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MailTribune.com
  • Let's get honest about GMOs: They are not an improvement

  • In the September issue of a popular "science for the non-scientist" magazine, the editors and an invited writer espoused the "benefits" of genetically modified (GMO) food crops. I found the editor comments that agricultural GMOs represent an "immensely beneficial technology" to be inaccurate, misleading, and biased. Similar comments have also appeared as LTE in this newspaper.
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  • In the September issue of a popular "science for the non-scientist" magazine, the editors and an invited writer espoused the "benefits" of genetically modified (GMO) food crops. I found the editor comments that agricultural GMOs represent an "immensely beneficial technology" to be inaccurate, misleading, and biased. Similar comments have also appeared as LTE in this newspaper.
    In the article entitled, "Are engineered foods evil?", the invited author claims GM crops have "increased farmer safety by allowing them to use less pesticides; it has raised the output of corn, cotton and soy by 20-30 percent". These comments are inaccurate.
    Scientific studies from Purdue University, University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, data from the USDA and from other scientists on the research team in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil clearly indicate no differences between GMO and non-GMO corn yields measured in bushels/acre throughout the U.S. In one study, scientists from three continents concluded that increasing corn yields over the years in the U.S. and Western Europe are the result of conventional cross-breeding, not GMO technology.
    Regarding a GMO wheat discovery in Eastern Oregon earlier this year, the invited article wrongly declared "its seeds do not scatter." This was an attempt to support the Monsanto "sabotage theory."
    However, we know that catastrophic meteorological events (e.g. Midwestern tornadoes) can carry particles much larger than wheat seeds and corn seeds for over 60 miles, serious wind gusts also move wheat seed, and migratory fowl are known to move seed (cereal grains in general) for hundreds of miles; cereal grains left in the fields are major sources of their food.
    Rodents move seeds, internally and externally on their fur, as does farm equipment driving down roads. We also know pollen can travel many miles in wind gusts and in other cases can be transported by bees. Thus, regarding GMO wheat plants discovered in an Eastern Oregon non-GMO wheat farm, there are multiple, "non-sabotage," natural ways that GMO wheat seed and/or pollen left over from earlier field trials could have "traveled" into the farm in question.
    There are now pollen-mediated, Roundup-resistant weedy grass plants growing at least 13 miles off experimental sites following regulated field tests conducted in Deschutes County. Furthermore, pollen from approved experimental field tests in western Idaho conducted until 2006 blew across the Snake River, cross-pollinated with grasses and has become established and detected in 2012 growing in fields in Malheur County.
    Oregon State University scientists have commented that "spontaneous hybridization adds a level of complexity to transgene monitoring, containment, mitigation and remediation programs." They have also stated, "We cannot contain genes because that's not how biology works."
    Other cases of cross-pollination or suspected cross-pollination of GM plant genes have been documented in Mexico, Western Europe and the U.S., including in Jackson County. If buyers reject a crop based on suspicion of or verified GMO contamination, the result is the same: loss of farm revenue and frustrations.
    Five species of the European corn borer and the corn rootworm insects have become resistant to GMO Bt toxin-producing plants, according to scientists at Iowa State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Arizona and the University of Missouri. Sophisticated field planting strategies are now required by federal regulators to try to reduce the reproduction of these resistant insects, but American scientists are also recommending use of more potent chemical insecticides.
    Serious Roundup weed resistance has also been documented in 15 weed species on over 60 million U.S. farm acres. Special weed control measures have increased costs of production. Scientists at Southern Illinois University, Iowa State University, the University of Missouri and elsewhere agree that new management strategies have to be developed that include use of other chemical herbicides, including 2,4-D.
    The evolution of resistance to the two major GMO delivery genes (Bt toxin and Roundup) are eerily similar to multiple antibiotic-resistant germs. When the first or second round of antibiotics do not control the disease, other more expensive antibiotics with more side effects have to be used. The same analogy holds for the expanded use of other chemicals to combat Roundup-resistant weeds and insect resistance to Bt toxin.
    Thus "GMO technology promises" have become less effective every crop season. Since there are no yield advantages, there is no rationale for using GMO crops in U.S. agriculture, a decision already reached by farmers in at least 60 other nations (entirely or in part) including those in Europe, Japan, Peru and Mexico.
    Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., is a professor of microbiology and a retired senior scientist and team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency's biosafety program.
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