Connecting the Dots: Honey Export Loss Leads Mexico to Dump Monsanto’s GM Soy

HoneyWith another school year about to start, it’s a good time to reflect on the basic sciences: physics, chemistry and biology, and how important our understanding of them can be in dealing with what have become substantial threats to our existence.

A relatively small change in the mixture of gases that constitute our upper atmosphere has altered an obscure physical property known as its radiative transmissivity. The additional gases are the byproduct of the fossil fuel energy sources that have made our modern way of life possible. The result is that heat emanating from our planet that formerly passed into space is now being reflected back to Earth, resulting in a warmer planet. While this might sound benign, it’s is causing massive melting of polar ice, releasing tremendous amounts of moisture into the ocean and atmosphere, and dramatically altering our climate. That’s physics.

Synthetic fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, primarily produced from natural gas and ammonia, have powerfully enhanced our ability to grow food to feed our ever-increasing population. However, as soils have changed their composition in response this modified diet, their ability to hold moisture has lessened. This means that heavy rains produce runoff, allowing large amounts of these chemicals to be washed into streams, rivers and lakes, altering their composition and, in some cases, making the water unfit to drink. That’s chemistry.

Micro-organisms that survive by invading animal hosts in the wild sometimes evolve to live on human hosts as well. These new diseases can appear suddenly, as in the most recent Ebola outbreak, and given the speed and intensity which we now travel and interact, can also spread rapidly before any treatment or cure can be developed. Massive epidemics that can threaten the existence of entire populations are now increasingly possible. That’s biology.

These existential threats underscore the need for increased emphasis on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines that have been in decline here in the U.S. in recent decades.

Each of these threats acts differently. The physical threat of climate change acts across the entire globe — disrupting agricultural patterns with a mixture of flooding and drought as atmospheric moisture, driven by increasing masses of warm air and ocean water, is redistributed. While the entire planet is at risk, effects will be felt differently in different areas. The threat will continue to grow over the years and decades to come, building pressure on food supplies and on social and political stability with consequences that could potentially be catastrophic.

The chemical threat of pollution is also quite serious, considering how essential water is to the existence of all living things. Typically this is more of a localized effect, though the use of these chemical fertilizers and other dangerous chemicals has become widespread across the globe.

The biological threat, however, could be the most frightening, because of the rapidity and the specificity with which it could strike. A disease can lie hidden in its host for some time before becoming symptomatic. In today’s world with millions of people traveling internationally every day, an epidemic could become widespread before being discovered. That could be disastrous.

The biological world is constantly changing and evolving in ways that are difficult to predict. That is why there is such concern over efforts to tamper with the basic building blocks of life in the laboratory and then massively release them into the environment without the kind of rigorous long-term testing that agencies like the American Medical Association have proposed. As the above examples have shown, our history of technological innovation, which has been largely successful in making our lives safer and more fulfilling, has also been a history of unintended consequences — many of which are only catching up with us now.

Government policy can be a powerful tool in controlling the spread of some of these risks. The European Union, expressing concerns over the possible risks associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has established a legal framework to restrict the importation and cultivation of genetically modified food products. Their position stands in stark contrast with the U.S., which, perhaps due to the number of high-ranking government officials who are former executives in the biotech industry, is a strong supporter of the technology.

This has caused a stumbling-block in the attempts to forge a trade deal between the two, as the U.S. has asked for relaxed restrictions on GMOs as a precondition for the agreement while the EU has refused.

Now, a court decision in Mexico underscores the way that deterrents can spread across borders, almost as easily as rogue organisms: The judge ruled that the Yucatán region’s honey trade, which is crucial to the local economy, could not co-exist with the cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans. That’s because the honey, which is almost exclusively sold in Europe, containing the GM soy pollen, is considered contaminated, and therefore can no longer be sold. The judge has therefore revoked Monsanto’s GM soy permit.

Proponents claim that GM crops can help increase production to meet the demands of a growing population. Studies have shown that yield increases from GMO’s have been modest at best, and that hunger is more a result of unequal distribution than of inadequate supply. The U.N. food agency’s chief of research, Andrea Roberto Sonnino, has said that total food production at present is enough to feed the entire global population. The vast majority of improvements in productivity to date have come from traditional breeding techniques rather than biotechnology.

Image credit: Anna Verdina (Karnova): Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact:

15 responses

  1. What is the word lost in all the talk of GMOs, SOIL. Soil is not just a dead thing but a thriving home to many living critters. Killing off all these guys takes the nutrients out of the plants which is then provided by chemicals which kill the good guys. The more you deplete the soil the more runoff of chemicals the more spoiled waterways the more killed animals, fish, reptiles and the list goes on.

  2. Let’s acknowledge that all forms of life are genetically modified. That’s how evolution works. Are we to believe that random genetic modification is good but directed evolution is not? There is very little empiric evidence that suipports ‘danger’ from human directed genetic modifications. The vast majority of respected scientists do not support the handwringing because it has no factual basis. Check the manifold analyses that have been conducted. We accept global warming because the preponderance of evidence points that way – there is nothing of the sort in the case of GMO. Mexico has been coerced into their action by the economic hammer of an uninformed marketplace. Sad for all of us.

