Genetically Modified Foods and the Threat to Public Health

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

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The unfortunate history of Monsanto and the denial of responsibility for PCB pollution and harm to public health should be a red flag when considering potential harm of Roundup and Roundup-resistant genetically modified crops

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are another ubiquitous organic environmental pollutant now known to be responsible for, or contributing to, many chronic human diseases, as well as being a well-known major contributor to global warming. PCBs were manufactured by Monsanto and declared illegal in 1979 in the United States by Congressional Law, and in 2001 by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, but unfortunately, the widespread contamination from PCBs, universally used in dialectrics and coolants, although less harmful chemicals could have been substituted, has resulted in untold numbers of cancers and other diseases and states of subfertility. In 2002, a trial of Monsanto for recklessly and purposefully hiding the evidence of harm and continuing to widely promote PCBs was conducted. Monsanto, in this trial, claimed that they knew of the dangers from PCBs since 1966, and had urged the discontinuance of the product, but that they were not officially banned until 1979, by which time they were ubiquitous in the environment and therefore no blame could be legally put on the Monsanto Company. Oh my God! Monsanto's legal defense was that they tried to stop themselves from poisoning the human race for 13 years, but just couldn't, so they obviously are innocent. PCBs are now proven to cause cancer, endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity, yet Monsanto insisted vigorously for decades, producing much "scientific study" to prove safety, that led to decades of approval by the U.S. government. This sounds eerily familiar to the debate on glyphosphate organic pesticide.

Chlorinated diphenyls, the precursors to the PCBs, were discovered in the early 20th century, and the patent was purchased by Monsanto in 1929. Monsanto changed the group of chemicals to polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, and by 1936 claims of health risks and injury to health were being investigated and litigated. Polychlorinated napthalenes were also created at this time from coal tar hydrocarbons, and widely used, especially by Dupont. Decades of both acute toxic injury to workers, as well as concerns about the accumulation in the environment and public health threat from these chemicals did not create limitation on their use. Of course. Monsanto and Dupont instead heavily promoted these chemicals and spent a fortune on studies to prove safety and lobbying of elected officials to insure that sales were not impeded. Instead of limiting these chemicals when proof of harm was presented, initially skin disease and toxic liver disease, these companies heavily increased promotion, production and sales. Again, the theory was that the chemicals were organic and broke down in the natural environment, with a relatively short half-life. The same argument that we now hear about glyphosates.

Unfortunately, the full life of these toxic hydrocarbons was very prolonged, and the widespread industrial use led to a heavy contamination in the environment for the entire population of industrialized countries. Instead of heeding warnings of public health, many elected officials instead hid the dumping of large amounts of PCBs in the environment before the expected ban in 1979. The worst event occurred in North Carolina, where 31,000 gallons of PCB contaminated oil were dumped at night along the highways, looking like normal road maintenance, and the governor ordered that signs be put up announcing warnings that PCB "spills" had occurred along the highways. Numerous other supposedly government authorized "spills" were uncovered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leading to the creation of the Superfund to try to clean up the massive contamination. Eventually, Monsanto claimed no responsibility for any of this, and used as a defense that now PCBs were in the tissues of all humans the world over, and that little actual proof of harm or disease was yet proven, except skin disorders. The U.S. government and governments around the world proved otherwise. Monsanto created another company that bought the liability, called Solutia! The level of distrust that this has naturally created is enormous, yet the company is saying to the public and the U.S. government and the rest of the world that we should again just trust them on the issue of Roundup glyphosate herbicides and the subsequent genetically modified Roundup-resistant staple food crops that they are again making an enormous profit from. By 2015, Monsanto reported revenues of about $9 billion per year from just the Roundup Ready and Bt seed crops, and they have placed "terminator" genes in these crops to prevent the second generation seeds from working so the farmers have to keep buying new seeds, all with the assurance that these "terminator" genes will never cross drift into the genes of other crops and stop that crop from reproducing!

