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Why require GMO labeling?

OUR ENVIRONMENT

When GMOs first introduced, biotechnology companies promoted them as beneficial for the environment, mainly through a promised decrease in pesticide use. After 20 years, 85 % of all GMOs are designed to be resistant to chemical herbicides and have resulted in increased use of pesticides (1).

Genetically modified (GM) crops support an intensive and productivist agricultural model this is dependent on petrochimicals (e.g. pesticides, chimical fertilizers and transport). It contributes to a loss of biodiversity, contamination of the soil and aquatic ecosystems and climate changes.


GMO labeling would allow us to choose the food we eat and use our choices to influence agricultural production models to protect the environment. Let’ us demand the right to know!

Impacts of pesticides and genetically modified organisms on the environnement

Today, two GMO traits dominate the market: insect resistant and herbicide resistant traits. Although these two traits have different impacts on the environment, they both involve the use of pesticides, with negative impacts on water and soils.

Two types of GMOs

Insects resistant plants are genetically modified to kill insects pests. They are called Bt crops because they produce a toxin from a gene derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringensis.

Herbicide resistant plants are genetically modified to survive sprayings of herbicides like glyphosate (RoundUp) and/or glufosinate ammonium (Liberty Link) so that the farmers can use the chemicals on weeds whitout harming crop plants (2).

Glyphosate

Glyphosate is the active agent of multiple herbicides formulations, of which the most known is Monsanto’s Roundup. These weed-killers are made of several chemicals, which may aggravate their toxicity and its impacts on our environment and health. Glyphosate becomes integrated into the plant, its leaves, its roots, its sap, etc. meaning that the pesticide residue is integrated into our food and cannot simply be washed off.

Glyphosate-based pesticides are Québec and the world’s top selling and sales in Québec increased by 71 % from 2006 to 2012 (3). This increase is one of the main factors in the rise of pesticides sales in Québec. In 2010, more than 750 products with glyphosate were sold on the world market. (4) In Québec, glyphosate is used with almost all the GM crops planted, specifically soy and corn. It is everywhere in our ecosystems, and in 88 % of samples taken in our rivers during the report of the MDDELCC. (5).

One of the big gaps in global pesticide regulation is that agencies only analyze the toxicity of the active agent and not the entire commercial formula, which contains several different chemicals. It is this formula that we use extensively in our environment. Certain commercial pesticides demonstrate rates of toxicity 1000 times more than their active agents. (6)

Fauna

GM insects resistant plants are not only toxic to target insects, but also be toxic to non-target species. It was shown an extended exposure to the Bt corn pollen (7) affected the behavior and survival (8) of the monarch butterfly, the most known of North America butterflies. (9) (10) (11) (12) It was also shown for a long time that pesticides can have negative repercussions on bees (13). Studies have indicated that the Bt plants can have negative impacts on toher non-target insects such as caddishflies (14), Monarch butterflies (15, 16), swallowtail butterflies (17), ladybirds (18), and honeybees (19).

A third of the world’s food depends on pollinators

A study from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the Ud the agriculture study suggests that pollinators are the most determining factor of agricultural yields. (20)

The impossiblity to target the toxicity can also negatively affect beneficial organisms. For example, Bt plants kill (21) insects that are important in the natural control of corn, as green chrysopes. (22) (23) (24) (25) In Canada, and around the world, environmental risks assessments of Bt crops focus on impacts higher in the food chain and on direct risks but green chrysopes are at risk from the toxicity of Bt crops due to the pray they eat. The focus on only evaluating direct risks has been widely criticized and, many scientists considering that impacts require study that takes into account every level of the food chain. (26) (27) (28) (29).

Transgenic plants: every solution create new problems

Bt corn is more vulnerable to a particular aphid than non-GM corn, because of a change in the chemical components of its sap. This change was not described in requests for approval despite the fact that it has important ecological implications. Insect plant interactions are too complex to be measured in risk assessment. (30)

Flora and resistance mechanisms

Herbicide resistant plants contribute to an increase in pesticides use, with a general decrease in biodiversity. (31) One of the main risks with the reliance on certain pesticides, includingthe use of the Bt toxin is the development of insects and plants that are resistant to the toxin. Resistances decrease the efficiency of pesticides and spurs even more pesticides use.

