November 8, 2013

Stacking the Danger: SmartStax, System Failure, and the GMO Arms Race (1 of 2)


The European Commission has approved the combined Monsanto/Dow GM corn product “SmartStax” for import in food and feed. As usual the approval followed upon a bogus regulatory process during which no safety testing was done and corporate assurances were accepted as gospel. SmartStax is already approved for cultivation in the US and Canada. Here too there has never been any safety testing. To this day no GMO has EVER been safety tested by a government or at the requirement of a government. (As a result of the 2012 Seralini experiment on NK603 corn, the French government and the EC’s EFSA have now ordered their own tests of this variety. If these are carried out and are done scientifically, these will be the first such “official” safety tests ever.) Needless to say, no corporation ever performs such tests on its own.
So far most of the GMOs which have been commercialized have each incorporated a single “event”, the euphemism for a genetic modification. Each GMO has a modification which either renders the plant tolerant to an herbicide (HT, herbicide tolerant, usually glyphosate, most commonly in the commercial form of Monsanto’s Roundup) or which causes it to endemically express its own Bt insecticide. So the two basic types of GMOs do nothing but cause more deployment of agricultural poisons. That’s their only purpose.
A “stacked” GMO is one which has multiple modifications. By now most of the corn planted in the US doubles the poisoning, containing both the herbicide tolerant and Bt-expressing traits. Monsanto’s goal is to cram each new GM variety full of an ever greater number of proprietary modifications in order to justify jacking up the seed price ever further. Also, as I’ll get to shortly, the more such traits are forced upon industrial agriculture, the more this agriculture is forced to rely upon them in order to be able to function.
SmartStax is the most stacked product yet. It contains eight poisons and poison counterparts. It has six kinds of Bt-expressing genes and two kinds of herbicide tolerance (for glyphosate and glufosinate).
What’s the rationale for this product? As was always known and lied about, each herbicide tolerance trait will lead to massively increased use of that herbicide, which will in turn generate weeds resistant to that herbicide. This will lead to not only an escalation of the failing herbicide, but require the deployment of others. The original propaganda line on the Roundup Ready (RR) line of GMOs was that glyphosate was less poisonous than other herbicides, it would render those more toxic herbicides obsolete, and that by requiring just the judicious use of a single herbicide, it would greatly lessen and simplify herbicide use.
Today we know that all of these were lies. (And they’re often still repeated to this day.) Under the RR regime the spraying of glyphosate has escalated by orders of magnitude, for example in Argentina exploding from 30 million liters a year to over 330 million. Glyphosate is severely toxic to human health and the environment. It has generated such an aggressive surge of superweeds against itself that the same companies and governments who promised that the Roundup Ready suite would render the toxic herbicides like 2,4-D and dicamba obsolete are now trying to commercialize GMO varieties resistant to these same herbicides.
The SmartStax product itself is incarnate proof that the touted simplicity afforded by herbicide tolerant GMOs was a lie. Instead of a simple glyphosate application procedure, SmartStax growers must deploy a complex and expensive choreography of glyphosate and glufosinate. The same is true of all of the varieties in the pipeline which are resistant to multiple herbicides – some combine glyphosate and 2,4-D, others glyphosate and dicamba, etc.
Similarly, Bt expression quickly generates Bt-resistant superbugs. That’s led to a veritable arms race, as the cartel churns out an ever-wider array of Bt products, each with a new Bt-expressing gene, trying desperately to keep ahead as Bt-resistant borers and rootworms conquer the existing genes. I recently wrote on how MON810 was routed and driven out of the market by resistant borers in South Africa.
Corn borers were the original target of Bt-expressing GMOs, and borer resistance has long been an ongoing crisis for GMOs as such. On the other hand the crisis of rootworm resistance is a pure artifice of the GMO regime itself, since rootworms were not originally any kind of real problem. Under the rational practice of crop rotation, rootworms were a periodic, relatively minor nuisance. But with the advent of GM corn, governments and corporations encouraged farmers to abandon crop rotation and put all their faith in poison. Sure enough, not only did this lead to superweeds and Bt-resistant borers, but it encouraged rootworms.
In classic disaster capitalist fashion, Monsanto then introduced rootworm-toxic Bt modifications in 2003, stacking these with the existing anti-borer genes. Many farmers complained that they didn’t need or want this trait, that rootworms still weren’t enough of a problem, and that deploying insecticidal crops against them would merely lead to the same kind of Bt resistant superbug as was already such an affliction with borers. Monsanto was using a fabricated problem and monopoly muscle to force farmers to buy something they neither needed nor wanted in order to get the thing they did now “need”, the anti-borer corn.
This was the complaint that forced the US government to launch a pantomime antitrust “investigation” of Monsanto which was predictably terminated at the end of 2011 with no action taken.
By now all the worst prognostications have come true. Bt-resistant rootworm is a rapidly expanding systemic problem for US corn production. Just as with herbicide tolerance, so with Bt-expression, the GMO poison regime is an ongoing failure. It can promise nothing and do nothing but engage in an ever more destructive and expensive toxic arms race, and perform ever more poorly. The GMO poison regime is a failure at anything but perpetuating itself and poisoning our food, our bodies, and the earth.
As we see again with SmartStax, the system’s only answer is to radically escalate what’s already proven to fail. Just as this product has to require two herbicides, so it needs to generate six different kinds of Bt poison. It must do all this in order to be able to function and produce a crop at all.
We must ask those who persist in supporting or tolerating GMOs – how much longer do you think you can keep this up? How many herbicides do you expect to be able to stack before you’ll stabilize the superweed arms race? Three? Four? More? How many Bt genes will you need to stack, and how many internal poisons must the crop exude? Ten? Twenty? More? How is society supposed to keep paying for this utterly failed and worthless system? And how long can this go on before the soil utterly collapses and the crops utterly fail from their own malnourished, structurally weakened state? How long before our bodies fall apart from under our deranged brains?
These last questions will be the subject of part two. 


1 Comment

  1. […] product SmartStax should undergo any special assessment. As I’ll write about in part 2 of my SmartStax post (I know everyone’s been waiting for it), this completely ignores everything we know about […]

    Pingback by GMO Assault on Europe – Bureaucratic Slipperiness | Volatility — November 26, 2013 @ 12:51 am

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