In 2016, after decades of failure to update the 40-year old Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, and an accumulation of thousands of toxic chemicals that have failed to be evaluated, with more than a thousand acknowledged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as hazardous to public health, the U.S. Congress finally passed an update to this Act. Unfortunately, in this Republican bill and amendment was slipped in, just a single paragraph that our Congress hoped would go unnoticed in a large piece of legislation, that again shielded Monsanto from liability for PCB toxicity, not from the federal government, which has passed a number of bill protecting Monsanto, the only manufacturer of PCBs, from actual penalties. criminal neglect, or clean-up, but which shields the companies created by Monsanto to take on the PCB liability from other state, local and civil lawsuits concerning the enormous costs to protect the public from the ubiquitous PCBs that still present considerable hazard to public health because they haven't broken down in the environment yet, even after being be banned from use or sale in 1979! So much for the safe organic nature of the PCBs! This clause in H.R. 2576, found at section 7(c), would not only block lawsuits from citizens, companies and state and local governments for PCB clean-up and injury, but would also prevent these state and local governments from enacting their own laws or regulations governing PCBs! So much for the much touted 'states rights' promoted by the Republicans! At least 6 major cities have sued in 2015 to have the Monsanto Solutia pay for the long-needed clean-up of PCBs in contaminated waterways, and this paragraph again gives Monsanto many billions of dollars that they would have had to pay in liability! Hopefully, the Senate and the President are able to stop this massive taxpayer benefit at the cost of public health. The tactic clearly pits the need to pass an update and finally regulate thousands of toxic substances harming our children and pregnant mothers against a clear giveaway again to Monsanto, in effect holding us hostage. Such clear lobbying and under the table payouts by this large corporation to achieve its monetary goals is again astounding.

So much has now been written and uncovered about the toxicity and long-term environmental harm to public health from these chemicals like PCB that the subject is perhaps hidden in too much information. Perhaps the clearest proof of harm to the public came in a 1956 rejection of a hydraulic fluid in submarines that was made of PCBs. The U.S. Navy conducted their own toxicology tests and found that topical application killed all animals in a study, and that a statistical model from their studies indicated that Navy seamen would experience liver damage from exposure. The head of the Monsanto Medical Department wrote that he was upset that the Navy had just not used the Monsanto study data, like all non-military contractors had before them, and that such study data was dependent upon interpretation, which was relative. He wrote in memos that appeared in court in 2001 that he could not expect the U.S. Military to interpret such data to prove safety in the future. To suggest that the U.S. military would lie about product toxicity when they have a history of just the opposite is outrageous, but has been used by Monsanto nonetheless. By 2010, cases such as the enormous damage to health caused by the PCB contamination of St. Lawrence Island, in Alaska, the site of a large military radar installation that closed in 1972, with much electronic equipment containing PCBs, as well as many barrels of chemicals that were just buried instead of disposed of properly, have been highly studied. The small native community has a very high incidence of cancers, and other diseases. Research in 2014 showed that the wildlife and ecosystem were still loaded with PCBs, and the human residents had levels many times higher than most other places in the U.S. In recent years, the Army Corp of Engineers has spent more than $110 million finally cleaning up the Northeast Cape of Alaska, but the problems are still great, representing the enormous future cost to taxpayers from PCB contamination. This interpretation of data used by Monsanto to escape liability is what has led to much suspicion concerning glyphosate pesticides and genetically-engineered seed crops, where this same legal tactic is applied. It appears that once again the human race will be subjected to incredible health risk and harm with no accountability and outrageous tactics created to achieve this goal. Why human beings that work at Monsanto would go along with such potentially harmful behavior is the question that we all should be asking. In the meantime, what real harm would occur if we just acted more cautiously until safety was completely assured?

We certainly can understand the system of business regulation in the United States, giving business a relatively free hand to develop new technology, and depending on their sense of ethics and morality, as well as the effects of negative publicity, to insure that products are not marketed that will significantly harm public health. With a company like Monsanto, though, who already violated this trust by widely promoting the sale and usage of toxic PCB dioxins, and was found guilty of such behavior, many U.S. citizens wonder why they should have been given the benefit of the doubt in the fast widespread marketing and usage of the combination of Roundup glyphosate herbicide and the Roundup Resistant genetically modified crops. I believe the adage is "Fool me once and shame on you, but fool me twice and shame on me".

