So if neither Monsanto nor the feds are doing it, who is?

The answer: no one.


We've Got a Bigger Problem Now
So far, it appears that the GM revolution has done little more than raise the cost of food.

A 2009 study by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. Because GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefit seemed questionable at best.

Monsanto's Creve Coeur headquarters hides behind trees and security checkpoints. Its business hides behind lawyers, lobbying and patents.
Monsanto's Creve Coeur headquarters hides behind trees and security checkpoints. Its business hides behind lawyers, lobbying and patents.
"Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence," says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen.
Lottie Hedley
"Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence," says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen.

"It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches," says Gurian-Sherman. "It's a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage...like pesticide use, monopoly issues and control of the seed supply."

Use of those pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to them. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide usage has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world's largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn-soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto's pesticides.

Part of the blame belongs to a monoculture that developed around farming. Farmers know it's better to rotate crops and pesticides and leave fields fallow for a season. But when corn prices are high, who wants to grow a less profitable crop? The result has been soil degradation, relatively static yields and an epidemic of weed and insect resistance.

Weeds and insects are fighting back with their own law: that of natural selection. Last year, 49 percent of surveyed farmers reported Roundup-resistant weeds on their farms, up from 34 percent the year before. The problem costs farmers more than $1 billion annually.

Weeds such as Roundup-resistant pigweed can grow as thick as your arm and more than six feet high, requiring removal by hand. Many farmers simply abandon weed-choked fields.

In order to kill the pests, chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are developing crops capable of withstanding even harsher pesticides, resulting in an endless cycle of greater pesticide use at commensurate financial and environmental cost.

Nature, as it's proved so often before, will not be easily vanquished.

"We are not making our agriculture more resistant to environmental stress, not lowering the amount of pesticides, and not creating a sustainable agricultural system that works," says Mary-Howells Martens, an organic grain farmer in New York. "There are so many things that are short-term, quick-buck kind of things, without any kind of eye to if this is going to be a good deal long-term."


Next Stop: The World!
The biggest problem for Monsanto's global growth: It doesn't have the same juice with foreign governments as it does with ours. That's why it relies on the State Department to work as its taxpayer-funded lobbyist abroad.

Yet this has become increasingly difficult. Other nations aren't as willing to play corporate water boy as America is. The countries that need GM seeds often can't afford them (or don't trust Monsanto). And the nations that can afford them (other than us) don't really want them (or don't trust Monsanto).

Ask Mike Mack, CEO of the Swiss biotech giant Syngenta. The Swiss, he argues, are more interested in environmental safety and food quality than in saving a few pennies at the grocery store.

"Switzerland's greatest natural resource is that it is a beautiful country that brings in a lot of tourism," he says. "If the Swiss could lower their consumption spending by 1 percent by applying high-productivity farming, they probably would not do it if it requires changing their approach to how they think about food. Countries like Switzerland are a good example where such things as GM food would be very difficult and perhaps commercially inadvisable."

Maybe Europe has simply been around the block enough to know better than to entrust its health to a bottom-line mentality. Although the European Union imports 30 million tons of GM crops annually for livestock feed, it has approved only two GM crops for human consumption.

In April, biotech companies took another hit when the European Union banned neonicotinoids — a.k.a. "neo-nics" — one of the most powerful and popular insecticides in the world. It's a derivative of nicotine that's poisonous to plants and insects. German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta both make neo-nics, which are used to coat seeds, protecting crops in their early growth stages. In America, 90 percent of the corn crop comes with the coating.

The problem is that plants sweat these chemicals out in the morning dew, where bees pick them up like a morning cup of Starbucks.

Last year, Dr. Christian Krupke, a professor of entomology at Purdue University, did one of the first studies linking neo-nics to the collapse of bee colonies, which threatens the entire food system. One-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.

These mysterious collapses — in which bees simply fly off and die — have been reported as far back as 1918. Yet over the past seven years, mortality rates have tripled. Some U.S. regions are witnessing the death of more than half their populations.

"We're looking at bee kills, persistently during corn-planting time," Krupke explains. "So what was killing these bees at corn planting?"

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