You most likely ate a genetically modified food today and didn't know it. Once the stuff of science fiction, food genetically manipulated in the laboratory, has become more commonplace than people realize and is not identifiable by label. The United States is the largest manufacturer of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and, unlike the European Union, currently allows them to be produced without an established, broad-based set of safeguards, regulations or labeling requirements.
While many argue for their safety, some scientists, nutritionists and health professionals liken them to Frankenfoods -- scary hybrids that nature never intended. Dr. Kathy Gruver, health and wellness expert and author of "The Alternative Medicine Cabinet," is firmly in that camp. Gruver earned her Ph.D. in natural health and maintains a practice in Santa Barbara, California.
What are genetically modified foods?
"Genetically modified foods are those that have been created using genetically modified/bio-engineered seeds. This differs from crossbreeding or selective breeding in that genes from species that would not normally cross are mixed together. The most common genetically modified foods are corn, soy and cotton. Ironically, these are also the ones most highly subsidized by the government, and they go into making the cheapest food.
"There is a soil bacterium that was found to be resistant to Roundup. Manufacturers cut out that sequence of DNA, mixed it with E. coli bacteria and introduced a soil bacterium that caused tumors (so it would replicate) and forced that concoction into the DNA nucleus of the corn or soy. They could also break into the cells using electricity or a gene gun that has particles of gold coated with the DNA. One of the main concerns of genetically modified foods is the introduction of these bacteria and viruses to get the genes to mix. There is also often an antibiotic marker used to see if the gene expresses. There is a concern about this leading to our increase in antibiotic resistance. Some GMO plants also contain a kill gene, which stops the plants from producing seed for future crops. If this would get into the general food population, this could cause tremendous problems with our agriculture."
What are the biggest benefits of GMOs?
"The only benefits at this current time are to the seed patent holders and the chemical industry. In 2000, production of golden rice was begun to increase beta-carotene in the crop. It's true that vitamin A deficiency is a huge issue in third world countries, especially with children. Here is a great quote regarding this product: 'Because of lacking real-world studies and uncertainty about how many people will use golden rice, WHO malnutrition expert Francesco Branca concludes giving out supplements, fortifying existing foods with vitamin A, and teaching people to grow carrots or certain leafy vegetables are, for now, more promising ways to fight the problem.'"
What are the biggest risks?
"The biggest risk is we just don't know what these foods are going to do to us. They are not tested, so we do not know what the future holds for us and our children after consuming genetically modified products. And because we are all biologically individual with different chemical makeups and tolerances, what might be OK for one, could be harmful to another. And who knows how GMOs will mix in our system with other things. It's all a mystery and, in my opinion, a giant genetic experiment.
"There have been multiple studies linking this increasing pesticide exposure to childhood illness and ADHD. Some studies have even shown a link to tumor increase. We see in vitro evidence that GMOs may increase allergies and antibiotic resistance. The large amounts of pesticides and herbicides must go somewhere; they're destroying the soil and oftentimes get into groundwater. We are seeing a huge decline in honeybees and other creatures that help pollinate plants.
"Recently, non-approved genetically modified wheat was found in a field in Oregon. No one knows how it got there. Monsanto did admit it tested this product in open fields. Just like the non-smoking section often has smoke pouring over into it, it's the same way with seeds. A bird can carry it, the wind can carry it or it could blow off the truck. There is no way to control where these seeds are going to go. One of the dangers is if the seeds would take hold and wipe out our conventional and organic farming. We are losing the biodiversity of our crops. This could be dangerous to our food supply, especially if they contain the "kill gene." And Monsanto and other seed owners would have a monopoly controlling when and how our food is grown."
Who decides if they are safe and how are they measured?
"The companies who developed them decide if they are safe. That's a little frustrating. To show that they were safe, they convinced the government agency that they were the same as conventionally grown food. However, to patent seeds, you have to prove that it's different enough that it deserves a patent. So which is it? The same or is it different? They're playing both sides of the game to get what they want. Multiple countries have a no-GMO policy and have banned them to be planted or tested."
What is your opinion on all of this?
"I think GMOs are dangerous and are putting billions of dollars in the pockets of a few companies with no regard for the health and safety of the planet or consumer, contrary to what their websites say. They have not been tested, we don't know long-term and cumulatively what they do to us and they have increased our use of dangerous herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. They do not improve health, feed the poor or make more food. Many countries have outlawed them and Hungary recently burned 500 hectares of GM corn.
India has seen a drastic increase in suicide among farmers that failed after using Monsanto's GM cotton. Many lost everything and took their own lives. Haiti rejected Monsanto's help of seeds after the earthquake that devastated their country. What do they know that we don't? I avoid them as much as I can, but it's getting difficult. We should be using food as our medicine, not our experimentation."
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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