Monsanto blocks research on GMO safety

  • Published on February 14th, 2011

test tubesMonsanto has been systematically blocking researchers from using its patented gene modified (GMO) seeds to learn if there are problems with them, according to an explosive op-ed in yesterday’s LA Times by Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but it’s encouraging that it’s hitting the mainstream media.

Soybeans, corn, cotton and canola — most of the acres planted in these crops in the United States are genetically altered. “Transgenic” seeds can save farmers time and reduce the use of some insecticides, but herbicide use is higher, and respected experts argue that some genetically engineered crops may also pose serious health and environmental risks. Also, the benefits of genetically engineered crops may be overstated.

We don’t have the complete picture. That’s no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically engineered crops. They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.

When Monsanto won a Supreme Court case last year allowing deregulation of their GMO Alfalfa, David Snively, Monsanto’s senior vice president and general counsel, called the decision “important for every American farmer, not just alfalfa growers.”

“All growers can rely on the expertise of USDA and trust that future challenges to biotech approvals must now be based on scientific facts, not speculation,” said Snively.

But how can we get accurate science if Monsanto and other agribusiness block access? Now it looks like scientists are starting to speak out… at least behind closed doors. Here’s Gurian-Sherman again:

Whatever the reasons, the results are clear: Public sector research has been blocked. In 2009, 26 university entomologists — bug scientists — wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency protesting restricted access to seeds. The letter went public, but not most of the writers’ identities. They were afraid of retaliation from the companies that might further hamper their research.

“No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops,” they wrote. Christian Krupke, a Purdue University entomologist who signed the letter, put it more succinctly to a reporter for a scientific journal. “Industry is completely driving the bus,” he said.

…This is not how science should operate. Agricultural companies are still the gatekeepers, choosing who gets to do research and what topics are studied. To ensure that agricultural science serves the public, Congress should change patent law and create a clear exemption for agricultural research.

…The companies that produce the seeds claim that genetically engineered crops are safe and are better than traditional crops in a range of ways. It’s time for these companies to back up their rhetoric. The only way to test their grand assertions is to let independent science take its course.

-> Next page: Years of abuse

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About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.
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  • Susan

    Just to back up the article, here is a copy of a monsanto seed contract so you can read for yourselves.

    That should be against the law! Well monsanto should be against the law too ><

    NO MORE GMOS!!! Join the next event on the 4th of July ~ Parade against Monsanto!!

    and #MAM World Food Day March 10/12/13

    The Great Monsanto Boycott

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  • People are already worried about the safety and quality of the foods they eat. If GMO foods are safe, why not allow rigorous independent testing? A passing mark would result in a boost to their corporate image, and wide-scale acceptance that GMO foods are the future of agriculture.

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  • Thunder

    I think Pioneer Seed is owned by DuPont not Dow like this article says.

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  • Morgan

    If Monsanto’s product is so good for people, then why won’t Monsanto allow GMO’s in their cafeteria? Why won’t they allow for private testing if it is such a good product. And lastly, why do they sue small farmers out of existence if they are truly trying to solve the wolds food problems. The only thing left to say is agent orange, google it.

  • Jerry Wayne Yelverton

    I just grow my own damn food and buy local. Boycotting the big corporate food growers is the best way to speak your mind. They can’t tell you where and how to spend your money. I don’t worry about Monsanto. I just don’t do business with them. Simple.

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  • Mya

    Do you guys realise that Obama’s appointed food safety overseaer in the whitehouse is Michael Taylor the lawyer for Monsanto? He also was Deputy Commissioner of the FDA.

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  • There will be various protests regarding genetic engineering/modification throughout the u.s. on 3/26/11.
    The purpose of the protest is primarily to,

    1. Get all food products containing genetically engineered/modified organisms, labeled.

    2. Get mandatory FDA testing of genetically engineered/modified organisms before they are allowed to be used for human consumption.

    3. Get better regulations for those growing/keeping genetically engineered/modified organisms, to reduce the contamination of organic farms etc.

    If you wish to participate in the protest and want to find out where the nearest protest to you is, or you can not attend a protest but would like to sign petitions regarding labeling genetically engineered/modified foods etc. please click on these links for more information.

    Protest info.

    Tell the fda to label all GMO and GEO foods in the u.s.

