GMOs (genetically modified organisms) exist in virtually all foods consumed today in some form or another. These foods are genetically engineered (GE) to give them all sorts of benefits. The modification of plants is not a recent development. For many years, millennia even, gardeners have been crossbreeding different species of plants to create new plants that produce heartier, better tasting, and more beautiful crops. Although the type of genetic engineering being discussed is vastly different than this organic natural method of traditional plant breeding practices. The type of GMOs currently being used in modern society involves inserting genes from an animal, plant, bacterium, or virus into a different organism (usually a plant), thereby drastically and irreversibly altering the genetic code or “blueprint” that entirely determine an organism’s physical characteristics of the organism that received that gene. Through the use of this techonology, scientists have successfully developed some incredible foods such as tomatoes that have a longer shelf life by adding certain genes found in flounder, soybeans that are resistant to weed killing products, potatoes that secrete their own pesticides, potatoes with jellyfish genes that glow in the dark when they require water, “‘super’ pigs with human growth genes,” (1) and fish with cattle growth genes. Scientists are currently working to produce and develop grains, fruits, and vegetables with higher amounts of vitamins and even foods that contain vaccines against diseases such as malaria, cholera, and hepatitis. (2)
Shockingly, 54% pf the total GMO crop area is currently being grown in developing countries. Significant increases in GM crop area was reported in developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Data from these countries show that resource-poor farmers benefit from this technology. First-generation GM crops have improved traits, for example, herbicide-resistant soybeans and corn can be weeded with more effective, less toxic, and cheap herbicides. Certain corn and cotton plants have been modified by introducing the DNA of a certain bacterium (Bt) that makes the plant only toxic to larvae bugs. These GE Bt crops lower the costs of farming and production by lessening inputs such as fuel, machinery, and pesticides, and increasing crop yields. Additionally, the reduced spraying of chemical pesticides and herbicides prevents the pollution of groundwater, rivers, and lakes, lessens farmers’ exposure to these pesticides and herbicides, and lowers the consumers’ exposure chemical residues found in these crops. (6) (7)
GE crops have had a very positive impact on farm income worldwide due to enhanced productivity and increased crop yield. In 2012, direct global farm income benefit was $18.8 billion. From 1996 to 2012, farm incomes have increased by $116.6. (8)
Since 1996, farmers planting GE crops have reduced pesticide usages in their fields by 8.8% or over 503 million kg which led to an overall reduction in the environmental footprint of GE crops by 18.7%. (Environmental footprint is a measure of the effect or impact a product, process, operation, an individual or corporation places on the environment, in this case, measuring the environmental effects of pesticides.)
The largest environmental gain is clearly seen in fields where herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops were planted. The volume of herbicides used by HT maize farmers has decreased by 203.2 million kg over the past 17 years. Similarly, significant reductions in pesticide loads were experienced by farmers planting insect resistant (IR) maize and cotton. This has not only helped stimulate the economies of developing countries but also has increased the food supply available to these countries. One study in India found that in total, the introduction of Bt cotton increased aggregate welfare by over $2 billion annually with significant amounts of this going to rural households below the poverty line. Similarly, the annual gains of Bt cotton in China are nearly $1 billion. (6) (8)
In the U.S, An estimate cost savings by farmers planting HT soybeans was $71.3 per hectare (~107,000 square feet) in 2012, almost three times higher compared to the early years of adoption. The annual total national farm income benefit from HT soybean has dramatically risen from $5 million in 1996, to nearly $6.07 billion in 2012. Glyphosate and glufosinate (chemicals found in “Roundup” or similar weed killers) resistant corn reduced the herbicide use in corn production by 18.5 million pounds (15.2 and 3.3 million pounds, respectively) in 2004. US farmers saved $139 million from the reduced pesticide use. The US is estimated to have enhanced farm income from these GE crops by $53.1 billion in the period 1996 to 2012. (6)
