By Dr. Eleonora Naydis
In 1994 genetically modified delayed ripening tomatoes hit the markets for the first time, opening the doors to the commercial sale of genetically modified foods. What does it mean for us? It means that our food supply has been rapidly infused by GMO’s, but most of us are unaware of that. For example, if you are buying non-organic corn or soy products, you are very likely buying GMO products because most of the soybean and corn sold in the United States have been genetically modified. Same goes for vegetable oils.
What exactly are GMO’s and how are they different from normal development of plants or animal species?
First we need to understand that genetic material is a program that enables things to become what they are. For example, corn genes allow corn to grow into corn and not into a cow; human genes contain information for development of a human and not a cat, etc. (you get the idea). There are many genes in the organisms: each gene has specific purpose, for example, there are genes that make your eyes blue or your hair red.
Scientists now know which genes are responsible for which function. They can even isolate the genes and move them from organism to organism, e.g. from cow to pig, and from human to corn. When the genes are transplanted in such manner from one organism to another, genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are created.
Are GMO’s safe for us and the environment? Latest research says maybe not…
A recent study published in 2012 looked at the genetically modified corn that has been manipulated to produce special Bt toxin.[i] When insects eat this corn, the toxin splits bugs’ stomachs open. When this toxin was tested on human cells, it also damaged the human cells! This study was done almost 20 years AFTER this genetically modified corn has been introduced to the consumers. This corn may possibly damage the lining of our intestines, creating inflammation in our gut (also known informally as “leaky gut” problem). How do we know if this toxin is making way to our bodies? Another study published in 2011 showed that Bt toxin from GMO’s was found in 93% of pregnant women and in 80% of their fetuses.[ii]
And how do GMO’s impact our environment? Let’s take a look at herbicide-resistant crops. Roundup (glyphosade) is a common pesticide to kill weeds. Monsanto created a corn seed that was genetically modified so that Roundup would kill weeds but would not affect the corn crop, i.e. Roundup-resistant corn. Sounds like a good idea, but the problem is that this Roundup resistance can transfer from corn to weeds, creating herbicide-resistant super weeds! That leads to introduction of more toxic herbicides use. How did mice that ate this Roundup-resistant corn do? Well, the study results published in September of 2012 found out the following: mice that ate this type of GMO corn developed more tumors and died more than the mice that ate regular corn.[iii] The tumors occurred at 4 and 7 months of feeding, which means that standard 90-day trials that test for safety of newly created GMO’s are inadequate.
Genetically modified foods have been implicated in allergies, infertility, inflammatory bowel disease, autism, birth defects, decreased nutrient absorption, and antibiotic resistance. More studies need to be conducted before this food becomes available to general public. Unfortunately, FDA is very lax in terms of regulation of GMO’s. The United States do not require GMO labeling. The latest proposition to label GMO’s in California did not pass, in part because most people are unaware of GMO’s and their implications.
For more information, check out the following documentaries and books.
- Genetic Roulette (documentary)
- Harvest of Fear (documentary)
- Eat Your Genes: How Genetically Modified Food is Entering Your Diet by Stephen Nottingham
- The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops by Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon
[i] Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Gress, S., Then, C., Szekacs, A., Seralini, G.E. (2012) Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide. J Appl Toxicol.
[ii] Aris A., Leblanc, S. (2011) Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol, 31(4): 528-33.
[iii] Seralini, G.-S., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N., Malatesta, M., Hennequin, D., Spiroux de Vendomois, J. (2012) Long term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and chemical toxicology.