Roundup (Glyphosate) is a particularly effective herbicide that is widely used in agriculture to control weeds growing among food crops. Monsanto, the developer of Roundup, wedded Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) with Roundup to create a completely integrated system of crops that are genetically altered to be resistant to Roundup (Roundup-ready) and the use of Roundup to kill weeds in fields in which the crops grow.
Corn, soybeans and many other foodstuffs are now grown from Roundup resistant GMO seeds, increasing yields and profitability. However, such tampering with nature risks short-circuiting natural selection and unpredictable risks and problems can arise; a big one seems to be on the horizon.
Dr. Don Huber, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University is deeply concerned about a new pathogen that is killing crops and the animals that feed on them. It appears that Roundup-ready crops, combined with repeated applications of Roundup, exterminate a number of soil based micro-flora organisms, some of which are essential to the plant uptake of vital minerals like manganese. An absence of manganese, an essential nutrient, results in higher susceptibility to disease and death. Moreover, a yet unnamed ultra-microscopic pathogen visible only with an electron microscope is causing an alarmingly high number of stillbirths and infertility in animals fed GMO crops grown in roundup treated soil, like corn and soybeans. Cattle, pigs, horses and poultry have all been affected.
The pathogen in question has been found as well in the mycelium (tendrils) of the fungal organism which causes sudden death syndrome in some plants. This pathogen is not a virus nor a prion (improperly folded protein), can be cultured and reproduces. In animals, it kills embryos, causes infertility, and death.
Monsanto is preparing to release its Roundup-ready alfalfa seeds for use in agriculture. Alfalfa provides the vast majority of forage used in animal feed, particularly cattle and horses. If, as Dr. Huber says, the quality of this feed is nutritionally substandard, particularly in manganese, food production will be severely impacted. In time, if GMO alfalfa comes to dominate the food production cycle as it has with corn and soybeans, there may be no turning back. He has suggested to the Obama administration that the release of GMO alfalfa be delayed until nutrition and the new pathogen can be more fully investigated, and urges the public to weigh-in in the name of caution.
Much has been written about industrial food production, its risks and benefits. The green revolution is now feeding 6.5 billion people, and will have to feed 10 billion people by the end of this century. Climate change may decrease the amount of arable land and fresh water supplies. We are dependent on fossil fuel based fertilizers that will become more expensive as oil supplies diminish. In short, feeding the world’s expanding population is a major challenge, but rushing ahead with insufficiently tested chemicals and genetically modified organisms could doom any such efforts to failure.
We live in times of ever-increasing speed combined with a globalized materialistic frenzy. In our haste to profitably supply growing markets, we risk losing touch with the ground of our being, the natural but vulnerable dynamic of a living earth that supports and nourishes us. We rush ahead at great cost, and our greedy impatience does not serve us or future generations well at all.