By: Ethan A. Huff
The U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) does not even pretend to legitimately evaluate genetically-modified organisms (GMO) before approving them anymore, having recently green-lighted approval for a new variety of “drought-resistant” GM corn produced by Monsanto that admittedly grows no better under drought conditions than natural varieties do.
According to the Washington Post, APHIS fast-tracked the corn, known as MON87460, without ever conducting an appropriate environmental risk analysis on the crop’s efficacy, which includes determining whether or not the crop is even safe for humans or the environment. In fact, in accordance with the Obama Administration’s new hands-off approach to regulating GMOs, APHIS decided to actually approve MON87460 even after a cursory evaluation of the data exposed it as a complete failure.
“The reduced yield [trait] does not exceed the natural variation observed in regionally-adapted varieties of conventional corn,” wrote the USDA in an earlier report on the crop published last fall. “Equally comparable varieties produced through conventional breeding techniques are readily available in irrigated corn production regions”.
MON87460 is the first GMO to be approved with resistance to drought, as opposed to a pesticide or herbicide. And even though many drought-adaptive varieties of natural or hybrid corn already exist, Monsanto is pushing MON87460 on farmers all across the Midwest, and primarily in the Western plains where drought conditions are still severe, with promises that it will translate into increased yields.
Based on its initial findings, however, as well as the fact that GM crops are known to contaminate nearby conventional and organic crops, APHIS should have wholly rejected MON87460 and told Monsanto to hit the road. Instead, thanks to embedded special interests throughout the USDA and the highest levels of the federal government, this former regulatory body has become nothing more than a bureaucratic rubber stamp for the biotechnology industry.
“[Bio]technology has been spectacularly unsuccessful at delivering complex traits such as drought tolerance, which involve multiple genes and complex interaction with the plant’s environment,” wrote Dr. Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch U.K., in a piece last year on so-called drought-tolerant GM crops. “Meanwhile, conventional breeding and new techniques such as marker-assisted selection — which uses knowledge of the plant’s genome to inform breeding, without engineering the plant, have produced a long string of successes.”
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