    Tell major supermarkets in the u.s. to label GMO and GEO…16&type=CU

    • There is testing of all gm crops. They feed the protein to rats at high concentrations, they feed the grain to chickens – they grow fast so anything that’s negative shows up quickly and zippo nothing. and the FDA says we don’t want a zillion labels of food that are irrelevant to safety (in the UK they are running out of space on their food and noone can decode all what it means) .All you do is create an artificial marketing gimmick – once there is too much organic labels – then they say free range or local sourced – then in the Uk they want to say made in Britain – again to justify the higher price they charge but with zero evidence of benefit. The biggest scandal in food is the deception of consumers with the organic label. You might as well label it christian food or moslem food its based on a religious metaphysical issue not safety. organic could be shipped by jumbo jet from Africa – what’s organic and natural about that- and who is to say that natural is safer. Natural kills people all the time and did kill even more in our past.

      • Doesn’tMatter

        that’s why poison food should be labeled instead of all this shady business going on. monsanto, dupont, GE and other poison hustlers are killing our world at a rapid rate. stop denying that with these arguments and giving power to these murderous crooks thanks. i already got extremely sick from these disgusting things especially traces of bromide the FDA allows in food now i feel a million times better thanks to eating healthy food including avoiding GMOs. whatever your arguments are i have lived i have experienced and i do not want to eat them by choice, freedom of choice is enough argument in a free country. i want all poison foods labeled and FDA to start being honest about it and stop endorsing and allowing poison to go unlabeled be it organic GMO or whatever.

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  • Dan

    “All our lauded technology, our very civilization, is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal.”
    —-Albert Einstein

    “The Gods will win and the devils will lose.”
    —-Old Tibetan saying

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  • and of course governments wouldn’t think of forcing them to release
    the seeds to independent researchers … or ban them from growing the crops till they do… no one pays them enough for that

    • Name one scientist who has been sued for working with a Monsanto GM trait…….zero…mmmmm maybe they don’t stop scientists……maybe this is fiction I defy anyone to find a scientist sued by Monsanto because they were studying a Monsanto trait…non-existent…..don’t you have anything better to talk about.

  • “The Organic Consumers Association needs 435 volunteers:
    one for each U.S. Congressional District, to coordinate a drive to gather 2300 petition signatures on our Truth-in-Labeling petition to strengthen our national network and to mobilize 1,000,000 people against Monsanto.” – “This is how we’re going to build the grassroots power we need to recapture our right to know what’s in our food.”

    • Joey Cline

      Nadine, I live in Sacramento CA and I would be willing to collect signatures in the 5th congressional district of CA. Feel free to contact me via email if you need someone.

  • I’m generally not one to wish ill on anyone. But I do wish horrible deaths and eternal hell on anyone involved in this monstrous company. I bet none of them eat their own garbage!

    • You realize that nearly all the GM crops in the US are not eaten directly buy rather by animals or starch soil and protein is extracted and used in food or making pharmaceuticals or paper etc Study agriculture first to appreciate reality

      • Not true!
        Your corn oil and vegatable oil? Processed with Monsanto seed. The feed to feed cattle for beef consumed, monsanto! Soy is in LOTS of things today, and it is produced with monsanto seed. The CORN SYRUP that is in most packaged and processed foods today? Guess who?

        I could continue on and on…

        • So monsanto sells about 35% of the corn seed and Dupont more than that how come its all Monsanto? There is no difference between sugar produced from corn, Gm corn or organic corn period its still sugar and you know its also sugar from sugar beets and sugar cane its all the same.

      • Jeremy Bloom

        Reality? What planet do you live on? In this one, 95 percent of the corn and soy grown in this country are GMO – that’s everything from the corn in your cornflakes to the HFCs in your Coca Cola. If you eat any processed food at all, it’s got GMOs in it somewhere – even if it’s labeled as “natural”.

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  • Hey folks — while I am legally “adverse” to Monsanto as counsel for soybean producers, I can attest to their willingness to listen to grower concerns. They recently extended their funding of registrations overseas for the Roundup Ready Soybean (off-patents 2014) to allow my clients to continue growing the seeds — saved and free — while Monsanto pays millions to get approvals in China, EU, and other markets requiring renewed approvals.

    Also, there is an ISAAA study just out that is well worth reading, before you assume all GMOs are evil. In the hands of careful farmers, they do plenty of good, and readily stay out of organic fields.

    See below for an op-ed from the former head of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Secretariat, Dr. Juma. We have a world to feed folks, so eat all the non GMO you want (My growers love to grow it at a premium) and tone down the igorance and intolerance.


