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On Friday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) signed off on a new genetically modified corn developed by Monsanto after a review concluded the product posed no threat to other crops, plants or the environment.

The move by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) deregulated Monsanto’s MON 87411 maize, developed to protect the plants against corn rootworm, which can drag down crop yields. And of course, the GMO seed is also tolerant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup.The trait would be inserted into the corn seeds’ genetic code, and could be “stacked” with other traits. This means that additional modifications of the genetic code could be manipulated, making the corn seed nothing like the original. The fact that the seed is also tolerant to glyphosate is worth looking at a bit closer.The deregulation step by APHIS is only one of a number of steps that involve a multiyear process before the new corn seed gets final approval to be used commercially. Other steps include assessments by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and regulators in other countries.

Diabrotica virgifera the rootworm

Diabrotica virgifera, the rootworm
Bemoeial

Red flags have already been raisedAn EPA review of Monsanto’s MON 87411 maize is still going on. The agency’s scientific advisory council has raised some red flags. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the advocacy group The Center for Food Safety, questions the weak guidelines in use to assess the risks of GMO technology.Monsanto filed its petition to deregulate its groundbreaking genetically engineered corn in September 2014. There are many critics against GMO corn, and they have voiced their disapproval. “Do your job and don’t approve this or other products until they can be shown safe,” said commenter Doug Lande.Monsanto expects to launch its SmartStax PRO, a line of products featuring MON 87411 maize within the next five years, “pending the necessary approvals,” Monsanto said in a statement, according to Reuters.APHIS is extending the comment period for another GMO corn product developed by Syngenta Seeds Inc., a unit of Syngenta AG, for 30 days. Syngenta’s genetically modified MZHG0JG corn is not only tolerant of glyphosate, but is also tolerant of glufosinate, according to preliminary findings.

Agribusiness giant Syngenta AG s MIR162 genetically modified corn.

Agribusiness giant Syngenta AG’s MIR162 genetically modified corn.
YouTube

In the USDA’s preliminary assessment, the agency says, “the risk of herbicide-resistant weed development will be ever present where herbicides are used.” This statement is important, especially so because farmers are already battling herbicide-resistant weeds, or superweeds.The advent of the superweedWhen Monsanto first introduced its glyphosate herbicide, Roundup in 1970, the herbicide was hailed as the answer to agriculture’s need for an effective product to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses that competed with commercially grown crops.

Atriplex patula growing near the corn field

Atriplex patula growing near the corn field
uitstaande melde

When Monsanto introduced its genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops in 1990, farmers flocked to buy the new seeds, even though scientists said the weeds that Roundup killed eventually would build up a resistance to glyphosate. Scientists rightly said that any glyphosate-resistant weed would have a distinct reproductive advantage. Monsanto said this scenario would never happen.Well, guess what? It did happen, and much sooner than expected. Superweeds have taken over more than 60 million acres of American farmland, creating environmental havoc, driving up farmers’ costs, prompting them to resort to more and more toxic weed-killers. The first documented case of glyphosate-resistant weeds occurred in Australia in 1996, involving rigid ryegrass (Lolium rigidum) near Orange, New South Wales.

United Soybean Board photo of Palmer amaranth also known as pigweed infesting a soybean field.

United Soybean Board photo of Palmer amaranth, also known as pigweed, infesting a soybean field.
Union of Concerned Scientists

Canada had its first documented case in 2009 and it involved giant ragweed. By this time, 15 different species of weeds had shown up as being resistant to glyphosate. By 2010, about 10 million acres in the U.S., out of a total of 170 million acres of agricultural land, was infested with superweeds. Keep in mind that now, 60 million acres are choking with superweeds.While thousands of farmers are looking for answers to this dilemma, Monsanto, and other Agro-companies are selling farmers on the idea that more genetically modified crops that are tolerant of more than one herbicide are the answer. And that is exactly what Syngenta, Monsanto and other companies are doing now.However, the introduction of genetically modified crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton that tolerate the spraying of multiple herbicides, and products made with more than one herbicide in the formulation are really creating a huge downward spiral that we will never be able to stop.Opponents of the introduction of even newer GMO crops and the new breed of herbicides say we will be creating a new generation of superweeds, and the answer will have to be the creation of even newer GMO seeds and harsher formulations of herbicides, in a never-ending cycle of destruction involving not only our environment, but our health and food sustainability.

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