If it’s genetically modified, should you eat it?
Here at SpaFromScratch we want you to look good, feel good and be healthy. For that reason, we dig deep into the research to get the facts on those things that will affect you. This week we’re going to discuss genetically modified foods and any health risks involved in consuming them. In short, should you eat them or ban them from your diet?
What are genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
Genetically modified foods are derived from genetically modified organisms (plants or animals). The United States Department of Agriculture defines a genetically modified organism (GMO) “An organism produced through genetic modification.” This definition would include genetically engineered foods and hybrids produced by other means such as cross pollination or breeding. Genetically engineered (GE) foods have a more specific definition given by the USDA. They are defined as: “Manipulation of an organism’s genes by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA techniques.”
Therefore if you cross pollinate two different colored species of corn (one white and one yellow) you get a hybrid plant that produces both white and yellow corn; you have created a GMO plant, but it has not been genetically engineered (GE). However, if you take a gene from an elephant and add it to the DNA of a plant, you end up with a GMO plant that has been genetically engineered (GE).
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approves GMO’s and Europe does not. Why?
In the past, I always relied on the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration FDA whose function it is to be the ultimate consumer advocates when it comes to determining the quality of foods sold in the United States. However, I’m not so sure any more.
Though I do not believe either the USDA or FDA are the villains they are made out to be by some folks, I do believe there could well be conflicts of interest in their ranks. For instance, Tom Vilsack, who now heads the USDA, strongly supported genetically engineered crops produced for the pharmaceutical purposes. He did this despite warnings that planting these crops next to those grown for food was a very bad idea. Vilsack pushed forward and the results were dire for the food crop as it had to be destroyed.
To be fair, Vilsack may have been receiving mixed messages from the scientific community and simply made a bad choice. Mistakes do happen. However, he remains very supportive of genetically engineered crops and this may be one of the reasons these crops are approved in the United States and not in Europe. But wait, there’s more and it gets far worse.
Monsanto is a goliath seed corporation advocating the use and domination of genetically engineered seeds. Michael Taylor now serves as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods. The problem is he also served as Vice President for Public Policy for Monsanto. Taylor is responsible for the official US regulatory policy — that, if genetically engineered food is substantially equivalent to normal food in composition, there is no need to safety test or label it. In case you’re interested, what that means to you and me is, unless stated otherwise, the corn and soy based foods we purchase may well come from genetically engineered plants. There’s more, but I think you get the idea.
Anyway, there goes my confidence in the USDA and FDA so we’re right back where we started from. Should we eat genetically modified foods?
The controversy and confusion
In a recent French study of the effects of genetically engineered corn fed to rats, the rats contracted malignant tumors. However, the study may have been flawed. The UK has dismissed the study on the basis that the rats used were already predisposed to cancer as they aged. You can take a look at the French study for yourself at http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm. If you don’t want to plow through the scientific jargon, scroll down to the conclusions section toward the end. Photographs of tumors grown on rats fed GE corn and additional information can be found at http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/09/22/superbugs-destruct-food-supply.aspx. (This site has an annoying pop up, but the article is informative.)
The Chicago News Tribune came out with an article calling the study bogus. It stated that we have been eating GE corn for years and if there were any ill effects, we would know so by now. This gave me pause so I looked up cancer statistics for the US since the introduction of GE corn. I could find no correlation between the incidences cancers that would coincide with the introduction of GE foods. I investigated both by date and by country (comparing countries that ban GE foods). This apparently flies in the face of the study done in France. Russia is supposed to conduct a similar study with rats very soon. We’ll have to wait and see on that one. When the results are in, you’ll be the first to know.
Does all this controversy mean there are no health risks with GE foods, particularly those creating a plant immune to herbicides and/or pesticides? No. What it does mean is that there is currently insufficient testing done to make that determination one way or another.
We are currently consuming vast quantities of GMO foods in our diet. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) – “Currently commercialized GMO crops in the U.S. include soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), corn (88%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash (over 24,000 acres).”
The GMO foods that we should be most concerned about are those genetically engineered (GE) to be herbicide and/or pest resistant.
The consensus of IRT, an organization I believe to have an unbiased interest in the truth, is that populations ingesting GE foods are the industries’ ‘test rats.’ The long term effects of these foods are unknown. In addition, there have been sufficient studies to raise a warning flag to consumers concerning the health risks of GMO foods. For this reason, I believe we should avoid adding them to our diet until conclusive studies and a scientific consensus is derived determined.
How to buy foods that are not GE?
Buy locally organic foods. Genetically engineered (GE)seeds are currently unavailable to small farms and consumers.
At present most of the fruit and vegetable crops are not Genetically engineered (GE). The exception is the Hawaiian papaya. If you like papayas, look for a label that states it is a non-GMO fruit.
Grass fed, organically grown beef is your best choice.
Use cane sugar instead of beet sugar.
Buy locally organic milk and other dairy products.
For more information and a buying guide check out IRT’s shopping guide.
GMO, particularly GE technology and its use is going to proceed into the future and that can be a very good thing. Foods are being engineered to be more nutritious through gene modification and that may benefit everyone. However, plants genetically modified to resist herbicides and pesticides are for the express purpose of increasing corporate profit. Whether this will introduce toxins From the over use of herbicides into the food chain and environment has yet to be determined. In addition, what we do know is that super bugs and super weeds also resistant are being naturally created in response to the GE crops.
Until we better understand the long term effects of GMOs, I believe we should ban them from our diets and impose political pressure on our government to have unbiased scientists conduct necessary studies. Our health and the environment should always take precedence over corporate profit and scientific zeal to patent and market GMOs.
Now go have fun and relax.