The Los Angeles Times reports, Don M. Huber, an emeritus professor at Purdue University, who has done research for Monsanto on chemical herbicides, claims he and his research associates have found a link between genetically modified crops and crop diseases and infertility in livestock.
Huber says the link is associated with an “unknown organism” discovered last summer in Midwestern fields suffering from a plant disease known as “sudden death syndrome” — when healthy fields are suddenly littered with yellowed leaves and dead plants.
“This organism appears NEW to science!” Huber wrote in a letter in January to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the matter. He added, “I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high-risk status. In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.”
Huber and a group of researchers surveyed soybean fields in Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois, and took soil and plant samples. Some of the fields were planted with seeds using Monsanto’s technology and sprayed with glyphosate.
They assumed they were seeing a normal sudden-death-syndrome outbreak, Huber said, whose team sent the samples to a researcher who had access to an electron microscope. Huber claims that’s when they discovered the unknown, new organism.
Treehugger reports the electron microscope is 36,000X power, and that’s why they were able to detect the organism which is about the size of a virus. “The scary part: it can reproduce, and possesses the rare ability to cause disease in both plants and animals.”
“If I’m wrong, says Huber, “OK. What’s the worst that can happen? If I’m not, then we find out what it is.”
As expected, the usual suspects dedicated in defending the biotechnology industry cried foul. An official from the Iowa Department of Agriculture claims Huber is telling horror stories with nothing to back it up, and the head of Purdue’s botany and plant pathology department, where Huber is an emeritus professor, says Huber’s claims are “simply ridiculous”.
Huber declined to identify his fellow researchers publicly because they’re concerned about professional backlash by their academic employers who received research funding from the biotechnology industry.
Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior plant pathologist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the fears driving Huber’s fellow researchers to remain anonymous are warranted.
As the Times points out, in 2009, a group of 26 entomologists —all in favor of technology, most from universities with large agricultural programs — filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency saying that biotech firms were preventing academic researchers from fully studying the effectiveness and environmental impact of genetically engineered crops.
“As public funding has been drying up in the agricultural sciences, industry has been filling the gap. Public-sector scientists are getting more and more money, and there’s a strong perception that if they say anything negative about the biotechnology companies, they could lose their funding and essentially be blackballed,” Gurian-Sherman said.
Gurian-Sherman says even if Huber’s discovery later turns out to be invalid, there are mounting concerns that the government approved genetically engineered alfalfa too quickly and without doing enough research about potential long-term effects on the environment.
Indeed, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced his decision to authorize the unrestricted commercial cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa; Alfalfa is grown mostly to make hay fed to dairy cows and horses, and is the nation’s fourth-largest crop by acreage.
And despite a US federal ban on GM sugar beet plants, the USDA gave farmers permission to resume planting Monsanto’s genetically modified beets, and now allows the unrestricted planting of GM crops without passage of a regulatory review.
“He [Huber] has gotten people to think and talk about sudden death syndrome,” said David Wright, research director for the Iowa Soybean Assn. “SDS is a problem that needs additional research. Scientists challenge each other all the time and that’s a good thing. That’s how we get solutions.”
The Times article notes that about 75% of processed food on the country’s grocery shelves — such as margarine and chicken soup — contains engineered ingredients.
The soybean fields Huber investigated used seeds developed by Monsanto that were sprayed with its glyphosate weed killer, Roundup Ready. Monsanto patented glyphosate under the trade name Roundup in the 1970′s. The widespread use of GM and and Roundup Ready has led to super weeds that are resistant to the pesticide.
Like GM corn and soy, these weeds have bred themselves to tolerate Roundup and are invading farms across the country.
Last year, Monsanto announced a new program that offers millions of dollars in rebates to farmers who combine Roundup with more herbicides manufactured by the company’s competitors to combat the glyphosate-resistant weeds threatening GM crops across the country.
“The mere presence of superweeds and the fact that Monsanto is now paying farmers to spray additional chemicals that are more toxic than Roundup, is evidence of a complete regulatory breakdown, according to watchdog group Center for Food Safety (CFS)”.
Additionally, a leading embryologist at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School published a study that shows glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto’s popular Roundup formula caused deformations in chicken embryos that resembled the kind of birth defects being reported in areas like La Leonesa, a small farm town in Argentina, where big agribusinesses depend on glyphosate to treat genetically engineered crops.
And the study claimed the deformations resulted from much lower doses of herbicide than those commonly found on crops.
Letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Huber’s open letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlines “the dangers of this organism, how it was discovered, and his recommendation that a moratorium on the sale and planting of Roundup Ready crops be put in place immediately.”
“In summary, because of the high titer of this new animal pathogen in Roundup Ready crops, and its association with plant and animal diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions, we request USDA’s participation in a multi-agency investigation, and an immediate moratorium on the deregulation of RR crops until the causal/predisposing relationship with glyphosate and/or RR plants can be ruled out as a threat to crop and animal production and human health.
It is urgent to examine whether the side-effects of glyphosate use may have facilitated the growth of this pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to weakened plant and animal hosts. It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases…”