My article on GMOs for BodyEcology:
I recently had the pleasure of conducting a talk at a local LAUSD charter school on Genetically Engineered Organisms (GMOs). My first question was, “How many people know what a GMO is?” One or two people shyly raised their hands. One man attempted to answer but I cut him short after a moment’s struggle to explain, not knowing is the norm.
Just this spring, my husband’s uncle, a very respected professor of environmental studies at a prestigious private college, ushered in Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, three rockstars in the food politics circle, to speak about all things food in America. Yes, he had heard about GMOs, but still did not realize, as we sat to dinner at a cafeteria-style restaurant, that he was before a plate piled high with GMO fare; he really didn’t know much about GMOs at all. And this is exactly what Big Biotech is counting on.
Even a recent “Dirty Dozen” shopping guide for 2011 put out by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) listed corn, a major GMO product, as #2 on the list of foods safe to eat non-organic. When I inquired about this the EWG stated that yes, to avoid GMO corn, it’s best to eat organic. But with 90-95% of all corn grown in America as GMO, this makes finding non-organic, non-GMO corn difficult (and recently organic corn in Mexico was found to be contaminated with GMOs). According to the Institute of Responsibly Technology, the EWG was most likely speaking specifically of sweet corn, the kind you eat “wet” meaning on the cob. This differs from the corn most large industrial farmers grow to be used “dry” in chips, High Fructose Corn Syrup, etc. Sweet corn is predominantly GMO-free and once the husks are removed, leave little pesticide residue. However some sweet corn grown by major producers may be GMO and GMO corn means pesticides are sprayed on corn with pesticides inside every cell of that corn. Confused yet?
With massive confusion and under-information out there on the topic of GMOs, the truth is, we all, even those of us “in the know”, have consumed GMOs in our lifetime; they are virtually unavoidable. What’s more, the US government, in compliance with Big Agro, Big Biotech and their minion of lobbyists refuse labeling even though there has been great public outcry for mandatory labeling and even though many countries, including Europe, insist on labeling. This make the avoidance of GMOs for the average American, and even the more savvy eater, quite the challenge.
So What Is A GMO? As Stated On The Institute Of Responsible Technology Website:
A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Because this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as “transgenic” organisms.
It should be noted that the gene inserted into soy, corn, cotton, canola and sugar beets was a bacteria found by Monsanto in a chemical waste dump that was strong enough to survive Round Up, the pesticide used in growing plants and also produced by Monsanto. This results in Round Up effectively killing all other plant biodiversity in the field but not the Round Up Ready crops. According to Jeffery Smith (Seeds of Deception, Genetic Roulette) in his 2007 talk, this gene then accounted for 80% of GMO crops. The other 20% of the crops produced their own pesticide, BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis), 8% had both. GMO Papaya, zucchini and crooked neck squash have a virus resistant protein. Over 100 studies show these proteins suppress the defense mechanism against viral infection and may be toxic, interfering with the cell cycle that might be cancerous. Thus, theoretically at least, these proteins can cause humans to become more vulnerable to viral infections and cancers.
GMO (or GE, technically standing for “Genetically Engineered” but meaning the same thing) can be found, though less so today than in previous years, in the form of rBHT, a growth hormone in milk. And as mentioned above, BT, a biopesticide designed to blow open the stomachs of insects and rendering corn an insecticide by EPA standards. BT has a documented history of creating numerous illnesses and deaths in lab rats and animals that grazed on these food products. These seeds are supposedly resistant to Round Up, a sprayed pesticide still required for the growing of GMO foods. However, some weeds and bugs referred to as “super weeds” and “super bugs” influence the amount of Round Up sprayed on these products. This means, the corn you ate only five years ago may not be the same corn you eat today and certainly was not the corn your grandmother ate.
Prior claims from Monsanto (the leader in GMOs) stating that the toxins inherent in these organisms, while demonstrating harsh repercussions on the health of lab rats, would not enter the human blood stream, have recently been proven false. New research from Canada found that Bt was present in 93% of the pregnant mothers and in 80% of the umbilical cords and 69% of non-pregnant women sampled. (Aziz A. and Leblanc S., 2010, Reproductive Toxicology, accepted 13 February 2011.)
Scientists and researchers are coming out of the closet revealing great pressure to remain silent by Big-Biotech, namely Monsanto, yet wanting to express their concern regarding GMO consumption. These scientists suggest the cumulative consumption of GMOs can cause many illnesses we are already seeing trend in our country in correlation with the introduction of these pathogens. These health issues include: allergies (sometimes deadly, often extremely debilitating), diabetes, cancer, infertility, asthma, early puberty, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s and Colitis disease (to name a few potential hazards of eating GMO food). There is also concern for pesticide replication in the gut bacteria or even our own DNA rendering the human body a virtual pesticide factory and one that is not known to be reversible. Only one study has been done to-date in 2004 and indeed the pesticide (and the gene Monsanto has put into the food supply) did survive into the DNA of the gut bacteria of those tested; they had Round Up Ready gut bacteria that can’t be killed by Round Up pesticides. Add to this, the idea that there may be hundreds of different compounds that change levels of expression that are new at the DNA level yet have never been tested and we have a large and potentially, (and proven to be so on lab rats and other livestock) grave problem for humans who consume GMOs.
