Are genetically modified foods safe? This has been in hot debate ever since they were introduced the early 1980s. This is a topic that is brought up quite frequently to health care providers, and it is about time the people get some answers.
The topic is quite relevant considering the unexplained rise in many different autoimmune diseases and cancers in the past 30 years, in which we have no explanation for other than “ environmental factors”. The usage and safety hazards of these foods, has been discussed as having an impact in a number of areas such as consumer health, world hunger, ethical usage, and the fact that these modified strains could take over natural plant selection in places that they may be planted. Though the Biotech corporations would have you believe that they may provide many benefits in the short term, they could ultimately lead to catastrophic results for not just the human race, but the entire planet.
So, what exactly is a GMO? Genetically Modified Organisms have had their DNA altered to add certain qualities to plants for various purposes, usually to be resistant to certain pesticides or to add vitamin content. This biotechnology first took place by turning off certain traits to make a crop more desirable to the market. A perfect example of this is common grocery store tomato paste. A certain trait is turned off so that the product stays thick instead of having to add chemicals or indigestible gum in it (guar gum, xanthan gum, etc), as is done in many alternative milk products to hold the fat globules together with the liquid so it doesn’t separate.
Now, due to vast improvements in the realm of biochemistry, we are now at the stage where whole new gene sequences can be introduced to a plant. They can even target individual parts of the plant, such as the roots or leafs while leaving everything else untainted.
Risks to Human and Animal Health
Now that you know what a GMO is, we can dive on in to the juicy stuff. Let’s address the dangers they may pose to human health. In a toxicology report written by Researcher, Samuel Leblanc, the protein Cry1Ab (an insecticidal toxin found within GMO corn and soy) was found within pregnant women and their fetuses (Reproductive Toxicology). “This is the first study to reveal the presence of circulating PAGMF (GMOs) in women with and without pregnancy, paving the way for a new field in reproductive toxicology including nutrition and utero-placental toxicities.”
This is troubling, because it is proof that insecticides that reside within these altered genes are finding their way into the tissues of the consumer, and there is no telling what kind of side effects this could cause in the short term or long term because of the lack of studies done on the issue.Many biologist agree that there is unpredictability of what altered genes could possibly mutate into. When you manipulate DNA, there is no guarantee that it won’t change anything else within the plant. And even then, just because it worked the first time, it can have different results the second or third time.
In Dora Artemis’s article “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Food”, found in The Journal of Clinical Food Science, she mentions how through epigenetics (heritable gene changes) organisms have control over how their genes interact. This leads to new modifications, even if it has been done before, it is still unstable and impossible to predict every time. She also discusses how these foods can be absorbed into the consumer’s tissues at a cellular level, instead of being digested, a similar finding to what was shown in the toxicology report I cited previously.
There is even evidence that shows that transgenes in these foods can pass on to the microflora in our small intestine, causing mutations in which we do not know the possible repercussions for (Survival of transgenic plant DNA). And no, even though that might leave you imagining mutating into impeccable Terminator like warriors, that’s probably a much nicer thought to dwell on compared to what could actually be happening.
Another concern is that DNA from one plant or animal being inserted into another creates a greater risk of for people to become allergic to it. In 2000, a woman from California named Grace Booth was found going into anaphylactic shock after eating three corn tacos.After the incident, and after ruling out all other food allergies, she became suspicious of the corn tortillas. Little did she know, earlier that year, the consumer group Genetically Engineered Food Alert found that some Taco Bell shells, along with a few other corn products, were found to contain a pest-repelling protein called Cry9C.
Normally a common soil bacteria, Cry9C was placed in this corn to specifically destroy insect intestine, and was introduced into StarLink GMO corn in order to kill certain breeds of caterpillars.The StarLink corn had only been approved for animal feeding, and was not yet intended for human consumption because of concerns that Cry9C would be difficult to digest and possibly cause an allergic reaction. However, it still entered the human supply due to cross-pollination when the GMO corn was planted too close to a variety of unmodified crops, and the tortillas that Grace ate were soon recalled due to this contamination.