Second-generation GE crops enhance quality traits including engineering crops with higher nutrient content. “Golden Rice” for example, was fortified to address a major Vitamin A deficiency that many had in underdeveloped countries leading to blindness, higher rates of infectious diseases, and increased child mortality. Other biologically fortified crops include corn, banana, sorghum (a type of grass in Australia used for sugars and alcohols) and others. (6) (7) (8)
Many supporters of GMOs and GMO research believe this technology will finally produce enough food to end world hunger. However, farmers, environmentalists, health professionals, scientists, and consumers all over the world are furious about the raising number of GE foods that have been introduced into the food supply and are very skeptical about the proposed benefits of this technology. Since the first massive-scale commercial harvest of genetically altered crops occurred in the U.S in 1996, the percentage of GE foods grown in the U.S. has climbed to astoundingly high numbers. Currently, 92% of corn, 94% of soybeans and 94% of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products) (1) are GMOs grown right here in our own country. Additionally, much of the canola oil produced in Canada comes from a GE form of rape seed. It is estimated that 75% of all food products in grocery stores contain genetically altered plants or animals. Unless you buy expressly organic labeled things that state they are GMO free, you are eating GMOs, especially if you purchase foods containing corn, soybeans, or their derivatives (soy oil, soy flour, soy protein isolates, corn oil, corn starch, corn flour, and high fructose corn syrup). (1) (2)
Many farmers are very worried that soon it will be impossible to stop genetically engineered crops from “infecting” organic farms, as bees and the wind naturally carry the pollen from these invasive GE crops to nearby organic farms. More concerning is the fear that foods are genetically altered to be resistant to herbicides such as “Roundup Ready Soybeans” for example. This will result in heavier herbicide usage which could cause the mutation and development of plant life (“superweeds”) that are resistant to herbicides and will further pollute lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Cornell University conducted a study in 1999 which suggests that GE crops endanger wildlife, especially the Monarch butterfly (a species already “endangered”). These researchers found that almost half of those butterflies that ate milkweed leaves dusted with GE corn died in four days or (3). A similar study conducted a year later at Iowa State University showed that plants that surround GE corn farms are coated with enough corn pollen to kill monarch caterpillars (9)
GE foods effect humans as well as plants and animals; they foods are inherently unstable. Each injection of a new gene is random; GE food producers do not know where this genetic “cassette” is being inserted into the food nor enough about the genetic identities of foods to create a safe place for such injections. Consequently, each introduction of a gene into a food is similar to a game of safety “roulette,” very much like a guess and check method. The companies that are conducting these experiments merely hope that this insertion does not make the food unstable and unsafe to consume. They really do not run extensive tests on these foods. This genetic instability can cause formerly nontoxic elements in the food to become toxic because the way they exist in the food is being manipulated and changed. The FDA was aware of these risks to health before establishing their “no-testing” policy with respect to GMOs. They disregarded the studies their own scientists conducted that warned against the increased levels of known naturally occurring toxins and the creation of new undiscovered toxins, and decided to implement their “no-testing” policy.
In 1993 the FDA approved the usage of a growth hormone to be used on cows (rBGH). As they did this, the FDA assured the public that milk was safe, however, studies showed that the introduction of this growth hormone caused increased levels of a hormone called “insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).” (1) This study also showed that this increased IGF-1 in rBGH milk was not completely broken down during digestion and could make its way into the intestine and bloodstream. Several studies today show that IGF-1 is an important factor in the growth of colon, prostate, and breast cancer. (1) (4) (5)
The genetic alteration of foods creates two very serious and very potential allergic health risks. The first is that GE foods can transfer allergens and pollens from foods people know they have an allergy to, to foods that they believe are safe. A study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine clearly demonstrated that when a gene from a brazil nut (a tree nut) was inserted into soybeans, those with tree nut allergies had serious allergic reactions to the GMO. The second allergic issue that GE foods can cause is the creation of 1000s of differing and new allergic responses by changing the genetic makeup of foods and creating new proteins through the insertion of a foreign DNA.
