Government suppresses science we pay for
Most of you may have heard many times the general statement that our government’s regulatory agencies are just as captured by the money big corporations throw around as are our congresspeople.
In fact, a sad revolving door allows top management of these agencies to be appointed from among executives and lawyers representing the large corporations the agency is supposed to regulate. Then after a number of years interpreting and managing regulations in line with the corporations’ desires, these managers leave government and are rehired and rewarded for their “public service” by the same corporations with very, very big salaries. Trouble is the public is disserved.
A specific instance of the result became public recently. On behalf of an unnamed group of scientists working for the USDA and alleging that their work is suppressed, PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) petitioned the USDA to reform its “scientific integrity policy.”
PEER is asking USDA for an integrity policy that prevents its top managers from suppressing, altering or burying research with negative implications for large corporations like Monsanto. PEER also alleges that big corporations like Monsanto have such close ties to USDA managers that the corporations are even invited to lodge complaints about the work of USDA scientists.
One senior scientists told Reuters news agency: “Your words are changed, your papers are censored or edited or you are not allowed to submit them at all.” Like the others represented by PEER, he asked not to be named in order to avoid the kind of retaliation he has see some of his colleagues endure.
The worst of the suppression seems to involve reports on neonicotinoids and the long-term effects of GMOs (genetically modified food).
Neonicotinoids are the pesticides most frequently cited by non-USDA scientists as a major cause of the collapse of bee colonies and the disappearance of other pollinating insects. Farmers, whose crops need pollination, are now calling this a major crisis.
A host of non-USDA, outside evidence suggests that the long-term consequences of agricultural GMOs are equally scary. In fact, the latest comes from the World Health Organization, which found “convincing evidence” that glyphosate causes cancer in animals and is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) is the main herbicide that crops are genetically modified to tolerate.
This is on top of evidence presented several years ago, and ignored by the USDA, by professor emeritus Don Huber of Purdue University. Huber, a specialist in soil microbiology and plant pathology for 35 years, showed evidence that glyphosate moves out of plant roots into the soil, where it kills beneficial soil organisms needed by plants to uptake critical minerals, resulting in less healthy and less nutritious plants.
The resulting decline in beneficial soil organisms also allows harmful soil organisms to bloom, causing outbreaks of diseases such as toxic botulism. These harmful soil microorganisms were previously controlled by the beneficials the glyphosate killed.
In general, Huber stated that the increased use of glyphosate is destroying the proper balance of microorganisms not only in our soils but also in animal and human guts.
To add insult to injury, the whole program of genetically modifying crops to withstand increased pesticide use has proven to be a terrible failure. It is widely known that genetic modification has so far failed to increase yields of any crop. It has just caused increased use of pesticides to the point that insects and weeds have developed resistance to them. This is known as “the pesticide treadmill.”
The glyphosate treadmill is such that now farmers are having to add 2,4-D to it in order to combat the new superweeds. New Zealand scientists say that the glyphosate and 2,4-D combo causes E. coli and salmonella bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics.
Crops designed to produce their own Bt pesticide are equally dangerous. Bt is a powerful endocrine disrupter and since its use has increased due to these GMOs, Bt has been found in human breast milk and in the blood of pregnant women and fetuses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found alarming increases in food-derived illness, and many in the medical community have observed an increase in food allergies. In this light, it behooves us to be taking another look at the safety of GMOs in general.
The whole idea that GM food would be safe was based on science that was outdated even when the USDA, then headed by a former Monsanto attorney, declared them to be harmless. The old idea was that one gene caused one trait, period. But it was soon discovered that the expression of a new gene will be accompanied by an unforeseen range of collateral changes in other genes.
Furthermore, the sequence of genes matters very much in determining how they express themselves or other genes. And genetic modification involves inserting the foreign gene randomly, out of a sequence that has evolved over millions of years.
It seems obvious to me that the consequences of all this are very unpredictable and unsafe. That is why we should buy organic foods, which do not contain any genetically modified ingredients.
Mary Boland’s column appears on the third Saturday of each month. She is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale.
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