GM Cotton – Environmental Impacts and Human Health
Genetically modified foods are a everyday topic of discussion in media the past few years. GMO food has started an international debate about health and environmental issues surrounding the production and consumption of altered foods. Bans of GMO foods are increasing internationally, restrictions on GMO crops are expanding, and people are demanding labeling for GMO food so people can make an informed choice about what they are eating. Soy, wheat and corn are often talked about when GM crops are brought up. These products are in almost everything we eat, but what about what is on our skin? Much of our clothing is made with GM cotton. GM cotton takes a lot of water and pesticides to grow, negatively impacting the soil and surrounding areas. GM crops can contaminate surrounding fields with toxic pesticides and can contaminate conventional crops when they are pollinated with pollen from GM crops. Anyone concerned with GMO foods should take a good look at GM cotton.
Related Article: Monsanto’s Seeds of Death
Around the world, 25 million hectares of cotton is grown. In the US, there are a few approved GMO crops. Soy, and corn have been previously mentioned but cotton, potato, squash, cotton, canola, sugarbeet and alfalfa are also grown in the USA. These GM crops are grown over nearly 71 million hectares, just in the United States alone. Texas is a huge producer of cotton and most cotton is GM cotton. One quarter of cotton grown in the US is from Texas, producing 4.5 million bales of cotton each year. Majority of cotton grown is GM cotton. GM cotton poses dangers to the environment and humans. Cotton is regulated as a food crop. While the fibers are used for clothing, seed is used for oils for human consumption or in animal feed. GM cotton was initially thought to reduce pesticide use on crops, but that has proven to be wrong. Pesticide use has actually increased since the introduction of GM cotton, exposing people to more dangerous chemicals. Weeds have shown resistance to glyphosate (Round Up).
“The adoption of HT crops has enabled farmers to substitute glyphosate for more toxic and persistent herbicides. However, an overreliance on glyphosate and a reduction in the diversity of weed management practices adopted by crop producers have contributed to the evolution of glyphosate resistance in 14 weed species and biotypes in the United States. Best management practices (BMPs) to control weeds may help delay the evolution of resistance and sustain the efficacy of HT crops. BMPs include applying multiple herbicides with different modes of action, rotating crops, planting weed-free seed, scouting fields routinely, cleaning equipment to reduce the transmission of weeds to other fields, and maintaining field borders.” –
Resistance in pests has also increased. Pests are more likely to survive these poisons, now that the pests have had time to build a resistance. Pest problems have been seen when the targeted pests decline, new pests take their place. These affects have a great impact on the environment, the impacts are largely unstudied. These crops are changing our environment in ways we are not ready to deal with. How are we going to deal with drastic shifts in the plants or insects in our environment? Can Monsanto answer that question or will it be met with more denial and pass-the-buck politics?
A environmental concern with GM crops is less plant diversity. Worries have arisen surrounding contamination of wild species of plants by GM plants. Wild plants are being found to have traces of GM. How will this affect diversity of wild plants down the road? Will these changes lead to domination of GM plants over wild plants? With Round Up Ready crops being so widely used, how will this affect weeds in the areas they are being used? Resistance to pesticides has been shown. If one weed species is wiped out, will that lead to another species taking over that we are not familiar with? How will we deal with pesticide resistant wild canola? Will this lead to other similar plants crossing with GM tainted plants? If so, how many species of plants will be genetically altered? If this does happen, is there any way to change our environment back?
We can’t have food without pollinators. Pesticide use can have an effect on the insects that help our plants grow, not just the ones who destroy them. Populations of many pollinators has rapidly decreased in the last few years. A possible cause of this is use of Round Up Ready crops and neonicotinoids. How can we have an effective healthy eco-system without pollinators? Did you eat an apple today? Thank a pollinator. Protection of these creatures that are in decline should be a top priority for any one who loves food, animals or the places we live. No pollinators, No food. No food, No life.
Human health is a great concern with GMO crops. In North America, crops are considered safe until proven unsafe. Studies on GM crops are often done by the companies who produce GMO seeds, or funded by the same people. With a revolving door from politics to Monsanto,(see this article from Occupy Monsanto for a list of Monsanto Politicians) how can we be sure that harmful effects of GMO crops are being unbiased and thoroughly tested? With no long term tests being done on humans or animals, how can we say that we know the risks?
More and more worries are coming out about the effects of human health from GMO products. Some concerns with human health and GM crops are liver issues, fertility problems, sterility birth defects, allergies and more. What I find concerning is that cotton is often rotated with food crops. Foods like peanuts, sesame and guar are planted in rotation with cottons crops. With pesticide use being high for cotton crops, how does that affect the soil that these food crops are planted in? Gylophosate is often used on cotton crops. There has been a lot of concern surrounding the use of gylophosate, studies are showing that glyophosate are linked to cancer. California has added this chemical to a list of chemicals that are cancer causing substances. Concerns are rising about this chemical making its way into the waterways in the surrounding areas where it is used.
Organic food producers often have trouble keeping their certification if they are too close to another farmers field that is using these harmful chemicals and seeds. Close proximity to GM crops can lead to contamination of conventional crops. With so much GM cotton and other GM crops being grown, the ability to even produce organic food is lost due to contamination from GM fields. GM crops can also pollinate with conventional crops which can lead to lawsuits and loss of certification.
What Can We Do?
From everything I have read, one thing is for sure, more testing needs to be done. Testing needs to be accurate, scientific, take all variables in to account, long-term and unbiased. Talk to your friends and family about the costs of GM crops. Education is the key to change. Recycle your used textiles. Only about 15% of clothing in North America is reused or recycled. So much clothing ends up in landfills. If we can reuse or re-purpose these items, instead of making new new items, it will decrease demand for the cotton used. As a consumer, we have a lot of power with our dollar, choose to shop for local organic foods and fibers. Changing consumer habits have shifted the food market to have more easily available organic foods. Can you remember trying to find organic food ten years ago? Even big players are getting on-board with the shift to organic foods, widening the variety of products sold to include organic options. We can, and must, make the shift to buying organic cotton and other sustainable fibers. It is true it can be hard to find ethical and sustainable clothing, but the shift is already happening. The more we buy organic cotton, the more people will produce organic cotton.