Dangers Lurking in Your Food

GMO orangeUnwanted Dead or Alive: GMO’s – by Laura Metheny  Genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, are made by taking a gene from one organism that contains a desirable trait and injecting this gene into another organism. This creates a plant or animal with a specific characteristic that was obtained by importing the new gene. In order to create transgenic organisms with these new traits, genetic engineers have to force the DNA into the organism. This is done several different ways — by infecting the plant or animal with bacteria or viruses containing the DNA, by coating tiny metal pellets with DNA and shooting these pellets into the cell using a specialized gun, by injecting DNA into fertilized eggs using a very fine needle, and by applying electric shocks to sperm creating holes in the membrane where the DNA can be forced in. These processes for DNA insertion are crude and inaccurate and can disrupt the DNA that is normally carefully controlled in an organism. It is impossible to predict or control where the DNA goes in and what cell functions might be disturbed (“About GMOs” paragraph 1, 5 and 6). Although GMOs may prove to be helpful in certain applications, this new technology is largely untested and poses many potentially dangerous risks. These risks include food safety concerns, high levels of pesticides and herbicides in foods, and the fact that once GMOs are introduced into the ecosystem they replicate and spread and cannot be isolated and removed.

Since humans are currently consuming foods containing GMOs, it is important to try to determine whether this food is safe. Sally Deneen estimates that “six out of every ten processed foods” that you might choose at the grocery store contain genetically modified organisms (paragraph 2). Jeffrey Smith points out that “genetically modified (GM) foods have not been scientifically tested on human beings” (“The Big GMO Cover-Up” paragraph 28). Since few human studies have been performed, one of the best sources of safety information comes from looking at the effects on animals. If animals are harmed, then it is reasonable to expect that humans could also be harmed.

Jeffrey Smith is a much respected expert in the area of GMOs and is quoted by many other authors. In his article on GM soy he mentions a study on mice that was published in November 2008. This “long-term feeding study commissioned by the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety…confirms genetically modified (GM) corn seriously affects reproductive health in mice resulting in fewer babies and smaller babies in the third and fourth generations.” No effect was seen in the first generation, and only a slight tendency toward smaller litters and smaller weight was observed in the second generation (“Genetically Modified Soy” paragraph 21) and (Dr. A. Velimirov, page 85). The delayed nature of the negative effects is a concern, because it could mean that delayed effects on reproduction in humans consuming GMOs will not show up in the population for many years. Since the reason for the difference in reproduction is not known, it is not possible to determine whether or not this is a risk for humans. It does, however, illustrate the complex nature of how gene manipulation works.

In his book, Seeds of Deception, Jeffrey Smith tells the story of a scientist named Arpad Pusztai who accidentally discovered that rats suffered severe damage to their organs and immune system after being fed genetically modified (GM) potatoes. He had been a pro-biotech scientist and was hired to study the safety of GM food. He was silenced by court order and suspended from his scientific research job of thirty-five years to suppress his negative findings. After seven months, however, the gag order was released and he was allowed to speak to the press (page 5). His reports were widely publicized in Europe and influenced people to boycott GM foods. This resulted in many companies choosing to omit GMO ingredients from their products, and eventually to a full ban of GM foods in Europe (Mercola, “The REAL Reasons” paragraph 12 -13). The fact that Pusztai’s research findings were accidental and the fact that he was willing to sacrifice his job to report findings that contradicted his original beliefs on GM foods all contributed to the credibility of his work. This research was eventually published in the Lancet journal in 1999 (Pusztai, Arpad, page 1353-1354).

Smith reports several negative effects on animals. Irina Ermakova, a Russian senior scientist used some soy flour to feed her baby rats in an experiment, and she was very surprised when over half of the baby rats died within three weeks. Repeating the experiment three times gave the same results. “The babies from mothers fed natural non-GMO soy, however, only suffered a 10% death rate.” The babies in the GM group were also smaller and had infertility problems (“The Big GMO Cover-Up” paragraph 29 – 30, 53). These reproductive disorders from GM feed are appearing in several studies.

