GMO corn linked to organ damage in animals; but at Forbes magazine, Monsanto is “Company of the Year”

We found this in a note by Mark Frauenfelder on BoingBoing:

A surreal monument to agricultural artifice

From a new study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences: “We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity. This can be due to the new pesticides (herbicide or insecticide) present specifically in each type of GM maize, although unintended metabolic effects due to the mutagenic properties of the GM transformation process cannot be excluded.” (Via Naked Capitalism)

Now here’s an excerpt from a recent story by Robert Langreth and Matthew Herper in Forbes magazine, lauding Monsanto as Company of the Year, titled “The Planet versus Monsanto“. It’s interesting to see here how supporters of genetic modification argue their case:

Monsanto’s first round of attackers said its seeds were evil. Now the charge is that Monsanto’s seeds are too good.

“Monsanto biochemist Roy Fuchs takes fish oil pills every morning in hopes of warding off heart disease. He’d much rather get his omega-3 fatty acids in a granola bar or cup of yogurt. But it is tricky to add omega-3s to food products without adding unwanted flavors. After a while on the shelf, omega-3-enriched products can smell and taste like old fish, he says.

Fuchs hopes that the new genetically engineered soybeans Monsanto ( MON news people ) is working on will solve this problem. The soybeans contain two new genes to make a tasteless oil that is converted inside the body into the form of omega-3 thought to be good for the heart. In a 157-patient study presented at a cardiology conference in November, those volunteers who had high triglycerides saw their levels drop 26% after eating 15 grams of the oil daily for three months.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful product to have for sale? Stops heart disease–and protects the environment, too. People could get their nutritional supplements without depleting fish stocks.

Monsanto needs crowd-pleasers like this to get past its image problems. In economic terms, the company is a winner. It has created many billions of dollars of value for the world with seeds genetically engineered to ward off insects or make a crop immune to herbicides: Witness the vast numbers of farmers who prefer its seeds to competing products, and the resulting $44 billion market value of the company. In its fiscal 2009 Monsanto sold $7.3 billion of seeds and seed genes, versus $4 billion for second-place DuPont ( DD news people ) and its Pioneer Hi-Bred unit. Monsanto, of St. Louis, netted $2.1 billion on revenue of $11.7 billion for fiscal 2009 (ended Aug. 31). Its sales have increased at an annualized 18% clip over five years; its annualized return on capital in the period has been 12%. Those accomplishments earn it the designation as FORBES’ Company of the Year.

But economic achievement is not the same thing as public adulation. Over most of the time that Monsanto has been working to make humanity better fed, it has been the object of vicious criticism. In the first round of attacks the company was portrayed as the Satan of agriculture for daring to modify the genes in corn and soybeans. That people have been selecting plant genes for 5,000 years was no defense; Monsanto’s gene-splicing threatened the world with ecological catastrophe. Genetically modified crops were the subject of legislation outlawing them and numerous protests in Europe and elsewhere in which biotech crops were ripped from the ground. In 2002 Zambia, during a famine, rejected a cargo of donated corn because it might have been tainted with the offending seeds.

Over time the protests have mellowed, and the legal impediments to GM are gradually falling. It didn’t make sense for a hungry planet to reject tools to increase the productivity of farmers. Much of Europe, while still forbidding the planting of GM crops, permits the importation of foods made from them.

But now Monsanto has a new round of enemies. This time its supposed sin is making seeds that are too good. The company has something too close to a monopoly in some seed markets.

The public is hard to please, isn’t it? But Monsanto perseveres. It has been in biotech long enough to develop a thick corporate skin.

Chief Executive Hugh Grant, 51, is both manager and evangelist. He says the new generation of biotech crops will go beyond mere herbicide tolerance and pest-killing to help feed the world. “There is bigger demand for food than ever. There is no new farmland,” he says. “The business model is you provide more yield to growers, and you are rewarded for that.” He vows to increase gross profit (approximately $6.8 billion in 2009) by 25% over the next three years.

By marrying conventional breeding with genetic engineering, Monsanto aims to produce more food for less money on the same amount of land. Conventional breeding–these days a high-tech matchmaking process guided by DNA sequencing machines–will help boost maximum yields. Biotech genes will ensure that pests, weeds, drought and other problems don’t destroy a crop’s potential, Grant says.

“It is like computers in the 1960s,” says Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer. “We are just at the beginning of the explosion of technology we are going to see.” Adds Grant: “Our pipeline is richer and deeper than it has ever been.” A new corn variety that includes eight genes for pest resistance and herbicide tolerance could become the company’s next big product. It is due out this spring. Also in testing are drought-tolerant corn, corn that needs less fertilizer and higher-yielding biotech soybeans and corn.

Farmers complain about Monsanto’s prices, but they still buy the seeds. Ninety percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 80% of the corn crop and cotton crop are grown with seeds containing Monsanto’s technology. Other countries are also growing Monsanto’s biotech crops, including India, with 20 million acres of cotton; Brazil, with 35 million acres of soybeans; and Argentina, with 43 million acres of soybeans. (Brazil once blocked genetically modified plants, but farmers planted the crops anyway, and it eventually legalized them.) Packaged foods with corn syrup or soybean oil likely contain the fruits of Monsanto’s gene-modified agriculture….”

Read the whole story here on Forbes.com

Photo of corn water tower in Rochester, Minnesota by jonathunder / CC BY 2.0

1 Comment

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One response to “GMO corn linked to organ damage in animals; but at Forbes magazine, Monsanto is “Company of the Year”

  1. thebovine

    The Huffington Post has picked up this story:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/12/monsantos-gmo-corn-linked_n_420365.html

    Here’s a bit of what they say:

    “In a study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences, analyzing the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers found that agricultural giant Monsanto’s GM corn is linked to organ damage in rats.

    According to the study, which was summarized by Rady Ananda at Food Freedom, “Three varieties of Monsanto’s GM corn – Mon 863, insecticide-producing Mon 810, and Roundup® herbicide-absorbing NK 603 – were approved for consumption by US, European and several other national food safety authorities.”

    Monsanto gathered its own crude statistical data after conducting a 90-day study, even though chronic problems can rarely be found after 90 days, and concluded that the corn was safe for consumption. The stamp of approval may have been premature, however.

    In the conclusion of the IJBS study, researchers wrote:

    “Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity….These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown.”…”

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