Although GM food has several health risks for humans, they also pose a threat to many of the animals that are used in industrial farming. In the well-known food documentary “Food Matters” you can see that cows that are primarily fed GM corn have holes in them where farm workers actually pull out food that gets backed up in their GI tract. They do this so that pathogenic bacteria do not develop from the build-up of undigested food that the cow cannot digest because it has not evolved to eat this kind of food. They also develop much higher rates of liver and kidney disease.
Here is some interesting information from a peer reviewed study done to assess any health effects of GM corn and soy on pigs, “Pigs fed a GMO diet exhibited heavier uteri and a higher rate of severe stomach inflammation than pigs fed a comparable non-GMO diet. Given the widespread use of GMO feed for livestock as well as humans this is a cause for concern. The results indicate that it would be prudent for GM crops that are destined for human food and animal feed, including stacked GM crops, to undergo long-term animal feeding studies preferably before commercial planting, particularly for toxicological and reproductive effects. Humans have a similar gastrointestinal tract to pigs, and these GM crops are widely consumed by people, particularly in the USA” (journal of organic systems).
Given that pigs and humans share very similar gastrointestinal tracts (which is why they were used for testing), I’d be weary about saturating my diet with these foods, and I’d hope you would be too.
But aren’t GMO’s are supposed to solve world hunger?
And we have the argument that Biotech companies strain to the point of laughter, that we must approve of GMO food so that we can feed the poor and malnourished in developing countries
One unfortunate example of why this is not true, is Golden Rice. Shortly after the engineering the miracle cure by the name of Golden Rice, Time magazine ran a cover story which was titled “Grains of Hope.” The article made the public aware of the development of a genetically engineered Golden Rice, and mentioned that with many of the people in developing countries dying from vitamin A deficiency, we might have engineered a way to save thousands of lives.
Not so surprisingly, Monsanto and a few other biotechnology companies launched a 50 million dollar marketing campaign, not to mention $32 million in TV and print advertising. The ads, complete sunny fields of never-ending sunflowers and smiling children, stated that “biotech foods could help end world hunger”.
Welp, one big problem guys, Golden Rice doesn’t work. As it turned out, the level of beta-carotene (which is not actually Vitamin A, but a precursor to Vitamin A, and doesn’t ensure high conversion rates) in golden rice is so minuscule, that a person would have to eat 27 cups of golden rice in order to meet the daily amount required for Vitamin A.
Regardless of that point, the main reason people are malnourished is not because they lack GMO food, it’s because they live in poverty and lack the money to buy REAL food! Can we really believe that Monsanto is going to just going to start dishing out free food all over the world to save world hunger after spending countless millions on advertising for GMO food? You don’t have to be Einstein to calculate the problems with this equation.They haven’t yet, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
All in all….
There just isn’t enough evidence or human studies done to accurately say whether or not GMO’s are incredibly harmful to most humans or not, but from the information that I have gathered here, you have a little more data to make an informed decision about whether or not you feel comfortable keeping these foods in your diet.
I believe that there are scientists with good intent that stand behind GMO’s and truly want to help the population conquer problems that our growing population faces, but the evidence reveals many underlying problems with the current way that foods are being modified, and we’ll never be able to feed the poor with food that still cost money. The root of these problems lies in the way we govern and use money in our countries, and those things need modification way before our food does.
- Leblanc, Samuel. (2011) “Cry1Ab protein, a insecticidal toxin found within GMO corn and soy, is found within pregnant women and their fetuses”. Reproductive Toxicology. Web.
- Carman, Judy. (2003) “A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet”. Journal of Organic Systems. 52-54. Print
- Dona, Artemis. (2009) “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods.” Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition 49.2: 164-75. Print.
- Netherwood, Trudy. Martin Orue, Susana. O’Donnell, Anthony. Gockling, Sally. (2004) “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract”. Journal of Nature Biotechnology. Web.