It is clear that these GE foods need far more testing before they are permitted to be in the public. “The FDA issued a proposed rule that would require that developers submit a scientific and regulatory assessment of the bioengineered food 120 days before the bioengineered food is marketed. In the premarket notification proposal, FDA recommend that developers continue the practice of consulting with the agency before submitting the required premarket notice.” (FDA, Food from Genetically Engineered Plants) Researchers are doing absolutely no long term testing on these products. The two big questions that the FDA asks these scientists are: “Does food from the GE plant contain a new toxin or allergen?” and “Is food from the GE plant as nutritious as that from its traditionally bred counterpart?” (FDA, How FDA Regulates Food from Genetically Engineered Plants) It is clearly shown here that they are conducting little to no long term research on the effects of these GMOs. Companies merely have to meet requirements that evaluate only the GMO’s immediate effect.
“We have not fed a group of humans GMO foods for their whole lives, and another group non-GMO foods for their whole lives, with sufficient numbers to determine statistically whether the two groups are different in their health status or development of illness.” says Martha Grout, M.D., President-Elect of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.
“Nevertheless, I would urge caution, since we already appear to have initiated the biggest unfunded human experiment in history – The title of this experiment is: ‘What happens to animals and human beings when they eat crops genetically modified to contain herbicides/insecticides or to be resistant to herbicides/insecticides?’ And the answer is very much unknown,” she adds. (Scipioni) There should be at least a 5-10 year testing process to evaluate any possible adverse health effects. Scientists just do not know all of the effects of these GE foods and people could very easily be consuming foods that increase the level of hormones like the IGF-1 and cause various types of disease and cancer.
Now, as stated before, a large percentage of processed foods purchased today contain some genetically modified organisms (GMOs)/genetically engineered (GE) food products. Consequently tens of millions of Americans from adults to infants eat these GE foods unknowingly. Once again, 92% of corn, 94% of soybeans and 94% of cotton, are all GE crops grown here in America. Consumers have no idea what foods are genetically modified or even that this is occurring because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require these products to be labeled as GE products. The agency’s failure to mandate the labeling of these foods has created guinea pigs out of the millions of consumers that eat these foods, unknowingly testing the safety of all sorts of GMOs. (1)
Dr. Grout, who is also the Medical Director at Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine says it’s important that we educate people on what they are, and how they are produced. “Let the people make their own decisions. The tricky part comes in whom we educate, who does the education, and how the information is slanted or spun,” she says. (Scipioni)
There clearly needs to be mandatory food labeling. Consumers need to be made aware of what they are about to put into their bodies. They have the right to know what they are going to eat and should not be left to guess, let alone be unaware that they are being used as lab rats for tests. There should be a national law mandating the labeling of GMO products in all stores because GMOs are currently being added to consumers’ diets without their knowledge or consent. This is a violation of their rights and should be illegal.
1) (Center for Food Safety | Issues | GE Foods)
5) (GMO Risks)
6) (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications)
10) (FDA, Food from Genetically Engineered Plants)
11) (FDA, How FDA Regulates Food from Genetically Engineered Plants)
Arvanitoyannis, Artemis Dona & Ioannis S. “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods.” 2008. 28 March 2016. .
Berenbaum, M.R. Impact of BT Corn Pollen on Monarch Butterfly Populations: a Risk Assessment. Research Paper. Urbana: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001. 28 March 2016. .
Brookes, G. & P. Barfoot. Golbal Socio-Economic Impacts. UK: PG Economics Ltd, 2012.
Center for Food Safety | Issues | GE Foods. 15th April 2015. 28 March 2016. .
Friedlaunder, Blaine. “Toxic Pollen from GMO corn kills Monarchs.” Cornell Chronicle 19 April 1999. 28 March 2016. .
“GMO Risks.” 3 October 2014. GMO Awareness. 28 March 2016. .
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. August 2014. 28 March 2016. .
Meteljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. 23 April 2014. 18 March 2016. .
Qaim, Matin. Resources for the Future. 2 April 2010. 28 March 2016. .