Guest Writer for Wake Up World
One of the most detrimental issues about GM agriculture is the effect it has on our environment, specifically our soil and water. The findings regarding GM in the media, science, and FDA reports are almost solely focused on the ways in which GM affects human health. Whether what causes this negligence is because of deeply ingrained anthropocentrism in our society, or genuine ignorance of the institutions that inform us, the fact is that GM agriculture has extremely damaging affects on the health of this earth.
First, it is important to discuss the arguments for and against GM food production. The field is split in two: one side being the supporters of GM agriculture, the other being the adversaries. Each side has arguments to support their positions backed by scientific data and valid documentation.
Supporters claim that GM is the only way to feed the exponential growth of our population in upcoming years. In this view sustainable agriculture is achieved by creating organisms that are able to grow and produce high yields despite disease and unfavorable conditions that do not allow their unmodified counterparts to. They also hold tight to the fact that there are no documented cases of that point to the harmful effects of GM products to humans.  Monsanto, the world’s largest supplier of GM seed, claims that they are the most vigorously tested crops in the history of agriculture, testing for nutrient retention, allergens, and gene safety, which is used as proof for safe consumption. 
Conversely, adversaries argue that since GM food production is banned in 38 countries and requires labeling in 64 countries, there is a huge concern for safety.  Although there are no documented cases of the GM food itself causing harm to humans, there are in fact documented cases of human harm caused by contact with the chemical glyphosate, the main ingredient in the pesticide ‘Roundup’ used to spray all GM crops.  Despite the defamation of the well known 90 day test conducted by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, which found that rats who consumed GM corn developed tumors and other fatal ailments, other third party GM testers who found no health issues in shorter (78 day) studies using the same species of rats were not discredited. 
The fruits of these arguments seem to mainly reside in the question of human health and safety. Arguments by the supporters GM food claim that the actual GM product do not cause harmful effects on humans, while arguments made by opponents claim that it is not the GM product itself, but the carcinogen glyphosate in which the danger of GM food resides.  The battle will continue and each side will pump out evidence that discredits the other, it seems, until human cancer is officially linked to GM food or until Monsanto allows and funds a true long term, third party study that fully validates the safety of GM consumption.
What people decide to put into their bodies is their choice as long as they are able to make informed decisions; this does not affect other people. If GM supporters have no issue consuming carcinogens, then GM adversaries have no authority to tell them otherwise, and vise-versa. The issue here lies in tactics to conceal information and also make false claims on both the supporting and opposing sides.
However, the larger issues of GM reach far beyond the question of human safety into that of our planet, whose health we all depend on to survive. We cannot escape this fact, no matter how much yield comes from a field, or how many new medical procedures, and drugs we discover to prolong human life. As long as we continue to support GM agriculture, we are indirectly subjecting other people on this planet to the direct harm it poses to our environment. We will not survive if we turn our planet into an inhospitable environment.
It is important to understand that genetic modification was a necessary creation in order for conventional agriculture (ie. not organic, monocultures) to sustain itself on this planet. So, when GM advocates talk about sustainability, this is what they are referring to: the sustainability of an already unsustainable method.
Even before World War II, corn and soy were America’s leading crops; however, they did not produce nearly as much yield due to their high nutrient intake from soil. Farmers practiced crop rotation, a method for letting soil restore its nutrients. Often, farmland was completely abandoned after just a few years of monoculture because the nutrients in soil became severely deficient. After WWII, our government was left with a surplus ingredient for making explosives, ammonium nitrate.   This chemical is a source of nitrogen, which is one of the most essential ingredients for all plant growth.  It was decided that the surplus would be sprayed onto America’s farmlands, and chemical fertilizer was born.
The introduction of chemical fertilizer, created a prime habitat for plant growth, which allowed for a tremendous increase in crop yield, but also a high increase in weed growth, which created more habitats for pests. There was a greater demand for labor on farms for removal of weeds and maintaining increased crop yields, which intensified the need for herbicides and pesticides. In the late 1970’s the herbicide Roundup was introduced into agriculture.  However, Roundup does not distinguish between ‘weeds’ and ‘food’, and so much of a desired crop is lost when it comes into contact with the herbicide.  In order to continue on the same path, Monsanto invested billions of dollars in the development of genetically modified plants that could survive when sprayed with Roundup and other pesticides. The chain is logical, narrow, but logical nonetheless, and it is made by our culture’s affixation with instantaneous results and short term solutions that act as band aids instead of antidotes.
What has developed since the adoption of GM agriculture is an enormous loss of healthy soil. Monocultures already stripped soil of its nutrients, but adding lethal poison has worsened the conditions. Nature has adapted to the toxic soil conditions we created in the form of ‘superweeds’ that are resistant to glyphosate. This is the main issue that the majority of America does not understand fully: healthy soil.
