The world has recently begun to join together through e- mails, the internet, social media, grassroots organisations, petitions and public demonstrations to demand the right to KNOW and the right to say NO to GMOs. On May 25th 2013 there were over two million demonstrators in over 436 cities in fifty-two countries protesting about genetically modified seeds, crops, and foods, the possibility of GM fish and animals, and the right of the consumers to have foods labelled as such.
The controversy is over the use of these bioengineered seeds and their effect on the health of populations and the environment. The companies that produce these seeds state they have been genetically modified to resist drought, pests and pesticide damage, and to come to fruition quicker. They require the use of fewer pesticides and herbicides, helping prevent more chemicals in the land and water and protecting farm workers from increased interaction with the pesticides. The idea is that these organisms will help decrease famine, poverty and nutritional deficiencies. A type of GMO rice called golden rice has 60% of the vitamin A a child needs and therefore can help prevent a multitude of symptoms and long-term side effects of vitamin A deficiency. With the growing population of the world (the UN estimates it will be up two billion in the next ten years), these attributes could aid in preventing starvation and diseases associated with malnutrition. That is, of course, if everything follows the scientist’s plans.
The arguments against bioengineered crops include health concerns, increased allergies, ingestion of pesticide residue in the seeds of the plant, lessening biodiversity, super weeds, contamination, misuse, harm to animals, super pests, and the extinction of plant species as we know them. Since GM plants are resistant to chemicals, increased amounts can be used on them that will continue into the food chain. There are unforeseen risks and dangers due to the complexity of natural systems. While humans, in their arrogance, think they can control this complexity, it is obvious on simple reflection that they cannot. Then there are the dangers of GM fish in sea water or fresh water farms which host a whole array of problems: from decreased fish variations and species, to fish that are sterile and cannot reproduce, to high antibiotic use and content which can lead to antibiotic resistance. These fish also can cause native fish to become sterile destroying all types of natural habitats, food chains, and varieties of fish. And that’s including the effects of increased consumption of growth steroids, oestrogens, pesticides and herbicide on the human body, embryos and all other animals.
GMO opponents state that there have been no long-term studies on the effects of GMOs on humans which have proved they are safe or unsafe for consumption. The studies on animals have been limited and are not long enough in duration to take into consideration all the relevant systems and genetic possibilities that might occur through many generations. Opponents also feel that when the studies were completed they were lacking important data on the toxicity level in the human body and how the body would ‘clear’ these additives – which our body does not recognise. Bioengineered crops might result in increased or new food allergies. Take for example the ‘coeliac’ or wheat intolerance problem that is on the rise today. Coeliac disease may be present in as much as 10% of the population. The incidence of wheat intolerance of any kind is even higher. Rates are doubling every twenty years in westernised countries. Wheat has been crossbred the old-fashioned way, combining different types of wheat to improve certain characteristics over the past two hundred years. The population is having increased difficulty digesting and evolving the ability to metabolise these hybrid types of wheat. What will be the effects of foods that are grown with completely foreign genes or additional characteristics in such a short time span? How will our bodies react to the digestion and absorption of these foods – especially since they will be found at all levels of the food chain? The answer is still not clear, but the passions on both sides are strong.
GMOs, or transgenics, were first discussed in the 1990s by the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and biotech company representatives. In 1996, it was decided to let GMOs be sold without any safety or toxicology tests, as long as they stayed within the limits of the chemical compositions of the food already on the market. Since these plants are considered pesticides, in the US and other areas of the world they are governed by various departments of environmental control and not by such organisations as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The criteria for getting these items to market are different then if they were ‘drugs’, let’s say, or a new food item. This discrepancy leads many consumers to lack confidence in the GMO food. These foods can, in fact, contain residues of pesticides and, as far as the fish are concerned, antibiotics that could seriously harm some individuals. The introduction of these foods into our diet has possibly been linked to the increase in autism, ADHD, cancer and other autoimmune diseases. There is a definite increase in all diseases in the past 20 years that are modulated by either an over- or underactive immune system. What effect does the change in our diet and consumption of these foods play in that increase? We do not know; but many scientists think there is a causal effect.
There are also intense arguments about labelling. If the foods are safe for consumption, and can in fact decrease nutritional deficiencies, famine and starvation as the governments and companies say, why are they so reluctant to label them? Consumers who would like to avoid these products can then do so. There are sixty-one countries that have labelling laws in effect on GMOs. Those who feel they are acceptable should not have a problem with that. The argument is that these foods are no different than the original variety and therefore if they are labelled, people might think they are not as good as the ‘old fashioned type’. This makes no sense to me. In a world where every drug has to list every single possible side effect, where cars and planes have rigorous safety tests, where alcohol and tobacco list warnings, why can’t we have our food labelled showing where it comes from, what it is made out of, where that comes from, how it was grown? As stated before, the data on lifestyle, nutrition and disease just continues to grow. As consumers who care about their health, the rising cost of health care, and the state of the environment on health, we should have the ability to determine what we eat – just like if we want to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, a low fat diet, a Palaeolithic diet or a culturally traditional diet, buy our food, grow our food, buy organic, or buy seeds that were not GMO altered. Why can’t we have that information?
