Genetic engineering of soil microbes raises environmental alarms

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gmo-soil-microbes(NaturalHealth365)  Is tinkering with the genes of organic-based products – from food to mosquitos – really a healthy move for humans or the planet?  Just how risky is this “innovative” realm of scientific advancement, really?

A new report by the organization Friends of the Earth highlights a growing list of risks and concerns associated with the latest genetically modified organism (GMO) craze: GMO microorganisms in American farms.

Catastrophic cash-grab?  Big Ag bigwigs plan to introduce genetically modified microbes into the environment

Did you know?  Major agricultural companies, including Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, Joyn Bio, Boost Biomes, BioConsortia/The Mosaic Company, Valent BioSciences/Sumitomo Chemical, and BASF are working hard on genetically modifying microbes (like fungi and bacteria) in order to use them in the soil as pesticides and fertilizers.

On a webpage last updated in June of last year, Bayer describes this innovation as “agricultural biologicals.”  The $51.6 billion dollar company boasts that “products are being developed that contain microbes and can be applied to the surface of seeds to complement – or provide an alternative to – chemical agricultural products.”

Bayer claims that these genetically modified microbes use “nature’s own defenses” in order to protect crops from pests and improve yield.  Bayer also promises that “[t]he use of microbial products can shape the outcome of a harvest just as easily as a farmer’s choice of seed or fertilizer.”

The company claims that it currently has “more than 125,000 microbial strains [which] allows us to use genetic diversity to develop new and beneficial products for farmers all over the world.”  And when you consider the potential profitability involved, it’s not hard to see why Bayer and other companies are investing so much of their resources into this area.  According to data cited by the Non-GMO Project, the global agricultural biologics market totaled a whopping $12.11 billion in 2023.

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But despite the rosy picture painted by major agricultural stakeholders about these so-called “biologics,” other organizations are calling this genetic experimentation into question.

International team of experts raises concerns over GMO-based agricultural “biologics” in new report

Friends of the Earth describes itself as an international, decentralized network of environmental organizations in 73 countries whose shared aim is to analyze and address “root causes of today’s most pressing environmental and social issues.”

The organization recently released a report entitled Genetically Modified Soil Organisms: Risks and Concerns.”  In it, the organization raises several salient points of concern that the Big Ag companies are likely overlooking as they gleefully continue their gene-crazed research and development.  Here are just a few to consider:

  • Unintended consequences.  “When we attempt to intentionally alter the microbiome by applying chemical treatments or inoculating a field with a new strain of microbe,” Friends of the Earth writes, “there is no guarantee that things will go as intended.  The fine details of the existing microbial community, other treatments, and environmental factors all affect how microbial treatments work, often in ways we still don’t understand.”
  • Widescale impact.  “The scale of release is far larger and the odds of containment are far smaller than what we have come to know for genetically engineered crops.  Consider the following: just under 3 trillion corn plants are grown each year in the United States, most of which are genetically engineered.  An application of genetically engineered bacteria releases the same number of modified organisms about every half an acre.”
  • Lack of transparency.  “It is imperative that systems for far greater transparency are implemented by government agencies to allow for robust, informed decision-making processes that include all relevant stakeholders, including independent scientists, farmers and members of the public.”
  • Unnecessary risk.  “Engineered microbes have not yet shown effects that could not have been achieved by non-engineered microbes and agroecological approaches to farming.”
  • Harmed by hubris?  “That we can tinker with genetic regulatory processes does not mean we understand the full complexity of the system or what might happen as a result of our intervention … We have only scratched the surface of understanding the complexity of how microbes function, interact with plants and shape agricultural and wild ecosystems.  We do not have enough knowledge to meaningfully assess the possible ecological ramifications of releasing [genetically engineered] microbes into the environment.”

Ultimately, the authors of the report warn that adopting “genetically engineered microbes on an industrial scale will represent an unprecedented open-air experiment” (emphasis ours) and that the “release of [genetically engineered] microbes has the potential to affect the environment in unintended ways.”

For more comprehensive information about this concerning topic, you can read the report in full here.

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