Are we altering our very own precious gut bacteria throughout North America by eating GMO soy and corn (the two GMO products that have a specific DNA resultant)? Might these genes transfer to our own DNA reeking havoc on our own DNA, in our own cells? These are questions Jeffery Smith of the Institute of Responsible Technology poses in his talk on GMOs that can be found at http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/Everything-You-Have-To-Know-about-Dangerous-Genetically-Modified-Foods-September-2009.
Because there is no proper labeling of GMOs and the effects are not always immediate, as was the case in one instance with GMO L-tryptophan, it’s hard to trace the correlation between GMO consumption and these illnesses. While not ruling out other contributing factors, it’s fair to say we should know for sure that GMOs are safe to eat before introducing them to the food supply but we don’t. Which begs the question: What’s the rush?
That’s exactly what Dr. Don Huber, a scientist studying plant diseases in the U.S. and around the world and one who spent 35 years at Purdue University as Professor Emeritus of plant pathology asked. He did this via snail mail in a letter to the USDA and Tom Vilsack calling an impending approval of GMO corn a potential 911 situation. Dr. Huber warned of the discovery of a new pathogen and a possible link between Roundup Ready (GMO) corn and soybeans and severe reproductive problems in livestock as well as widespread crop failure. Less than 3 weeks later, the Obama administration approved 2 new Roundup Ready GMO crops (set to be planted this spring), the first plantings of which, alfalfa, has already begun.
Many countries in Europe have started the process of banning GMOs. Early on, because “It hasn’t been proven safe”, Europe banned rBHT. Unfortunately, America’s stance on this is “It hasn’t been proven dangerous.” and so continues to allow it. In fact, regarding GMOs in general, the FDA has basically said, if the Biotech companies say its safe we will allow it into the food supply without notification. This statement was made while FDA scientists themselves expressed an overwhelming consensus that GMOs might create allergens, toxins, nutritional problems and new diseases. They urged their superiors to require long-term studies. But in 1992, Michael Taylor, then in charge of policy at the FDA and former Monsanto lawyer, systematically removed these scientist’s concerns from the documents concerning the efficacy of releasing GMOs into the food supply. The end result of this debate concluded with America’s current assessment system of GMOs as outlined by the FDA and it goes something like this: It’s the Biotech company’s responsibility to evaluate their foods and if they believe these foods are safe than the FDA understands they’ve evaluated them as safe, no further questions. The fact that the FDA is never implicated in saying directly that they as an agency understand them as safe should be noted. Later Mr. Taylor became vice president for Monsanto. He got his reward and we got a further polluted food system.
More and more, the public who investigate, learn that there has yet to be any proper testing done on humans for the safety of consuming these manipulated foods; the little data known suggesting they do not pose a health threat stems from scientists working for biotech firms; conflict of interest in the world of GMO safety runs deep.
Consider this: In the past, when a farmer planted a seed and it cropped, he took the seed from the best of his harvest and replanted it. GMO seeds, however, do not rebloom and a new seed must be planted every time. So a farmer planting with GMO seeds needs to purchase a new seed every time. Each time a farmer purchases a new seed he pays a royalty for that seed. Who gets paid that royalty along with Monsanto? Why the USDA, the very organization that is responsible for deeming the safety and effectiveness of GMO seeds in our food supply. Uh, Watson, I think we have a problem…
President Obama made three key appointments: Head of Agriculture, Islam A. Siddiqui to the position of Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Siddiqui is a pesticide lobbyist and Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America, an agribusiness-lobbying group that represents Monsanto; Head of the USDA, Tom Vilsack, former lawyer for Monsanto; Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan, also with known ties to Monsanto. Subsequently Kagan went to bat for Monsanto regarding GMO alfalfa, one of the most controversial GMO products to-date.
It should be noted, that much movement for Monsanto and GMO happened under the Bush administration too. During that time, via WikiLeaks, (the controversial non-profit that publishes leaked private, secret and classified information) there was reported pressure from the US on the French Government when France wanted to ban GMOs. Though Ireland, Brussels and Germany along with Peru (10 year ban) have all recently said “No” to GMOs, pressure from Big Biotech on the United Nations to thwart the efforts of countries from going GMO-free is fierce. Even Indian farmers with little rights or means have become activists in the face of the large, monopolizing company, Monsanto. They too do not want GMOs yet their country continues to allow it.
So What Are A People To Do?
