Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a serious threat to human health for decades. Aside from creating nutrient-deficient food and contributing to illness in general, the environmental perils of genetically modified agriculture have centered around the chemicals used alongside GMOs, like Roundup. This is because these chemicals cause the development of superweeds and superbugs—pests that are impossible to fully control because they have developed resistance. But are gene-edited varieties the answer?
In the case of superweeds, the crops treated with Roundup are genetically modified to resist it so that farmers can spray everything ubiquitously, but to the farmers’ dismay the weeds, in turn, genetically modified themselves to resist Roundup too—causing superweeds.
Similar to superweeds, superbugs are insects that have developed a resistance to insecticides—a major problem for farmers, as insects can cause significant damage to crops. In some cases, farmers have to use even more pesticides and herbicides to control them, which can lead to further environmental damage and more toxic chemicals on our dinner plates. Some of the notable cases of insect resistance to Bt include certain species of bollworms, pink bollworms, diamondback moths, and corn rootworms.
All this has not been a surprise to Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and scholar and long-time critic of GMOs. She predicted GM chemicals would cause superweeds and superbugs from the beginning. Despite the persistent, false bravado asserting that GMOs are necessary to combat world hunger, it’s increasingly difficult to ignore the extent to which GMOs have failed. New gene-edited GMOs are being introduced to obscure this failure. Bt cotton to control pests, and Roundup Ready crops to control weeds are generally recognized as failures by the scientific community. For example, a 2008 study in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any benefits of planting Bt cotton have been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat them. According to Shiva, these have caused the unmanageable growth of superbugs and superweeds.
Enter Bill Gates and gang with heavy investment in the development of new GMOs using gene editing technology. Gates' big play for gene editing promises to confront the problem. Nevermind that it was interference with nature that created it in the first place—chemical resistance to Roundup (Glyphosate) and other GM chemicals. But according to Shiva, Gates is operating under a broader agenda, named “Gates Ag One.” His goal is to create one type of agriculture for the whole world. “But, there’s no way you can have one agriculture for all the different ecosystems,” Shiva points out. “Mr. Gates wants to change everything to have only a few commodity crops to then feed artificial food,” says Shiva. And it appears that gene-edited varieties of crops are a target strategy to this end.
Typically, GMO crops are made by inserting foreign DNA into the plant, but with the new breed of gene-edited GMOs, like CRISPR technology, scientists make cuts in the DNA creating an entirely new genetic variation. With the introduction of gene-edited crops on the horizon, Shiva is stepping up the warnings she has been trumpeting all along—taking a strong stance against the use of gene-edited GMOs. Shiva is sounding the alarm on the widespread devastation these unregulated organisms can have on the food supply, because of the risk of reducing biodiversity. She explains that the release of gene-edited varieties of GMOs could lead to unintended genetic interactions with wild plant species, potentially resulting in the displacement or extinction of these species. “We must consider the long-term ecological impacts,” urges Shiva.
GMOs, including gene-edited varieties, are primarily developed by a handful of multinational corporations, enabling them to monopolize seed production and agriculture. Shiva shines a light on their game plan: In order to avoid regulations, for example in Europe where GMOs are banned, the biotech lobby argues that this new breed of gene-edited GMOs are indistinguishable from natural plants. At the same time, in order to get patents on their gene-edited products, corporations argue that they are genetically unique. This way they can own the seeds while not having to prove their safety as GMOs. Scientific analysis has shot down that assertion, however, finding gene-edited GMOs to be detectable in a lab. They are also an attempt to bypass GMO regulation, asserts Shiva:
[Gene-edited GMOs] are also aimed at creating a new narrative for genetic engineering while maintaining the genetic determinism and genetic reductionism paradigm on which genetic engineering is based. They extend the illusion of mechanistic determinism in the attempt to “engineer” complex, living, self-organized systems. They are also an attempt to bypass GMO regulation.
One example of a gene-edited crop is the development of a new strain of soybeans by the company Cibus. This new strain of soybeans was developed using gene editing and is resistant to the herbicide Sulfonylurea, designed to kill weeds, but some weeds have developed a resistance to it. The new strain of soybeans developed by Cibus is resistant to this herbicide, which means that farmers can use it to control weeds without the potential for the development of super weeds.
And so the new narrative on GMOs was born. But Shiva exposes the darkside of gene-edited GMOs—extinction of species of natural plants:
Bill Gates is funding new GMO technologies, including gene editing and gene drives and has made investments in Editas, a company that controls patents on the new GMO tech, along with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), he is promoting the use of gene drives [genetic engineering that promotes the dominance of a specific gene] for deliberate extinction of species.2
Thus, agenda “Gates Ag One” is taking shape under the guise of “natural” GMOs. European courts have ruled against this narrative, however, finding gene-edited GMOs are not natural and fall under the regulations of GMOs.3
In the US, the USDA has adopted changes to its regulations, aiming to exempt certain gene-edited crops from the same level of oversight as traditional genetically modified crops. Currently, the FDA claims to take a case-by-case approach to evaluate gene-edited GMOs. If they determine (under heavy influence of industry) that a gene-edited crop or organism is determined to be substantially equivalent to its non-GMO counterpart, it may not require regulatory oversight.
In June 2019, President Trump issued the Executive Order on Modernizing the Regulatory Framework for Agricultural Biotechnology to loosen the regulatory framework for agricultural biotechnology, which encompassed GMOs. The executive order called for coordinated efforts across federal agencies to “streamline regulations, enhance transparency, and promote innovation in biotechnology.” It resulted in reduced regulation to biotech products, including GMOs.
As the battle over biodiversity extinction wages on, buying organic and supporting local farmers is more important than ever. The increasing chipping away of the regulations in place, combined with Shiva’s warnings around biodiversity, means it’s time to double down on our commitment to organic farming and Neighborhood Food Networks to ensure safe and healthy foods make it to our children’s mouths.
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Primary Source: Navdanya International (2020, July 9). Corporate Control and Economic Democracy, Seed Freedom [Press release].
- Chhalliyil, P.; Ilves, H.; Kazakov, S.A.; Howard, S.J.; Johnston, B.H.; Fagan, J. A Real-Time Quantitative PCR Method Specific for Detection and Quantification of the First Commercialized Genome-Edited Plant. Foods 2020, 9, 1245. https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/9/9/1245
- Navdanya International (2020, July 9). Corporate Control and Economic Democracy, Seed Freedom