Posted on June 6, 2011 - by

What You Don’t Know About GMOs CAN Hurt You


Photo: AP Photo/Greenpeace, Melvyn Calderon

Guess what? You probably ate genetically modified (GM) food sometime in the past week. After all, approximately 75% of processed foods contain GM ingredients, including most cooking oils, boxed cereals, and other grain products. If you had realized your dinner contained GM ingredients, you might have chosen something else, but you likely weren’t given a choice—GM foods are not required to be labeled in the United States and Canada (though they are in the EU). And while the biotech industry argues that GM foods are no different from their natural counterparts, a mounting body of evidence shows that’s just not true. The GM ingredients we don’t know we’re consuming pose serious threats to our health, our food supply, and our environment.

GMOs (“genetically modified organisms”) are created when gene material from one or several species is inserted into the genetic code of another organism, creating a new combination that does not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding. Through experiments like these, scientists hope to introduce or enhance qualities (e.g. higher crop yield, faster growing speed, or resistance to pests) to make them better suited to human use and varying environmental conditions. However, artificially splicing unrelated organisms’ DNA together leads to unpredictable mutations that can cause undesirable and potentially harmful effects on the organisms themselves and those who consume them.

Health Concerns

Incredibly, the FDA does not require any safety tests to be conducted on GM foods, thanks to a 1992 decision allowing companies that produce GM foods to declare them GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”) without oversight. While industry-sponsored safety studies have been conducted on all GM crops approved for planting so far, they’ve been far from rigorous, and many of them violate basic scientific standards.

Independently conducted studies reveal disturbing links between consumption of GM foods and negative effects on health. For instance, when mother rats were fed GM soy, over half the babies died within 3 weeks. The longer mice were fed GM corn, the smaller and fewer offspring they had. Soy allergies increased by 50% in the UK after GM soy was introduced there. Other studies implicate GM foods in disrupting functions of the kidneys, liver, and pancreas; increasing susceptibility to disease; and causing infertility.

In January 2011, plant pathologist Don Huber sent a letter to USDA secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to delay approval of Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready GM alfalfa. His team had discovered a pathogen in RoundUp Ready corn and soybeans that seemed to be responsible for crop failures, as well as infertility and spontaneous abortions in livestock. Huber’s warnings went unheeded, and GM alfalfa was approved for planting.

Despite mounting evidence that GM foods are unfit for human consumption, the US government continues to maintain that they are safe. In the past year alone, three new GM crops (alfalfa, sugar beets, and a type of corn used for ethanol production) have been approved for planting, and genetically modified salmon may gain approval any day. Why? Likely because the connections between biotech giants and the government agencies assigned to regulate their safety run deep: the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, Michael Taylor, is the former vice president for public policy at—surprise!–Monsanto. With such a biotech-friendly face at the FDA’s helm, it’s no wonder critiques of GM foods fall on deaf ears there. (See an explanation of the complex breakdown of regulatory powers governing GM foods.)

Environmental Hazards

GM crops that produce their own pesticides (“Bt” crops) have been promoted as environmentally friendly alternatives to natural plants that require heavy applications of pesticides when grown on an industrial scale. However, this toxin still contaminates nearby waterways when plant material washes into them, disrupting aquatic life. It kills indiscriminately, affecting even beneficial insects like butterflies, and irrevocably disturbs delicate ecosystems. As pests develop resistance to Bt toxin, application of additional pesticides will become necessary, negating any purported benefits.

Similarly, crops genetically engineered to produce their own herbicide threaten to create “superweeds,” resistant to the engineered toxins and requiring renewed use of chemical herbicides.

Worse still, when most GM crops (with the exception of GM soy) are introduced into the environment, their pollen spreads far and wide, introducing genetically-modified DNA into formerly natural plants. Once planted, there is no way to prevent cross-contamination. Thus, organic farmers may find their fields contaminated by GM crops, risking their status as certified organic producers.

GMOs Won’t Feed the World

Proponents tout GM crops as a means to increase crop yields, particularly in the developing world where hunger is concentrated and population is growing fastest. But several major studies have shown that GM crops do not significantly increase yields, and in some cases actually decrease them. Moreover, the root causes of global hunger lie not with a physical shortage of food so much as a lack of resources to purchase it.

