Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) came to dominate U.S. grain agriculture over the last 12 with very little real public debate. Sure, people like me have complained loudly, and groups like Center for Food Safety have mounted forceful lobbying and public education efforts.
But U.S. policymakers have ignored these criticisms and chosen to wave these epoch-making technologies from the lab to the field to the plate with minimal oversight. That’s at least partially because Monsanto, the dominant GMO seed producer, has managed to place its own people in high policy-making positions — particularly during the 1990s, when the Clinton administration opened the floodgates for GMOs. The most glaring example (by no means the only) is Michael Taylor, who represented Monsanto as an attorney in the late 1980s. I’ll let his bio take it from here:
He was Administrator of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from 1994 to 1996, Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the Food and Drug Administration from 1991 to 1994, and an FDA staff lawyer and Executive Assistant to the FDA Commissioner from 1976 to 1981. He practiced food and drug law and was a partner in the law firm of King & Spalding for ten years and most recently was Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto Company.
But if (often hand-picked) government regulators have been very, very good to GMOs and the corporations that dominate their production, academic research is starting to stack against them. From the Independent:
Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.
Ouch. The Independent points to a recent University of Kansas study showing that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans (designed to withstand copious lashings of Monsanto’s own weed killer, Roundup) deliver yields 10 percent lower than conventional beans. The U. of Kansas verdict comes on the heels of a similar one from researchers at the University of Nebraska.
The yield question is key. For years, enthusiasts for genetically modified organisms have argued that GM crops deliver higher yields. And since they deliver higher yields, we desperately need them in order to “feed the world.”
According to the Independent, the Kansas researchers concluded that the very process of gene-splicing seems to lower a plant’s productivity. GM cotton, too, has shown lower yields.
Now, wait a minute. Since their release in 1994, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds have conquered the U.S. farm belt and now account for upwards of 90 percent of soy, 60 percent of cotton, and half of corn. Over the same period, we’ve seen a gusher of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer — and an explosion in superweeds.
It’s getting increasingly hard to imagine who benefits from GMOs besides Monsanto, with its monopoly profits.