22 Things You May Not Know About GMOs, But SHOULD
GMOs or Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species (bacteria, viruses, animals, plants, humans) are extracted and artificially implanted into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. Genetic engineering differs from techniques such as hybridization and cross pollination, because they transfer genes across different species. In other words, this process creates novel organisms that are not part of the evolutionary process.
Currently, there are 9 major GMO crops today including corn, soy, cottonseed, zucchini, squash (yellow crookneck), alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, and papaya. Efforts to create other GMO have been initiated. These include venomous cabbages that produce scorpion poison toxic to caterpillars, bananas that contains vaccines and “cancer-fighting” eggs that secrete human proteins into the whites of the eggs.
Most GMOs that we eat fall into two categories: herbicide tolerant and pesticide producing although there are other applications for this technology. While science and ingenuity may be fascinating, GMOs involve a gross manipulation of nature with their long term health consequences still unknown. This is incredibly frightening.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), in 2012 Monsanto (the company most responsible for the world’s GMOs) had been voted the most hated company for 11 years in a row. Why? Perhaps it is because this company has a nasty track record of declaring their products to be safe BEFORE adequate testing has been done. Other products declared safe by Monsanto include PCBs, Agent Orange, DDT and Bovine Growth Hormone. All of these were all later found to have deleterious effects. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in an herbicide called Roundup, was also recently deemed a “probable carcinogen” in a report released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the France-based cancer research branch of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Although human research and experience is yet to validate just how dangerous GMOs are, it’s likely that what we know now is only the tip of the iceberg. Biotech companies claim that GMOs increase nutritional benefits and productivity, yet these claims are not validated. There is also strong evidence that GMO consumption may have unintended and dangerous consequences. In other words, GMOs are a gamble that benefit biotech companies, rather than YOU.
If you or someone you love is still consuming GMOs, here are 22 things you should know...
1. GMOs are omnipresent in our food supply.
GMOs were introduced in our food supply in 1996. Although there are only 9 GMO crops, they can be found in approximately 70-80% of the foods in the United States due to their many derivatives.
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, the most common GMO foods in the United States include: soy (94%), canola (90%), cotton (90%), sugar beets (95%) and corn (88%). If that wasn’t bad enough, more than 95% of feed producing animals in the US are also fed GMOs! This means that your daily meals are undoubtedly delivering a rather large dose of GMO.
The most prevalent source of GMOs is in processed foods. It is estimated that over 60% of processed foods contain at least one GMO ingredient. Food manufacturers can also list their ingredients in a number of deceptive ways. For example, ingredients like “soy,” “corn” and “sugar,” that are commonly known to contain GMOs, can be listed as glucose,” “HFCS,” “fructose,” and “soy protein.” All of these can be indicative of GMO contents as well. Other unsuspecting ingredients that might contain hhidden GMOs include: aspartame, cellulose, caramel color, condensed milk, corn oil, corn flour, dextrose, erythritol, food starch, fructose, glutamic acid, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), hydrolyzed vegetable protein, inositol, lactic acid, lecithin, maltitol, maltodextrin, modified food starch, Nutrasweet, phytic acid, sorbitol, soy oil, soy protein isolate, sugar (unless specified as cane sugar), tamari, tofu, triglyceride, vegetable oil, vitamin B12, vitamin E, whey, and xanthan gum. Check labels vigilantly or simply avoid processed foods entirely.
A more extensive list of GMO ingredients can be found here.
2. Most restaurants are GMO mind fields.
Unless a restaurant is serving organic produce, pasture-fed animal products and organic, unrefined cooking oils, you are likely getting a healthy dose with every meal. I like to call ahead and ask if they serve organic produce and animal products. I do this to simply to heighten their awareness of the demand for higher quality ingredients. You may also use Yelp to locate clean restaurants in your area. My husband and I do this all the time and you’ll be surprised by the gems you find.
3. GMOs cause damage in animals.
Although GMO advocates proclaim them as safe, in 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine stated that “ Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified food.” These risks include immune disorders, accelerated aging, infertility, and notable changes in certain major organs and the gastrointestinal system.
