Genetically Modified Foods

As I continue on with my classes in public health subject areas, I have become more wary of the cocktail of chemicals in our foods and personal care products. One area I hadn’t looked into too deeply was genetically modified foods, until a presentation where I chose them as my subject.

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A food product that is genetically engineered is a product “in which the crop DNA is changed using the gene-insertion techniques of molecular biology.”

Genetically engineering crops is just one of many methods that are used to increase production. Others include: crop breeding; chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides; crop rotation; and organic methods.

The advocates of GMOs promise the following:

  • GMOs are just a more precise way of breeding plants, a time tested and safe practice.
  • Nutrition can be improved in developing world.
  • Higher yield will feed the world on less land with economic benefits for farmers and consumers.
  • Less pesticide/herbicide application and fewer environmental impacts.

Norman Borlaug, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom have criticized the critics of GMOs as anti-science and elitists ignoring the food needs of the developing world.

The promises of GMOs have not been fulfilled since GMOs were introduced in mass to US agriculture in 1996. Instead, food allergies have skyrocketed along with rates of obesity and other health ailments. The food companies have been unable to prove that their products are unconnected to the rise in food allergies. Its time to just label it.

Hit the jump to address the promises of GMO foods…

Safety:

Dr Michael Hansen of the Consumer Policy Institute had this to say in 2000:

“Conventional plant breeding shuffles around aberrant versions [alleles] of the same genes, which basically are fixed in chromosomal locations as a result of evolution,” he says. “With genetic engineering, one inserts genes on an essentially random basis, using a gene ‘gun’ or other techniques, into a plant’s chromosomes,” he explains. “Frequently, the genes come from living things with which the host organisms would never cross in nature,” he notes. “If the material inserts itself into the middle of an important gene, that gene would functionally be turned off,” Hansen states. For example, “if the turned-off gene happens to code for a regulatory protein that prevents the expression of some [natural] toxin, the net result of the insertion would be to increase the level of that toxin.“

Every time DNA is changed, a new protein is created. Every time. According to a paper published in 2002, many of these new proteins are very similar in chemical structure to known allergens. The FDA is not, nor do they even have the means (money or proven methods) to test for potential allergenicity. Meanwhile, a Monsanto rep was quoted as saying: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food,” he said. ”Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job.”

Nutrition:

“Golden Rice” and other GE fortified foods are being talked about as if it is some sort of panacea for malnutrition. Critics say the skyrocketing production of biofuels is in fact what is causing food prices to spike and hunger issues to endure. The resulting headlines discussion hunger are then used by companies like Monsanto to push for more GMO seed adoption to solve the problem of hunger that their own ethanol lobbyists are causing.

Vandana Shiva, an indian activist cites the loss of biodiversity and mono-crop culture as the cause of malnutrition. Rather than using poor populations as guinea pigs for GE corn and rice, farmers that used to plant 30 crops on their land but now plant one, should return to a more diversified crop to insulate themselves from all the problems associated with mono-crop culture. She argues that “golden rice” is simply a ploy by biotech giants to gain control of the developing world’s farming industry.

Higher Yield:

According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the two most widely proliferated GE crops, soybeans and corn, have not increased yields. While there have been increases in production, researchers attribute the gains to traditional breeding and other agricultural practices.

Monsanto’s website (which is full of defensive rebuttals to arguments like the ones being made in this post) makes an unconvincing rebuttal to the Failure the Yield report by UCS.

Economic Development:

“The new seeds and fertilizers worked for many: India’s food production rose from 72 million tons in 1965-66 to 152 million tons in 1983-84, eliminating the country’s dependence on food grain imports.

“In the late 1980s, however, the Green Revolution began to fall apart as the chemical fertilizers rendered soil infertile. Farmers who had once diversified risk by growing as many as 30 different crops in their fields were dependent upon just one. As the quality of the soil deteriorated, they faced zero yields and an inability to pay their debts. Three years of drought beginning in 2001 further fueled the crisis.”

In the past 15 years, there have been over 250,000 deaths by suicide (by ingesting acutely toxic organophosphate pesticides).

The Frontline documentary “Seeds of Suicide” details this problem quite well.