The Checkered History of Monsanto includes its role in creation and promotion of Agent Orange, a combination of two herbicides made with dioxins, that was extensively used in Vietnam and Southeast Asia as a weapon to destroy this "Breadbasket of the World" and promote the global market for surplus American grain

Agent Orange was one of 15 herbicides developed for the Vietnam War, or Southeast Asia Conflict, one of the most egregious acts of utilizing warfare to destroy local economies and change the global marketplace the world has ever seen. Most Americans still do not realize the true motivations for the Southeast Asia Conflict, or the devastating consequences. This 8-year war served absolutely no purpose in national defense, with the countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia posing absolutely no threat, and no real evidence existing that China had any intentions of expanding its territory, or influencing the world balance of power in a way that could actually threaten the security of the United States. Indeed, the war was sold to the American public as a war to address the "Domino Effect" of the spread of communism, a response to the McCarthy Era hysteria concerning communism as a godless ideology that threatens Christian civilization. Today, we see a partnering with China, one of the most successful socioeconomic civilizations in world history, and no evidence that China ever had the motivations of hegemony or even atheism that were purported during the Vietnam War, with current conservative estimates that up to 130 million Chinese citizens openly and actively practice their Christian faith today (the government officially states that 25 million practice Christianity). To put this into perspective, Church leaders in the U.S. state that only 20 percent of Americans attend Christian church services, and 130 million in China would equal about 10 percent. Indeed, the Southeast Asia Conflict was purely motivated by economic motivations, not national defense, with the chief economic motivation being to change the dynamics of the world staple grain market. The U.S. conflict succeeded in this regard, creating a huge market for the excess production of a few strains of hybrid wheat, corn and soybean. Agent Orange was the key weapon in this global economic campaign, and it was created by Monsanto.

The United States courts have determined that wartime contractors, such as the Monsanto Company, which produced Agent Orange for the U.S. government, and promoted its use, have absolutely no legal liability or responsibility in Agent Orange claims. Monsanto convinced the U.S. military that there were no long-term environmental and health consequences to the use of Agent Orange herbicide. This scientific study was conducted by Monsanto, and is now proving to be a lie. Decades of research have found that Agent Orange dioxins have altered the genetic makeup of the victims and the devastating health effects have been now passed through 3 generations of humans, with perhaps permanent genetic damage. The long-term effects on the environment have also been devastating. In response, the Monsanto Company states in its website that while the present Monsanto Company takes responsibility for Agent Orange, the company now, which is called the Monsanto Company, is a completely different company from the one that produced the Agent Orange, although that completely separate company was coincidentally called the Monsanto Company. Monsanto claims that the present Monsanto Company was "spun-off" as a separate, independent agricultural company in 2002! This is obviously ridiculous, and mirrors the legal and public defenses of the Monsanto Company in its defense of the creation and widespread marketing of dioxins and PCBs in industrial use. The Monsanto Company, or the present incarnation of its evil twin, the Monsanto Company, also maintains that, although the U.S. government has long been forced in legal determinations to admit that they were aware of the long-term devastating health effects of Agent Orange, and have now paid an amazing sum of legal settlements and supports to U.S. victims of Agent Orange, including both U.S. servicemen and the numerous non-military subjects of Agent Orange studies conducted in the United States prior to its use, that there is still no evidence of causal connection between Agent Orange and any chronic disease. This is a complete lie, although the Monsanto Company, or its evil twin, the Monsanto Company, has succeeded in systematically undermining the U.S. legal system and obtaining enormous settlements rather than legal judgements over decades.

Agent Orange is a unique mixture of two common herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, conjugated with harmful dioxins to achieve devastating defoliation. The Vietnam government estimates that 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and over 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of its use. The U.S. Military sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of this toxic defoliant herbicide in Southeast Asia, not only in Vietnam, but on the crops of Laos and Cambodia as well. The payment to Monsanto for this enormous amount of Agent Orange was astounding, and in 2015, the U.S. government finally agreed to pay exposed veterans of the Southeast Asia Conflict at least $47 million to settle claims of health injury to over 2100 Air Force reservists and active-duty forces. This enormous settlement is on top of disability payments related to Agent Orange herbicide, which makes up 1 of 6 disability checks issued by the Department of Veteran Affairs. This latest settlement covers Air Force personnel who were just exposed to residue of the herbicide on Fairchild C-123 aircraft, and we have never admitted to liability to the millions of civilians exposed to the 20 million gallons dumped on them as 'defoliant', not, of course, as a biological chemical weapon. Air Force personnel affected by Agent Orange residue on these planes, even after the 'Vietnam War' ended, report that this Monsanto herbicide dioxin caused skin cancer, respiratory disease, and prostate cancer, among other health problems. A spokesperson for the military, retired Air Force Major Wesley T. Carter, was quoted in Business Insider, stating: "Every medical and scientific fact convincing the Institute of Medicine of our Agent Orange exposures had been presented years earlier to the VA but was simply ignored or dismissed. That was wrong." A similar story is playing out regarding Roundup herbicide.

