Learn the ABCs about GMOs / GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS
Questions and Health Concerns
What are genetically engineered (GE) foods?
These are foods created from the insertion of a gene, bacteria or virus from one species into a different species to produce a desired effect, usually resistance to pesticides or to actually incorporate pesticides into every cell of the plant. This means that when an insect eats the plant it dies. Unfortunately, pesticide engineered into a plant cannot be washed off. The terms genetically modified (GM) and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are typically used interchangeably with GE.
Are they the same as foods from traditional breeding?
No. Traditional breeding between the same or similar species, such as crossing two types of corn or apples, has been done for thousands of years. GMO foods, only developed in the past few decades, are created in a lab and are between different species.
What kinds of food are genetically modified?
There are six major foods sold in the U.S. that are typically genetically engineered. These are listed below with the percent that are GMO:
Sugar beets 95% (If sugar doesn’t say cane sugar it is likely to be GMO beet sugar)
Cotton (Cottonseed oil) 78%
Here is a great resource that explains how to avoid products that contain Genetically Modified Ingredients:
Because most of these are used widely, about two-thirds of processed food contains a GMO ingredients. Conversely, the vast majority of raw fruits and vegetables are not GMO. Organic foods, by definition, can’t be GE.
Does genetic engineering improve the nutritional quality of foods?
No. There are no GMO foods on the market in which nutritional quality is enhanced beyond a non-GMO food counterpart.
All GMOs are patented. There are NO instances in any issued GMO patents that claims they offer increased human nutritional value.
Is the act of genetic engineering precise?
No. The entire foundation of genetic engineering is that the introduction of one foreign gene, bacteria or virus into a plant will activate one protein, producing one desired effect and nothing more. But this ignores basic science – the chances of harmful unintended consequences with GE are substantially increased:
One gene often creates multiple proteins.
The location of the gene varies, which can affect whether it produces the desired protein or not.
The insertion of the gene can disrupt the genetic blueprint of the plant.
The new gene can either silence other genes that were normally active or activate other genes that were silent.
A promoter (typically a virus) is usually added that helps the gene activate a desired protein. However, it may also activate other proteins that were silent, which could lead to harmful effects on humans.
What evidence of harmful effects are there?
The deadliest incident occurred in the food supplement l-tryptophan, which had been used safely by millions of people as a sleep aid for decades. However, when a Japanese company produced a GE version in the late 1980’s, thousands of people contracted an extremely painful, serious disease, EMS, that killed at least 37 and left thousands with disabilities, including paralysis.[ii] The FDA subsequently removed virtually all l-tryptophan off the market, although only the GE version was linked to EMS.
It’s more difficult to detect harmful conditions such as cancer, birth defects, toxins or allergies, since they have other causes and/or can take longer to develop than EMS. Moreover, the FDA doesn’t require GE foods to be labeled, so most people don’t know they’re consuming them. This makes it virtually impossible to isolate and track them.
However, numerous credible animal studies all over the world have shown disturbing results. For example:
- In Scotland, GE potatoes fed to rats showed lowered nutritional content and suffered damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers and testicles and enlarged intestines.
- In Australia, a harmless gene in a bean engineered into a pea produced immune reactions in mice, indicating allergic reactions and/or toxins.
- In Austria, a government study showed that mice fed GE corn had fewer litters and fewer total offspring.
- In France, a study found that GE corn previously thought harmless revealed hormone-dependent diseases and early signs of toxicity in rats.
Harm to animals doesn’t necessarily prove harm to humans. However, it is a definite indication that more studies should be done. This hasn’t happened.
Has there been any safety testing done on GMOs?
No. There has not been a single long-term human health feeding study conducted on GMOs. In fact, if you read Monsanto’s Web site they claim they don’t need to do any human clinical trials. They aren’t even testing for cancer!
The FDA is responsible for food safety in the US, yet it doesn’t do any testing on GE food and doesn’t require any independent tests. The only studies done are by the same companies developing the foods and they’re not required to give all their data to the FDA. They only need to declare their studies are adequate and that the GE food is safe, which they’ve done. By and large, GE food safety is self-regulated. Does the expression “Fox guarding the hen house” sound familiar?
The bottom line:
Plants can be genetically engineered to be resistant to and delivery pesticides. But in the process, there is evidence they may be causing harm to human health as an unintended consequence.