    Guest opinion: Technological intolerance threatens global food security
    2:11 PM, Feb. 19, 2011
    Calestous Juma

    • Opinion
    • Columnists – opinion
    Modern biotechnology is an important force in global agriculture. But it continues to be challenged by those wanting to limit its spread under the pretext of preserving the purity of organic farming. This is being done despite worrying evidence of rising food prices and the associated political unrest.

    In a historic decision, the U.S. secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, recently ruled that genetically modified (GM) alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa. USDA has since then allowed farmers to resume cultivation of GM sugar beets. The government is also reviewing other cases that include GM trees and salmon.
    The alfalfa decision reverses his earlier proposal to ban the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa within five miles of any organic seed breeder.

    Technology is widely used

    Since their introduction in 1995, U.S. farmers have made GM crops the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in history. GM varieties are grown on more than 150 million acres in this country alone and account for nearly all U.S. corn, soybeans and cotton.

    But organic farmers, whose fields make up just one-half of 1 percent of U.S. cropland, have long complained that GM crops jeopardize their own production through cross-pollination. Such cross-pollination could destroy their biotech-free status.
    It is recognized that seed breeders should be responsible for protecting the genetic composition of seed. For example, breeders must protect sweet corn from cross-pollination by the unpalatable field corn varieties fed to livestock. Similarly, they must prevent canola from being cross-pollinated by rapeseed, which contains a potent natural toxin.

    But there are a number of simple and flexible agronomic techniques, such as isolation distances and buffer zones, which breeders can use to preserve the identity of their seeds.
    For alfalfa, the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies requires buffer zones of just 165 feet to maintain the genetic integrity of certified seed and 900 feet for so-called foundation seed. That’s sufficient to prevent most cross-pollination.

    Conventional farmers further volunteered to extend buffer zones up to one or two miles from non-biotech seed breeders. The organic industry rejected that offer. Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, said “there can be no such thing as coexistence” with biotechnology.
    Such zero-tolerance runs counter to the organic industry’s own rules concerning unwanted inputs, which are based on process not outcomes. As long as organic growers do not intentionally plant biotech seeds or apply synthetic pesticides, the unintentional cross-pollination by GM plants or the drift of a neighbor’s pesticide onto their fields does not cause the crops to lose their organic certification.

    World is following lead of U.S.

    The USDA decision has come at a time when much of the world is warming to biotech. Farming giants like China, Brazil and India have embraced biotech crops. And even the European Commission (EC) is acknowledging that existing GM crops do not carry any unique risks.
    In a recent study, the EC has found that GM crops are at least as safe for consumers and the environment as conventionally bred plant varieties, and sometimes safer. It also concluded that GM crops could help developing countries meet their food needs while addressing the challenges of climate change in a sustainable way.

    African countries such as South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt have adopted GM crops. Other countries such as Kenya and Tanzania are preparing to start field trials.
    The United States has been a world leader in biotech because it uses a science-driven regulatory system. The rest of the world needs this demonstrated leadership now more than ever. Caving in to the forces of technological intolerance would erode U.S. leadership in agricultural innovation and undermine global food security.

    • ‘As long as organic growers do not intentionally plant biotech seeds or apply synthetic pesticides, the unintentional cross-pollination by GM plants or the drift of a neighbor’s pesticide onto their fields does not cause the crops to lose their organic certification.’

      The certification no, but the characteristic of being organic yes!

      Caving in to the forces of technological intolerance would erode U.S. leadership in agricultural innovation and undermine global food security.

      The real threat to food security on this planet is big corporations ‘owning’ seeds and the right to plant them.

    • Tom Vilsack also has close ties with Monsanto, which means he has a vested interest in seeing Monsanto being successful. So already he’s a biased party, you would have a very difficult time proving that he was objective at all. Corporations shouldn’t own the government.

      Global food issues probably wouldn’t exist without greed. Monsanto’s not offering a golden solution; they’re banking on an issue that shouldn’t have happened in the first place had greedy thugs not been in charge of the world and its resources.

      • Why do you say Tom Vilsack has close ties with Monsanto? Does he own their stock? Does he paid by them —no. He just doesn’t agree with bad science and mumbo jumbo science

        • Jeremy Bloom

          “Vilsack has been a strong supporter of biotechnology. He was named Governor of the Year in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization.”

    • uuuuh, yea, South Africa.
      Cheap and easy to buy off approval.

  • Have someone buy the seeds. I’m sure there are farmers who would help. I would.

  • They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.