These 3 countries, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were called the 'breadbasket of Asia' before the War, producing about 60 percent of the staple grains of rice, millet and barley for the whole of Asia. Rice, which yields more food energy and protein per hectare of land than wheat or corn, was the source of over half of staple nutrition in Asian civilizations before the Vietnam War, or Southeast Asia Conflict. After the war, the global market for the rising surpluses of American wheat, corn and soy took over the staple marketplace in Asia. Agent Orange and the defoliation of this rich agricultural breadbasket in Southeast Asia was responsible for this globalization of American staple grain crops. While the U.S. Military and Monsanto continue to claim that 20 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over Southeast Asia merely to protect U.S. soldiers by defoliating jungle cover, it has been well established that the bulk of the Agent Orange was sprayed over food crops and villages, thus affecting millions of citizens in these countries.

The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have serious health problems due to Agent Orange. The U.S. government continues to deny these figures and responsibility, mainly due to the enormous monetary cost that the taxpayer would have to pay if legal responsibility were admitted. Agent Orange was developed by the Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. While the herbicide defoliant was a mixture of two common herbicides, 2,4-D (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid), the chemical dioxin TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin) was conjugated with 2,4,5-T to create the devastating defoliant and genetic modifying effects, this dioxin is still a chief concern of medical experts in Vietnam. Dow Chemical has also created a genetically modified soy crop (GMO) that is resistant to 2,4-D by insertion of a bacterial aryloxyalkanoate dioxygenase gene, working with Monsanto to market this new genetically modified soy and other 2,4-D resistant crops to replace Roundup-Ready genetically modified food staple crops when the prevalence of glyphosate Roundup resistant 'superweeds' become so prevalent as to force this change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approval for this new GMO in 2013. While 2,4-D has been widely used for decades as an herbicide, and considered safe, certain types of 2,4-D differ from the traditional herbicide, and contain dioxins, such as TCDD, a dioxin component of Agent Orange, due to the type of manufacturing process used by Dow and other generic manufacturers.

The Rotterdam Convention is a United Nations sponsored global initiative created in 1999 and inclusive of 170 countries, created due to the threat of a dramatic growth in chemical production and global trade that has raised alarms concerning risks posed by herbicides and related hazardous chemicals. The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) and UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) joined to create the Rotterdam Convention, which has issued a report on the toxicity of 2,4,5-T herbicide with its salts and esters, widely contaminated by the dioxin TCDD, a component of Agent Orange. 25 Trade Names (from 1991) were listed in this report. The Rotterdam Convention states that "control actions to ban or severely restrict 2,4,5-T have been reported by 14 countries since the early 1970s. Most countries have controlled 2,4,5-T for reasons of the high toxicity of the 2,3,7,8 TCDD contaminant. The contaminant has been found to be carcinogenic and to cause fetal abnormalities. Other reasons include long persistency and environmental effects, bioaccumulation potential, formation of highly toxic substances upon thermolysis, and the teratogenic (fetal mutating) and carcinogenic (cancer causing) risks associated with TCDD contaminant. All 2,4,5-T is contaminated with TCDD to varying degrees."

The creators and manufacturers continue to disseminate information that these common herbicides are completely safe and have posed no health threats. News services in the United States continue to assert that the dioxin contamination of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D herbicides is largely due to the Chinese, although the 25 versions of this herbicide listed by the Rotterdam Convention are not Chinese company names. The Monsanto Company is well known as a major early producer of 2,4,5-T, as well as the now infamous DDT, an insecticide that was banned by the U.S. Congress in 1972 after the facts published in the book Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson became verified. Silent Spring, a groundbreaking study of how companies like Monsanto systematically reduced the natural resources evolved to control insect populations to promote sales of chemical insecticides that they knew beforehand would create eventual resistance in insect species and become ineffective, thus providing only short-term benefits, but ultimately creating long-term dependency on new chemical insecticides after the natural homeostatic defenses in the environment were destroyed, has now been universally hailed as a scientific classic. This DDT business plan was sound, and sounds similar to the promotion of the GMOs and herbicides that are now causing much alarm, but the eventual public benefit is nill, with many problems that affect the health, environment and economy of future generations.