Intellectual property protections on GM seeds require farmers who plant them to sign agreements stating that they will not save seeds from one year’s crop for replanting the next. Instead, they must purchase new seeds each year, locking many into a permanent cycle of poverty and debt. Addressing poverty, unemployment, and mismanagement of agricultural resources will do far more to prevent hunger than investment in proprietary biotechnology.

What’s Next for GM Foods?

In the US, AquaBounty Technologies has genetically engineered a new salmon to grow twice as quickly as natural salmon. They are also working on GM trout and tilapia. The FDA held hearings to determine whether the GM salmon are materially distinct from natural salmon and is currently considering whether to approve the fish for human consumption.

Canada has approved limited production of the so-called “Enviro-pig,” a GM pig whose waste contains 65% less phosphorus than that of natural pigs. Designed to reduce phosphorus runoff that creates dead zones in nearby waterways, the pig has not yet been approved for consumption, though that possibility is still down the pipeline.

Several EU nations have banned the planting of GM crops, but the European Court of Justice ruled in March of this year that individual member-nations cannot institute blanket bans, reserving that right for the EU as a whole. It remains to be seen whether the Union will take up such a ban. The US is lobbying hard to remove all restrictions on GM foods in Europe, citing free trade rules.

What Can I Do?

Biotech companies have so far stymied efforts to mandate labeling of GM foods in the US and Canada. It’s no wonder they are worried about their profits should labeling requirements be enacted: a recent New York Times blog poll found that 89% of respondents want to see foods containing GM ingredients labeled as such.

While the FDA and USDA continue to dig their heels in, you can at least take steps to protect yourself and your family from the dangers posed by GM foods. Plus, register your concern by signing our petition demanding that consumers be given a choice to avoid GM foods through mandatory labeling.

E-mail me at jenny@freshthemovie.com.

Our blogger serves the Fresh community as a volunteer. To support her work, consider making a donation to our Writers’ Fund.

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7 Comments

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  1. Visit My Website

    June 11, 2011

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    Hana Archbold said:

    It is our right as the citizen of this great country to know about the food that is not organic and specifically that is Genetically Modified. The government should listen to the people and not to big corporations and BioTech companies whose main objectives are to make the most money irrespective of the impact on our health.



  2. Visit My Website

    June 16, 2011

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    Joe Bassett said:

    I guess it’s time for sabotaging these grain mills and eqipment. In the middle of nowhere things can be destroyed. Not until millions of people are messed up because of this GMO stuff will people do anything. The Iraqi deformed children isa war crimes. Attacking Iraq is a war crime. http://www.rense.com



  3. Visit My Website

    June 29, 2011

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    Debbie said:

    As if we didn’t already know….the Government of the United States seems to think it has the power to do whatever it wants, wherever it wants! It’ll take a revolution to change….and I think that’s what’s coming.



  4. Visit My Website

    June 29, 2011

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    Beth said:

    the ultimate course of our government and GM companies is eugenics of the human population. 1st they will patent pigs for “special” waste products with less phosphorous. But why stop there? Eventually all animals will be patented and owned by a select few who rule over all human population. But then they’ll say, why not make GM humans who shed no hair, have no periods, and have a special kind of easily decomposable waste as well? All for the sake of less garbage and destruction of the eco system, they’ll tell us…patenting a human means owning humans ultimately. If this is not stopped now, it will come to this eventually.

  5. Ursula Bauerle said:

    Beth said it very well. At the end we will be all slaves, and they can do to us whatever they like. It has to be stopped at all cost!

  6. Jackie said:

    I’ m totally agree with Beth.
    Debbie ir right too, government seems to be so arrogant and confident of being able to deprive us of one of the most important foundation of a democracy , information. Now we have the power, since we are the consumer, let’s use it, no company would keep on producing a product that nobody buys

  7. Mary Dee said:

    “Greed” is the source and the reason we are subjected to these health risks..it seems to be “the” moving force in our United States..does it not? Yet, I don’t know if it is the role of the government to dictate and monitor the processors, if all that is required is a large MONEY penalty to suppliers when it is discovered in food products on their shelves..