"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" - Hippocrates
Let’s put the cards on the table now. My melanoma cells were initially caused by unprotected sun exposure, likely in my early to mid-20’s, that manifested in a small tumor near my right clavicle. Surgery was performed, tumor and lymph nodes were removed, and for twelve years I stayed safe outdoors, in hopes of avoiding a repeat occurrence of cancer. During that entire time of sunscreen and long sleeves, though, the cancer cells were already inside me, and at some point they began growing – and spreading.
So, if the sun caused the initial cancer, why look somewhere else for this melanoma recurrence –it has to be the sun’s fault again, right? Well, not necessarily. Many believe that cancer is a metabolic disease – that is, carcinogens cause cellular damage resulting in proliferation of cancer cells, versus the long-held notion that it is a genetic (i.e. inherited) disease.
If metabolic reasons are either the cause of, or a contributing factor towards cancer, then you look to remove everyday toxins in our environment. When you do so, the name “Monsanto” leaps to the top of the list and their genetically modified (GMO) seeds. GMOs are a part of up to 70 percent of the food on supermarket shelves, mainly due to corn byproducts, oils used to extend shelf life, and GMO feed used to raise livestock (here’s a quick primer on GMO foods). So, does Monsanto (and their competitors) cause cancer?
First here’s some background to catch you up to speed:
Monsanto is a chemical company that has slowly, steadily begun taking over the American food supply. It would be safe to assume they harbor global aspirations, but outside North America, their products have been continually rejected as unsafe or unfit for the local population. Most widely known for the weed killer RoundUp, their chemical arsenal includes/included PCBs, Agent Orange, DDT, and rBGH. They have a stranglehold on genetically modified seeds, tinkering with the chemical makeup of harvest staples like corn, soy, wheat, and cotton. With a motto that once was, “Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible,” this is the company that is feeding your family.
If you read their innocuous website, one would presume they are the helping hand to Middle America’s farming agriculture. With annual revenues around $12 billion, though, this ain’t your typical Midwestern feed store. A quick Google search reveals that the corporation has health nuts, conspiracy theorists, and generally concerned citizens openly questioning the harm Monsanto is causing the food chain and, ultimately, the consumers of that food – you and I.
There is a ton of background and nuance to the GMO debate, but it boils down to is this: Monsanto can control the food supply – and the pile of money that goes with it – if and when they patent the seeds that grow the food the world consumes. They can only patent genetically modified seeds, nearly all of which are never tested for adverse effects on humans. How do they do this?
First, by creating a synergy between their biggest product (RoundUp) and the seeds they sell. Those GMO seeds are manufactured to withstand RoundUp while killing off surrounding weeds. Consequently, the crop produced is dosed with RoundUp, and the resulting harvest yields a double-whammy of genetically-modified food that has been drenched in pesticides.
Second, by bullying every small farmer they can find in the heartland. Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds are patented and licensed, so when the crops die off each season and the seeds replanted, Monsanto wants a cut of the money. Every year. Forever. If, by some chance a Monsanto seed gets cross-pollinated with a non-Monsanto seed, they still want their money, even if the farmers don’t want their engineered seeds in the first place. It’s not unlike Paulie from Goodfellas asking to be paid.
Third, just like other big industries, by greasing the wheels in Washington – this is where the real health concerns kick in (a real shocker). Monsanto employees get appointed to policy-making positions within government, most notably former Monsanto attorney/former deputy commissioner for the FDA Michael Taylor, who conveniently returned to Monsanto as the VP for Public Policy, before jumping back to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Foods. The FDA, and now the EPA, bends or changes laws to benefit Monsanto and other chemical firms, like doubling the allowable amount of the pesticide glyphosate on crops. Doing this despite studies showing that glyphosate, the main toxin in RoundUp, feeds cancer cells – particularly breast cancer – and causes chronic cellular inflammation, damaging cells throughout the body and inducing a variety of “Western diet” diseases. Agencies that should be independent and accountable to their constituents – the American people – have become the wolf guarding the hen house.
It’s not just Monsanto; Delaware-based DuPont doesn’t exactly have its hands clean in this GMO mess, and many seed and agriculture companies work alongside or in concert with the chemical giant, notably BASF, Bayer CropScience, and Dow Chemical. Heck, the leading ones even have their own GMO biotech website to tell their version of the GMO story, and contribute heavily to anti-GMO food labeling initiatives (here’s a cheat sheet of some of those companies). But Monsanto has become the massive figurehead – the rural Microsoft.
