05.29.2012 15

Rare corporate courage and common sense

Walmart LogoBy Paul Driessen — Good for Wal-Mart! Despite intense pressure by anti-biotechnology activists, the retailing giant didn’t cave in to demands that it “reject” Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn (maize).

Other retailers had capitulated to intimidation campaigns by Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace and similar anti-technology groups: McDonald’s, Heinz, Frito-Lay, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods. So this rare display of corporate courage, ethics and common sense should be applauded.

FWW launched its campaign in January 2012, claiming GE corn “hasn’t been tested for human safety” and contains DNA traits that “are potentially unsafe.” What utter nonsense.

All biotech crops, including GE sweet corn, have gone through years of testing, studies and approval processes by the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition, Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Environmental Protection Agency and other labs, before being placed on the market. In fact, biotech crops have been tested far more rigorously than any other foods (including organic products), hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have determined that they are safe to eat. In the 16 years since such crops were first introduced in 1996, people have eaten more than two trillion servings of foods containing biotech ingredients — without a single documented case of injury to a person.

We all want safe, nutritious food, grown under the best agricultural and environmental practices. That’s what makes biotechnology so important. By precisely inserting specific traits into the genetic makeup of important food crops, scientists have been able to make many foods safer, equally or more nutritious, and better for the environment. The following traits are especially important.

Herbicide resistance. Corn that is resistant to Roundup or other herbicides enables farmers to employ no-till techniques to control weeds, instead of using cultivators to bury them too deep to grow. This preserves soil nutrients and organic matter, increases water absorption and retention, and significantly reduces erosion — improving soil fertility and crop yields, while reducing irrigation and fuel costs.

Insect resistance. A single gene (derived from a natural soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, and inserted into the corn genome) enables corn plants to make a protein that is harmless to humans, but disrupts the digestive system of insects that munch on the plants’ roots or kernels, while leaving ladybugs, butterflies and other beneficial insects unaffected. The Bt gene augments corn plants’ natural defenses, slashes insecticide spraying (by up to 85% for sweet corn), dramatically reduces corn borer (caterpillar) and rootworm (beetle larvae) damage, keeps roots healthy and plants alive, and minimizes the amount of insect-damaged corn ears that are left to rot in fields or are rejected by consumers and thrown out by grocers.

By killing insect borers in the ears, Bt corn largely eliminates pathways for fungal contamination that leads to dangerous levels of fumonisin in corn meal. This fungal toxin causes fatal diseases in horses and is linked to esophageal cancer in people and neural tube defects (like spinal bifida) in developing fetuses.

These benefits are hugely important for US farmers; for consumers who want safe, affordable, nutritious food; and especially for farmers and consumers in poor, drought-stricken, insect-plagued regions like Africa. They mean less land must be devoted to crops, leaving more for wildlife habitat, thereby improving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable agriculture. They explain why 10 percent of US sweet corn is already Bt (Syngenta introduced its Bt sweet corn more than a decade ago), 70 percent of processed foods in American diets contain ingredients from biotech crops (including corn, squash, soybeans, canola, sugarbeets and papayas), 88 percent of all corn (field and sweet) grown in the USA is biotech, and 17 million farmers in 29 nations (90 percent in developing countries) grow biotech crops on 395 million acres.

Wal-Mart doubtless understood all or most of this — and was not going be bamboozled or intimidated by a few noisy activists who did not represent its customers, sound science or the public interest.

Those activists may actually believe their allegations. They certainly know how to generate letters and phone calls, harass businesses, and frighten urban consumers who’ve never been on a farm, know little about how their food is produced, don’t understand genetics or biotechnology, and are thus susceptible to clever hoaxes and ridiculous claims by activists, who are often enlisted and paid by organic producers and retailers that profit mightily from their land and labor-intensive alternatives to conventional food.

In any event, Wal-Mart didn’t cave. So a few months later Food and Water Watch sent out a “we give up” letter, whining that Wal-Mart had “ignored the petitions, calls and public pressure” it had orchestrated. (Its 370-word letter included nine separate pitches for contributions.)

FWW also announced that it was launching a new campaign — to get state and federal laws passed, requiring that all GE foods be labeled. The proclaimed justification for labeling is that “people have a right to know what’s in their food and how it is produced.” The real reason is that labels will make it easier for anti-biotech activists to single out and stigmatize biotech products, generate consumer anxiety, and intimidate grocers into taking nutritious and perfectly safe products off their shelves.

While “progressive” (anti-business) states like California and Oregon may go along with this nonsense, responsible legislators will tell the activists to take a hike. Or they could require that all foods carry relevant (and spooky) safety labels, and consumers be offered more detailed information (prepared by competitors). For instance, lawmakers could mandate that organic products carry warnings like these.

  • No studies have ever demonstrated that organic products are safer or more nutritious than milk, meat, fruits or vegetables produced by conventional or biotech methods.
  • Various organic crops were developed using gamma rays, x-rays and potent chemicals like colchicine, to induce numerous (mostly unknown) mutations in seeds, in the hope that a few might be beneficial.
  • Many organic farmers regularly spray live Bt spores and proteins, copper sulfate, petroleum oils and other insecticidal chemicals, to control crop pests. Some secretly use chemical herbicides and insecticides.
  • Random testing has found that biotech corn meal has fumonisin levels well below the 500 parts per billion regulatory limit, whereas pure (non-blended) organic corn meal is often far above the limit — with some organic corn meal testing at 9,000 or even 16,000 ppb: 18-32 times above safety standards.
  • Mad cow disease was first found on an English organic farm – and some organic dairy farmers continue milking cows infected with mastitis until the animals die, rather than treating them with antibiotics.
  • The deadly spinach E. Coli outbreak several years ago was traced to a farm that was in transition from conventional to organic. Organic produce is always more susceptible to bacterial contamination, because the farmers rely on manure instead of chemical fertilizers (many derived from nitrogen in the air).

