GMOs (genetically modified organisms) Part 1 – What Are They and What’s All the Fuss?

Credit: dna-footprints.com

Credit: dna-footprints.com

There is a major health and environmental threat that too many, at least in the US, know little about. I am referring to GMOs (genetically modified organisms), specifically food crops and food products.

Genetic engineering in general, including the production of GM (genetically modified) plants involves altering the genome, the DNA of an organism, by introducing foreign genes and/or amplifying existing genes. The process is imprecise, irreversible, and oftentimes causes unexpected results. The most common strategy involves introducing or amplifying genes that produce high levels of pesticides inside the plant cells, and others that confer the plant with a high resistance to external application of herbicides.

As a scientist, and perhaps to those who have an affinity for technology, the idea of altering the genes of food crops to increase productivity sounds appealing. However, the theoretical appeal quickly dims when you dig deeper into the gene modification process, its risks, and its potential consequences.

The theoretical rationale for genetic engineering research includes seeking to improve health and quality of life and improving productivity in the cultivation of food crops to increase the food supply. Superficially, this sounds good, but what is the down side? First, the genetic modifications have not resulted in increased crop yields. Second, the GM crops and food products you eat contain unnaturally high levels of the plant pesticides and herbicides. Finally, the purpose of conferring the GM plants with resistance to herbicides (commonly referred to as Roudup Ready plants) is so that large amounts that will kill normal, unmodified crops, can be applied to reduce or eliminate competition by weeds more effectively. This means that high concentrations of herbicides are being introduced into the environment and affecting our water supply, the soil, and other organisms that come in contact with them.

Further, the GM, Roundup-ready plants have been shown to have elevated levels of the herbicide inside the plant tissues. In addition, if the herbicides are not thoroughly removed from the surface of GM crops during processing, then we are ingesting even more of the chemicals. How many of us would knowingly eat pesticides and herbicides or feed them to our children?

As was the case for cigarettes for decades, Monsanto, and other companies that engineer and sell GM plants and the herbicides used to farm them, say they are safe with little research to back up such claims. In fact, there is growing evidence to the contrary. An overview of the potential health risks associated with the farming of GM crops can be found here .  A database of research studies and articles can be found here.

A life span study in mice who were fed a diet containing approximately 11-30 percent GM corn found high frequencies of premature death, breast cancer, liver and kidney damage, and a transgenerational reduction in fertility (a separate, more recent confirmatory study in rats can be found here). The findings of the original life span study in mice have been challenged as have short term (90 day) studies by the genetic engineering companies that suggest GMOs are safe.

We know from the tobacco story that 90 days is not nearly enough to reveal harmful effects of exposure to carcinogens. Yet, 90 days of exposure is all that is required by the FDA in order for approval to be given. However, the pesticides and herbicides associated with farming GM crops are known poisons and carcinogens; shouldn’t that raise a red flag and demand more extensive study?

There is an expanding variety of GM food crops currently on the market, including crops such as soy, corn, potatoes, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and alfalfa among others. To determine whether or not specific plants/crops have been genetically altered and approved for sale, see the database found here.

It is estimated that approximately 75 percent of all corn and 95 percent of soy found in foods today in the US is GM. Both of these are ubiquitous in processed and prepared food products in this country. They are also widely used as feeds for meat and dairy animals.

Some countries in Europe have banned GM produce and food products. In the US there is a strong lobby by the chemical and genetic engineering companies against simply labeling GM foods. A lot more research is needed, especially long term studies to adequately assess the health risks of GMOs. For my own part, I am not waiting. I reject GM food sources from a scientific, health, and spiritual perspective.

Part two of this topic will address how to avoid GM foods.

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2 comments on “GMOs (genetically modified organisms) Part 1 – What Are They and What’s All the Fuss?

  1. Rob Taylor says:

    Good post. The GMO factor can be misleading for those of us who are vegan. As I am sure you will discuss in your next post, considerable diligence is required to avoid the GMO foods.

  2. charliebear says:

    Very good point. I’m hoping Organic foods are not GM. GMO isn’t necessary and it won’t be long until we have GMO people! The risk factor seems too high to me but I guess it always broils down to the $$$$. Higher yields, more profits. (not counting any related medical costs of course). Cheers to all.

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