The current GMO foods on the market today are seemingly easy to identify until you take into account the many ways they are proliferated into foods via derivations. For instance, soy, a common GMO food with 85-90% of all soy grown in America as GMO, can be found in the form of soy lethicin, soybean oil, soy protein, not to mention the obvious soy variations: milk, sauce, meat, etc…This can be said for many of the current GMO fare today and so ingredient’s checking is very important on one’s GMO-free pursuit. And please remember all non-organic meat and dairy is derived from livestock feeding on GMO supplements that transports to the products derived from these animals. It doesn’t matter how “cage free”, “range free” “sustainable” the packaging reads, if they say “natural” and don’t say “organic” they are most likely feeding from GMO corn and soy.
According to the Organic Consumer’s Association, “2/3rds of Whole Foods Market’s $9 billion annual sales is derived from so-called “natural” processed foods and animal products that are contaminated with GMOs”. Many, if not most, of Whole Foods Market’s prepared foods contain GMO ingredients. And these days, when I see the word “Natural”, I pretty much understand its code for GMO.
That Said, Here Are The Following Key GMO Foods To Avoid:
Cotton (used in vegetable cooking oils)
*Avoid all non-organic vegetable oils and verify sources for organic vegetable oil
Hawaiian Papaya (and now, even most papaya from Hawaii should be avoided)
Sugar Beets (sugar from sugar beets used in many products since 2008 in America)
Crooked Neck Squash
Some variations of zucchini
The list is always growing and changing. I encourage you to stay up-to-date.
Currently, as mentioned above, the first field of GMO alfalfa has been planted even though 93% of all alfalfa grown in America requires no pesticides and even though 23 million pounds of toxic herbicides will be sprayed in communities across the country, for the first time ever, and annually thereafter. Watson, I think we’ve lost it!
The issue with alfalfa is far more sinister with its vulnerability to wind transportation and cross-pollination. Hence it’s fair to consider GMO alfalfa count contaminate all alfalfa rendering organic alfalfa a thing of the past and causing huge issues with organically raised livestock.
It All Comes Down To Money, My Dear….
One may understand, from a business perspective, the effective moneymaking strategy involved when you are a company that owns a seed, the patent and makes money off the pesticides required to grow the seed. However, one also quickly realizes, if one hasn’t suspected this already, that America is driven by Big Business and Big Business is less concerned with the health and welfare of Americans themselves and all about the bottom line.
Initially, a key selling point for GMO crops seemed altruistic enough but is quickly losing steam, as its promise proves hollow. This would be the argument that GMOs are the answer to global food shortage. In fact, from the start, the opposition to GMOs argued for the effectiveness and efficacy of sustainable, local organic farming as a far better option and this is in fact gaining recognition as a viable answer.
Because there is no labeling one has to familiarize oneself with GMO products and derivations to identify which items include them. A good rule of thumb is to avoid all processed foods and anything that is not 100% organic. The USDA supposedly allows 0.05% of GMO contamination in organic foods but recently I read it was 0.09% and again, 0.5%. Point being, try to find farmers at local markets who are not surrounded by large GMO fields and scrutinize labels on packaged foods.
I have found some foods with “organic” on the box may still contain GMO ingredients. I have also found by calling a producer, that while they list a non-organic highly GMO ingredient, they source from GMO producers and have sent me their contact info for my own investigating. Large corporations sometimes buy smaller, organic companies so it’s a good idea to consistently check ingredient lists. Get proactive; this is definitely the age of self-advocacy when it comes to the food we eat.
Finally, there is a PLU system printed on those little stickers stuck to fruits and vegetables. It reads like this:
This article does not discuss the impact of GMOs on the environment, our bee population in particular nor the animal population in general. If you are inspired to learn more about GMOs and/or voice your desire for GMO-free food, please see the following wonderful organizations (to name just a few):
The Center For Food Safety’s True Food Network:
Institute for Responsible Technology
http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/Everything-You-Have-To-Know-about-Dangerous-Genetically-Modified-Foods-September-2009 ( a video education on GMOs by Jeffery Smith)
*They also recommend checking statistics at http://www.usda.gov.
Organic Consumers Association
The non-GMO shopping guide. Click and download.
Label GMOs: It’s Our Right To Know- An Initiative For The 2012 CA Ballot
And GMO Free Southern California on Facebook
Mercola on GMOs
*Most of these sites have active Facebook presence too.
*Developments and changes are constant in the GMO/GMO-free world. Just yesterday, the Organic Consumers Association announced Cypress, Greece just passed legislation insisting that GMO food be placed on separate shelves from non-GMOs…Way to go, Cypress!
Did you know that 93% of all the alfalfa planted by farmers in the U.S. is grown without the use of any herbicides?
Why? Because alfalfa hay grows in dense stands that crowd out weeds, and regular mowing effectively controls them and the need for herbicides. This little-cited fact remains buried deep within the 2,400 pages of USDA’s GM alfalfa Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that was released in December 2010.
While many strong arguments exist to counter USDA’s GM alfalfa safety claims, the single, most important counter-claim is that planting GM alfalfa will result in millions of pounds of toxic herbicides being sprayed in communities where farmers currently use no herbicides at all.
Excerpted from The Center for Food Safety