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  • If a scientist needed seeds, just got to a damn farm. Just because Monsanto says you can’t have them doesn’t mean you can’t. I’m a molecular biologist and if we are that unresourceful that a large multinational can stop us researching something that half the farmers in America have then I’m ashamed. I don’t like Monsanto but this is another piece of scaremongering journalism.

    • Jeremy Bloom

      1) Monsanto’s seeds are patented, Monsanto keeps VERY tight controls on the user agreements their farmers have to sign, and they sue the heck out of anybody that violates them. So good luck getting any farmer to agree to let you have some of their seeds for your experiment.
      2) As a scientist surely you must appreciate that without a proper chain of custody, you can’t prove a damn thing.
      You: “I got these Monsanto seeds on the sly and they caused brain damage in my rats.”
      Monsanto: “My ass you did. You can’t prove those are our seeds. Oh, and by the way, we’re suing you for defamation, and you won’t be able to prove in court those were our seeds, either.”
      So no, not so much, Evan.

      • The article has at least one fact plainly wrong -makes you wonder how many more are inaccurate-Pioneer was not and has never been owned by Dow. That’s just the beginning of the lies in this piece of fiction. PS Monsanto made an agreement with USDA to allow research –didn’t get that one did you!!!!!!!Also the research of the guy at Berkley was proven incorrect and had to be retracted form the Journal -sad end but he’s got tenure he can lie too. Also the scare mongering on soy beans – they compared soybeans that differed in their germplasm (basic genetics not just GM and so gain bad science done again by academics – also disproven. May be these guys get discredited because they are wrong and its only be fighting back that this bad science ever gets exposed for what it is. The polish guy in the Uk was the biggest offender. he injected known anti-feedans protein extracted from natural beans and injected them into potatoes then fed it to rats. #1 rats and people can’t eat raw potatoes very long without getting sick (potatoes contains chemicals that disrupt the guts of monogastic animals. Next the injected stuff was not GM. Yet the Gm companies were not doing this type of work – academic sciences were

        • I think he also used GM potatoes produced by an academic (not by Monsanto or any company) and concluded GM technology in products was hazardous. He was biased and wrong and his work was so bad that they had to let him go – he was an embarassment to the government science community that he was part of. Of course he now makes a living traveling the world living on his infamy because there are plenty of anti-GM almost religious believes to pay him.

      • Actually, the marker genes they embed into the seed should be proof its their seed. They use the marker genes as their basis of proof when suing farmers.

        • they don’t add marker genes so they can track genes in farmer fields they include them to pick out the cells that have the trait gene in the first place. Since they know what thy added they can test for the unique sequence they added

    • And you bought your degree from…?
      I’d guess that the only entity dumb or crooked enough to hire you would have to be USDA, your state’s DA or monsanto. Sucks to be you.

    • Rick Arnett

      Powerful corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Dean Foods, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Tyson share a major – though largely overlooked – role in fueling climate change in addition to GMOs. These giant multinationals have seized control over much of the planet’s food resources, dominating the growing, processing and sales of meat, grains and oils. ADM and Cargill now control 65% of the world’s trade in grain. Monsanto and Syngenta control 20% of the $60-billion market in bio-engineered seeds. The corporate campaign to “patent nature” and control the world’s food supply has been so successful that today, 85% of US corn is genetically engineered. Were these automobiles, the demand for independent research, testing, safety evaluation and environmental impact would be included in development BEFORE going to market. They have a huge economic opportunity and they’re taking as much advantage of it as they can, just as good capitalists should. The ETHICAL side takes a back seat to profit. It includes legal bullying, a tactic that can be defeated with time and money–two things they hope the market will NOT invest to combat them. This is, quite literally, a war. To ‘win’, consumers have to be patient, steadfast and cohesive.

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  • My goal is to get all of the anti-GMO groups together under one Mega group. Right now, there are countless groups spread out over different states and media (websites/Facebook pages). This makes it impossible to create a cohesive plan of action. Petitions just don’t seem to have an effect because those signing are a small portion of the population. They consist of those already concerned about what they eat ie: organics… We need to bring this to the attention of the general population in a way that they can easily understand. My plan is to contact the heads of all these groups and create a 501c3 organization with a board of directors.

    We’ll need experts in various fields of food production/genetics, attorneys, fundraisers, researchers, a website and a PR team. I think our best bet is to create a series of professionally produced ad campaigns for all media outlets, perhaps tapping celebrities who are “green conscious” to star in them. Surely we can find people within our groups who will fit those roles. I’ve already found someone willing to do a website. All experts, board members and grunts like me of should be willing to donate their services to avoid any issues.