One study, for example, revealed that half of the babies of mother rats fed GMO soy died within three weeks. A second study found that most hamsters fed GMO soy were unable to have babies by the third generation. These studies are just the tip of the iceberg. For a more exhaustive list please visit here.
4. GMOs are linked to anxiety and depression.
Roundup is an herbicide that kills plants by blocking the shikimate pathway. Although Monsanto claims that humans do not have a shikimate pathway (which supposedly makes is safe for human consumption) that is not entirely true. In fact, although we do not have this, our gut bacteria do.
Our gut bacteria uses the shikimate pathway to produce an amino acid called L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan serves as a precursor to serotonin which is a neurotransmitter essential for maintaining mood balance. When our serotonin production dwindles, anxiety and depression can develop. Therefore, consuming GMOs increases your risk for mental health issues.
5. The government has not protected us.
In 1992 Michael Taylor, Monsanto's former attorney and our current Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA, awarded GMOs “substantial equivalence.” This status meant that there was no evidence that GMOs foods were different from conventional crops. Therefore, they were allowed to enter our food supply without adequate safety testing.
Years later, a lawsuit yeilded over 40,000 documents that revealed FDA scientists were skeptical of this decision. In fact, these documents indicated that many experts quietly warned that GMO foods can cause unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects such as allergies, toxins, new disease and nutritional problems.
According to the documents, the overwhelming consensus within the FDA’s own staff was that these foods were not equivalent to non-GMO foods. They urged their superiors to acquire long term studies. Unfortunately, their requests were ignored and GMO’s hit our dinner tables discreetly in 1996
6. No long term studies have ever been conducted on humans.
When we consume GMOs, we are participating in the ONLY long-term GMO safety trial EVER conducted in humans. Although the FDA’s job is to ascertain the safety of the foods in our food supply, it doesn’t conduct its own safety research on all GMOs. Instead, the biotech companies who create GMO seeds are allowed to conduct their own safety testing.
According to Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), these trials are often what he likes to call “tobacco science.” They utilize the wrong control group, the wrong detection method, and the wrong statistics. Their feeding trials are so short that they would never be able to detect long-term health conditions such as reproductive disorder, cancers or birth defects. As he states in his film Genetic Roulette,
“...They’ve got bad science, down to a science.”
What’s worse is that the FDA does not review these tests unless requested by the biotech companies. In other words, the fox is in charge of the chicken coop. To add insult to injury, most biotech companies who sell GMO seeds require their users to sign an agreement that their seeds will NOT be used for scientific studies. In other words, it is nearly impossible to conduct independent research regarding the safety of GMOs.
According to an editorial in Scientific American,
“Only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering.”
If GMOs were safe why would biotech companies go to such lengths to censor independent research? The most unnerving part of this entire process is that the FDA claims that it is the job of the biotech companies to determine the safety of GMOs and the biotech companies claim its the job of the FDA. Essentially, no one is taking responsibility for the safety of GMO foods which is truly frightening.
7. GMOs are harming our children.
Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, reported that a “silent pandemic” of toxins has been damaging the brains of unborn children. In this report they identified 12 chemicals which they believe to be causing a reduction in IQ, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. Pesticides were among the toxins identified. According to Landrigan, if you’re pregnant, eating organic reduces your pesticide exposure by 80-90%.
Children are also far more susceptible to the effects of GMOs due to their increased metabolic rates, higher food consumption, sensitivity to toxins and underdeveloped immune systems. Be sure to feed your children organic, non-GMO foods for best results.
8. Since GMOs were introduced, rates of disease have raised substantially.
According to the IRT, between the years of 1996 and 2005:
- Americas with 3 or more chronic disorders increased from 7-13%
- Food allergies have increased
- Autism rates have risen
- Reproductive disorders are more common
- Digestive conditions have skyrocketed (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic constipation, gastrointestinal infections, gastroesophageal reflux
- Inflammatory bowel disease has raised by 42%
While these incidences may be due to a confluence of factors, GMOs in our food supply are likely playing a role.
9. Most companies using GMOs don’t want you to know.
PepsiCo, Dupont, Kraft, Monsanto and other companies standing to gain from utilizing GMOs spent a combined $46 million to defeat a ballot measure that would have made California the first state to require GMO labeling. According to a 2012 Mellman Group poll, 91% of Americans support the labeling of GMOS and according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 53% of Americans would avoid GMOs if they were labeled. Therefore these companies go to great efforts to keep you in the dark and protect their bottom line.
