(Beyond Pesticides, May 16, 2017) Buried in the spending bill passed earlier this month to avert a government shutdown is a provision that allots $3 million for a federal outreach campaign promoting agricultural biotechnology and genetically engineered (GE) crops. The bill tasks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in coordination with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to use these funds, “for consumer outreach and education regarding agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology-derived food products and animal feed…” According to the Washington Post, Democrats in Congress made a failed bid to move the funding towards FDA-run pediatric medical projects, but faced unanimous Republican opposition.
Under the provision, FDA and USDA will spend taxpayer money to create, “science-based educational information on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts of such biotechnology, food products, and feed.” If such an endeavor were made truly in the public interest, educational materials produced by these agencies would reveal significant adverse effects in every listed topic.
GE crops, particularly those engineered to tolerate continuous applications of herbicides like glyphosate, are damaging to the environment. Significant increases in herbicide use as a result of these crops has been linked to the loss of milkweed habitat for Monarch butterflies, effects on soil health and soil organisms, and water contamination. There is no evidence GE foods are more nutritious than other foods in any way, and in fact studies consistently find organic products to have greater health benefits, with higher levels of essential nutrients than conventional foods. Food safety is no way enhanced with GE crops, as concerning levels of GE-dependent glyphosate herbicides have been found in the U.S. food supply, and studies find people who eat organic have lower pesticide levels in their body compared to those who eat conventional food.
Despite the professions of the chemical industry, the economic impacts of GE crop production over the past two decades have not been a boon for American farmers, but instead have taken a considerable economic toll on their livelihood. Some farmers have had their crops rejected from export markets as a result of genetic contamination, others have lost their harvest due to herbicide drift, or found that the increased expense of planting pricier GE seeds provides no real economic benefits. A recent United Nations report specifically cited human rights concerns regarding pesticide-dependent agriculture, and in low-income farming areas in Argentina, as well as in the U.S. in California’s Central Valley, proximity to glyphosate use and GE crops are considered an issue of environmental justice due to disproportionate health impacts on these communities.
As the Washington Post indicates, several members of Congress who sit on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee received funding from the agrichemical industry. Subcommittee chair Bob Aderholt (R-AL), a strong proponent of the measure, received $10,000 in campaign funds from Monsanto last year. Four of the seven Republican members (Aderholt, Yoder, Valadao, Young), and one of the four Democrats (Bishop) on the subcommittee also received contributions from Monsanto, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Although the program has yet to be established, it will be important for those in the U.S. to keep a close eye on its development, to ensure it does not become a propaganda tool for the agrichemical industry. Those wishing to push back against the growth of GE crops and subsequent increases in herbicide and insecticide use can begin today by supporting organic foods, which never allow toxic synthetic herbicides or GE crops in products under the USDA Organic Certified seal. Change can also be made at the local level by following the lead of successful campaigns like those in Boulder County, Colorado, or Jackson County, Oregon, where GE crop plantings were restricted or banned. Lastly, residents can contact their Representative or Senator and question them if they have campaign contributions and ties to the agrichemical industry (use Opensecrets.org to investigate), asking how they’ll fight for a safer, healthier and more sustainable food system based on organic principles.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.