All these statements are true — but largely irrelevant. Thanks to regulations, inspections, and responsible practices by seed producers, farmers, processors and retailers, America’s food is generally very safe. The few occasional E. coli and salmonella outbreaks could be prevented by irradiating the most susceptible fruits, vegetables and meats — but anti-biotech activists also oppose irradiation. Go figure.

We’d all be better off if these ridiculous attacks on conventional and biotech (and organic) foods were simply thrown out with the garbage. Most critically, Third World farmers and families would suffer far less poverty, malnutrition, starvation, Vitamin A deficiency and deprivation, if anti-biotech activists (especially in Europe) would end their fanatical obsession about “potential” biotech “contamination” of conventional and organic foods (and flowers!) imported from Africa and other impoverished regions.

Meanwhile, let’s all congratulate Wal-Mart for taking a principled, ethical, scientific stand.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Congress of Racial Equality and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death (www.Eco-Imperialism.com)

  • Egbegb2

    The consensus of science that supports GM products is a different “consensus” that supports global warming, no?

  • pduffy

    I hate to break this news, but merely cross-pollenating a plant is “genetically modifying” it. The intent is to encourge a specific trait, so doing the same thing is a lab is NO DIFFERENT. If these people don’t want to eat it, they have that choice, but SHUT UP, and leave the rest of us alone. 

  • Leroym

    Anybody that supports Monsanto and all those other companies that are ruining this great country have no children, grandchildren or conscience! (that they  care about).
    I am unsubscribed as of now!

  • marineh2ominer

    All the damage will be to our decendents when they start giving birth to genetic misfits and freaks , this is not something that can be determined by a five or ten year study , only multi-generational studies can reveal the genetic deamage done to people by altering mother nature and / or playing GOD with our foods genetics . As far as that person saying don’t eat it , we are not told what is modified and what is not modified on the contents or ingredients .  Give us that choice is all we ask .

  • deafy2

    this is garbage!
    and this is supported by netright daily?
    oh boy!

  • Flowers

     Monsanto has introduced a bacteria found in the ground and is using that in it’s GMO corn.  And it is not a bacteria which you want to ingest.  And if that isn’t enough the corn worms (which is what the bacteria was to eliminate) have now become resistant and are destroying the corn.
    When you cross breed a plant you don’t add something that the plant didn’t have to begin with so it isn’t quite the same.

  • Flowers

     Monsanto has introduced a bacteria found in the ground and is using that in it’s GMO corn.  And it is not a bacteria which you want to ingest.  And if that isn’t enough the corn worms (which is what the bacteria was to eliminate) have now become resistant and are destroying the corn.
    When you cross breed a plant you don’t add something that the plant didn’t have to begin with so it isn’t quite the same.

  • roylyn

    Another BIG oral bowel movement from the government.  Holds Ghent same validity as goofy gore’s global warming.  It is an attempt to discredit our once proud nation and defeat freedom, putting us into a communist muslim controlled government.  Wake up People.  Good for Walmart !!!!!!

  • chartis

     Another BIG oral bowel movement from the government.  Holds the same
    validity as goofy gore’s global warming.  It is an attempt to discredit
    our once proud nation and defeat freedom, putting us into a communist
    muslim controlled government.  Wake up People.  Good for Walmart !!!!!!

  • justme

    yes, thank you walmart.  Oh, and I’ll take a side order of cancer with genetically modified corn for 10 cents.   How about we simply label foods as GMOs and let the public decide?  

  • Dixiequilter

    Well, I won’t be buying corn at Walmart and will keep driving to the Trader Joe’s.  I am not a scientist, but I believe the main reason American’s are overweight is because of what is done to our food.  Not just corn.  When I was a child (1960s & 1970s) I never heard of anyone being allergic to wheat.  And very seldom even heard to anyone being allergic to any food.  Now it seems everyone is.  Makes me question WHY?  What about our food has changed?  The human body hasn’t changed, so it must be the food.

  • Agpeddler

    There are many unanswered questions about genetically modified crops and their content. Modern wheat is modified and it has changed the protein stucture and it is not easily digestible. It causes gluten spikes and other unfavorable side effects – it makes you hungry etc. Thus whole wheat bread is NOT Healthy! As a reference read the book ” Lose The Wheat – Lose the Belly”. Some of the research cited was done by the Mayo Clinic and Iowa University. What the FDA and USDA and other government agencies check for are not for detecting the chemical changes within genetically modified crops. 

  • Cubbie

    Cross pollination (the transfer of pollen from an anther of one flower to the stigma of another) is not the same as genetic engineering (the alteration and recombin-ation of genetic material by technological means, resulting in transgenic organisms).  Personally, I would like labeling.
    Recently, the public was informed about “pink slime” (ammonia-treated beef) added to ground beef.  I am chemically sensitive and ammonia is one of my triggers.  I do react to beef that is not organic.  HMMM…

    Many in the public are wanting to know what is in the food they eat. Many chemicals are added to our food.  Because the political FDA approves something does not make it safe.

  • Emmy

    I am not an environmentalist and absolutely do not agree with this article.  Many of the posts listed below state my opinion as well:  Don’t mess with my food.  I don’t trust the USDA or FDA.  And I try to avoid all GMO products, and all grains.  The only way Monsanto will learn its lesson is to stop buying their products. 

  • RealityIsJustTooExpensive

    Does this guy live in a lead mine?  What I wouldn’t give to write a counter article!  Let’s look at Walmart’s direction since Sam Walton died.  From American made to Chinese made products.  And now genetically engineered food rather than real food.  What’s next?

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