Development of “superweeds”

Repeated use of certain herbicides puts pressure on weed selection and results in the ability of a weed population to survive herbicide applications (32). In 1996, the first glyphosate-resistant plant was discovered in Australia (33) and the number has grown exponentially since. The evolution and spread of herbicide-resistant weeds, especially to glyphosate, has become a serious problem in countries that widely grow Roundup Ready crops, such as the United States and Canada (34) (35) (36) (37). Faced with these weeds, farmers farmers are forced to use more glyphosate or use a mix of other herbicides (38). In Canada, since 1996, more than 100 species of “weed” (39) developed herbicide resistance.

Soil ecosystems

The use of pesticides and GM crops diminish soil ecosystems. Numerous Bt crops secrete their toxin from the root into the soil (40). GM crop residues lefts in farmers’ fields also contain some active Bt toxin. (41) (42) (43) Herbicide use on GM soybean crops leads to the decrease of the number of beneficial bacteria fixing nitrogen in the soil. (44) (45)

Glyphosate based herbicides also reduce the biodiversity of soil microorganisms. (46) Glyphosate can be degraded by certain microorganisms, and its life-expectancy in soils depends on the type of soil as well as on the species and abundance of microorganisms. Roots of plants that have been sprayed with glyphosate also release it into the ground. Glyphosate tends to settle in certain minerals found in soils, such as magnesium, iron and potassium, which prevents them from being absorbed by plants.

Glyphosate is also considered to be an antibiotic. Similar of antibiotic use in medicine, glyphosate will potentially kill microbiote of the soil which is the total of microorganisms (bacteria, yeasts, fungi, virus). It has the effect of decreasing capacity of the soil to feed plants and to resist parasites. (47)

Aquatic ecosystems

Pesticides en up in our water sources. This is also the case for agricultural plant waste where the Bt toxin could turn out toxic to certain insects. (48) It is also the case for weed-killers with glyphosate (insérer un lien vers l’encadré sur le glyphosate) which are very soluble in water. They persist in surface waters and remain highly toxic for aquatic organisms and amphibians. (49) On the product label, Monsanto indicates that Roundup is toxic to aquatic organisms, and informs users to avoid applying it directly to any body of water (50).

In October 2015, the Ministry of the Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight against Climate change (MDDELCC) published a report (51) concluding that, "weed-killers associated to the corn and soybean cultures are omnipresent in rivers waters of the South of Quebec.". Among 27 sampled rivers, between 4 and 10 different pesticides were detected in 6 of the least affected rivers, 14 and 13 in another 8 rivers, and as high as 20 and 33 were detected in yet others. The report concludes that "with the use of these products, frequency of overtakings of uality criteria of water aiming the protection of the aquatic species passed of approximately 14 % (from 2008 till 2010) in very close to 100 % in the basic network stations" and when "glyphosate weed-killer concentrations continued to increase in the rivers waters".

Genes contamination

Genes sequences from GMOs can cross into other plants. Such contamination would have particularly grave consequences in centres of origin, where the ancestors of the plants we cultivate come from. They are an important reservoir of precious genetic material for agricultural biodiversity. (52)

A threat to organic farming

GM contamination is a threat to organic food and farming. Organic farmers do not use GM seeds or chemical pesticides. Contamination from genetically modified plants can be difficult or impossible to control and reverse. In the last 20 years, there have been several cases of contamination that have had important economic impacts on organic farmers who are providing an important environmental service.

For more information, please consult the GMO Inquiry 2015 entitled “Are GM crops better for environment?”

A non-sustainable agricultural model

GMO and pesticides : a vicious cycle

The wide spread use of insect-resistants and herbicide-resistant plants had increased the use of pesticides use, and has led to the development of resistant insects and GM herbicides-resistant crops, particularly Roundup Ready crops, encouraged the repeated spraying of the same herbicide on vast areas. This decreased the efficiency of those herbicides and led to even more intensive pesticides use. This strategy is part of the agro-industrial model (insérer un lien vers la section traitant du modèle agro-industriel) that has generated a vicious cycle.

"In spite of the massive use of the glyphosate, a broad-spectrum weed-killer conceived to control a big variety of weed, other weed-killers use is not eliminated for all and these remain very present. Indeed, these products are often used in combination with the glyphosate. Moreover, to limit the development of weed resistance to the glyphosate, manufacturers conceived formulations of commercial mixtures containing one or several other weed-killers with a different action mode or recommend mixtures of different active materials. "

- MDDELCC (53)

“Superweeds”

Being constantly exposed to herbicides, certain “weeds” developed resistance, requiring a greater use of chemical weed-killers to eliminate them. (54). The industry strategy to these herbicide-resistant weeds is to market new GM crops that are resistant to other herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba.

The 2,4-D

2,4-D was an ingredient of the herbicide Agent Orange which was used on a large scale during the Vietnam War. It is classified as an endocrine disruptor or suspected to be in many countries. Through the manufacturing process 2,4-D is often contaminated with dioxins which are highly toxic and bioaccumulative chemical compounds. 2,4-D is the second most widely used herbicide in Canada, after glyphosate. Sweden, Norway and Denmark ban it and Canada only in the public green spaces.

Dicamba

Dicamba is often used along with Monsanto’s Roundup, and is frequently applied by air. It is suspected to be teratogen for man, which means to pull malformation production. He could also interfere with reproduction processes. Poisoning symptoms on man by dicamba are widely known: loss of appetite, vomiting, pains and muscular contractions (cramps, heart beats) breathlessness, effects on the central nervous system, trace of acid benzoïque in the urine, incontinence, cyanosis (blue skin), and exhaustion led by repeated muscular cramps. The inhalation can be followed by irritation of the nasal septum, lungs and by a loss of voice.

A chemical and toxic agro-industrial model

GM crops and pesticides are part of an intensive and productivist agricultural model taht is very dependent on petrochimical inputs (e.g. pesticides, chimical fertilizers and transport) and contributes to climate change as well as to water contamination and depletion of soils.

In October 2015, Radio-Canada aired the story “Quebec has lost control of pesticides” concerning the increase in pesticides sales and contamination of water sources. The story was based on the report “Presence of pesticides in the Québec water in Québec: portrait and tendency in corn and soya zones - 2011 to 2014” (55) and of the balance sheet of pesticides sales in 2012 from the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight against Climate change (MDDELCC). It shows that global increase of 27 % of pesticides sales in Quebec between 2006 and 2012 cannot be explained by an expansion of farmlands, because these decreased of 4 % during the same period, but by an increase of the quantity of pesticides applied by hectare. (56)

By offering choice to the different actors in the agri-food chain, mandatory labeling of GMOs could contribute to fostering a necessary transition towards environmentally-friendlier agriculture. This transition would be positive for biodiversity, health and economy. (insérer les liens vers les sections)

Solutions for sustainable agriculture

Agroecology aims to make farming more sustainable by mimicking ecological processes. Agroecological approaches are designed to focus on farmers’ knowledge to maximize biodiversity, recycle nutrients and natural resources, build soil fertility, and focus on the interactions between species in an agricultural system (57).

One agroecological approach is organic farming. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report “Organic farming and food safety”, "organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture today, but with reduced environmental impacts (58). Organic farming does not permit the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and aims to protect the environment, maintain and build soil fertility and biological diversity, and rely on renewable resources in agricultural systems. Organic farming does not allow the use of GM seeds or GM animal feed.

These two agricultural systems must be encouraged by governmental measures and by consumers who have to show solidarity with the local farmers who use these techniques.

- MDDELCC (59)

Healthy agricultural practices must be encouraged by government supports and regulations, and by informed consumer choices. GMOs need to give way to techniques of the future, that build a viable and sustainable agriculture that respect our environment and society.

We have the right to know what we’re eating! I demand mandatory labeling in Quebec!

For more information, visit www.vigilanceogm.org

Sources ...

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(31) Insérer une référence (résistance pesticides et diminution biodiversité)

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