Genetically modified organisms have been banned in much of Europe and Africa due in part to concerns over possible dangers they pose to wildlife and human health. Despite this closing of key markets, GM seed has become a global phenomenon, and closed markets are targeted for penetration by biotechnology corporations and their allies. The key ally for biotech is the US government, as revealed in released Wikileaks diplomatic cables. The US has tried persuasion and coercion to override negative regulatory rulings by many European nations.
GMO foods are not labelled in the US, an anti-democratic tactic that suggests these products would not survive on the free market. The FDA and USDA have been granted sweeping powers over food security and regulation, and recent deregulations of GE crops alfalfa, sugar beets, and biofuel corn show they have no interest in protecting the food supply from contamination or allowing consumers to choose for themselves whether to be guinea pigs. The majority of the corn, wheat, and soy grown in the US is GMO. The Obama administration, packed with bureaucrats financially tied to biotech, has recently endorsed growing GMOs on the nation’s wildlife refuges despite the Fish and Wildlife Service’s commitment to not use GE crops unless they are deemed “essential.”
A reasonable observer would expect that there is scientific proof of the safety of GMOs. Instead there is one human study, some animal safety trials, and a judicial order that revealed FDA scientists’ warnings over GMOs were consistently ignored by their bureaucratic superiors. The EPA meanwhile, another regulatory body ruling on GM safety, admits it lacks sufficient methods for testing whether GMOs pose a risk to wildlife. Why this has happened is a serious matter, but first let us consider the existing evidence.
The lone human study sought to determine whether the DNA of GMO soy remained intact on its trip through the intestines of several ileostomasts. (Netherwood et al, 2004) The ileum is the final section of the small intestine before it empties into the large intestine, and in these people it has been directed into a bag outside the body. Bacteria regularly exchange DNA packets with each other and the food you eat, so the cause for alarm is that bacteria in the gut could take in pesticide producing DNA segments from GMO food and begin making pesticides in the intestines.
Researchers found that some of the DNA did survive intact after passing through the stomach and small intestine, the home to much of the body’s beneficial bacteria. They also found that in some of the patients genes were transferred from GMO soy to intestinal bacteria. This study suggests a variety of follow-up studies, but none have been funded to date.
Monsanto carried out a few experiments that we know of on three varieties of GM corn, the results of which were released confidentially to European governments. Those governments released the data Monsanto provided, along with Monsanto’s interpretation. A review by independent scientists at the Committee of Research and Information on Genetic Engineering showed that Monsanto played loose with the numbers to make the GM corn varieties appear safe.
The animal trials used only rats and lasted 90 days. We have been eating GM food, without a choice due to lack of labelling, for over a decade, and the safety trial lasted 90 days. This is not enough time to uncover many effects like chronic damage to organs. Yet, the data showed all three varieties damaged the kidneys and liver, and to varying degrees the heart, adrenal, spleen and blood systems. Monsanto had ignored differences between the sexes in effects, and it was later found that most babies of rats fed GM soy died, compared with an average lab rat baby death rate of 10%.
These independent studies of Monsanto’s raw data directly contradicts the biotech corporations and the US government. Unlike Monsanto’s interpretation of the data, the scientists involved here published their interpretations in peer-reviewed journals. The study strongly suggests a moratorium is needed on food containing GMOs while further testing is done. That this is not occurring is both tragic and disturbing.
In May of 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine issued a warning to consumers of GM foods and their physicians, recognizing a causation “between GM foods and adverse health effects.” Bt is the pesticide which plants are genetically engineered to make. It has a long history of use as an external pesticide, and it is far from safe for humans to eat. Bt natural bacterial spray was used in the Northwest to kill gypsy moths. After dropping it from a plane, several hundred people became ill with flu-like symptoms and allergies, some severe enough to require hospitalization. GM plants make Bt at several thousand times the concentration of that found in the spray.
In the US and India, farmers have reported startling occurrences after switching their animal feed to GM products. Sheep allowed to graze on Bt corn have died at high rates, showing damage to liver and intestines. A follow-up study in India found that all sheep in the experiment died within 30 days of a beginning a diet of Bt cotton. Farmers there regularly allow sheep to graze on cotton. Chickens fed Liberty corn (a branded GM variety) died at a much higher rate. One group of rats fed a GM tomato experienced bleeding from the stomach. It is strongly suspected that colony collapse disorder is a result of bees eating pollen from GM plants.
Humans have been so successful on this planet, because we are one of the most complex and adaptable species. Many toxins that will outright kill lab rats can be handled by the human body for a long time. This is one reason human safety trials lasting at minimum a couple of years need to be run. They will not be however, because the US government, the biotech firms, and the medical establishment all profit wildly from GMOs. For an understanding of how biotech firms like Monsanto control research of GMOs, see this link.
GMO crops represent the biotech industry’s desires to control our food supply. The majority of seed for several crops on the market is GM and contamination from neighboring fields is happening. Some GM varieties do not actually produce pesticide, but they create a tolerance for one herbicide in the plant, Monsanto’s Round-Up. Monsanto requires farmers buying their seed to sign a contract to only purchase glyphosate from them. GM crops then are designed to lock in customers and consolidate the market.
The US government promotes GM products, because the biotech-agribusiness corporations have for years paid enormous sums to lobbyists, lawyers, and political campaigns to secure government support. In the early 1990s, Michael Taylor was named by the FDA as head of creating GMO policy, the same policy that stands today. Michael Taylor was, prior to this, head attorney for Monsanto and after this became one of Monsanto’s Vice Presidents. This policy declares that GMOs are safe with no need for safety testing or labelling and denies any concerns over safety. With this bureaucratic maneuver, and the fact that the USDA relies solely on industry research to determine safety, the White House demonstrated that biotech profits trumped the safety of citizens.
The medical establishment, excepting a few lonely voices of reason, has remained silent on the risks despite the ongoing epidemic of chronic diseases and intestinal illness. Major organizations, like the AMA and NIH, were the first to sign off on GMOs in the food supply, which began with a GM bacteria used to culture cheese. Even so, a growing number of practitioners are advising patients to not eat GM foods. The fact is, available evidence shows GMOs have negative effects on health, but it will likely be years or decades before we have any idea of the extent of damage they cause.
Most supporters of GM foods will point to the benefits of increased crop yields. This is part of a slick marketing campaign and unproven. Evidence suggests the opposite, as well as significant danger to all agriculture. The best study out on potential yield increases, performed by an expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, shows that GM crops do not produce higher yields and many times lead to increased use of pesticides. Increased yields have resulted from plant breeding and better agricultural practices, not GMOs. Superweeds have also emerged from the heavier glyphosate use, weeds far more resistant to herbicides. Pigweed has shown resistance to all applications of glyphosate and even physical destruction.
Further, a letter sent to the USDA chief Tom Vilsack was recently made public knowledge. Dr. Don Huber is a plant pathologist, retired professor Emeritus at Purdue, and committee coordinator for the American Phytopathological Society (part of the USDA’s National Plant Disease Recovery System). In the weeks before the recent USDA deregulation of GM alfalfa, Huber’s letter warned Vilsack of a newly discovered pathogen that is linked strongly to the use of Monsanto’s Round-up. The organism, which defies previous pathogen classifications, has been found in heavy concentrations in Round-up Ready crops and the livestock eating them. The most visible symptoms are spontaneous abortions and infertility in the animals.
The costs of continuing to use GMOs are potentially astronomical, while the benefits are highly questionable. Unfortunately, it seems the regulatory agencies are more concerned with biotech profits than science and health. To keep up with current developments and find out what you can do, check out the GMO Journal.