The Frightening ​USDA Ruling In Favor of Frankenfoods

October 27th, 2015

Just three weeks after 19 European countries told the European Union they wanted no part of a new genetically modified crop, we were reminded this week how our federal government feels about “frankenfood.”

Monsanto’s newest genetically engineered corn seed—MON 87411, which the biotech company developed to fight rootworms and be tolerant to glyphosate herbicides—cleared an important regulatory hurdle Friday when the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services deregulated the seed.

The board ruled that the seed poses “no significant threat to agricultural crops, other plants, or the environment,” clearing it to be assessed by other regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and regulators in other countries.

Despite the multiyear safety and approval process genetically engineered crops undergo before coming to market, it’s unlikely any U.S. agency will stop its progress, let alone any federal official. Monsanto is counting on it, in fact: it told Reuters in a statement that plans are already under way for a full commercial release of the company’s SmartStax PRO, a product line featuring MON 87411 maize, by 2020.

And why shouldn’t Monsanto be confident? The company has faced few political challenges at the federal level to its products coming to market, staying there, and earning Monsanto lots and lots of money.

Take last week’s Senate Agricultural Committee meeting, for instance. It was the committee’s first hearing addressing biotechnology and GMO labeling in a decade, with industry officials announcing the inherent safety of biotechnology and pushing for passage of the DARK Act, which would overturn state-level GMO labeling initiatives. For their part, senator after senator from both parties parroted the talking points of Monsanto, Syngenta, and the agribusiness lobby in praising technologies they say “have helped create more food” and “helped keep our food safe.”

GMO opponents were furious.

“Rather than an honest dialogue on the merits and risks of GMOs and the need for new common sense regulations, the Senate Ag committee decided to run a show trial for Monsanto that whitewashed GMOs,” wrote Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now! after the hearing.

Worse than that, though, senators and a strategically selected group of GMO-friendly experts roundly dismissed the categorization of glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp weedkiller and a reason why MON 87411 was developed—by the state of California and the World Health Organization as “probably” being a cancer-causing agent.

To summarize, we have elected officials ignoring scientific research and siding with industry against an American public, the majority of which believes genetically modified foods are unsafe to consume and should be labeled.

Sometimes it feels like we’re living in bizarro world, doesn’t it?

Photo credit: Sharon Drummond via Flickr

This article is related to: Glyphosate, GMO Facts, GMO Foods, GMO Health Risks, Organic

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Steve HoltSteve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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