Another source of evidence regarding the effects on animals comes from farmers who are using GM feed. About two dozen U.S. farmers have reported sterility and infertility among thousands of their cows and pigs fed GM corn. In India buffalo fed GM cottonseed had fertility problems, abortions, premature births, and other serious health problems. Many of the calves died (“The Big GMO Cover-Up” paragraph 31). One of the factors that makes animals such good case studies is the fact that their diets are more simplistic and more easily controlled. They also eat diets high in corn and soy, which are GM crops. This intensifies their exposure to the GMOs and gives a clearer picture of the impact. One of the drawbacks to this type of evidence is the fact that often the feed is not tested for contaminants ahead of time, so there is no certainty of the cause of death. Scientists can only look for patterns and draw tentative conclusions.

Sometimes evidence and information about an issue comes from an unlikely source. In the case, a Dutch farmer made a remarkable discovery. He left two piles of corn in his barn over the winter. One pile contained non-GMO corn, while the other pile was GM corn. The barn was infested with mice, so it became a perfect testing environment. The mice were able to choose which food to eat and were not starving or desperate for any food. Under these conditions, the mice left the GM pile completely untouched and ate all of the non-GM corn (Mercola, “Even Mice Don’t Like GMO” paragraph 3). That’s incredible! Watching animals for clues about food safety has always been a good policy, so this situation is no exception.

Another problem for GMOs is the fact that they cause an increase in the levels of pesticides and herbicides contained in GMO foods. This occurs because there are two primary traits that have been added to GMO foods. The first trait involves giving the plant an ability to make its own pesticide. Advocates of GM foods emphasize the fact that these crops resist pests, but the truth is that these plants contain their own built-in pesticide. Smith states that “when bugs take a bite of the GM plant, the toxin splits open their stomach and kills them!” Since we cannot wash off the pesticide, we are consuming the toxic pesticide with every bite. That is certainly not very appetizing! (Mercola, “Enjoy Pesticides in Every Bite of GMO Food” paragraph 3). The second trait that is commonly found in GM crops is a high tolerance to herbicide. This trait allows farmers to spray more herbicides on GM crops without killing them. This practice increases herbicide use as well as increasing the amount of herbicide residues in the food. Both types of GMOs, those with built-in pesticides and those with resistance to herbicides, provide economic benefits. The problem is that they also pose increased health risks for consumers (“About GMOs” paragraph 18).

Recently, scientists have discovered that there are possible entry points for genetically modified DNA to enter our bodies causing disease. Inhaled pollen with the Bt-toxin could enter the respiratory system. UK scientists have even shown that GM soy can transfer the Bt-genes into the gut flora of humans, enabling us to produce Bt-toxin via the bacteria in our intestines (Mercola, “Enjoy Pesticide in Every Bite of GMO Food?” paragraph 37 – 39). We don’t know yet what the affects of this could be, but if the Bt pesticide kills bugs, it probably harms us too. Allergies to these GM foods are increasing at a disturbing rate. According to Smith soy allergies increased by 50 percent in the UK after GM soy was introduced (“GMO Health Dangers” paragraph 3). If GMOs hurt both animals and bugs, then it is likely that they will eventually hurt us. If it takes many generations, however, for adverse affects to show themselves, it will be extremely difficult to remove GMO’s from the food supply. By then so much damage could be done, that it would be too late.

GMOs could cause significant damage to the environment, and the sad part about this is that we do not really need them. According to Whitman “pollen from Bt corn caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillers” (paragraph 18). Monsanto claims that GMOs help the environment because plants produce their own pesticides so that farmers do not have to spray pesticides. They also claim that a stronger single application of herbicides can be applied to Roundup-resistant crops. This limits the overall damage to water sources, fish and marine life that are harmed by the agricultural runoff from spraying (Whitman, paragraph 4 – 5). While this may be true for the pesticides, the use of Roundup herbicides often increases with GM crops. It has also been shown that “GM crops have considerably more residues of toxic herbicides” (Smith, “The Big GMO Cover-Up” paragraph 42). Another important factor to consider is the fact that “the Bt-toxin produced in GM plants is thousands of times more concentrated than natural Bt spray” (Jeffrey Smith, “The Big GMO Cover-Up” paragraph 35). Because of this toxic level of pesticides inside the plant, the current bug populations is reduced drastically. Whenever this occurs in nature, there are shifts in the whole ecosystem. It is possible that a few bugs will be immune to the Roundup and they will increase their population rapidly in the void left by the bugs that died. These new super bugs will end up needing stronger chemical sprays to control them. Over time the farmers may find that they end up with worse crop damage than they had before. A similar concern occurs “as weeds adapt to herbicides, they develop resistance and evolve into what are called ‘super weeds.’ When that happens, herbicide use increases and the benefits of herbicide resistant crops are diminished, if not lost” (Dangers to the Environment” paragraph 7). When GM crops are no longer useful, then Monsanto may try to create a new GMO seed to kill the super bugs and weeds. The cycle will repeat. What you end up with is a super mess!

