Did you know that over 70 percent of foods in your grocery store contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients? The most common foods that are genetically modified, or “engineered,” include corn, soy, sugar beets, and cottonseed oil, which can be found as ingredients in almost all non-organic packaged foods and even in the food found in most restaurants.
The vast majority of GM corn and soybeans are grown to feed livestock — meaning the GMOs are incorporated into animal tissue and ingested at a much higher rate by humans than if we ate the corn or soybeans directly.
What Is a GMO (Genetically-Modified Organism)?
There’s a lot of confusion about genetically modified (GMO) food, and, more than likely, biotech companies like it that way. Humans have been manipulating, modifying, and, yes, you could say “engineering” crops for as long as we have been doing agriculture. For centuries, we have been observing plants that had traits we liked (taste, color, size, drought resistance, pest resistance, etc.) and selecting and saving their seeds to plant for ourselves under protected conditions.
In the last century or so, we started using specialized tools and controlled settings like greenhouses to get around the difficulties and randomness of wild selection and open-air pollination. Hence, hybrid seed breeding was born. While hybrids (crosses between related but genetically different plants) occur in nature all the time, they are often random mutations that don’t necessarily benefit the plant or people and animals eating them. But in modern hybrid seed production, the crosses between genetic materials are specific and controlled.
The advantage of growing hybrid seeds comes from the ability to cross the genetic materials of two different but related plants to produce new, desirable traits that can’t be produced through inbreeding two of the same plants. Most of today’s livestock and companion animals were created through crossing different breeds to create hybrids — from Guernsey cows, to hairless cats, to the labradoodle! Hybrid seeds cannot be saved since their offspring will not have predictable traits, which creates problems for subsistence farmers. Food crops available as a result of hybridization include sweet corn, cantaloupes, seedless watermelons, tangelos, clementines, pluots, and other unique foods.
GMOs Are NOT Selective Breeding
Modern genetically modified crops are nothing like open-pollinated, heirloom varieties or even high-tech, hybridized seeds. In both open-pollinated and hybrid seeds, we have always been breeding crops that were genetically able to breed, like two types of pears, two varieties of squash, or two dog breeds.
GMO technology allows us to “play God” in a way that even Mother Nature hasn’t dared. With sophisticated lab techniques, we can now manipulate and combine the DNA of species that could never breed in nature — like fish and tomatoes, or bacteria and corn. Combining genes from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified (GM),” “genetically engineered (GE),” or “transgenic.” With GM techniques, we can grow rice that contains pharmaceutical drugs in every cell of the plant, we can grow soy and corn that can survive gallons of toxic chemicals dumped on it, and we can force cows to produce twice as much milk, requiring widespread use of antibiotics to deal with udder infections.
Notice a theme here? None of these methods grow food in a healthy, natural, or sustainable way. All of them foster more use of chemicals and drugs.
Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should
GMO crops are truly Franken-foods and have no precedent in nature. Some people believe GMOs are abominations. Whatever you believe, don’t believe for one second that GM crops are anything like other forms of seed manipulation or hybridization. Only GMO crops cross the species barrier, making them the biggest ecological experiment ever conducted on the planet.
Why Should You Care?
On May 19, 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called for an immediate moratorium on genetically modified foods (GMOs), stating, “GM foods pose a serious health risk.” Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concluded: “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects… GM foods pose a serious health risk in toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”
Consider these alarming facts:
Pesticide in Every Bite
- More doctors are prescribing GM-free diets. Dr. Amy Dean, a Michigan internal medicine specialist and board member of AAEM says, “I strongly recommend patients eat strictly non-genetically modified foods.”
- Biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava reviewed more than 600 scientific journals and concluded “genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a major contributor to the sharply deteriorating health of Americans.”
- Biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute warns that “children are the most likely to be adversely effected by toxins and other dietary problems” related to GM foods. In the US, the incidence of low birth weight babies, infertility, and infant mortality are all escalating.
- AAEM states, “Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation,” including increase in cytokines, which are “associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation” — all of which are on the rise in the US.
- GM soy and corn each contain two new proteins with allergenic properties. GM soy has up to seven times more trypsin inhibitor — a known soy allergen. Soon after GM soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50 percent.
- In the first nine years after the large-scale introduction of GM crops in 1996, the incidence of people with three or more chronic diseases nearly doubled, from 7 percent to 13 percent.
