At least 70 percent of processed foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients, mainly from corn, soy, canola, sugar beets and cottonseed oil. Yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require GMO food labeling, despite overwhelming consumer support for their “right to know.”
Genetic engineering goes beyond traditional plant breeding because it allows scientists to cross species barriers and insert a gene from one organism into another that would not normally occur. Examples include inserting bacterial DNA into a plant to effect traits such as pest or herbicide resistance. Plant Pathologist and Purdue University Professor Emeritus Don Huber, Ph.D., speaks out internationally about the risky business of biotechnology.
We are told we need GMOs to “feed the world,” but will GMOs provide affordable food for the masses, as Monsanto ads tell us?
There is nothing in the GMO process that has added any new yield potential to any crop. All of the yield increases achieved in the past 15 years have been through traditional breeding programs. When Professor Karen McAfee, an economist at Yale University, analyzed the GMO claim, she found that the only entity that benefited was the biotechnology industry (Geoforum report). Nutritional quality has suffered, food safety has been compromised by the toxic entities involved in the genetic engineering process and farmers’ production costs have increased significantly, while quality and harvested yield potential have decreased. What we see in practice are failed promises.
What is the risk and potential harm to people and the planet due to GMOs?
There are two serious risk factors involved in current genetically engineered plants. The first is an increase in plant, animal and human diseases plus pests associated with GMO crops, reported by sources as diverse as the European Journal of Agronomy, Earth Open Source and the University of Leipzig, in Germany. The second is abusive use of the chemical products that the herbicide-tolerant GMOs have been developed to tolerate; supporting studies include research published in the European Journal of Agronomy and the Fluid Fertilizer Foundation’s Forum.
For example, glyphosate in many weed killer formulations is used excessively both on Roundup-ready crops and as a single chemical for general weed control. This has resulted in super weeds, super pathogens, compromised natural biological controls and devastated components of the soil biology responsible for nutrient availability and function.
Recent research from institutions around the world, including the UK’s King’s College and Leipzig University, is now showing a link between GMO crops and/or the products they produce or tolerate and increased incidence of mutations, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, allergies, birth defects, cancer, reproductive failure and other health effects. It is a heavy price for society to pay for a massive experiment.
Scientists also are seeing hazardous levels of some of the products excessively used to grow GMO crops accumulating in the Earth’s soil, water and air. The biodegrading process of those substances often takes much longer than anticipated, and damage to non-target crops, plants and organisms is becoming a serious concern (Plant and Soil and Geoderma).
Scientists also are finding that such ‘foreign’ genes in the environment are quite promiscuous and can persist, perhaps indefinitely, in soil, intestinal or plant environments with unknown health consequences (Reproductive Toxicology, Aquaculture Research and Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry).
Several countries have banned importing crops grown in any field where one of five corn hybrids were previously grown, for instance, because soil microbes have picked up the GMO genes from decomposing plant residues and can transmit the genes to future crops— resulting in the toxic product possibly being present in the later crop. No one knows how to remove the GMO foreign genes once they are introduced.
Looking to the future, should we be concerned by chemical companies’ lobbying for approval of the next leap in GMOs, to 2,4-D resistant crops?
Like glyphosate tolerance, 2,4-D resistance is based on flawed science and a failure to understand that agriculture is the management of a delicately interrelated ecological system, comprised of the plant and its various environments (biological, chemical and physical), rather than the selection of ‘silver bullets’. Adding 2,4-D tolerance introduces another foreign and potentially toxic protein in the plant and an additional toxic chemical applied directly to food and animal feed. Food safety, nutritional quality and potential yield will all be compromised in the process.
Do you see any benefits from this technology?
The GMO technology could be a powerful tool when we gain enough understanding to use it properly and effectively. We are a long way from gaining that essential understanding. The current rush to commercialize it and widespread implementation of the associated hazardous and ineffective products currently on the market may well be a major deterrent to future use of the technology when it is properly understood.
What can people do to avoid GMOs and protect their health?
Buy organic foods, preferably from known local growers, and stay alert to the issue to take needed grassroots actions. Future historians may well remark not about how many pounds of pesticide we did or didn’t apply, but how willing we were to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations for the massive flawed experiment of genetic engineering only to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.
Petition the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today to require labeling of GMO foods at JustLabelIt.org.
Melinda Hemmelgarn, aka the “Food Sleuth,” is a registered dietitian and award-winning writer and radio host at kopn.org, in Columbia, MO (FoodSleuth@gmail.com). Hear her interview with Don Huber at Tinyurl.com/foodsleuth.