Pesticide Use:

In a report published by the 2010 USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service report, glyphosate, associated with GMOs, dramatically increased and atrazine use not declined.

“The report shows that in the states surveyed, 57 million pounds of glyphosate were applied last year on corn fields. Ten years prior, in 2000, this number was only 4.4 million pounds.”

In the Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, use and exposure to synthetic chemicals has greatly increased despite promises of the companies that need for the products would decrease. Pest problems have grown exponentially.

Vandana Shiva, director of the Indian organisation Navdanya International, which co-ordinated the report, said: “The GM model of farming undermines farmers trying to farm ecologically. Co-existence between GM and conventional crops is not possible because genetic pollution and contamination of conventional crops is impossible to control.”

References:

Hileman, Bette. Biotech Regulation Under Attack. Chemical & Engineering News. V78. N21. May 22, 2000. Accessed via UIC Library online 3.31.2012. http://pubs.acs.org.proxy.cc.uic.edu/isubscribe/journals/cen/78/i21/html/7821gov1.html

Pollan, Michael. Playing God in the Garden. NYT. Oct 25, 1998. Accessed online 3.31.2012. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/25/magazine/playing-god-in-the-garden.html

Teitel, Martin. Genetically Engineered Food: Not ready for prime time. Nutrition. V17. N1. 2001. Accessed online 3.31.2012. http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0899900700004810/1-s2.0-S0899900700004810-main.pdf?_tid=033121d79827d574ad1a8603a8725e11&acdnat=1333258465_588eff418793ee47cf668fdb22c844da

PBS Frontline. Seeds of Suicide. Movie and written background. Retrieved online 4.1.2012 http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2005/07/seeds_of_suicidlinks.html

Malone, Andrew. The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are commiting suicide after using genetically modified crops. Daily Mail UK. Nov 2, 2008. Retrieved online 4.1.2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html

Townsend, M. Why soya is a hidden destroyer. Daily Express, Mar 12, 1999. Accessed online 4.1.2012. http://www.soyinfo.com/allergy2.shtml

Kleter, G. A., & Peijnenburg, A. A. (2002). Screening of transgenic proteins expressed in transgenic food crops for the presence of short amino acid sequences identical to potential, IgE – binding linear epitopes of allergens. BMC Structural Biology, 2, 8.

LeVaux, Ari. How Genetically Modified Foods Could Affect Our Health in Unexpected Ways. Alternet.org. Published Jan 11, 2012. Accessed 4.1.2012. http://www.alternet.org/story/153737/how_genetically_modified_foods_could_affect_our_health_in_unexpected_ways/

Monsanto.com. Issues and Answers. http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/Issues-and-Answers.aspx

Zhang, L. et al. Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA. Cell Research (2012) 22:107–126. doi:10.1038/cr.2011.158; published online 20 September 2011 Accessed online 4.1.2012. http://www.nature.com/cr/journal/v22/n1/full/cr2011158a.html

Davis, Donald R., et al. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden

Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. V. 23. N.6. December 2004. Accessed online via UIC Library 4.1.2012.

http://www.goldenrice.org/

Shiva, Vandana.  The Golden Rice Hoax. http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/GEessays/goldenricehoax.html

20 Questions on genetically modified foods. WHO. Accessed 4.1.2012. http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

USDA Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/BiotechCrops/ExtentofAdoptionTable1.htm

Roseboro, Ken. Farmers using even more pesticides with GM crops. Published July 21, 2011. Retrieved online 4.1.2012. http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/july2011/farmersusingmorepesticideswithGMcrops.php

Vidal, John. GM crops promote superweeds, food insecurity and pesticides, say NGOs. The Guardian. Published Oct 19, 2011. Accessed online 4.1.2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/19/gm-crops-insecurity-superweeds-pesticides

A Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs. Accessed online 4.1.2012 http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Environment/documents/2011/10/19/GMOEMPEROR.pdf

Smith, Jeffery M. Genetically Modified Foods Unsafe? Evidence that Links GM Foods to Allergic Responses Mounts. Global Research Nov 8, 2007. Accessed 4.1.2012. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7277

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Posted on April 6, 2012, in Domestically Speaking, Urban Health and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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