Biotech on the Rampage!
Robert Kremer, a U.S. government microbiologist who studies Midwestern farm soil, has spent two decades analyzing the rich dirt that yields billions of bushels of food each year and helps the United States retain its title as breadbasket of the world.
Kremer’s lab is housed at the University of Missouri and is literally in the shadow of Monsanto Auditorium, named after the $11.8 billion-a-year agricultural giant Monsanto Co.. Based in Creve Coeur, Missouri, the company has accumulated vast wealth and power creating chemicals and genetically altered seeds for farmers worldwide.
But recent findings by Kremer and other agricultural scientists are raising fresh concerns about Monsanto’s products and the Washington agencies that oversee them. The same seeds and chemicals spread across millions of acres of U.S. farmland could be creating unforeseen problems in the plants and soil, this body of research shows.
Kremer, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is among a group of scientists who are turning up potential problems with glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and the most widely used weed-killer in the world.
“This could be something quite big. We might be setting up a huge problem,” said Kremer, who expressed alarm that regulators were not paying enough attention to the potential risks from biotechnology on the farm, including his own research.
Concerns range from worries about how nontraditional genetic traits in crops could affect human and animal health to the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Biotech crop supporters say there is a wealth of evidence that the crops on the market are safe, but critics argue that after only 14 years of commercialized GMOs, it is still unclear whether or not the technology has long-term adverse effects.
Whatever the point of view on the crops themselves, there are many people on both sides of the debate who say that the current U.S. regulatory apparatus is ill-equipped to adequately address the concerns. Indeed, many experts say the U.S. government does more to promote global acceptance of biotech crops than to protect the public from possible harmful consequences.
“We don’t have a robust enough regulatory system to be able to give us a definitive answer about whether these crops are safe or not. We simply aren’t doing the kinds of tests we need to do to have confidence in the safety of these crops,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a scientist who served on a FDA biotech advisory subcommittee from 2002 to 2005.
“The U.S. response (to questions about biotech crop safety) has been an extremely patronizing one. They say ‘We know best, trust us,'” added Gurian-Sherman, now a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit environmental group.