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Just how Safe are Genetically Modified Crops?
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), are the result of a complex laboratory procedure known as Genetic Engineering (GE) — whereby genes belonging to one species are extracted and transplanted into another. The organism with the transplanted gene(s) then takes on additional traits displayed in the original organism from which the gene was extracted. These include a supposedly greater increase in crop yields, a greater resistance to pests/disease, and a higher tolerance to extreme weather conditions.
GMOs are sometimes referred to as transgenic organisms…
But just how confident can we be that these GMOs are safe and not harmful to our health? Unfortunately there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, since experts are sharply divided on this controversy. On the one hand some experts maintain that GMO’s are at least as safe as food produced from cross bred crops — others however such as the American Academy for Environmental Medicine (AAEM) conclude that GM food may not be safe at all. This comes after reports from several tests on animals indicated serious GMO related health risks.
Video Explaining the Genetically Modified Food Process
The United States and Europe have taken very different pathways when it comes to the regulation of GMOs, with Europe adopting far more stringent legislation than its counterpart. In fact during the era of the Bush administration the US was highly critical of Europe’s ban on GM foods, even going as far as to accuse their trading partners of being in breach of international trade agreements.
A report published in 2014 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) contains an amalgamation of benefits and concerns pertaining to the GE techniques as applied to crop breeding. The report states that after a period of 15 years farmers in the US are continuing to see an array of benefits — however the report also says that, during these 15 years of commercial usage, GMO crops have not displayed any definitive increase in crop yields over conventional farming. Indeed there have been occasions when GMO herbicide resistant crops have yielded lower quantities than non GMO crops.
The increase in herbicide resistant crops has also led to an increase of herbicidal usage — which ultimately contributes to unfavorable environmental conditions. The research also revealed that consumers in high income countries such as Canada the US, and UK, are willing to pay a premium for non GMO foods which speaks volumes about the depth of concern regarding GMOs.
GMO Allergy and Antibiotic Resistance Related Risks
One of the biggest concerns expressed by opponents of GMOs is the risk of introducing life threatening allergies not present in their Non-GMO counterpart. According to a 2013 report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food allergies increased by 50% between 1997-2011. Since 1996 bacteria, virus, and other genes have been introduced into the DNA of soy, cotton, corn, and canola plants, thus making a credible case for linking GMOs to an increase in food allergies.
In the UK (one of the few countries of the world that carries out annual food allergy tests). they were alarmed to discover in 1999 that allergic reactions to soy had jumped by 50% over the previous year. This discovery came from tests carried out largely on GE soy, and emerged at a time when genetically modified soy from the US had recently penetrated the UK market. John Graham the spokesman for the “York” based lab stated “We believe this raises questions about the safety of GM foods”.
Adversaries of GMOs are also worried about the possible side effect pertaining to antibiotic resistance. In a British study where volunteers were given one meal daily containing genetically modified soy — it was found that traces of the modified DNA were present in bacteria located in their small intestines. Scientists now fear that GM foods which have been modified to be resistant to antibiotics may leave people vulnerable to non-treatable diseases. These findings contradict repeated claims by the GM industry that gene transfer from foods to humans is unlikely.
Breeding Crops With Their Own Built in Pesticide
Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) toxins are introduced into crops in order to create a genetically modified pesticide producing variety of crop. The toxin works by attacking the stomach lining of insects nibbling on the plants and killing them within a couple of days after ingestion. The biotech companies as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have given repeated assurances that these toxins are harmless to humans — claiming that it dissolves quickly in the gut and will not cause any side effects due to the absence of receptors in humans and other mammals for this type of toxin. However this assertion should arouse suspicion, since the Bt toxin belongs to a family of bacteria called Bacillus Cereus which is known for causing food poisoning in humans.
In 2011, a landmark study was carried out by the University of Sherbrook Hospital Centre in Quebec Canada in which blood samples were taken from both pregnant and non pregnant women. It was found that traces of (Bt) toxins were found in 93% of the pregnant group and 69% of the non pregnant group.
What About Cancer?
Cancer is the name given to a wide spectrum of diseases where cells proliferate abnormally. It is one of the most feared diseases the world over — the American Cancer Society states there are “many possible causes” of this disease, for which they provide a comprehensive list of established and anticipated cancer causing agents. Nonetheless GMO’s are not to be found on any of these lists — despite this, the question of whether or not GMOs could possibly cause cancer still remains a controversial topic.
