Much of the controversy surrounding genetically modified crops has to do with the fears of unintended side effects — new food allergens, accidentally creating invasive species and even potential abuses of patent law. What we don’t usually consider is the intended purpose of these plants: these GM crops are being bred specifically to be more resistant to pesticides and herbicides.
So what about the people eating these plants? Unfortunately, we haven’t been genetically altered to better bear the toxic load of these chemicals. (And neither have the bees which pollinate these plants.) So while GM soybeans and corn thrive despite being repeatedly doused in poison, human beings aren’t faring so well. In fact, studies show that prenatal exposure to pesticides is linked to ADHD-like behaviors, slowed mental development and lower IQ scores in children. Many of these pesticides are also known to cause cancer and hormonal disruptions in humans.
The growing body of evidence against pesticides and GMOs apparently isn’t enough to stop U.S. government agencies like the USDA from approving plants intended to be used with more and more toxic substances. In fact, a new variety of Bayer soybean engineered to be more resistant to the herbicide isoxaflutole (IFT) has just received the green light — despite the EPA’s warnings that the substance is a probable human carcinogen. IFT not only triggers liver and thyroid tumors in rats — it’s also highly toxic to most vegetables, aquatic animals and wild plants. It’s so toxic that three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota) have already raised concerns about its effects on human health and the environment.
It gets worse. Dow Agrosciences is currently awaiting USDA approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans — an herbicide used in the 1940s that was used to create Agent Orange and has been linked to fatal immune system cancers in farmers.
Sadly, this approach is nothing new for the USDA. First-generation GM crops like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready plants were designed to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate — which has become so widely-used in U.S. farming that it’s nearly wiped out milkweed, a plant necessary to the survival of Monarch butterfly populations. It’s also created an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds that no longer respond to common herbicides.
Not only are GM crops specifically designed to be more toxic to consumers — they’re also inherently unsustainable. In the long run, over-reliance on these pesticides and herbicides only creates new breeds of weeds and pests that are resistant to common chemicals, resulting in the need for crops which can withstand progressively more dangerous pesticides.
Unfortunately, an estimated 60-80% of processed foods in American grocery stores currently contain GMOs, and they are not required to be labeled on the package. So if you want to avoid these toxic crops, your best bet is to avoid packaged foods, purchase organic produce and do your research on the companies behind your favorite treats.
Photo credit: United Soybean Board