Another risk to the environment is the transfer of herbicide tolerance to the weeds themselves, through cross-pollination (Whitman, paragraph 20). When this happens you can’t kill the weed with the Roundup. Perhaps the worst thing about GMO’s is the fact that they cross-pollinate with non-GMO plants. This contaminates the global seed supply with GMO genetic material, so getting rid of GMOs is virtually impossible.

GMO advocates claim that GM foods will help feed the growing world population by increasing crop yields and reducing costs (Whitman, paragraph 3). The economic benefits cannot be refuted, but the crop yield improvements have not occurred. Even if GM farming may increase crop yields by 25%, it has been shown that organic farming methods can do far better, increasing yields by 46 – 150%. Organic farming also increases nutritional value, increases bio-diversity and aids in pest management. Unfortunately, in order to gain these benefits, organic farming methods are a little more expensive (Deneen, paragraph 3, 56 – 58). A three-year study done by 110 countries with 900 participants showed that GMO crops actually decreased crop yields (Mercola, “10 Reasons” paragraph 44). If the benefits of using GMOs for addressing world hunger can be accomplished using safer methods, this should be explored. There are new molecular marker technologies available today that allow conventional breeders to develop improved varieties of crops without the dangers of direct genetic modification (“About GMOs” paragraph 9).

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of GM foods is the fact that people do not know that they are consuming them. Sandra Stoner explains that “current official policy rules that our genetically modified foods do not have to be labeled for consumers in the American market” (paragraph 2). Labeling would be harmful to the profits of GM seed companies like Monsanto, so they have exerted pressure on Congress to prevent legislation requiring labels on GM foods. Jeffrey Smith comments that most Americans will tell you that they would avoid brands containing GMOs if they were given a choice. He supports this claim by explaining that consumers have no compelling reason to choose GM foods. These foods have no advantage in terms of flavor, longevity or nutrient content. Smith believes that based on past market trends it is probable that “if even a tiny percentage of US consumers – say 5% or 15 million people – started avoiding GMO brands, the millions in lost sales revenue would likely force brands to remove all GM ingredients, like they already have in Europe” (“The Big GMO Cover-Up” paragraph 25).

So how do consumers identify GMO foods? The basic GM crops include soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, sugar from sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow squash (Mercola, “7 Genetically Modified Foods” paragraph 6 – 12). Since corn and soy are common ingredients in processed foods, The Institute for Responsible Technology has published a free shopping guide that may be downloaded at <http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/>. This guide tells consumers the brands of companies that do not put GMOs in their products. A free i-phone or i-touch application with this guide is also available. Consumers may avoid GMO’s by avoiding processed foods and selecting more organic foods. Food labeling laws now provide guidance because 100% organic foods by definition do not contain GM organisms. Organic produce is labeled in stores with a 5-digit number with the first number always being nine. GM produce will always have a 5-digit number starting with eight. Conventional produce is identified the shorter 4-digit number (Mercola, “The Real Reasons” paragraph 20 – 22). This numbering scheme is helpful for selecting safe non-GMO produce.

The real advantage will come when the government mandates that all GMO foods be labeled as such. One tool that may help bring about that change is the ways that consumers shop. Recently consumers were rewarded by being given choices to avoid growth hormones in dairy products. By refusing to buy milk with rbGH genetically modified growth hormone, consumers were able to persuade over half of the 100 major dairies in the US to voluntarily removed the growth hormone from their dairy products (“Consumers” paragraph 4). This process of market-driven change could also occur with GMOs. The challenge to work around is the lack of labeling.

Right now there are three things that consumers can do to help bring an end to GMOs in our food supply. First, they can contact their elected officials to ask them to pass legislation to force producers to label all GM foods. Secondly, they can use the shopping guide to buy only non-GMO foods, and thirdly, they can spread the word about the dangers of GM foods to others. By working together people who are concerned about this issue can work to bring about changes that will ensure the safety of our food both now and in the future. The fact that the United States has signed international trade agreements agreeing to label their GMO foods in foreign markets since January 2000 provides hope that labeling will eventually be a reality for the United States market as well (Whitman, paragraph 43). The key to winning the fight against GMOs is to demand that our congressmen pass laws to require GMO labeling.