    Our efforts to date have not been effective enough to stop the progression. If the general populace stands with us in a united front, we stand a better chance. Let me know what you think!


    Lori Fricks

    • The problem with the above strategy plan is that starting at the top does not work when Corporate Ag owns Washington. Proving the case against GMO’s is a waste of effort. That case has ALREADY been proven, and how has it affected US policy? Uh, not at all. At least, not in the world of Washington DC.

      The good news is, out in the rest of the country, huge strides are being made in the right direction. This war must be fought from the ground up, and it CAN be won. Once again, We the People must take the lead, because our “leaders” are incapable of defying the corporations that bought their offices.

      How do we win? By leveraging the only thing the Powers that Be hold valuable — money.

      Every time we make a purchase, we send a signal. Every dollar we spend at the supermarket is more powerful than a vote at the polls. Sad, but true.

      Don’t buy GMO’s.
      Don’t buy products labeled “natural” that contain GMO’s.
      DO buy organic.
      DO shop local.
      DO find ways to buy direct farmer-to-customer and cut out the middlemen.
      DO deprive corporations of every penny you can deprive them of.
      MOVE YOUR MONEY into a small local bank.
      Pay with CASH whenever possible (a percentage of every credit card purchase goes to the Banksters on Wall Street — why would anyone in their right mind want to give money to those crooks?)

      The percentage of us who have taken steps like those listed above is still very small, but it has already sent ripples through the corporate oligarchy. If 10 percent of American consumers adhered to even just half of the above concepts, it would be nothing less than revolutionary.

      When Coca-Cola tried to market New Coke, only 4% of consumers objected to the new flavor. Yet the product was yanked. That is how sensitive the Corporate Oligarchy is to any dip in sales.

      The reason GMO crops are being pushed so aggressively is simply to drive organic and non-GMO farmers out of existence. Then consumers will no longer have choices. That’s the Corporate Goal. YOU and I can stop that from happening by supporting organic and non-GMO farmers.

      Once We the People have led the way, only then will “leaders” be able to run and catch up with us. That’s the way to win this game.

      We lead, with our spending choices. Eventually, Washington will follow.

      The adage is true, “Think global, ACT local.” Every single day, we all make decisions regarding how we spend our money. Those decisions are more powerful than votes at the polls. Sad, but true.

      So, go ahead and try to change the system (and I hope you succeed), but in the meantime, hit’em in the only place where they can be hurt — their corporate profits.

      • Jerry Wayne Yelverton


    • Actually, maintaining a strong, grass-roots, but decentralized structure keeps Big Agri (and Big Organics) from having a target that would incur damage to the movement in general. Having lots of smaller targets (i.e. groups) means those small organizations can regroup much more easily after being attacked. And while one target sustains an attack, another can launch one. DC is just too big and powerful to give them one target like that. Scary, but true.

    • Mike Cummings

      I’d like to make the suggestion that you acquire the services of a George Lakoff (left)/Frank Luntz (right) type person to advise when it comes to messaging/framing. As you have stated in your comment, the general public needs to understand the importance of this issue. This is a skill that the progressive movement as a whole has really missed out on. The media will easily dismiss most messages against Monsanto as “environmental-organic-leftwing-nazi-activist” propaganda.

  • I am not a scientist, but I also know a great deal about GM crops/seeds/plants and have nothing to lose – no family what so ever. I will take this on and accept all ramifications. I cannot be bought or threatened. If there is a scientist out there willing to work with me I will expose the findings and never release your personal information, even in court. Anyone out there willing to step up and do this?
    April Reeves, Director, GE Free BC

    • Hello April Reeves. I am a college student at Germanna Community College in Virginia. I am a 22 year old military veteran. In no way am i qualified to conduct any reliable study, but as far as an independent studies to find the reason why they are not allowing public research on their genetically modified seeds, count me in. I believe we have the right to know what we are consuming, and we are all consumers of their goods. Therefore, if in any way i am able to help, please let me know! If you need any further information from me, please reply to this post and i will help. By the way, i am not afraid of the system, what can they possibly do to me? 🙂

      • One way to totally circumvent GMOs is to allow people to choose what they do want to eat. Right now we are forced to buy GMOs from walmart, foodlion etc.

        Farmers go to JAIL when they process their own foods to sell locally. I am trying to legalize farm to consumer commerce. Think Sausage, milk, pesto…you name it.

        Please check out the website and any Virginians, please contact me. I do have a successful plan that is already in place.

        April, I live about two hours east of you.

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