Organochlorine pesticides such as DDT were all finally banned, but the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that these chemicals do not break down in the environment easily and are bioaccumulative in human tissues. The U.S. EPA notes that organochlorines harm the reproductive system, the kidneys, the liver, the gastrointestinal system, the thyroid, the eyes, and cause miscarriages and cancers. Companies such as Monsanto and Dow promoted these simple chemical pesticides with assurances that they were perfectly safe, broke down easily in the environment, and posed no threat to human health. DDT was sprayed without protection over a great part of the United States to decrease the threats of mosquito-born diseases, with trucks spraying DDT as they road down country roads with children standing along the road. Not only did we find that DDT was amazingly harmful to human health, but that these organochlorine chemicals are still in the environment and being ingested 50 years later. A study by researchers at the University of Washington and Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. (cited in the section of this article entitled Additional Information, with a link) noted in 2013 that a large study of young women with endometriosis showed consistently that the bioaccumulation of organochlorine pesticides in tissues correlated with endometriosis. Organochlorines were not only used for pesticides, but for fire-retardant effects, as plasticizers, solvents, lubricants, and dielectric fluids. The list of organochlorines includes DDT, dioxins, PCBs, PCDDs, and thousands of other industrial chemicals, almost all of them now banned, but still ubiquitous in the environment decades later, accumulating in fatty tissues, passing easily across the placenta to the fetus, causing toxicity, fetal defects, cancers, hormonal disorders, neurological diseases, and more.

The horrible history of Agent Orange and the herbicides and dioxins still promoted by Monsanto and Dow Chemical must give pause to anyone considering the assurances of safety of these Roundup-Ready GMO crops, glyphosate herbicides, and now the 2,4-D resistant GMO crops proposed by Dow to replace the Roundup-Ready GMO crops when the cross contamination of genetic traits spreads so severely to common weed species that superweeds threaten our staple agriculture and farmers are forced to abandon Roundup-Ready GMO crops and glyphosate Roundup herbicide. The assurances that none of this technology is harmful and will have no effect on human health and genetics, when these companies have created and produced devastating PCBs, dioxins, agricultural weapons, and other agricultural chemicals that have been now proven to create devastating long-term harm, have an empty ring. Some have publicly wondered whether Monsanto and Dow Chemical struck a deal with the United States government when they developed an effective herbicide-based chemical warfare agent that skirted the legal international ban on chemical weapons, and hence were given a free hand to later develop and widely fast-track marketing of harmful industrial chemicals based on dioxins and herbicides, and now herbicides and matching genetically engineered staple food crops. If so, this may backfire with the widespread international attention that these genetically modified crops are getting.

To counter the upcoming introduction of new GMO crops and harmful herbicides by Dow Chemical, in 2015 it was announced discreetly around Christmas that Dow and Dupont would merge, separate their businesses into 3 specialties, and give these different names in 2016, with the agricultural products division receiving a name that will not be recognized by the concerned public. Already, these two companies, long linked, Dow and Dupont, have both reached a point where no matter how rich and powerful they are they are no longer avoiding scrutiny. To counter this scrutiny, new tactics are devised. An article in the January 10, 2016 New York Times Sunday Magazine, entitled Bob Bilott v. Dupont, outlines how this corporate lawyer for the firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister, and long an advocate for companies such as Dupont, took on a lawsuit by a West Virginia farmer whose land had been contaminated by runoff from a dump site from the Dupont Parkersburg plant that contained a chemical called PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid (C8), a surfactant that was developed to manufacture teflon coating on cookware. A decades-long legal battle over the unregulated PFOA resulted finally in the firms that manufactured this and similar chemicals, 3M and Dupont, discontinuing production, but like the PCBs, this chemical does not break down in the environment and continues to contaminate nearly the entire human race now, as well as the animals and plants in the environment. A large settled class action suit resulted in the first real scientific study outside of the extensive medical studies conducted by Dupont and hidden, with proof of a causative connection to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and pregnancy-induced hypertension. There is also strong evidence the PFOA and other organofluorine chemicals in this class are associated with infertility and other health problems. The lawsuit revealed Dupont documents that their medical experts found by 1993 that PFOA caused testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors in lab animals, yet they increased production and violated their own advice to dispose of this hazardous chemical responsibly. Today, they have introduced another organofluorine to replace PFOA, claiming that this version breaks down more easily in the environment. They have paid enormous fines for their deeds, but these only total a few percent of the profits they make with these chemicals. Soon, such enormous harm will continue under a different name, and a new company name, and most of the public will still be unaware even as they and their lover ones experience these devastating diseases and health problems.