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MIT believes we need genetically modified food to save the world…really?

The cover of the December MIT technology review has an article entitled “Why we need genetically modified foods”.  I assume we also need saccharin and glyphosate to save the world too…The basic premise of the article is that GMO’s are needed if we are to produce enough food for the growing population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

The scientific argument is basically that the ability to insert a gene into a plant for a specific trait rather than horizontally breed that plant to have that trait seems like a simple way to modify plant behavior in a faster time frame. The problem I see is the time it takes to study the side effects.  A plant that is bred for resistance to disease is done so naturally.  Injecting a gene into a plant tissue circumvents the natural process.  It is difficult to say this will always be detrimental or will have adverse health effects but it is something that we can’t know for many years because it will take a long time to look at its effects on humans.  In addition, let’s look at some of the motivational forces behind GMOs.  I can’t fault profiting through patent protection, which is essential for inventions to be protected and creates a motivation to expand investments in technology.  Nevertheless, one example of GMO having an effect beyond simply breeding crops, is how RoundUp Ready corn has created an increased use of glyphosate (also sold by Monsanto) that has entered our ecological systems as a result.

I wonder whether the author has read the study by a MIT scientist on glyphosate “Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases” (Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, Entropy 2013)

Below is the abstract that I would encourage everyone to read:

Abstract: Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is the most popular herbicide used worldwide. The industry asserts it is minimally toxic to humans, but here we argue otherwise. Residues are found in the main foods of the Western diet, comprised primarily of sugar, corn, soy and wheat. Glyphosate's inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics. Thus, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is the “textbook example” of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins.


The author of the MIT Technology Review states GMO’s are needed to counter climate change and use less water, etc….I wonder what else helps with these issues which is not GMO?  Yes, mycorrhizae.  Over the past year I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of growers adapting mycorrhizal fungi who have never been very concerned with organics.  The reason is mycorrhizae has proven itself in adverse conditions, in particular in the way it handles draught-like conditions and remedial soil.  In realizing what it can do, I see many growers begin to adapt more organic practices because of their interest in feeding the biology.  To give an example, recently at a trade show I met a landscaper who had been using mycorrhizal inoculants for the first time last year in remedial soil and was amazed at the results.  He even said he wasn’t concerned about organics but realized what proper biology can do and more importantly how it impacted the bottom line of his business (he usually guarantees trees to his customers).

My main response to the article would be to look at biological approaches as and more importantly to focus on local growing rather than mass-produced GMOs.  There is still plenty of land and space to grow (remember hydroponics are effective too and many hydroponic growers are using mycorrhizae and other biology).  I had previously written on even converting lawns to gardens.  If just a small fraction of the population did this, think of the amount of extra aggregate food it would produce.

Good Growing,

Graham Phillips

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