Biotech ruling a set-back for sound science and progress in the worldwide war on hunger

Two important energy/environmental policy decisions were made yesterday that have serious implications both geopolitically and in the U.S.  One of the decisions – the one that got all the media attention – was President Obama’s choice to sink domestic offshore oil production and force America further into subservience and abject dependence on foreign oil supplies.  I’ve written briefly already about why an offshore moratorium is wrongheaded for a variety of reasons.  I have also written about the value, economic, national security and environmental, of domestic offshore oil production.  This topic will not detain me further here.

I want to write about the second decision; the one that flew largely under the radar.  A Federal court on Tuesday ordered the Monsanto to plow up and destroy its entire stock of genetically modified sugar beets.  The beets had been approved for use in 1995.  The action by this activist judge is the first court ordered destruction of a biotech crop. 

Sugar beets account for more than half of the nation’s sugar supply, and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready beets have been popular with farmers as they have been genetically altered to withstand sprayings of the chemical herbicide Roundup, making weed management easier for producers.

 Despite claims to the contrary, this judge reached outside U.S. law to European shores where biotech policy is ruled by the parsimonious “precautionary principle:” which basically says that no novel product or method of production should be put into use or circulation until it can be shown to pose no harm to humans or the environment.  This principle does not foster progress and innovation but rather, unreflectively supports the status quo, stagnation and decline.  The judge based his decision environmentalist’s claims that the use of the crop might lead to the production of super weeds, increased pesticide use and pose a threat of contamination to organic beets.  These same fears were raised before the USDA when it approved the beets and have been raised in an effort to halt the development, testing and introduction of every previous genetically altered crop.  Despite widespread use, none of these crops have ever been shown to pose unusual threats to human health or the environment. 

 U.S. law does not enshrine the precautionary principle but rather treats GMO crops like conventionally bred new varieties.  Whether or not they are allowed into the market or halted is supposed to be based upon a rational assessment of the types of harms that might be posed by the crop, the likelihood that such harms might materialize, and a balancing of the relative benefits and costs.  In other words GMO policies are supposed to be informed and driven by the application of sound science and careful weighing of the human and environmental benefits from the crop against the reasonably anticipated harms.  This judge has reversed the standard. 

 This action throws a monkey wrench into the burgeoning biotech product industry – as the same standard could now be applied by this and other courts to other crops whether in use or development and to pharmaceuticals and other products that use genetic engineering.  The implications of this ruling for the environment, the worlds hungry, and the U.S. economy are profound and dire.

Comments (15)

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  1. Al Farragosa says:

    I literally do not understand the bias vs. genetically modified foods. On the one hand we promote, encourage and even deify those who find better methods to plow, nurture and otherwise increase production but reject as unwholesome and morally deficient new techonologies that allow us to safely and more efficiently feed the world’s burgeoning population. But we care; really we do!

    • Verlyn Sneller says:

      Al I hope you go back to the blog and read some of the brief comments I have made about this subject as there is a huge revolution about the use of GMO’s out here in Agriculture and honestly the producers cannot find enough NON GMO seed today to meet their needs because of all the negatives that go along with the production side of things and at this point there is not even a small understanding about the health aspects associated with consumption of these products. Pioneer seed company has seen this coming and has for the last number of years has been breeding corn without GMO’s in them and by the way, they are one of the few seed corn companies Monsanto does not own in their quest to control the seed genetics world wide. The smartest people in the workd know that when you control the seed or FOOD supply in this world you have TOTAL control and I will just let you think about that for a while. I know you care, but this is not about care, it is about TOTAL CONTOL of our food supply. When cattle are dying because there is inadequate Manganese in the liver because it is being tied up by Roundup, what do you suppose that is doing to us when GMO crops are as widely used in this country as you stated.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    I don’t understand how the courts could order Monsanto to destroy Roundup-ready sugar beets? I assume the only genetic change is the same one used in Roundup-ready corn, soybeans and potatoes. This genetic modification has been used for year. Something like three-quarters of the nation’s corn and soybean crop is genetically modified to withstand the herbicide Roundup. I’ve even read an article in the New York Times, which explained what an incredible advance in food production Roundup and Roundup-ready crow seeds are.

    • Verlyn Sneller says:

      I feel sorry for the producers that this happened to but am thankful that the DNA of this crop is not going to get into our food supply and you will to when some day soon the evils of the GMO crops are let out of the bag and consumer out cry stop this genetic halocaust to the people of this great nation which seems to be more than ever embroiled in greed and corruption.

      • Larry Gallemore says:

        Verlyn, you are living in a backward place, please remove your head from the sand, it is 2011, time to wake the hell up to a wonderful technology.

  3. Pam says:

    Heaven forbid that any facts should get in the way. I would like to know that studies, empirical evidence, scientific basis the judge had for applying this ruling. The precautionary principle just doesn’t cut it. If we applied the precautionary principle to EVERYTHING in life we would have NOTHING. There are always risks, but hopefully, in the area of GMOs, the benefits outweigh the risks.

    • Verlyn Sneller says:

      Pam, I would agree with you that the facts should be used and you may not realize it but USDA allows companies to submit their own research which gives them the latitude to present whatever information their conscience allows. As I stated in my breif comment before, there are volumes of research that proves there are more negatives than positives to GMO crops. Being involved directly with agriculture it is evident just from the production stand point without even looking at the health issues associated with consumption of GMO crops that there are disease issues causing huge issues out here in production ag that is scaring the heck out of producers causing big losses in yield.
      Concerning feeding the world with GMO’s, each producer that buys a bag of GMO seed must sign a document that essentially says that Monsanto can take their farm if they do any comparative research and that is because they know that inserting GMO genes into a crop has negative effects on yield. Since I am not sure of what your associations are and I know that I am putting myself and my family at risk by even making these comments because of past incidents by others who have spoken out I will say no more, but instead wait for the large research companies that will soon be publishing this data and are taking Monsanto to court over these issues that you are questioning to get the work out before it is to late for us in this country.

