GMO's and our health

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Attack of the Killer GMO corn Attack of the Killer GMO corn DawnOne on flickr!

Last month's article on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Threshing out the Promises from Reality: a Look at GMOs, highlighted some of the environmental, health and economic issues behind GMOs. Here we'll look a little deeper at how GMOs affect our health. Is there really a danger in consuming GMOs, and if so, what is being done about it?

 

Let's start with some basics. Humans need to eat to survive and the better we eat, the more likely we are to remain healthy, active and happy. Our diet can be varied depending on our body type, where we live, our lifestyle and what resources we have at our disposal. This means some of us may eat a bit of everything, others may not eat red meat, and still others may eat vegetables, legumes, fruit, grains, and avoid all animal products. Seems easy enough...

It all gets a bit more complicated when we try to combine the objective of eating well with our multitasking, busy schedules. That's when we start compromising on our eating habits. One habit that has kept humankind alive for thousands of years is eating fresh, seasonal whole foods. It is a generally accepted fact that the less food is transformed or refined, the healthier it is. Some will even argue that this means we should eat nearly everything raw to maximize the availability of vitamins, enzymes and minerals. While that is an individual's decision, it is safe to say that with our busy lifestyles, our diets are increasingly composed of processed foods. Processed foods are often nutrient-depleted foods that promote obesity and disease.

Our bodies do not recognize "processed" foods. There is no place or use in our bodies for altered foods. Our bodies consider these types of "foods" as toxins and do their best to deal with these "intruders" by breaking them down, filtering and then eliminating them as best they can. This keeps our livers and kidneys, not to mention a whole lot of other organs in our body, very, very busy. Our body has a hard time keeping up with this detoxification process. If the process goes on for too long and the body is overwhelmed by toxins, illness and disease set in.

Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM) of food involves the laboratory process of artificially inserting genes into the DNA of food crops or animals. The result is called a GMO. GMOs are engineered with genes from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals, or even humans. It has been proven that some genes from GMOs can and do transfer into healthy human bacteria. Some of these genes are those that were designed to end the reproductive ability of the GM plants as well as those which enable GM plants to continuously produce pesticides . This could explain why there are known cases of infertility and toxic responses (see below) in tests where animals are fed GMOs.

It is difficult to find any comparative studies on the toxic residues in foods from such crops. Is there health safety in all of this?

Consumers in the US have been exposed to GMO's or GE strains for many years now. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, these major crops in the US are mostly GM: soy (91%) cotton (71%) canola (88%) corn (85%) sugar beets (90%) and Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%). This also includes products derived from the above, such as oils from the first four crops, as well as, soy protein, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. When you consider that most processed foods contain oils and sugars, it's easy to see how some estimate that as much as 75 percent of foods in U.S. grocery stores contain GM ingredients. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently doesn't require any safety evaluation or labeling of GMOs. Hence, in the US, reading labels is no guarantee of avoiding GMOs. Fortunately, for now at least, the same is not the case in the European Union. Labeling is required if there is more than 0.9% of GMO found in food (but not for meat and dairy from GMO-fed animals).

The Institute for Responsible Technology states: "Genetically modified foods have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. The effects on humans of consuming these new combinations of proteins produced in GMOs are unknown and have not been studied."

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine states, "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. They ask physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.

There are many documented cases of what are thought to be the effects of GM crops on animals including:

  • Thousands of sheep, buffalo, and goats in India died after grazing on GMO Bt cotton plants (containing a built-in pesticide called Bt-toxin that kills or deters insects, saving the farmer from having to spray pesticides. The plants themselves are apparently toxic.)
  • Mice eating GM corn over a long period had fewer, and smaller, babies
  • After GM soy was fed to female rats, most of their babies died—compared to a 10% death rate among control rats fed natural soy.
  • GM soy has been linked to sterility - by the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies
  • Rodents fed GM corn and soy showed immune system responses and signs of toxicity
  • The stomach lining of rats fed GM potatoes showed excessive cell growth, a condition that may lead to cancer.
  • In humans, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced.

Almost a year ago on Dec 11, 2009, a study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences demonstrated the toxicity of three genetically modified corn varieties from the American seed company Monsanto..."For the first time in the world, we've proven that GMOs are neither sufficiently healthy nor proper to be commercialized. [...] Each time, for all three GMOs, the kidneys and liver, which are the main organs that react to a chemical food poisoning, had problems," indicated Gilles-Eric Séralini, an expert member of the Commission for Biotechnology Reevaluation, created by the EU in 2008.

The politics behind the approval of GMOs in the United States reads like a good Dan Brown novel. And given the number of scientists who have and continue to question their safety, it is a wonder that GMOs are still being pursued. Just as troublesome is the recent adoption of some of these crops by the European Union.

How do you feel about you and your family consuming foods that have few safety backings and that likely transfer scientifically derived genes - including genes that continually produce pesticides and end reproductive ability? There are even some experts who believe the transgenes survive the digestive system and therefore readily travel from GM food into the DNA of gut bacteria of humans. Given that up to 80% of our immune system is dependent on the health of our intestines, this seems like quite a health risk.

Fresh and organic whole foods are known to have positive effects on our health – not so with GMOs.

Author: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Nüket is a natural health coach with a background in naturopathy and a holistic approach to healthy living and disease prevention. She lives in Brussels and works with individuals and companies, supporting them in making positive changes to create lifestyles and environments that are more balanced and healthy.

*There are an increasing number of campaigns targeted at educating consumers on the risks and dangers of GMO's. In the US people are encouraged to use shopping guides to help them avoid GMOs, you can see an example at NonGMOShoppingGuide. If you are interested, check out Marie-Monique Robin's award winning documentary "The World According to Monsanto". Also, international bestselling author and filmmaker Jeffrey Smith is a leading spokesperson on the health dangers of genetically modified (GM) foods. He has two books, his first, "Seeds of Deception", is the world's bestselling and #1 rated book on the topic. His second book is "Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods."

http://www.responsibletechnology.org

This article was originally published in the December 2010 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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