7 Dirty Little Secrets about GMOs that Impact Everyone

Transparency is sexy.  Misleading people, not so much.

Americans are waking up to how our food is made and quickly realizing that are food supply has been polluted with ingredients we didn’t even know existed. Some companies like Chipotle are getting in front of this and telling consumers how their food is being made.  Others are having an allergic reaction to labeling.

If you had no idea that ingredients, labeled by the EPA as pesticides, are hiding in your food, you’re not alone.

Seven dirty little secrets about GMOs that impact everyone from farmers to families to the financials of our economy:

1. Shh, Don’t Mention the Food Waste

“We need this technology to feed to world” is the marketing cry of the big chemical companies.  In truth, they do need this technology to feed the expectations of shareholders, but it turns out that more than one-third of the food produced in the world goes to waste. That amounts to 1.3 billion tons every year, costing us economically.  In this country alone, we throw away 96 billion pounds of food every year, or 27 percent of the total amount of available food. That’s 3,000 pounds of food a second. With the United Nations on record saying that we need more than just genetically engineered food tools in the toolbox, it appears what we also need is a smarter distribution model to address this waste.

2. Forget Big Tobacco, it’s Big Razor’s Playbook

Gillette will practically give away the razor to get people hooked on buying the razor blade.  It’s a smart strategy for chemical companies, too.  They offer the genetically engineered seed at a discount, then get farmers on the hook for buying the chemicals and suite of chemical products required to make their seeds grow. Pesticide application is up 527 million pounds since the introduction of these genetically engineered crops.

3. EPA now Regulates this Genetically Engineered Corn as a Pesticide

Seriously, if you had the choice on your kitchen table or at a BBQ between a corn regulated by the EPA as a pesticide and one that wasn’t, which would you choose?  No brainer.  We should know which one is the pesticide and which foods it is going into.

4. Pouring on the Pesticides

The latest analysis shows that genetically engineered crops have driven up overall pesticide use across the country, contributing to a 527 million pound increase in herbicide use between 1996 and 2011. And last year alone, genetically engineered crops used 20 percent more pesticides on average than non-GE crops. Who pays for that?  Farmers and the people that eat them.  Who benefits?  The chemical companies selling the seeds engineered to withstand these increasing doses.  It goes straight to the bottom line and into the bank.

5. Patent the Chemicals as a Drug

The increasingly controversial weed killer, glyphosate, has been patented an antibiotic: Who knew that the patent had been filed? Apparently the US Patent and Trademark Office.  As a growing number of farmers express concern over what this chemical is doing to their soil as headlines around the world express concern over what it is doing to humans, you have to ask yourself: given the 21st century technology we have today, is it time to make this 20th century, chemically intensive operating system, obsolete?

6. Patents Protect Intellectual Property

“The development of genetic engineering of plants in the 1980s was accompanied by a sequence of increasingly specific confirmations of the patentability of various types of life forms, provided that they met the standard patent criteria of novelty, utility, and nonobviousness.”  Nonobviousness is pretty discreet.  So let’s say a pediatric cancer or autism group wanted to study if these crops and chemicals are contributing to the rates of cancer or autism.  They’d have to go to Monsanto or the other big chemical companies for permission. It’s worth considering that just as Big Tobacco did before it, these chemical companies just might possibly be relying upon concealment of its documents from the public under intellectual property law to avoid liabilities and to evade regulation.

7. Labels Mean Liability

Right now the companies using these genetically engineered foods want a ban on state labeling and are trying to stop a growing call for mandatory national labeling.  Why?  Because without labels, this “GMO Buyers Club” can claim that there is no evidence that these crops have ever caused any harm.  And guess what? Without labels, they are right, there is no evidence.  Labels would bring accountability, traceability and liability. It’s no wonder that the food industry is so allergic to labeling these genetically engineered ingredients in the United States.  An allergic reaction to food sends someone to the ER once every three minutes.

We label the inside parts of our cars, our cell phones and our computers, so why is the chemical industry so cloaked about what goes into our food?

Can you imagine if Intel operated this way?  There would be no Intel Inside and no way of knowing which parts of the operating system were functioning as promised and which parts might be detrimental to the system.

We’ve got GMO Inside our food, but no label to tell us.

The chemical industry argues that labeling would drive up food costs, and they would have to pass these added expenses on to consumers. But it doesn’t ring true, especially when you look at how American food companies label these ingredients in the products that they sell overseas and at the number of label changes for pink ribbons, Easter Bunnies or holiday packaging.

Without labels on genetically engineered ingredients, the industry can claim “no evidence of harm.”  And they are right. Without labels, there is no traceability, accountability and liability. No way for these companies to be held accountable for the costs that they are externalizing onto society, our farmers, their farms and our economy.

But if the tobacco industry is any indication, it is only a matter of time before these externalized costs come back onto the financial statements of the chemical companies. Farmers and families are being impacted, and there is an antecedent here: it is Medicaid Third Party Liability (TPL) recovery obtained from “Big Tobacco,” totaling $240 billion.

As the number of food companies opting out of these ingredients grows, so too, does the number of attorneys who have children that are impacted by food allergies and other conditions.

The food awakening is on, and the companies that are opting out of genetically engineered ingredients and willing to be transparent with the consumers are capturing market share.

That is sexy to shareholders.

Hiding your ingredients and making food dirty with GMOs and lots of chemicals? Not so much.

Robyn O’Brien was a financial analyst that covered the food industry.  She is also an author and mother of four. Learn more at www.robynobrien.com and how to opt out of GMOs by purchasing products labeled with the Non GMO Project verification and USDA Organic seals. 


Monsanto’s position on labeling in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: Notice of Annual Meeting of Shareowners and 2013 Proxy Statement.

Wall Street Journal poll : Do you think genetically engineered foods should be labeled? 87% of Americans said yes.

United States Patent and Trademark Office, glyphosate patent http://goo.gl/mrjadw  

“Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years” by Charles M. Benbrook http://news.cahnrs.wsu.edu/files/2012/10/Benbrook-paper_major-findings-2012-09b.pdf

United Nation’s Special Report on the Right to Food http://www.srfood.org/en 

EPA Pesticides: Regulating Pesticides http://www.epa.gov/oppbppd1/biopesticides/pips/regofbtcrops.htm

Plant Genetic Engineering and Intellectual Property Protection http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8186.pdf

Monsanto’s Technology Stewardship Agreement http://thefarmerslife.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/scan_doc0004.pdf

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