What is happening beneath our feet in healthy soil is a complex web of microorganisms, fungi and root systems all supporting each other to in life and procreation; they are absolutely necessary to create healthy soil conditions. Soil is believed to have the most diverse ecosystems on earth. Organic and biodynamic farming methods use these elements to their advantage and work in crops that both support and are supported by other root systems, fungi and billions of microorganism. 
Roots systems form a symbiotic and highly complex relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. Simply explained, the fungi is able to absorb minerals in the soil that plant roots cannot. Fungi attaches itself to the root systems of plants and exchanges these minerals for carbohydrates from the plants. Microorganisms are also indirectly essential to this exchange because they decompose organic matter, which turns into minerals that are able to be consumed by plant roots and mycorrhizae. If there are no microorganisms in soil, organic matter will remain in complex molecules that plants and fungi cannot use. 
Chemical fertilizers, chemical herbicides and chemical pesticides kill microorganisms and mycorrhizal fungi. When this happens, the complex and highly intelligent systems that nature has perfected for the past four billion years cannot be utilized, and our crops become dependent on humans altering their conditions for survival. In this way soil becomes inorganic, compacted, and completely dependent on chemical additives for fertilization. Compacted soil is what causes runoff of chemicals directly into our water supplies and oceans. This has created dead-zones, areas where marine life cannot survive because of high levels of toxicity, in our oceans. Compact soil also signifies that rainwater cannot penetrate through the soil to replenish our aquifers. When groundwater is not being filled, water scarcity and drought conditions occur. The little water that does reach the aquifers is often unclean, and heavy ridden with chemicals. 
Organic agriculture utilizes the systems already in place in soil, and expands on it by added more organic matter that work as fertilizers like compost, gypsum rock, feather meal, bone meal, mulch, etc. Microorganisms thrive in these types of soil conditions, and allow the soil to remain un-compacted and highly fertile, and retain high levels of biodiversity. As long as organic matter is continuously added, crops are rotated, and microorganism are able to thrive, soil continues to become more fertile over time, which allows for greater crop yields over time. Water is able to penetrate through soil that is rich in organic material, and what’s more is that this kind of soil actually filters harmful chemicals and bacteria from water.  This is what truly sustainable farming looks like; sustainable is not confined to our human methods, it encompasses our methods in harmony with the methods of our natural world.
Conversely, conventional farmlands that are stripped of microorganisms, fungi and organic matter will produce less yield over time until it is completely unusable.  No amount of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms can change this fact. It is the way of nature. We can develop GM after GM and nature will continue to hurtle new superweeds, new super pests, new diseases that will render our farmlands unusable, empty our underground water supply and expand the ranges of ocean dead zones. As humans, we cannot survive in these conditions.
This issue is far more severe than whether or not GM food causes cancer to humans – it is cancer to our earth. If our nation’s farmers cannot adopt organic practices, we will continue to poison this land that we depend on for our food and clean water, and actual food and water shortages will occur. All life depends on the health of our soil. Fresh water, the most essential element for human life, depends on healthy soil for filtration. Food security does not depend on how well we can mutate genes; it depends on how well we can care for our soil.
We exist as one giant ecosystem. Every single living being is affected by us, and we in turn are affected by every single living being. We are ecosystems within ecosystems within ecosystems. The complexity of these systems are extremely difficult to fathom because most of the time they are not visible to us; most of the time they affect us indirectly, but without this web, life would not be possible. Look at the devastating consequences our earth has endured just from the partial elimination of our soils ecosystems by GM agriculture. We cannot escape our interconnectedness to all life, and it is our responsibility to work with life, not against it, to ensure human survival on this earth. Nature will always adapt and find ways to survive, but whether or not humans will is our choice.
Genetically modified food may or may not be bad for our bodies, but it is proven to be harmful to our earth. It is time we abandon this old method and fully embrace, on an international level, biodynamic agricultural methods that allow us to work in harmony with the already perfectly balanced ecosystems that run deep and wide across this ancient land.
If you are interested in learning more about soil science and its relationship to agriculture, I highly recommend watching the enlightening documentary Symphony of the Soil (14).
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About the author:
Vanessa Caldarelli: I am a wildlife conservationist and organic farmer. I work with Eco Era, a wildlife and rainforest refuge in Costa Rica, and I have been working on organic farms for the past six years. I worked with many enthused soil scientists, permaculture, biodynamic and organic agriculture enthusiasts and have developed a rich knowledge in this field. I research and write essays in this field often to educate people who know little about the importance of organic agriculture. Most recently I have been working in designing permaculture sites and helping convert conventional gardens into sustainable edible gardens.
You can visit Vanessa at her website, www.vanessaida.wordpress.com