    1. random genetic modification over time gives nature time to react and adapt.
      Controlled and radical adaptation over a short period of time does not allow the environment in total enough time to react

    2. Sometimes there is no substitute for good common sense. No amount of research is likely to directly implicate GMO’s in the dangers of mono-cultivation. Drawing a scientifically sound link between GMO’s and the dangers of patent holders controlling our food system would be extremely difficult. And even when scientists connect the dots for us, as they have done with the soil runoff issues being exacerbated by chemicals that are essential to most GMO production, we’re not likely to get any sort of moratorium on these crops in the U.S. As long as we rely solely on scientific evidence of a very narrowly defined danger, big ag and bio pharma companies have plausible deniability for their role in these broader risks. GMO products are designed for profit, and all other outcomes from their cultivation and consumption are secondary to that singular goal. When common sense is distorted by blind faith in free market economics, it becomes common folly. The marketplace may be uninformed about the direct human-health dangers of GMO pollen, but consumers want GMO’s out of their food for a whole host of reasons. Europe has informed GMO producers: they don’t like where GMO’s have taken the global food system. It was EU consumers’ common sense that pushed their politicians to restrict GMO importation. They didn’t let the absence of a multi-year, multi-disciplinary study implicating GMO’s get in the way of common sense. When you’re ankle deep in a leaky boat, you don’t need a scientist to tell you to start bailing.

    3. Generalized arguments are just used to whitewash the issue. Such as saing that all forms of life are genetically modified. We are talking about a specific techology here, not philosophic woffle. Most of the plant modification that humans have done over thousands of
      years was done gradually, and if whole villages were wiped out trying
      the new method, it was never recorded. Here we have a massive change, with no clinical trials that go through generations to accurately measure what is happening, includng measuring the environmental and social ramificaitons.

      We are also talking about an unsustainable economy model for GMOS’s, particularly for the women and girls who remain uneducated and doing most of the subsistance farming. Simply working on better farming methods and seed production with them, as well as help marketing etc can do much to fed the world, as well as help them to escape social environments that keep them inferior baby machines, thus exacerbating the global population problem. There are many other solution that work in tandem.

      Our politicians, most of whom have biotech stock, should recuse themselves from decisions in which they have a conflict of interest. Instead, they use our taxpayer money to have our govt. officials lobby for Monsanto et al abroad. They put a requirement into trade deals and aid to small countries that they must accept gmos and their seeds or else the deal is off. Our public officials are blackmailing others on the behalf of these rich corporations, which also get subsidies from us. Beyond that, our politicians have been influenced by the biotech industry to push for locals to have no control over whether they want to ban GMO’s in their regions, making it illegal to ban gmo’s in your county – among other laws too.

    4. Yes “check” the studies done on GMO’s and EVERY ONE OF THEM WAS DONE BY THE COMPANY’S THAT STAND TO PROFIT. “Government ” studies were done by Monsanto and Bayer and “given” to the regulatory agencies for their approval, ALWAYS WITH APPROVAL GRANTED WITHOUT REAL INVESTIGATION by agencies involved. GMO’s are ARTIFICIAL GENETIC MANIPULATION, plants AND animals would never be able to cross contaminate by themselves, NATURE FORBIDS THIS FOR A REASON.

  3. It’s the application of science that has enabled our society to improve longevity, health, and standard of living globally. Progressing the properties of living material is no different than improving the state of electronics or architecture or aviation. New variances should be subjected to thorough review obviously – GMO has gotten lots of it from many objective sources. There are plenty of facts, and they support the overall efficacy of GMO. Yet Siegel conveys an undertone of satisfaction that the Mexican government has been coerced into suspending GMO agriculture. Since Siegel affirms the sciences throughout his article, should it not follow that he supports scientific method as well?
    Several of the comments are in that Luddite vein of unsupported judgment:
    The suggestion that random (natural) genetic modification is less hazardous than directed modification isn’t defensible. Witness the natural Ebola outbreak cited in the article.
    Common sense, in the absence of fact, is subjective; it’s only what one chooses to believe.

    1. I have no problem with controlled scientific experimentation. But to take an experiment, which is what this is, and spread it around the world, injecting it directly into our massively industrialized food system, such that there is no possibility of turning back if things go wrong–I have a problem with that. I don’t agree that GM food has been objectively verified as safe. Most trials have been done by the companies themselves or their supporters. The Ebola outbreak does not support your point. It only shows that natural mutations are dangerous enough. Going in and making fundamental changes in DNA, without fully understanding how it all works, or what the ecosystem response will be, and then unleashing tons of it simultaneously across the world,is in my opinion far more dangerous.

  4. I have a few issues with this article. One the reason the Ebola is spreading is because of people and ignorance. They are eating meat infected with Ebola. If the population would stop eating food infected with Ebola, Stopped touching dead people and practiced some form of Hygiene this Ebola problem would not be a problem.

    GMO’s are going to be the food of the future. Anyone saying that its not isnt interested in the future of farming. Also GMO’s allow farmers to use less harsh pesticides. I just love how this author cherry picks his arguments. He gives out one small example of honey and GMO’s being an issue. Never mind that almost all farmers use SOY GMO’s. Gee I wonder why that isnt mentioned in the article? Let alone almost all the pineapple that comes out of Hawaii is due to GMO’s and the ability to ward of a disease. Look this up on Hawaii. It hardly ever gets mentioned when people talk about the bad old GMO’s.

    He is right about one thing.”The biological world is constantly changing and evolving in ways that are difficult to predict” yeah so we need to keep up to date on trying new things. Not living in the ancient past of farming.

  5. Well written — thank you and great perspective on the progression of (assumedly) well-intentioned efforts that have really big unintended consequences. Please keep us posted on the Mexico / GMO ban as it unfolds. I’m following the GMO / genetics issue and the sustainable intensification debate very closely these days…

Leave a Reply