Stay with me, this is the important part…
If you have eaten corn or any soy-based product in the last ten years, then guess what? You’ve been eating genetically modified organisms. Same goes with most meats, as animals are fed GMOs, too. The list of foods that use Monsanto products covers most brands in your pantry, at the cafeteria, or in your kids’ lunchboxes. Betty Crocker. Heinz. Quaker. Ocean Spray. Kraft. Green Giant. Coca Cola. Post. General Mills. Kellogg’s. Even Campbell’s made the list, the local bastion of healing soup in a can. Monsanto is EVERYWHERE.
The sad thing is, there is currently little to no benefit to the GMO crops (unless you are a shareholder in one of the companies, of course). They haven’t been shown to produce more food, a signature talking point of the pro-GMO lobbyists. Their biggest selling point may be that they do produce better results than traditional seeds under drastic conditions – drought, flood, etc. While one day that may prove to be helpful in feeding starving children in third-world countries, right now the GMO producers are test-driving their “Frankenfood” in our backyard. GMO products have not reduced domestic food costs or yielded greater output, so they aren’t even helping to address the 13 million+ American children who have limited access to food. As a 2012 report on GMO Myths and Truths concludes, “Based on the evidence presented in this report, there is no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist.”
European countries have banned most or all Monsanto products, not wanting untested GMO seeds to foul their domestic crops. Japan and South Korea stopped importing white wheat after learning that experimental wheat, created by Monsanto but never approved, has been growing in the Western United States. Haiti (HAITI!!!) rejected a donation of seeds offered by Monsanto after the 2010 earthquake amid environmental, agricultural, and biodiversity concerns. The Haitian government would not subject its population and agriculture to Monsanto in the midst of the worst natural disaster in the modern Western Hemisphere, and yet we let their chemicals invade our food supply with numbing indifference.
Here’s the craziest part: the FDA (you know, the government agency that, in theory, protects you from harm in your food and drugs?) doesn’t even test GMO crops for safety, and doesn’t demand stringent measures be taken by Monsanto and others to prove they are safe. The FDA policy (scroll down to Section V, Article B) places responsibility on the producer or manufacturer to assure the safety of the food, explicitly relying on the producer/manufacturer to do so. (A silver lining: Not every organization is out to get you; the National Food Certifiers have recently announced their Apple K Kosher certification will require all products to be GMO-free by next spring.)
So how does all this have to do with a case of melanoma? I was asked about my cancer diet recently, and it sparked a debate as to what causes cancer – and just what cause means. Do I think that gnawing on a few ears of GMO corn gave me the mole that led to this medical odyssey? Unlikely, unless I was sitting shirtless under the sun while eating said corn.
But, there are multiple factors that promote tumor growth. Some are easy to spot – smoking and lung cancer, sun exposure and melanoma, etc. Others are environment-based, like toxicity in water and food supplies, in the air, in the chemicals our bodies are exposed to every day. These contaminants build up, despite genetic safeguards and defenses that have flushed out toxins for thousands of years. Eventually, they overwhelm some part of our immune system, and uncontrolled abnormal cell division follows – aka cancer.
So saying that Monsanto caused my melanoma is certainly a simplification of a complex medical issue. Aiding and abetting is still a crime, though, and the circumstantial evidence is compelling:
a). Organic foods combat cancer
b). Use of pesticide, a known poison and toxin, has increased in the last 15+ years
c). The long-term effects of genetically modified foods have not been studied, but rubber-stamped approvals continue to flow through the regulatory agencies that were designed to protect the American people from this precise situation – businesses putting their bottom line before the health of the consumer.
Fighting an incredibly difficult battle to rid my body of disease is challenging enough. Having to struggle to find foods that won’t make the disease worse is something I shouldn’t have to fight as well. I don’t blame you, Monsanto, for trying to make the world a better place (as you claim), but resent your attempts to conceal your genetic engineering on my dinner plate.
I shouldn’t have to worry about where my food comes from, or what isn’t labeled, or feeding my kids chemicals at every meal. As long as you continue to run American agriculture as a business to maximize profits instead of lives, then that food will never be healing. It will only contribute to the continual degradation of the health of millions of Americans. Including mine. And one day, likely including yours too. Bon appetite!
T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »