long a champion of genetically modified crops, Vilsack is the former Iowa governor and founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership. He was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry lobbying group.

Sammons, who comes from a farming region, has seen numerous family members and others in her community harmed by the outcomes of large-scale chemical agriculture. A producer of the film Food Fight
, she has been searching for connections between Roundup and human health for years. The emerging answers, though complicated, are becoming clear.

“Glyphosate bio-accumulation in your bones and kidneys makes you sick on a downward sliding scale permanently,” she said during a phone conversation urging SafeLawns to get involved in spreading this message. “If Vilsack and the USDA approve GMO alfalfa this week, expect a whole lot more glyphosate residue in our feed animals, and from our feed animals into our pets and humans, and out into our waterways from now on.”

For years, Sammons noted, Monsanto and Scotts Miracle Gro told us that Roundup wasn’t persistent in the soil — that it broke down and essentially vanished within seven days. That has turned out to be a flat-out lie; Monsanto’s own test data shows that only 2 percent of Roundup breaks down after a month. And what does “break down,” doesn’t go away. Roundup binds with many other elements in the soil to create new compounds known as metabolites. These often toxic compounds are taken up by plants, which are then consumed by animals and humans. When these compounds make their way into our bloodstream, our bodies can develop liver and kidney issues and bone disease, among numerous other health issues.

“Glyphosate, for example, breaks down into various persistent phosphorous components,” she said. “The industry says we have an overabundance of phosphorous in our diets, our blood streams, our kidneys, causing bone weakness and other ailments to our animals and water systems — but it’s really glyphosate that is the causal agent.”

Glyphosate also binds with other elements including manganese, zinc, iron, copper, boron, magnesium and calcium among others. That keeps those elements out of our food supply, which can interrupt enzyme function and cause myriad diseases including Alzheimer’s. One of Don Huber’s reports notes that the incidence of Alzheimer’s has increased 9,000 percent in the past two decades; genetically modified foods such as corn and soy came on the market in 1996.

“Roundup is a systemic poison we’ve been ingesting and using in our gardens and school environments for almost 40 years without proper warning or education,” said Sammons. “In our fields, gardens and landscapes across the country it’s literally a chemical ‘free for all’ approach because people have been told Roundup is so safe for so many years.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

The urgent need is for concerned citizens to speak out about the potential Roundup-Ready alfalfa travesty. Longer term, folks need to understand just how nasty Roundup (glyphosate) is; it simply must be banned ultimately.

Here is some helpful information for anyone who wants to get involved:

1) President Barack Obama:
Phone: (202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461
Online: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

2) USDA/APHIS; Email: biotechquery@aphis.usda.gov; or call 1-301-851-2300 and record your comments

MESSAGE: “I am ___________ from __________. I am calling to comment on USDA’s proposal to approve the commercial release of GE alfalfa and their failure to adequately address the public health, environmental, and economic consequences of that release. I strongly urge you to reject the planting of GE alfalfa.”

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1024
  • Martha Angell

    Big Oil and Big Ag in the U.S. are the two most corrupt and influential forces on the planet. Stopping the spread of genetically modified crops by a tiny group like yours is impossible. You need to get the third most powerful force on the planet behind this: Oprah . . . before she goes off the air and into the abyss of cable only.

    Martha A.

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  • James

    Hello, this is an email correspondence I had with my county’s horticulturalist. I’m interested in hearing any clarifications you might be able to provide, thanks!

    I pointed her to your blog posts, and she responded thusly:
    ” I tend to agree with the problem with gm food and wonder if enough research was done prior to putting pesticides into the germplasm of parts of our food supply, but, then again, I am not a researcher. I have found glyphosate materials to be very effective at killing toxic broadleaf plants (such as poison ivy) or grasses around the bole of a tree. It has also been very effective in the Rodeo formulation at removing invasives in wetlands. Evidently the research by the environmentalists that were worried about using pesticides to removed invasives wasn’t thorough enough – or so it sounds from the text you emailed me.

    I am very curious, however, about the statement that Roundup is “incredibly dangerous – both as a topical spray…“ How do they figure? Roundup is meant to be toxic to the plants on which it is sprayed – that is the whole point of using it- to kill. Frankly, I need a lot more information. By the way, glyphosate is indeed a pesticide and is indeed toxic. It is the level of toxicity in properly used glyphosate that is waving flags for me – I didn’t see that addressed. I have read detailed reports of various levels of toxicity when the product is ingested or inhaled….neither of which is ever supposed to happen when the product is used according to the label. So, is this blog condemning the product because it is toxic, because there is a toxic residue, because it is a pesticide, or what? I am curious! Anyway, I haven’t changed my opinion (yet) on whether glyphosate, properly used by the backyard gardener (but not in genetic modification which home gardeners don’t do), is too great a risk.”

    We had a few back and forths, and she finally responded with this:

    “As you do your research, find out whether the product is consumed by humans (as in genetically modified crops) or is used in small amounts to kill weed patches in areas where food is not grown. I am not defending any poison, but I want to make sure we are comparing apples and apples. Your Carrasco quote had to do with roundup-ready soybeans. I would think if there are birth defects, it must mean that the woman is coming in direct contact with the product when it is sprayed or with food that has the gene in it or because she breathed in the mist. If there are now birth defects proven to be caused because this lady walked barefoot in her own yard a week or more after roundup was sprayed, (and she picked up the residue from the soil on her feet) I most definitely want to know. If there are birth defects, what was she doing around liquid glyphosate? Or did she contact it some other way? Or is glyphosate proved to be the problem? Same if she is eating the RR soybeans. Same if she is walking in the soybean field after glyphosate was sprayed and picked up the residue on her body or clothes. Improper exposure to any pesticide can be troublesome. Poor education standards for workers here and abroad are also a problem.

    My concern is not that glyphosate exists, but that if it is labeled for home ground use, then people who use is according to the label are not at risk. That I can impact. The use of genetic engineering may be wrong and possibly should be stopped until there is more research, but I can’t stop that – primarily because I have no power and can rely on only hearsay and someone else’s research or guesses. However, if it has been proved that glyphosate when used on lawns (not labeled for lawns except to kill them, by the way) according to label causes health issues for the populace, that problem I can address – and will!”

    Very interested to hear what you think, thank you.

    James

  • Angela Ames

    How can any of this possibly be true? It makes me shudder. I have purchased so much Roundup through the years and always thought of myself as a responsible gardener. I’m mortified. Petrified. Disgusted in myself.

    Shame on Monsanto and Miracle Gro for hiding all this for all these years. It’s gross, is what it is.

    You can bank on the fact that I will never, ever buy a Miracle Gro product ever again. Even if 10 percent of what you say is true, and I’m sure it is, these people deserve to fry.

    AA, Topeka

  • Mary Newcombe

    No one should be surprised about Roundup being a harsh chemical. The evidence has been there for years; people just don’t want to pay attention. They just want an easy fix, a cheap price. I’m sorry to say this, Angela, but you’ve had your head . . . in the clouds.

    Mary Newcombe, Thatcham in Berkshire

  • Alice

    For a number of years I have tried to persuade people that Roundup is detrimental to the environment (yes, I have read the MSDS and several research reports). Last summer I tried to reason with a woman who wanted to apply Roundup before planting a garden. I told her she needed to check how long the residue would last in the soil. All she was interested in was the “best time” to apply it.

    At a recent talk by a garden center owner, the speaker asked if anyone was opposed to using Roundup. Mine was the only hand that went up, and the talk continued without any further acknowledgment.

    I believe that we are up against two formidable forces: (1) big Ag and (2) the willingness of the human psyche to selectively filter out unpleasant information and to believe vehemently in any “fact” that has expressed often enough and publicly. It’s really all about PR, which the chemical companies have mastered.

    I am discouraged that we already have the information to provide safe and plentiful food supplies to a hungry world. If we ignore science and reality, we are only hurting ourselves.

    Thanks, Paul, for providing this information and LINKS with which to express our protests.

    A.

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