Welcome back to part 3 or our 4 part series on the history of agriculture. As we discussed last time, the industrialization of the agricultural process was another step down the rabbit hole towards poor health. Not only did the use of synthetics increase, but the emergence of genetics as a well-understood field of research, led to the development of something completely new – genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Moreover, following the governmental intervention into the agricultural process during the World Wars and the Great Depression, the U.S. government became inexorably linked to the agricultural system. A relationship that takes the form of subsidies, loans, price-fixes and a revolving door system between governmental and corporate positions.
Rapid advances in the field of genetics, during and shortly after World War II, led to the origins of true genetic engineering in 1973, which was subsequently commercialized in 1976. While it is true that humans have been genetically manipulating plants and animals since the dawn of agriculture – that was the whole point of the domestication process, selecting for more beneficial traits by way of artificial selection pressures – the development of genetic modification took things to a whole new level. Selective breeding was constrained by the limitations within the genome of the species and individuals being used. The ability to implant transgenic material from completely unrelated species, which is the case with GMOs, has opened a Pandora’s box of potential health risks most people are only just beginning to understand.
There are a number of corporations which have jumped at the opportunity that GMO’s present, but one company in particular has been at the forefront of most of the biggest developments: Monsanto. Monsanto is a chemical company that has a long history of unleashing horrible chemicals onto the world, including but not limited to DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange and rBGH/rBST. However, following the public backlash against all of these products, Monsanto has found some success with its herbicide glyphosate, better known as Roundup.
Following up on part 2 of this series regarding the use of synthetics, lets examine the Roundup herbicide a little bit closer. Despite its success and position in the market, Roundup has been implicated in a laundry list of disorders. In fact, according to a recent study published by Samsel and Seneff (2013) in the journalEntropy, glyphosate inhibits cytochrome P450, an enzyme essential in one of the bodies’ normal detoxification pathways; since the body has impaired toxin removal, this buildup can lead to systemic inflammation, disturbances to the gut microbiota and subsequently, conditions including Alzheimer’s, autism, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, infertility and obesity. Still want to spray this on your weeds? Or worse yet your farmer spraying it on your food?
But that isn’t even the most insidious part. Monsanto has also developed a number of transgenic seeds, in particular their “Roundup Ready” variety, which are resistant to their own herbicide. So now, not only do they produce the chemical, but they own the rights to the plants themselves. In other words they have successfully patented life. As we explored in Naked Calories and Rich Food, Poor Food, these GMO’s have taken over a majority market share in the United States and can now be found in nearly 80% of the food in the typical American grocery store. Moreover, despite the apparent reduction in overall pesticide use that these crops would produce, Benbrook (2012), in the journal Environmental Science Europe, found that in the last 15 years, there has been a 7% increase in pesticide use and that the expansion of GMO crops could lead to another 50% increase. Ponder that for a minute, Monsanto is able to produce patented seeds, whose “goal” is to reduce the need for pesticides (other than their own of course) and yet there has still been aincrease of herbicide use since their introduction.
Another example of Monsanto’s part in the corruption of our food system is the introduction of their Beneforté “super” broccoli. This particular GMO variety is touted by Monsanto as a “superfood” due to its genetically modified higher proportion of the glucosinolate, glucoraphanin, which can potentially convert into compounds that exhibit antibiotic, anti-cancer and antimicrobial properties. Sounds amazing right, what could be wrong with that? Well, what they don’t advertise is that it can also be converted into thiocyanates, which are goitrogenic compounds, i.e. ones that can suppress thyroid function. In this case, the devil is in the dose and at higher levels there is a greater production of these thiocyanates.
So rather than encourage greater intake of wild strains of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, Monsanto has genetically modified it, leading to potentially dangerous levels of glucoraphanin, all in the name of promoting health right? Wrong! Glucoraphanin has also shown insecticide properties. The true purpose of producing this transgenic broccoli is to provide another method to ensure farmers are only buying Monsanto seed.
All of this brings us to the incestuous relationship between the corporate agricultural system and our government. Subsidies, loans and price-fixes have made it economically feasible to raise substantial amounts of monocrops. Additionally, regulatory agencies, such as the USDA and the FDA, are often influenced by the agricultural giants such as Monsanto, Cargill, ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland [ADM], through a seemingly never-ending army of food lobbyists. This is confounded further by the fact that high profile members of the industrial agricultural system often gain employment by these same regulatory agencies and vice versa, referred to as the revolving door system. Current FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, Michael Taylor, who has bounced back and forth between Monsanto and its representing law firm King & Spalding, as well as the USDA and the FDA, best exemplifies this system.
Another major issue is that professional organizations, such as the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics have corporate sponsors including Coca-Cola, Pepsico, General Mills and Kelloggs. This has all led to the development of food production practices and policies that benefit the shareholders at the expense of health.
Over the last ten thousand years, humans have radically changed their environment and the way that they eat. This has exploded at an unprecedented rate in the last century. While some of these advancements have been beneficial, many more have not. In the final installment of our series, we will look at what steps you can take right now to mitigate the damage of these changes to help you on your way to achieving your optimal life.