Over the years, Monsanto's Ready Roundup product has been in the news, mainly because of court battles over whether or not it is safe for use. About a year ago, the Supreme Court weighed in and now we are beginning the 2011 growing season with another bit of information about this product that should not be ignored:
Dr. Don Huber did not seek fame when he quietly penned a confidential letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in January of this year, warning Vilsack of preliminary evidence of a microscopic organism that appears in high concentrations in genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans and “appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably human beings.” Huber, a retired Purdue University professor of plant pathology and U.S. Army colonel, requested the USDA’s help in researching the matter and suggested Vilsack wait until the research was concluded before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. But about a month after it was sent, the letter was leaked, soon becoming an internet phenomenon.
Huber was unavailable to respond to media inquiries in the weeks following the leak, and thus unable to defend himself when several colleagues from Purdue publicly claiming to refute his accusations about Monsanto’s widely used herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and Roundup Ready crops. When his letter was finally acknowledged by the mainstream media, it was with titles like “Scientists Question Claims in Biotech Letter,” noting that the letter’s popularity on the internet “has raised concern among scientists that the public will believe his unsupported claim is true.”People do tend to pick up Internet phenomenons and run with them. Does that mean they are wrong about the science? Invariably, someone with hefty credentials (not me) will pick up a story and run with it and explain the science better than the government does.
It's important to note that Dr. Huber wants to do more research and that, as a consequence of that research, it may very well be that the product is safe. Even though Huber is speaking about about peer-reviewed research that has come to light, I think that the overall picture is incomplete. Is it worth examining? Absolutely. Too often, we believe the horror stories and fail to acknowledge that a product that is being marketed out there has controversies that need to be investigated and explained better. It also might mean that there is a coverup at work, and that Monsanto may have gotten one over on a very corporate-friendly Supreme Court.
This is what I would like to see investigated:
Some of the crops Huber named, corn and soy, are genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with glyphosate. Others, like wheat and barley, are not. In those cases, a farmer would apply glyphosate to kill weeds about a week before planting his or her crop, but would not spray the crop itself. In the case of corn, as Huber points out, most corn varieties in the U.S. are bred using conventional breeding techniques to resist the disease Goss’ wilt. However, recent preliminary research showed that when GE corn is sprayed with glyphosate, the corn becomes susceptible to Goss’ wilt. Huber says in his letter that “This disease was commonly observed in many Midwestern U.S. fields planted to [Roundup Ready] corn in 2009 and 2010, while adjacent non-GMO corn had very light to no infections.” In 2010, Goss’ wilt was a “major contributor” to an estimated one billion bushels of corn lost in the U.S. “in spite of generally good harvest conditions,” says Huber.
Losing a billion bushels of corn is worth examining. I can definitely see why there's a basis for looking at this more closely. And I can also see why the media is ignoring the story--it's difficult to explain, it's based on incomplete analysis, and there are corporate interests involved. Who, in this day and age of journalism as stenography, is going to get into the details of this sort of story? It looks like Dr. Huber is trying. Someone needs to get his back, and soon. His pleas don't sound alarmist at all. In fact, they seem very well reasoned.