Mystery Science: More Details on the Strange Organism That Could Destroy Monsanto
By Melanie Warner | May 5, 2011
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Back in January, a noted plant scientist who spent much of his career at Purdue University sent a letter to the USDA informing the agency that he’d discovered a mysterious new disease-causing organism in Monsanto’s (MON) genetically engineered Roundup Ready corn and soybeans. Now, that scientist — Don Huber — has written a follow-up letter to the USDA and appears in a videotaped interview where he presents an even scarier picture of the damage he claims Monsanto’s herbicide chemical glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup) is doing to both plants and the animals who eat them.
In the 20-minute interview, which was conducted by Food Democracy Now’s Dave Murphy, Huber makes a strong case for his own credibility, appearing as a droll, erudite Midwestern scientist with deep connections to corn and soybean growers and livestock farmers. Although Huber’s findings have not yet been verified by outside scientists or published in a peer reviewed journal, the severity of his claims is such that the USDA ought to give them immediate attention.
It’s not the genes, it’s the herbicide
Huber’s issue is not with genetic engineering per se, but with the huge amounts of glyphosate (185 million pounds in 2007) in herbicide now used on America’s farms. Use of glyphosate has soared thanks to widespread use of Monsanto’s soy and corn seeds, which are genetically modified to survive its effects.
The problem with glyphosate, Huber says, is that it effectively “gives a plant AIDS,” weakening its defenses and making it more susceptible to pathogens, such as the one his team discovered. The scientists have taken to calling the bug “the electron microscope (EM) organism,” since it can only be seen with an electron microscope.
A big part of the problem, Huber says, lies with the way glyphosate prevents plants from absorbing vital nutrients, particularly the mineral manganese. In the Food Democracy interview, Huber says some studies have shown that Roundup Ready soybeans and corn have up to 50% less manganese than conventional varieties. Huber claims that the double whammy of weakened defenses and the new EM organism have contributed to “unexplained epidemics” of disease on farms — sudden death syndrome of soybean crops and Goss’ wilt on corn.
The problem in pictures
Here are photos he included with his follow-up letter, which was also sent to EU and UK officials at their request, showing dead or dying Roundup Ready corn and RR soybeans planted side by side with their thriving non-GE brethren:
Huber says the same thing has happened in animals. He’s heard from cattle farmers who are struggling because they’re experiencing a 15% infertility rate and 35% rate of spontaneous abortions among their herds. When the farmers switch to non-GE soy and corn for feed, the problems decline dramatically. Huber has talked to other animal vets who’ve experienced high death rates and have found that their GE-fed animals are severely deficient in manganese.
And whenever Huber has worked with vets to analyze tissue samples from GE-fed animals that were inexplicably sick or had fertility problems, the tests always come back positive for the EM organism.
It’s anecdotal, not data — but it’s still scary
Of course, all this is merely anecdotal. Whether it can be scientifically proven that farm animals are suffering because they’re eating Roundup Ready soy and corn is another story. But since GE food crops are such a fundamentally new part of agriculture (first planted in 1996) and Huber’s account — if accurate — spells disaster for American agriculture, it’s worth finding out what’s going on before allowing more of Monsanto’s RR crops onto the market.
But that’s not what the USDA did. A week and a half after Huber had his letter hand delivered to secretary Tom Vilsack, the agency gave the greenlight for Roundup Ready alfalfa. Huber was deeply disappointed:
I would have hoped that there would have been a delay and the resources allocated to answer the questions, to verify that we’re not going to further increase the severity of this organism…. Can we afford to just open the floodgates wide open before we have the answers. What’s the urgency?