      • H. Sterling Burnett says:

        Though I admit to not having read all the articles you have referred to in various posts, I still respectfully disagree with your opinion.

        It is not just the biotech companies that have published articles supporting GMO’s; numerous academics have as well. None of the harms predicted have come to pass, and the problems you referred to in th articles you have cited in some instances make inferences of harm based upon correlation, not proof of causation.

        If the fears you raise were borne out on the ground, with my experience with the media of them hyping every purported harm, absence real proof — or even in the face of evidence to the contrary — because “if it bleeds it leads,” the press would be all over it as opposed to simply quoting people of as yet unseen harms. In addition, also in my experience, regulators have a bias towards over regulation and building in tremendous margins of safety. Yet they have approved of these crops. In this country, as I have noted in both academic and NCPA publications (, we regulate products based not upon the technology used to create them but rather based upon their use and then treated, for testing and health and safety puposes, as other new products intended for the same use. In this country we don’t believe in prior constraint upon liberty on the off chance that some harm, somewhere might sometime result.

        • Verlyn Sneller says:

          It as sad that an organization that I respect as much as NCPA has not been given the other side of the story as the body of evidence is building on GMO’s dark side.
          I know that if you were as close to the situation as many of us are and heard the talk of the producers and support people you would also be concerned especially with the documented research that is now being put out that most professionals and crop production people do not even want to talk about concerning just the sharp increase in disease issues in plants due to the steadily increasing levels of fusarium in the soil. If you are connected with agriculture and understand soil biology etc you will know what that means and why it is important. Just as every drug used today has a side effect, every herbicide does also, it cannot be any different. You seem to be a very intelligent person as indicated by your comments and so I am sure you understand what I am saying. Just remember what I said as it will not be long before we see the dark side of this technology. On the positive side because so many like myself are seeing the handwriting on the wall, droves of producers are desperately looking for Non GMO seeds. These guys don’t need research to convince them that what is happening to their yeilds and their soil is not good, because they know if they don’t take care of the land it will not take care of them. I will not bother you with further response as it seems you have your mind made up and that is ok as we are all entitled to our own opinion, but in the end the consumer will demand no more GMO’s in their food as they did with Brst in milk and just as they have done with the elections in the fall, I believe they have had enough and when the truth comes out it won’t be pretty. Again, I appreciate and respect your comments.

  4. Norm says:

    Don’t ya love the precautionary principle? Had we applied it at the beginning of things we never would have used fire because it has so many down sides!

    • Verlyn Sneller says:

      I don’t disagree with you on that, but do your home work and you will see this is one of those exceptions to the rule. I do not wait until everything is perfect either before proceeding with something new, but if I know there is a problem before I start, well I think you would agree that is another issue.

      • six says:

        Keep on them Veralyn—GMOs have been shown to be potentially dangerous, and until we get that cleared up, we should treat GMOs like a potential threat.

  5. Verlyn Sneller says:

    First I understand why the comments in the article about Glyphosate are put the way they are. Monsanto has done their job well in promoting the safety of Roundup herbiced in their genetic crops. Fact of the matter is, I am involved in Agriculture production and in contact with university research people and veterinarians that have been tracking the consequences of genetically modified crops over more than 10 years. The original claim was that Roundup was so safe you could drink it, if that is true, I want to witness the president of Monsanto doing just that. I have in my possesion the research from universities that prove the negative effects of GMO crops stating that at 1/40 th the original recommended rate it causes tie-ups in the soil of Copper, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc and Nitrogen resulting in these vital nutrients not being in our food supply, since probaly 90% of our food supply contains some form of corn or soy product which then impacts our health directly. Also, the fact that veterinarians are finding cattle raised on GMO crops having a shortage in the liver resulting in the death of such animals gives pause to think about us since we are at the top of the food chain.
    This is just a teaser of what is really going on and how badly these GMO crops are affecting us all and the research that has been done that confirms all this is surpressed by the press as these comments probably will be. I sincerly hope since I get the NCPA newsletter, that the staff there will make a true effort to find out the truth, backed by many university researchers about GMO’s. It has also been proven by universities that GMO’s actually cause a reduction in yield and are not the answer to solving world hunger as it is advertised. If you knew the evil side of GMO’s you would understand why Europe has taken the stand they have.

  6. Julie Gay says:

    The one large group that is not being sought out on a regular basis is farmers.

    Yes, they have a say via their organizations and those policies. But we no longer listen to farmers on an individual basis.

    Farmers are natural-born innovators, a talent the U.S. does not use or promote to its fullest capacity. Here I am not just talking about raising corn and soybeans.

    Their innovative skills go well beyond.

    As a futurist I am currently putting together a series of articles, already written by other experts, about innovation. Unfortunately much of the in-depth material is not done here.

    • Verlyn Sneller says:

      Good for you Julie, to often the real truth is not told because the actual people who are dealing with a situation are not contacted or their comments do not produce the kind of story that may improve readership but at least we have been granted freedom of speech and the press. Keep up your good work and if you are interested in the truth back by extensive research let me know I will send you in the right direction as there are volumes of info and someone needs to have the courgae to put this information out so that the public is informed.

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