Monsanto has been looking for something to replace its best-selling Round Up chemicals in light of weeds becoming resistant to the chemical concoction. Now, Monsanto and Round Up are the targets of an international campaign ‘outing’ the herbicide for causing cancer (something which has actually been known for years).
Have no fear, though, Monsanto has come up with a new method of destruction, and it’s done by silencing genes through the utilization of a ‘novel’ new technology that will surely become the company’s new bread and butter.
As Antonio Regalado explains in a piece which appeared in the MIT Technology Review, Monsanto’s newest technology isn’t another type of transgenic seed or pesticide incorporated into a plant itself like Bt toxins; it’s a new way to kill using chemicals straight up. Monsanto’s latest sprays are powered by a genetic technology called RNA interference, which promises to kill specific insects and weeds by silencing genes crucial to their survival while “leaving non-target species unscathed.”
‘RNA interference’ is a fancy scientific name for silencing gene sequences. It’s an emerging science, with two researchers gaining the Nobel Prize in physiology for their work in the field.
This is how the gene-silencing chemicals work:
“The cells of plants and animals carry their instructions in the form of DNA. To make a protein, the sequence of genetic letters in each gene gets copied into matching strands of RNA, which then float out of the nucleus to guide the protein-making machinery of the cell. RNA interference, or gene silencing, is a way to destroy specific RNA messages so that a particular protein is not made.”
Monsanto uses the technology by killing RNA messages that generate extremely important genes – thus killing their prey. In this case, prey are bugs and weeds, but with any of Monsanto’s chemicals, the target is not always precise.
Those in the field of biotechnology think that RNA sprays will completely overhaul the way genetically modified food is grown. But it could also completely overhaul our own genetic code – leading to more disease than we’ve ever imagined. 
One researcher has called the new RNA technology “incredible” and “breathtaking,” as does Monsanto’s executives. The company is excited to drop more chemicals from crop dusters while completely ignoring what this ‘technology’ could do to desirable plants and pollinators as well as human beings. Part of the rush for new, ‘novel’ technology is surely due to the fact that plants have become resistant to the chemicals like glyphosate.
Monsanto’s flagship herbicide, Roundup, still generates about $5 billion in sales annually, but it went off-patent years ago, and it was recently declared a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization—a finding Monsanto disputes.
No wonder RNA technology looks so good to the company; Monsanto’s stock has been low enough, and the company is scrambling to find new ways to ‘poison the planet for profit.’ It also explains the recent bid to try to buyout biotech giant Syngenta – which focuses more on chemicals than seeds.
Syngenta, too, is developing RNAi technology. In 2012, it spent $523 million to buy Devgen, a company which had been developing the novel sprays. Of course Monsanto wants the rights to that technology; it could mean plummeting business if the company can’t have it.
The technology isn’t done yet, though. Scientists are still trying to figure out how to get a large, electrically-charged molecule like RNA into a plant’s cells. Thus far, scientists have tried to “encapsulate the RNA in synthetic nanoparticles called lipidoids — greasy blobs with specialized chemical tails,” Regalado reports. “The idea is to slip them into a plant, where the coating will dissolve, releasing the RNA.”
You can be sure that the EPA and USDA will pass this technology through any regulatory hurdles too before it’s been tested or risk-assessed. This, even though last year the EPA convened a scientific advisory panel to assess the human health and ecological risks posed by emerging RNAi crop technologies.
The panel concluded there’s “no convincing evidence” that RNAi material poses a threat to humans or other animals — sound familiar?
“This is surprisingly reminiscent of Monsanto’s assurances in the ’90s that weeds would be very unlikely to develop resistance” to Roundup, say critics of the new technology. It is also surprisingly similar to its promises that GM technology would change the entire world of agriculture for the better – a promise which has been grossly ironic.
There is now an entire database of weeds resistant to Monsanto’s herbicides (as well as other synthase inhibitors which have caused superweeds to grow), with listings beginning as early as the year 2000. Research has also shown that these herbicides are taken up into the human body – in our cells, our breastmilk, and even fetal cells. Do we really need gene-silencing chemicals to be sprayed haphazardly into the environment in addition to the chemical warfare we’ve already been subjected to?
Furthermore, these chemicals have been shown to bio-accumulate in over 107 scientific abstracts, so the addition of new gene-silencing technology isn’t ‘novel;’ it is likely disastrous.
What will it take to put the regulators and creators of these questionable technologies on standby? Or better yet, out of work? Perhaps the international court which will visit Monsanto’s crimes against humanity in 2016 will do the world justice by convicting the company for its unchecked hubris and global devastation.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.