After my last post on GMO labeling, I was asked “What are GMOs?”  Most people don’t really know much about it, and they certainly don’t know how extensively these organisms have already affected our food supply.  To help avoid possible confusion, in this post I will use the term genetically engineered (GE) rather than genetically modified organism (GMO).  The term GMO can also refer to more acceptable methods of genetically modifying organisms such as hybridization and selective breeding.  Most stories and articles use the terms GE and GMO interchangeably, usually referring to genetically engineered organisms.  Here’s how genetically engineering products works, as described by Food & Water Watch:

Biotechnology involves manipulating the genetic makeup of plants or animals to create new organisms. . . Genetic engineering uses recombinant DNA technology to transfer genetic material from one organism to another to produce plants, animals, enzymes, drugs and vaccines. . . Most commercial biotech crops are developed to be either herbicide tolerant, allowing herbicides to kill weeds without harming crops, or insect resistant, which protects plants from destructive pests. . . Genetic engineering can insert a specific gene from any plant, animal or microorganism into the DNA of a host organism of a different species. One GE tomato even used a fish gene to make the tomato frost-resistant.

As I understand it, this means that some of the GE crops have been embedded with pesticides that either kill the bugs or the bugs won’t eat the crops.  Other GE crops have been altered to be herbicide resistant so that even more poisons can be applied to the plants without killing them, only killing the weeds.  We eat these pesticides and herbicides because they can’t be washed off, they’re inside the plants.  Although biotech companies have issued assurances that “the pesticide would be destroyed in the gut and pass harmlessly from the body,” in one study in Quebec, the bacteria engineered into Bt corn (GE) as a pesticide was found in 93% of 30 expectant mothers. The pesticide was obviously not destroyed in the gut.  Other GE crops could cause allergic reactions.  For example, if someone with allergies to fish ate the GE tomato mentioned above, that person couldn’t know about the risk of a reaction.  Who would think that a tomato was related to a fish? We can’t know when we are eating GE foods because the FDA has prohibited labeling foods either GMO or non-GMO. 

The most common GE crops in the USA are soy (94%), sugar beets, corn (66%), Hawaiian papaya, cottonseed (used in vegetable cooking oils), some zucchini, canola, and crookneck squash.   It’s been estimated that about 75% of processed foods in supermarkets contain GE ingredients.  For example, any food listing corn, corn syrup, corn starch, sugar, etc., would probably contain GE ingredients.  Since foods certified as organic are the least likely to have GE ingredients, only organic varieties of these foods should be eaten.  USA has more acres planted with GE crops than any other country–165 million acres, about half the world’s production.  No GE animals have yet been approved; however, several petitions for approval have been submitted, including AquaBounty’s GE salmon, popularly called “Frankenfish.” For the latest information about what foods are GE, see the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.   

Are these GE foods safe for humans?   We don’t really know.  According to the Food & Water Watch report, “the FDA does not determine the safety of proposed GE foods.”  The FDA just “evaluates whether the GE product is similar to comparable non-GE products.”  The FDA doesn’t do any testing; it “relies on data submitted by the biotech company.”

Although we don’t know if GE foods are safe for humans, here are some of the problems that have been found with GE products in animal studies:  A review of 19 animal studies showed that “consuming genetically modified (GM) corn or soybeans leads to significant organ disruptions in rats and mice.”  Humans aren’t rats or mice, but we are all mammals, and we’re eating the same GE foods that were fed to the rats and mice. “The Roundup Ready trait [genetically engineered into the plant] lowers the nutritional content of crops by inhibiting the absorption of nutrients including calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, making plants more susceptible to disease.”  Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup has been found to cause birth defects in frogs and chickens.  The levels of glyphosate that caused the birth defects were “at far lower levels than used in agriculture and garden applications.”  Other scientific research has found that glyphosate causes DNA damage, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, and cancer.  Many GE crops have been specifically engineered to resist Monsanto’s pesticide Roundup, called “Roundup Ready.” Roundup is widely used on agricultural crops as well as by home owners to kill weeds along their driveways and sidewalks.

Sources for more information:

The complete 29 page Food & Water Watch report, “Genetically Engineered Food an Overview”
Natural News, “Scientific studies conclude GMO feed causes organ disruption in animals”
Dr. Mercola, “Perhaps the World’s Most Overlooked Poison”