About half of all GM crops have been genetically engineered to produce their own built-in pesticide. Engineered to contain Bacillus thuringiensis in every cell of the crop, when bugs bite the GM plant, the poison splits open their stomach and kills them. The Bt toxin produced in GM plants is thousands of times more concentrated than natural Bt spray used by some organic farmers. It is designed to be more toxic and, unlike the spray, cannot be washed off the plant.
The only published human feeding study done on GMO foods revealed what may be their most dangerous problem. The gene inserted into GM foods transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. This means that long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially harmful GM proteins produced continuously inside of us. Put more plainly, eating corn chips produced from Bt corn might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of our lives. Destruction of our gut flora leads to a host of health problems, including autism, autoimmune disorders, and psychological problems.
If the threat to human health weren’t enough, because Bt-engineered crops contain pesticides in every cell of their being, many of the insects they were made to resist have developed resistance of their own. Much like the antibiotic-resistant bacteria created by overuse of antibiotics in industrially-produced livestock, a new generation of “superbugs” is starting to infest our crops, requiring the use of even more toxic pesticides.
The sad truth is that U.S. corn acreage has undergone a ten-fold increase in average insecticide and herbicide use since GM corn was introduced. Since 2007, the average acre of corn has more than three systemic insecticides, including neo-nicotinoids, which are strongly associated with widespread bee deaths. Compare this to the early 1990s, when only an estimated 30–35 percent of all corn acreage were treated with any insecticides at all!
Now with More Poison than Ever!
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in herbicides that is used on genetically-engineered crops, which have been genetically altered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of the chemical. GMO crops are very heavily doused with glyphosate multiple times a season to eliminate weeds.
Unfortunately, pollen never stays in one place, and resistance has started to appear in other species. Pollen drift and over-spraying has created “superweeds” that require the use of even stronger, more toxic herbicides to eliminate them — like 2,4-D, a main component in Agent Orange that has been strongly associated with cancer and birth defects.
The astronomical increase in the use of glyphosate herbicide has also been shown to deeply affect the health of the soil, killing the good soil flora that crops need to resist disease, uptake minerals, and synthesize vitamins and promoting the growth of harmful fungi and other plant pathogens. This not only affects the nutrition of the food we eat but also the long-term health of our precious cropland itself.
Glyphosate is easily one of the world’s most overlooked poisons. In fact, glyphosate has been classified as a probable carcinogen. Research published in 2010 showed that glyphosate causes birth defects in frogs and chicken embryos at far lower levels than when used in agricultural and garden applications.
Unfortunately, this carcinogen can now be found in the bloodstream of most Americans and in virtually every waterway in the country. Studies also strongly suggest the glyphosate that these crops are doused with can cause human cancer and birth deformities, both of which are occurring at greatly increasing rates in areas where spraying is done. Sterility and miscarriages are also increasing among GMO farmers and farm workers worldwide.
All of This Was Predicted
Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had warned about all these problems even in the early 1990s. According to documents released from a lawsuit, the scientific consensus at the FDA was that GM foods were inherently dangerous and might create hard-to-detect allergies, poisons, gene transfer to gut bacteria, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged their superiors to require rigorous, long-term tests, but the biotech industry has a very powerful lobby, and the White House (under Clinton, Bush, and Obama) has ordered the agency to promote biotechnology anyway, going so far as to appoint Monsanto executives to chief positions at the FDA. These executives have denied knowledge of scientists’ concerns and declared that no safety studies on GMOs are required! Because of patent restrictions, you can’t even study GMOs without permission from the patent holder, which effectively prevents any unbiased science from ever seeing the light of day.
Whether or not what many independent scientists are saying is true — even at the FDA itself — and genetically modified foods are indeed contributing to the rise of allergies, autoimmune conditions, autism, cancer, reproductive problems, or any other health problem now plaguing Americans since they were introduced, we may never know for sure.
What Can You Do?
Due to lack of labeling, many Americans are still unfamiliar with what genetically modified foods are. Nobody should be treated like a lab rat, especially our children. As a first step, we must demand the labeling of foods that contain GMOs so consumers can make an informed choice.
To avoid GMOs:
- Buy 100% certified organic products whenever possible.
- Buy whole, fresh produce and meat from local farmers you trust not to use GMOs.
- Use the non-GMO shopping guide created by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Share it with your friends and family, and post it to your social networks.
- Download the No GMO iPhone application.
- GMOs are frequently found in processed and packaged foods. It is recommended to cook from scratch with whole foods.
If even a small percentage of people actively choose non-GMO brands, the food industry will likely respond as they did in Europe—by removing all GM ingredients.
Photo credit: gilaxia, nicolas, Cameron Strathdee, gerenme / iStock
Back to Top