There has been a debate raging about GMOs for a long time now.
On one side of the debate is the idea that genetic engineering is progress for humanity, and it is a natural extension of more traditional breeding techniques. The other side believes genetically modified foods are unsafe for human consumption and harmful to the environment.
When I was a freshman at Point Loma Nazarene University, I wrote a 15 page research paper on whatever topic I chose. Being the food obsessed nerd that I am, I chose to write about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). At that time, GMOs weren’t even on the radar. Little did I know, that one paper would launch me into further research, a lot of questioning and debate, and finally these truths slowly coming to light.
In that research paper, I talked about the impact of GMOs on our health, farmers, the environment, and animals. I will be releasing each of those topics to explain in full why everyone should avoid GMOs. So stay tuned.
What are GMOs?
These are organisms whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Genetically modified (GM) foods are made in a lab by combining completely different species and DNA. This tampering, done primarily to make plants and animals more useful in food production, creates a ‘frankenfood’ that carries with it some major concerns. GMOs do not organically occur in nature. Unless created by man, they would never exist.
Types of Genetic Modification
Because living organisms have natural barriers to protect themselves against the introduction of DNA from a different species, genetic engineers have to find ways to force the DNA from one organism into another.
There are 3 major types of genetically modified foods:
- Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) plants – This is engineered to produce a built in pesticide. When bugs eat the crop (often corn, soy, and cotton), it’s stomach explodes and it dies. This toxin, that makes bugs explode, is what we are eating. The bacillus thuringiensis gene cannot be ‘switched off’ meaning the crops continue to produce the toxin right up until harvest, reaching the consumer at its highest possible concentrations.
- Roundup Ready – This crop is made to withstand the herbicide Roundup, which is used in commercial farming to kill certain weeds and grasses. No matter how much Roundup you spray, the crop will not die. This sounds great for the farmers who want a high yield of crop, but the reality is everything else around the crop dies: worms, the good bacteria in the soil, and nutrient rich weeds which are vital for the health of a plant. This study explains the effects of roundup on human embryonic and placental cells.
- Promoter – A crop can be injected with a promoter which is used to introduce foreign DNA to achieve a desired trait such as a certain color. Personally, I’m more interested in the quality of my food rather than what it looks like.
The technology of genetic engineering is currently very crude and has many unknowns. It is not possible to insert a new gene with any accuracy, and the transfer of new genes can disrupt the finely controlled network of DNA in an organism. Current understanding of the way in which DNA works is also extremely limited, and any change to the DNA of an organism at any point can have side effects that are impossible to predict or control. The new gene could, for example, alter chemical reactions within the cell or disturb cell functions, which could lead to instability, the creation of new toxins or allergens, and changes in nutritional value.
The Inherent Risks of GMOs
In 1996, widespread GMO crops hit the market and 9 years later the number of people suffering from 3 or more chronic diseases nearly doubled from 7% to 13%, allergic reactions treated in emergency rooms doubled, and overall food related illnesses doubled according to the Center for Disease Control.
The risks of the consumer increase as the benefits of the manufacturer increase. The manufacturers of GMOs are the only ones gaining any reward because the GM food is cheaper to produce making the products cheaper for consumers.
Unfortunately, no mandatory labeling laws for genetically engineered foods exist in the United States, even though England, France, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, China, Indonesia, and over 25 other countries require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Certain GMOs are actually banned in some countries, including England, Japan, Brazil, Norway, India, and Thailand.
Monsanto is one of the “Big 6” Biotech Corporations, along with BASF, Bayer, Dow Chemical Company, Dupont, and Syngenta. These companies dominate the agricultural input market – that is, they own the world’s seed, pesticide, and biotechnology industries. For over 2 decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture.
Monsanto is perhaps the most controversial of the Big 6 and is considered the mother of agricultural biotechnology. The company produces biotechnology, genomics and herbicides for corn, cotton, oil seeds, and vegetables. It produces genetically altered seeds to tolerate it’s flagship product, Roundup. Monsanto also produces Agent Orange, the now ubiquitous PCBs, DDT, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and Aspartame.
Have you ever heard anything positive or healthy about any of those chemicals? No. Because they are toxic chemicals that have been known to harm and even kill millions. Now this chemical factory has forced it’s way into our food and agricultural systems. Yikes.
The active ingredient in Roundup is Glyphosate. Glyphosate is an herbicide. It is applied to the leaves of plants to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses. Glyphosate was first registered for use in the U.S. in 1974. Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States.
Glyphosate is touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals by industry. But glyphosate has been shown to have detrimental impacts on humans and the environment.
The most profound claim against glyphosate is that it has been labeled “probably carcinogenic” (cancer causing agent) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015.
If that’s not enough, check out these studies that link exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides and an increased risk of cancer:
- Study on exposure linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma
- Study on cancer incidence in the agricultural population study
- Study on risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Study on non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to pesticides
- Study on exposure to pesticides as risk factor for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia
- Study on exposure linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Parkinson’s primarily affects neurons in an area of the brain called the substantial nigra. Some of these neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. When these vital neurons die, motor function goes haywire and the classic symptoms set in, including tremors, slowed movements, and rigidity.
According to a recent review conducted by independent scientists Anthony Samsel, Ph.D. and Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D., a scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), glyphosate acts as a glycine analogue that incorporates into peptides during protein synthesis.
In this process, it alters a number of proteins that depend on conserved glycine for proper function. According to the authors, glyphosate substitution for glycine correlates with several diseases, including diabetes, obesity, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Parkinson’s disease, among others.
Stephen Frantz, Ph.D., a pathobiologist research scientist explains it like this, “When a cell is trying to form proteins, it may grab glyphosate instead of glycine to form a damaged, mis-folded protein. After that it’s medical chaos. Where glyphosate replaces glycine, the cell can no longer conduct business as usual causing unpredicted consequences with many diseases and disorders as a result.”
Further studies linking exposure to glyphosate with Parkinsonism:
- Parkinsonism after glycine-derivate exposure
- Neuroimaging abnormalities in parkinsonism: study of five cases
- Parkinsonism after chronic occupational exposure to glyphosate
In people with celiac disease, eating certain types of grain-based products sets off an immune mediated response that causes measurable damage to the small intestine. These people must avoid gluten at all times.
The incidence of the rise in celiac disease and the introduction of glyphosate is quite interesting. This study proposes that glyphosate is the most important causal factor in this epidemic. As you can see in the chart below, there is a direct correlation. The study concludes with a plea to governments to reconsider policies regarding the safety of glyphosate residues in foods.
Still not convinced?
Check out this list of 40 different peer reviewed studies that have found health and/or environmental harm from glyphosate.
What To Do About It
- Vote with your dollar by not purchasing GM foods! Buy local, grow your own, cook from scratch. Avoid the most common GM foods: corn, soy, canola, cotton and sugar made from beets.
- Eat fresh! While some produce is genetically modified, most GMOs will be found in processed foods, especially those containing soy and corn. Eat more fresh vegetables and unprocessed foods. Your body will thank you and you will avoid genetically modified foods.
- Look for the NON GMO Project verification on any packaged item – although it is not mandatory to label genetically modified foods, a lot of foods are still labelled, at least the companies that care about your health!
- Purchase certified organic produce as often as you can – buying 100% organic, like USDA organic labeled products, is usually the easiest way to identify and avoid GMOs. The United States and Canadian governments do NOT allow companies to label products “100% certified organic” if they contain GMOs.
- Tell Congress to support mandatory GMO labeling!
- Spread the word! Encourage your friends and family to contact Congress and share on Facebook and Twitter.