I recently took a vacation to my hometown in Ohio. While driving down the interstate, I noticed a couple of billboards taking a stand in support of genetically modified food crops. (At least one of these was sponsored by the largest manufacturer of GMOs, Monsanto). At the time, I had a vague sense of an idea as to what these crops were. The information given to the public states the purpose of these crops is to grow more food easier as genetically modified crops are more disease, drought, and insect resistant. Sounds like a great idea on the surface. Face it, if farmers can grow crops faster and lose less to environmental problems, then they will make a better profit and consumers will have an abundance of food making prices lower and products more available. It is a win-win situation, right? I decided to check up on these genetically modified crops, hereafter referred to as GMOs or GEs for genetically engineered.
What I found was some scary stuff. Most of this comes from a group called GM Know. They are a group of concerned citizens who have been studying this for years on their own. Their website is gmknow.org and that is from where a great deal of this background information comes. I thank them for posting this information and for helping to inform consumers about GMOs and GEs.
First off, genetically engineered foods are created in a lab rather than naturally occurring. What happens is that food scientists insert a gene, virus, or bacteria from one type of plant or similar species of the same plant into another to change how the plant reacts to insects, diseases, or environmental conditions. Another way to put this is to imagine that you spray an insecticide on a plant, but rather than being able to wash it off prior to eating it, that you cannot and it becomes part of the plant. Guess what happens when you eat the plant. You ingest that insecticide. Sounds tasty, right? The advantage is that there are primarily usually only six foods sold in the US that are genetically engineered: Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Sugar beets, Cotton, and Papaya.
Wait a minute! Corn, Soybeans, Sugar beets, and Canola? Aren’t those found in a great number of foods that we eat either completely or in part? Sure they are. We use corn in many ways. We eat it whole, in cereals, in its oil form, in most pre-packaged foods as corn syrup or hydrogenated oil. We feed it to livestock to fatten them up faster. We use soybeans in much the same way. Sugar beets are used to make, what else, sugar. Canola is considered healthy oil. So this means that every day, people are possibly eating products made using GMOs/GEs. The scarier part is that you do not know if you are eating them or not since the FDA does not currently call for mandatory labeling of products containing GMOs or GEs. However, other countries have done a great deal of research about them and the facts are startling. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will refer to a list of four studies done on animals in other countries as posted on the GM Know website.
They state that Scotland studied “GE potatoes” that were “fed to rats.” The study “showed lowered nutritional content and suffered damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers and testicles and enlarged intestines” (GM Know). In addition, the Austrians studied “that mice fed GE corn had fewer litters and fewer total offspring” (GM Know). The French “found that GE corn previously thought harmless revealed hormone-dependent diseases and early signs of toxicity in rats” (GM Know). Finally, the Australians found that “a harmless gene in a bean engineered into a pea produced immune reactions in mice, indicating allergic reactions and/or toxins” (GM Know). Here in the United States, the FDA has relied on the data given to them by the companies who create the GMOs and GEs and “they’re not required to give all their data to the FDA” (GM Know). Like too many things in the US, the reliance on the companies to self-monitor is much like putting the criminals in charge of the jail. Rarely do they tell the whole truth, especially if profits will suffer.
In an article that I gathered from the Cornucopia website, Maria Rodale, CEO and Chair of Rodale, Inc., cites a number of independent studies that point to the dangers of GMOs/GEs. One study she cites, taken from a journal entitled Nature Biotechnology, states “after we eat GMO soy, some of the GMO genes are transferred to the microflora of our intestines and those GMO genes are still active” (Rodale). She goes on to state that a study found in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, “found Bt-toxin (used in genetically modified Bt corn) in the blood of 93 percent of the pregnant women studied and their babies. The study authors suggest that aside from eating products made from GMO crops, eating meat from animals fed GMO crops make lead to a ‘high risk of exposure’”(Rodale). She finally lists a study performed Italian researchers that was published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that discovered “that in young and older mice fed Bt corn, there were changes to their immune systems that corresponded with allergic and inflammatory responses. In humans these same inflammatory changes are associated with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, and autoimmune diseases” (Rodale).
Now, wait another minute! Do you notice something here? There have been a great number of reports claiming that Americans, especially American children, are suffering from more allergies and autoimmune diseases than ever before. Could there be a link to this and the use of GMOs/GEs? I am not a scientist and will not pretend to be one; however, if these independent studies are showing the possibility of GMOs/GEs causing changes in animal tests, then what is to say they cannot also changes to humans? Someone needs to look into this further. There are more and more children becoming victims of cancer at younger and younger ages. We owe it to our children to demand independent studies on these GMOs/GEs, rather than allow the corporations to police themselves and tell us all is well based on their tests. More about their testing follows.
What this boils down to is that while the companies creating these GMOs/GEs state that these products are safe for human consumption saying that the cooking process will destroy the traces of GMOs, those companies have been proven wrong by independent studies and these products are indeed not safe for human consumption. If they are truly safe, then the companies must release all of their data to prove it. They will not and the politicians who receive donations from these big companies will not force them to release all of their data either. The studies they have were also performed using money from the companies, which would affect, in turn, the results as it is difficult to find a researcher who is hungry for funding that will also go against those who are giving them money for the research in the first place.
In order to be fair, I thought I would check out Monsanto’s website and see where they stand. After all, they are one of the largest producers of GMOs/GEs. They refer to “a large body of documented scientific testing showing currently authorized GM crops safe” (www.monsanto.com) through a body called the Center for Environmental Risk Assessment (CERA). They were even kind enough to give a link to CERA’s website. There I found a list of people who make up the Advisory Council for CERA, which their website says “is to act in an advisory and consultative capacity for CERA’s Director and staff” (cera-gmc.org). One of the members of this advisory council is Dr. Jerry Hjelle, Ph.D. Take a guess as to whom he works for. He is the Vice-President for Science Policy for Monsanto and the Vice-Chair of the International Life Sciences Institute Research Foundation Board of Trustees. So, one of the advisors for the place researching the safety of GMOs/GEs also works for one of the largest companies that manufactures GMOs/GEs. Somehow, that does not sound like an unbiased affiliation to me, or am I missing something here?
As Americans, we need to demand to know what is in our food, especially when it comes to these ‘Frankenfoods’ that are not as nature intended them to be. We need to be allowed to decide to purchase those products that have been or contain genetically modified organisms or not, but that cannot happen if the labels are not there in the first place to let us know or not. An alternative is to go entirely organic and attempt to increase the demand for organic foods, which will then lower the price on them to make them more affordable than their non-organic counterparts.
The fear that is evident from the money these companies are spending to keep us from knowing should be our warning that something is amiss with our food supply. It is also evident in their having people working for them who are also part of the same researchers that say their products are safe. This is not right. We need to demand independent research be performed to prove the safety of GMOs/GEs. While they say it is not practical to hold long-term studies on humans in order to determine that GMOs/GEs are safe, that practicality comes from a profit-driven motivation rather than a human well-being motivation. Our health as well as the health of our children is at stake. That should be the motivation, not how much money can be made regardless of safety and having to clean up the potential mess down the road.