GMOs in the Garden, But Not on the Label

As the process that regulates the evaluation of risk and the subsequent approval of GMOs in the United States is changed to further favor genetically modified crops, Monsanto is working on bringing GMO seeds to the home vegetable garden.

New GM varieties have to pass the scrutiny of the US Department of Agriculture and once approved civil society associations and organizations can appeal against the decision. In the past, while the appeal was on-going, cultivation was suspended until the matter had been resolved. Now, however, a paragraph in the new Farm Bill, the five-year plan for US agricultural policy, has changed the situation. The USDA’s decision is now valid immediately, and even in the case of a legal battle, the GMOs in question can still be cultivated and marketed.

Another worrying aspect of the new Farm Bill is the Senate’s rejection of the so-called Sanders amendment, which would have allowed states to require clear labels on any food or beverage containing GM ingredients. For the last decade, many American states, led by Vermont and California, have been fighting hard to make it obligatory to indicate the presence of GMOs on food labels, as is the case in the European Union. But Monsanto, claiming that states do not have the authority to legislate on the issue, has even threatened to take legal action against the state of Vermont, because it has put forward a legal proposal regarding labels and GMOs. As for California, it has a referendum on the issue planned for November.

Monsanto’s efforts to increase the spread of GMOs are not slowing. According to the Seed Library of Los Angeles, the American biotech giant has plans to sell genetically modified seeds directly to consumers to grow in their own vegetable plots and gardens. This would drastically increase the risk of contamination in surrounding fields, whether organic or conventional. Inevitably, the first seeds to be sold for domestic use will be for sweet corn.

Despite all this, new scientific studies are constantly being published in the United States, highlighting the limits and problems of GMO cultivation. A recent study from the University of Arizona, for example, documents the appearance of parasites resistant to genetically modified crops. Most of these crops are in fact designed to produce toxins that kill parasites, but over time the parasites tend to develop resistance. According to the study, the parasites are adapting in unexpected ways to the GM crops. The actual data about resistant parasites found in cultivated fields is very different from the theoretical predictions made on the basis of laboratory analyses.

The appearance of resistance in parasites not only makes the modification inserted in the plant useless, but also requires the use of new chemical substances to treat the crops. Paradoxically GMOs were created to reduce the use of pesticides and other chemical treatments in the field, because the toxins necessary to fight the parasites were supposed to already be produced by the plant itself. As often happens, reality makes a mockery of any possible prediction and brings unexpected consequences. In this case, for example, the use of new chemical treatments in the fields can have a significant environmental impact because the substances used are often highly toxic and polluting.

Elisa Bianco and Arianna Marengo

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