Works Cited

“About GMOs.” Non-GMO Shopping Guide – Home. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://nongmoshoppingguide.com/about-gmos.html>.

“Chromosome picture.” Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.123rf.com/photo_6270858_3d-rendered-stylized-gold-chromosome-pair-isolated-on-white.html>.

“Consumers.” Institute for Responsible Technology. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://responsibletechnology.org/consumers>.

“Dangers to the Environment.” Institute for Responsible Technology. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/dangers-to-the-environment>.

Deneen, Sally. “Food Fight Genetic Engineering vs. Organics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” 2003 July/August. Web. 9 Nov. 2010. <http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/ge_vs_organic.cfm>.

“Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality.” Institute for Responsible Technology. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.responsibletechnology.org/article-gmo-soy-linked-to-sterility>.

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Mercola, Dr. Joseph. “7 Genetically Modified Foods to Avoid.” 3 Sept. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2010. <http://www.drmercola.info/2010/09/7-genetically-modified-foods-to-avoid.html>.

Mercola, Dr. Joseph. “10 Reasons to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods.” 27 Feb 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2010. <http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/02/27/10-reasons-why-no-one-needs-gm-foods.aspx>.

Mercola, Dr. Joseph. “Enjoy Pesticides in Every Bite of GMO Food?” 8 Aug. 2007. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2007/08/08/enjoy-pesticides-in-every-bite-of-gmo-food.aspx>.

Mercola, Dr. Joseph. “Even Mice Don’t Like Genetically Modified Food.” 23 Jan. 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2010. <http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2002/01/23/gm-food-part-two.aspx>.

Mercola, Dr. Joseph. “The REAL Reasons You Want to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods.” 6 Nov. 2007. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2007/11/06/the-real-reasons-you-want-to-avoid-genetically-modified-foods.aspx>.

“Mice photo.” Web. 18 Nov. 2010. < http://www.mindbodyhealth.com/GMO-HealthDisaster.htm>.

“Non-GMO Shopping Bag photo.” Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://responsibletechnology.org/buy-non-gmo>.

“Non-GMO Shopping Guide.” Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/> and <http://responsibletechnology.org/>.

“Orange – Kiwi photo.” Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.123rf.com/photo_7553414_flesh-kiwi-cut-ripe-orange-product-of-genetic-engineering-computer-assembly.html>.

“Orange – Pea photo.” Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.freakingnews.com/Pea-orange-Pics-12177.asp>.

Pusztai, Arpad. and Ewen, Stanley W.B. “Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine.” The Lancet, Volume 354, Issue 9187, Pages 1353 – 1354, 16 October 1999. <http://download.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/0140-6736/PIIS0140673698058607.pdf>.

Smith, Jeffrey M. “GMO Health Dangers.” Institute for Responsible Technology. 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://responsibletechnology.org/>.

Smith, Jeffrey M. “The Big GMO Cover-Up.” 6 Nov. 2009. Web. 9 Nov. 2010. <http://urbangardenmagazine.com/2009/11/the-big-gmo-cover-up-2/> and <http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2010/01/big-gmo-cover-up.html>.

Smith, Jeffrey M. Seeds of Deception – Chap 1 excerpt. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.seedsofdeception.com/utility/showArticle/?objectID=51>.

Stoner, Sandra. “Genetically Modified Food…Good or Bad?” Web. 9 Nov. 2010 <http://greenornot.experience.com/2008/10/genetically-modified-foodgood-or-bad.html>.

Velimirov, Dr. A., Binter, Dr. C., and Zentek, Univ. Prof. Dr. J. “Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice.” 11. November 2008. Web. 18 Nov. 2010.<http://www.biosicherheit.de/pdf/aktuell/zentek_studie_2008.pdf>.

Whitman, Deborah B. “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” April 2000. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php>.


1 Comment so far »

  1. by Health From Organic Foods | Martha L. Hyde, on September 13 2012 @ 5:28 am


    […] Laura. Dangers Lurking in Your Food. The Herbal Insider.July 13, […]
    *Response: An interesting blog with some very heave reading.
    Steve Marsden
    Herbal Advantage, Inc

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