The Truth About GMO Foods
The topic of GMOs is highly controversial and polarized. Contradictory scientific data can make it hard to make an informed decision regarding the safety of GMOs, whether these are used in animal feed, which accounts for the most common use GMOs, or are directly used in food for humans. Eatosophy will help clear the GMO picture.
Unfortunately, industry-sponsored GMO-safety research studies make the situation very hard for the average person to comprehend, let alone to decide whether genetically modified food is safe or not.
However, there is plenty of independent research to give a clear picture of where we are heading with GMOs. The important thing to remember with GMOs is there is extremely little published research regarding humans; the vast majority of the available material is based on animals, either from the farm or the laboratory. Our conclusions come primarily from experiments of observations from farm or laboratory animals.
What is GMO?
The development of genetically modified organisms relies on genetic engineering, where one or more genes (fragments of DNA) from one species are forced into the DNA of another species. The method may sound highly sophisticated, but in fact it is a very crude way of introducing genetic material from one organism to another. Genetic engineering comes with tremendous collateral damage for the genetically modified organism and as research shows, potentially for those consuming GMO food. When the inserted genes are successfully integrated in the recipient organism, they will produce a novel protein, which imparts new characteristics, such as pest or herbicide resistance.
The problem begins from the fact that the inserted genetic material is introduced in the DNA of the recipient organism in a completely random manner and causing irreversible mutations in functional native genes. This results in disrupting the functions of these genes completely by deleting them or triggering the production of new inflammatory proteins, which may cause diseases. Therefore, the very process of inserting a gene in a plant’s DNA will inevitably cause genetic damage with various and entirely uncontrollable results.
Apart from this, there is no way of controlling or checking how many copies of the new gene are inserted in the recipient GM cells either; it could be just 1 or hundreds of copies. This means that a GM plant may contain hundreds of times more genetically engineered proteins than it is supposed to, all of which will be consumed by animals and humans. If this protein is a pesticide, as it is in GM plants that contain a gene to produce their own bacterial pesticide toxins (Bt), any living being who eats the specific GM plants will inevitably get an overdose of bacterial pesticides — possibly hundreds of times more than they can physiologically handle. While from an agricultural perspective this result may effectively deter pests from destroying the crops, in terms of public health and safety, such a practice is dangerous and irresponsible.
But even if there is one single copy of the inserted gene, health problems are still possible. Research in many species has shown that the DNA which was inserted in the recipient GM organism survives the digestive process and can be found in multiple tissues of animals exposed to GM feed (1). The genetically engineered DNA not only survives in the gut, but it has been found in a variety of animal tissues and even shown to reach the foetus in pregnant subjects. This means that an animal or person eating GM food can have several fragments of genetically engineered DNA in the gut. The digestive tract of all mammals is home to thousands of beneficial bacteria. It is a well-known scientific fact that bacteria can take in DNA from their environment and integrate it into their DNA, allowing it to be expressed and fulfill its biological role — to produce the protein it encodes. This phenomenon is called bacterial conjugation. If the gene from the GM organism is for example responsible for the production of a pesticide protein (i.e. Bt protein), then a person having this gene introduced even in one of the bacteria in his gut, the fast multiplication of this bacterium would effectively provide him with his very own mini-factory of pesticide within his very own gut!
At least some functional parts of the protein produced by the inserted gene have also been found to survive digestion, causing immunological and metabolic reactions in the tested animals. Proteins from genetically engineered DNA have been found in blood, kidney, liver, white blood cells and even milk from cows which received GM feed. This is a scientific fact. Depending on the type of protein the inserted DNA is encoding and the amount ingested, a variety of pathological effects may occur.
The above facts are heavily involved in the recorded health effects of GM products. The Institute for Responsible Technology (2) provides probably the most comprehensive, evidence-based list of documented health effects of GMs and their website should be visited if you are interested in details or the primary evidence of the following list of health problems associated with consumption of GM food.
- Allergies — Research shows that allergies in UK increased by at least 50% after GM soy was introduced. GM soy contains 7 times more known allergens and also some unknown allergenic proteins. GM cotton has been reported to cause a series of allergic reactions to the farmers that cultivate and handle it. GM corn has also been shown in the lab to cause immunological reactions to mice and rats. More evidence suggests that consumption of GM vegetables triggers allergic reactions to foods that were not allergenic before.
- Reproductive problems — infant mortality. In experiments with rats, more than half of the babies of mothers fed with GM soy died, while the remaining ones were smaller. The parent animals showed extensive changes in their reproductive organs. By the third generation, most hamsters fed with GM soy were sterile. Farmers from the US have also reported that GM corn has caused sterility to pigs or cows.
- Liver problems — Experiments with a variety of GM vegetables and experimental subjects show that the liver can be significantly affected. GM potatoes cause the liver to become atrophic, while GM canola resulted in up to 16% heavier livers in rats.
- Cancer — In 2013 a novel study conducted in Caen, France showed that rats fed with GM corn for 2 years (the first long-term feeding study of its kind) developed multiple tumors (picture below) and died earlier than the control group. Similar results were produced when the herbicide Roundup was added to their drinking water. The liver, pituitary gland and kidneys also showed significant abnormalities. The study was published in the scientific journal “Food and Chemical Toxicology” but unfortunately, the publisher (Elsevier) retracted the study shortly after the publication, provoking serious reactions from the scientific community. Currently, there are no other studies evaluating the long-term health effects of GMs.
- Heinemann J. A. 2009. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed.Available online at: http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/3988
- Institute for Responsible Technology. Health Risks. Available online at:http://www.responsibletechnology.org/health-risks
- Sayer Ji. 2013. New Study Finds GM Corn and Roundup Causes Cancer In Rats. Available online at: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/alert-gmo-corn-and-roundup-caused-cancer-and-killed-rats
In collaboration with Eleni Roumeliotou, a clinical nutritionist, geneticist and founder of Primal Baby.