The farmers who use these seeds to grow produce have mixed reviews on their success. First of all, they are subject to intellectual property laws and the seeds need to be purchased annually instead of using seeds from your crops. The increase in agricultural profits is estimated to be in the billions, but to whom are these profits going? Is it large agricultural companies or the world’s farmers? There have been stories of failing crops and animals suffering serious side effects from the ingestion of these crops as food sources. In India, the National seed banks only supplied GMO seeds. Tragedy ensued with farmers spending 1,000 times the cost of conventional seeds on these GMO cotton seeds, only to have crops fail due to worms and increased water needs. Since they were terminator crops, there was no seed for the next year. Financial devastation ensued leading to thousands committing suicide. The farmers have noticed that the weeds are evolving and developing a resistance to the pesticides and herbicides. Super weeds are being created from possible cross pollenisation. The list goes on and on!
A full scientific evaluation of this topic is beyond the scope of this article. My intent is to raise awareness of the controversy, the crucial points of the debate. Yes, it would be great if we could end famine and hunger and strife in the world – that is a noble cause. However, the intricate web that is our food chain is all-encompassing and is not amenable to a onedimensional solution. Even if it weren’t so, what about the impact on the infrastructure of many of the countries using these products? What about the long-term side effects on health, the environment, animals, sea life, birds and the bees? We have seen over and over that one stone thrown in the pool creates ripples through out – we can’t control it. Margarine was supposed to be a lifesaver and it in fact causes more cardiac disease than butter. It vaguely brings to mind the movie Atlantis. It is an old movie, but we all know the story: they messed around with the DNA of all creatures, plants as well as fish and all animals. In the end, all the creatures destroyed themselves. Are we at the beginning of such a process? Who knows – but short-sightedness is not a good trait for ensuring the long-term survival of the human race or the planet. The American Indians have a saying that can be found paralleled in all languages – Om Mitakyue Oyasin: We are all connected – one action affects many around you. Let’s pay attention to this and its arachnid reach. I am a nutritionist. One of our most loved teachers, who taught lab classes, stated that between God and the lab – ‘I’ll take God any day’.
|List of Genetically Modified Foods or Those That Use GMO ingredients|
|Papaya||Sunset Cultivar, Rainbow Kapholo|
|Potato||Withdrawn from human consumption, pending forfeed|
|Courgettes/Zucchini||Non browning variety – awaiting approval|
|Apple||Two main Genetically Engineered corns: one withBacillius thuringiensis inserted to produce the BTtoxin which poisons moth and butterflies and others
which make the crop resistant to herbicides – traces of
it found in high fructose corn syrup
|Corn||-Promine B- milled soya products, soya proteinisolates, soya protein concentrates, soya flours,textured soya proteins, vegetable oil from soya beans.
-Inserted Gene taken from bacteria (Angrobacteria sp
increases resistance to pesticide)
-EU imports 35-40 million tons of soya annually for
|Lecithin( soya and corn oil)|
|Cotton||Genes added to produce Bt toxin|
|Sugar beets||Refined sugar and molasses, pulp used for animal feed– Gene added to make resistant to roundup herbicide|
|Poultry||Feed leftovers from GMO crops|
|Livestock||Feed leftovers from GMO crops|
|Dog Food||Leftover soya meal, corn meal|
|Goat||Approved by FDA & EMA for non food products|
with GMO laws
Legal Stat us
|Ireland||No cultivation, voluntary
|Hungary||Burned GM crops|
|Serbia||GMO free regions|
|Croatia||GMO free regions|
|Latvia||GMO free regions|
|Albania||GMO free regions|
|Switzerland||Banned till 2013|
|Algeria||Banned, but only loosely
|Kenya||GMO free; banning in
|Peru||Banned for a decade|
|US: Medocino, Marin,
Conn – banned with other
state adoptions pending
|India||10-year ban suggested by
Supreme Court in 2012
|Nordic countries||GMO free areas||No ban but a declaration
against GMO for use to
|Brazil||Approved – 1/3 of all
GM crops planted in
2009 in South America
|How to Avoid
Genetically Modified Foods
|Buy 100% organic (not
just ‘organic’), including
|If it says organic, it can still contain 30% GMO. In the
US it needs to be 100% or QAI, Oregon Tilth, CCOF,
QFC organic certification.
|Read food labelling
numbers – includes animal
|4 digit = conventionally grown; 5 digit, beginning
with an 8 = GMO; 6 digit beginning with a 9 =
|Look for products labelled
non-GMO or GMO free
|See country list for labelling|
|Shop locally at small
|Most GMO products come from large agribusinesses|
|Buy whole foods; avoid
|Grow your own!|