10. Many countries restrict GMO use.
According to JustLabelIt, 64 countries including Japan, the European Union, Russia, Australia and China require GMO labeling. In the United States, only 3 states - Vermont, Maine and Connecticut will require labeling. As a result, many international food companies create non-GMO food products for countries that require GMO food labeling and leave the GMO-laden cuisine for the United States. By pushing for labeling, we can change that.
11. Monsanto says that Roundup is safe for humans to drink, yet their own representative refused to drink it.
This video says it all! A GMO advocate claims one minute that Roundup, (an herbicide manufactured by Monsanto), is safe for human consumption. He then refuses to drink it. Watch as he tries to argue that, “people try to commit suicide with it and fail, fairly regularly” validates its safety.
Most of us understand (including this GMO advocate) that certain substances can be unsafe even though you may not die immediately following their consumption. Take for instance, cocaine! Not an acute toxin, but that doesn’t mean that its long term use is safe or recommended.
12. When GMOs are removed from the diets of livestock, their health improves.
In April 2011, a pig farmer from Denmark who switched from GMO soy to non-GMO soy in his livestock’s diet. He noticed dramatic improvements in the litter size, conception rates and overall health of his animals. The use of antibiotics was also eliminated as were birth defects and diarrhea. Other farmers have described similar effects. These improvements also mirror those found in humans.
Why does this matter? Because we can safely assume that these outcomes are a sole result of GMO elimination. This outcome is not as easily documented in humans.
“Health conscious” humans may go gluten-free, dairy-free, GMO free and organic all at one time. Any health improvement noted could be due to any (or all) of these changes making causative conclusions challenging. Since there is no such thing as “health conscious” livestock, we can be sure that the elimination of GMOs played a primary role in their improvement due to better control of the variables.
13. Farmers and scientists who have discovered dangers associated with GMOs have been fired, threatened, slandered and denied funding.
A Scottish researcher named Dr. Pusztai was given a $3 million grant by the UK to research GMOs. His research was intended and predicted to give GMO approval. Instead he uncovered massive damage to rats in only 10 days.
In his testimony to Scottish Parliament, Dr Pusztai stated:
"Rats fed GMO potatoes had interference in growth and development of some of their vital organs, had changes in gut structure and function and reduced immune responsiveness to injurious antigens. In contrast, the animals fed on diets containing the parent, non-GMO-potatoes or these potatoes supplemented with the gene product had no such effects."
During an interview he also stated:
"If I had the choice I would certainly not eat it," and that, "I find it's very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs."
Following his research Pusztai was fired after an impressive 35 year career. He was also the victim of a massive campaign to destroy his reputation.
There are other accounts of similar attacks (Irina Ermakova, PhD and Professor G.E. Seralini, PhD) on those who raised questions about GMO technology. Because biotech companies also directly invest in our universities, many avoid negative research on GMOs for fear it will affect their ability to attain tenure.
14. GMOs contain reduced nutrient quantities.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Food in 1999 revealed that GMOs contain lower levels of nutrients especially phytoestrogens that protect us from heart disease and cancer. GMO soy has also been found to have 12.4% lower levels of cancer-fighting isoflavones than non-GMO soy.
Also, despite claims, there is still no evidence that any GMO food has an increased nutritional value when compared to its non-GMO counterpart.
15. The combination of the GMOs we encounter today may be more dangerous than we realize.
Research has found that combining chemical food additives can cause them to become carcinogenic. In other words, chemicals act differently in combination than they do in isolation. This is most likely the case with GMO. We are consuming them in untested, novel combinations each and every day.
16. GMOS do not improve our ability to feed a hungry world.
According to the IRT:
The Union of Concern Scientist’s Report Failure to Yield (2009) reported that GMO crops do not increase yield at all. To date this is the most definitive study conducted on GMOs and crop yield. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments also stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and even declined in some cases. They concluded that GMOs were ineffective in supporting the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.
17. There are no consumer benefits from the consumption of GMOs.
Although there have been attempts to create GMO food that offer health benefits, this effort has not been fruitful. The only beneficiaries of GMO consumption are the biotech companies. There are no health benefits to the consumer at all.