The results of a two year study in France was highly criticized by some as being flawed, when it was pointed out that the lab rats used in the experiment were from a strain which were genetically predisposed to developing cancer. Although the paper was retracted in November 2013, there are those experts who still express grave concern regarding the ultimate consequences of consuming GMO crops.
How can we Avoid GMO Based Foods?
GE technology has become so entrenched in our food industry that it seems almost impossible to avoid GMOs. However, with a little insight and some carefully planned grocery shopping it is possible to eliminate the majority of GMOs from your grocery list. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:
- Wherever possible always buy organic since products which have been certified as organic are not permitted to intentionally use any GMO ingredients.
- If you live in North America look for items which carry the Non-GMO Project seal of approval; products bearing this seal have been independently verified by the only organization in North America which certifies products as being non GMO.
- If it doesn’t say organic or Non-GMO, then avoid these products as far as possible since they may contain non GMO ingredients.
- If a non organic product made in North America lists an ingredient as merely sugar and not pure cane sugar, it has almost certainly been made from GMO beets and should be avoided.
The eight GE crops produced today are Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Cottonseed, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papaya (majority), plus a small amount of Zucchini and Yellow Squash.
The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) have published a website entitled the Non GMO Shopping Guide which provides a free shopping guide to purchasing Non-GMO products and can be downloaded in PDF format from here. You can also purchase a handy pocket guide to take with you to the grocery store and subscribe to their newsletter.
Video of Dr. Bob DeMana on why we should avoid GMO’s
In truth we don’t have enough knowledge of GMOs in order to determine whether or not they are truly safe for human consumption at this time. In deciding whether or not it is worth trying to avoid GMO products there are several factors worth considering:
- It is impossible to perform every exhaustive test on every seed which has been genetically modified. Consider the possibility that in 15-20 years time the physical ailments relating to GMOs may start to manifest; however it could be too late for you by then.
- No sane individual in their right mind would ever consider orally ingesting herbicides or pesticides, yet that is exactly what you are doing every time you eat any type of produce that has been genetically modified to produce its own self contained pesticide. At the very least, what we can say about these Bt toxins is that they contribute nothing to enhancing your overall health.
- GMOs have only been around for about 15 years, and therefore ultimately it is we humans who are the major guinea pigs.
The bottom line: How much value do you place on your own life and those of your loved ones? Is it enough to err on the side of caution and suffer the inconveniences incurred by seeking out ways to avoid GMOs?
- Rosendal Kristin G. “Governing GMO’s in the EU: A Deviant Case of Environmental Policy- making” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/1526380053243530#.VNK6fp3F-WE
- Oguz, Ozdemir “Attitudes of Consumers Towards the Effects of Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs): The Example of Turkey” Journal of Food Agriculture and Environment 10/10/09 Web 002/04/09: http://world-food.net/download/journals/2009-issue_3_4/31.pdf
- Levidow Les (et al) “How Biotech Regulation sets a Risk:/Ethics Boundary” Centre for Technology Strategy Open University Milton Keynes UK 11/20/96 Web 042/04/15: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1007394812312#page-1
- The Health Ranger “GMO A Go Go The Truth about GMOs explained in animation Youtube” Youtube 01/31/2-13 Web 02/04/2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGqQV6ObFCQ
- Carr, Susan (et al) “European Biotechnology Regulation : Framing the Risk Assessment of a Herbicide Tolerant Crop” Sage Journals, Web 02/04/15: http://sth.sagepub.com/content/22/4/472.short
- IRT, “10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs”The Institute for Responsible Technology Web 02/04/2015: http://www.responsibletechnology.org/10-Reasons-to-Avoid-GMOs
- “The Good the bad and the ugly About GMOs Natural Revolution Web 02/04/15: http://naturalrevolution.org/the-good-bad-and-ugly-about-gmos/
- Mercola, Dr. “Why GMOs can Never be Safe” Mercola.com 08/06/13 Web 02/04/15: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/08/06/genetic-modification.aspx
- Aleisha Fetters K “ Health myth: Are GMOs really bad for you? Fox News 02/27/14 Web 02/04/15: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/02/27/health-myth-are-gmos-actually-bad-for/
- Palmer Roxanne “GMO Health Risks: What the Science says” International Business Times 03/30/13 Web 02/04/15: http://www.ibtimes.com/gmo-health-risks-what-scientific-evidence-says-1161099
- Baker Gregory A. (et al) “The Market for Genetically Modified Foods: Consumer Characteristics and Policy Implications” Sciencedirect 01/2902 Web 02/04/15: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096750802000630