18. The American Academy of Medicine (2009) stated that every doctor in America should recommend their patients eliminate GMOs from their diet.
This recommendation is the result of their review of animal feeding studies demonstrating many problems in rats and mice fed GMO foods. According to the IRT, the Academy reported that
"Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.”
There are also many doctors who have seen conditions such as IBS, anxiety, asthma, gastrointestinal distress and disorders, reproductive issues resolved immediately following the elimination of GMO’s from the diets of their patients.
19. There appears to be a link between GMO consumption and allergies.
The IRT also reported that between 1997 and 2007 (after GMOs were introduced in 1996), food allergies in the US rose 25% and allergic reactions to food requiring hospitalization also rose 256%. Two of the most common allergens – soy and corn – are also the most common GMO crops. More recent studies have begun to suggest a connection between GMOs and food allergies.
This link makes sense when you consider that fish genes, dairy genes or nuts/peanuts are being genetically engineered into foods such as tomatoes and broccoli. As a result of this process, those with allergies to nuts, fish and dairy can then react to GMO vegetables spliced with these genes. Because GMOs are not labeled, consumers are unaware that they are consuming allergens which are incredibly dangerous.
20. GMOs harm our environment.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monstanto's Roundup, kills plants by depriving them of nutrients and destroying beneficial pathogens in the soil. This is dangerous since our soil is already nutrient depleted. Therefore, the use of GMOs further reduces the nutrient content of our food supply.
21. Thirty five people died from consuming a genetically modified form of tryptophan.
In 1994, a Japanese company named Showa Denko produced a genetically modified version of an amino acid called Tryptophan. After consuming this product, many people had toxic reactions that led to debilitation and even death. While L-tryptophan is a supplement rather than a food, the fact that it was genetically modified is reason for caution.
22. Genetic engineering is NOT a precise science.
Although many have been told that GMOs are developed with precise and predictable technology, this is not the case at all. In the documentary Genetic Roulette, Robin A. Bernhoft, MD (Medical Director of the Bernhoft Center for Advanced Medicine) stated,
“The general public has the impression that genetic engineering is somehow a precise science. More accurately it’s submicroscopic shooting from the hip.”
This process creates hundreds (or thousands) of gene mutations in the DNA which may result in thousands of unpredictable changes in the gene expression. The effect of this new, foreign gene sequence confounds the immune system resulting in inflammation and a subsequent rise in degernative disease risk.
THE SILVER LINING...
Despite these incredibly disconcerting facts, you have far more power than you realize. In fact, here are 3 ways you can make a difference...
1. Buy Organic or non-GMO project verified foods.
Although the government doesn’t regulate the use of GMO crops, you can. In fact, by eating organic products you will avoid GMOs altogether. The more we "vote with our dollars," the more we can positively impact future production.
Use your three daily votes (breakfast, lunch and dinner) to vote for organic and non-GMO verified foods which will create demand and encourage a reduction in the cost of organic foods for everyone.
Here’s a link to the GMO shopping guide to get you started today. You can also get the free iphone app called Shop No GMO.
2. Eliminate Processed Foods
As we discussed above, most processed foods contain GMOs. Avoiding them is one of the simplest way to avoid them AND improve your health simultaneously.
3. Push for GMO labeling.
Despite the fact that I advocate eliminating GMOs from your diet, if you love GMO’s and prefer to eat them, I think that should be your choice. Consumer awareness simply empowers us all to decide. This should be a right, not a privilege and in several countries, it already is. Help the U.S. be one of the countries that encourages transparency in food supply consumerism, there should be no other way.
4. Spread Awareness.
If more people become aware of the damaging effects of GMOs, it is more likely food manufacturing companies will remove GMOs from their products. This happened in Europe in 1999. Within one week most major food companies agreed to remove GMO ingredients. Be sure to share this article and encourage your friends, family and loved ones to eliminate GMOs.
Let’s avoid the potential pitfalls of GMOs by sticking to the foods that have nourished and sustained us for millions of years. Future generations are relying on us, and we need to take this seriously.
Here’s to eating organic, spreading the word and fighting for labeling!