Should We Demand Labeling for Genetically Modified Food and Food Containing Genetically Modified Ingredients?
The evidence I’ve seen about the likely impact of genetically modified food on human health raises hairs on the back of my neck. While hardly any research measures the before and after state of humans eating genetically modified food, here’s a sampling of what I read – about animal research results and impact on the environment – of which the latter is less harrowing at first yet equally destructive and in my view deserving of equal attention and call to action.
A 2009 White Paper by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine reports that “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health and are without benefit” to humans. 1
Looking across multiple studies, research suggests that the unexpected health risks are those listed by the Center for Food Safety: toxicity, allergic reaction, antibiotic resistance, immuno-suppression, cancer and loss of nutrition.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine reported in 2009 that health risks associated with genetically modified food consumption included infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation cell signaling and protein formation, along with changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. They announce their conviction that there is a causal relationship between consumption of genetically modified food and disease. And there are multiple studies showing that the inserted gene produces allergic response.
Shall we be graphic? Reported in GMO Myths and Truths 2012, an evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops, “…rats fed Flavr Savr tomatoes developed stomach lesions, mice fed GM soy showed disturbed liver, pancreas and testes function and had abnormally formed cell nuclei and nucleoli in lever cells which indicates potentially altered patterns of gene expression – which means which genes are turned on or off including those that protect us from disease.
This report goes on to show that GM foods do not turn up safe and have not been proven safe for human consumption.
Nevertheless a numbr of foods on the shelves are genetically modified and unlabeled. Accordine to Diane Bocco writing for the Discovery Channel, the following foods in order of predominance that appear on store shelves are routinely genetically modified: corn, potatoes, sugar beets, tomatoes, soybeans, squash, oils, animal feed and salmon.
So there may be eel genes in GM salmon and human genes in GM rice. We find it particularly scary that genetically modified food is in animal feed, because apparently the genetic modifications pass on to the animal and then on to you.
Here’s how it works and why we find it scary. Scientists insert genetic material that produces traits considered favorable – presumably to commerce and crop yield. Consider Bt (Bt is a bacterium) corn, the genetically modified version of corn we used to eat. Scientists insert an insect-killing gene. Corn’s natural enemies die (though so do the Monarch butterflies). Then some bugs become immune and a new enemy proliferates and the farmer needs pesticides anyway to deal with superbugs immune to the new genetically provided pesticide in the corn’s DNA. The Center for Food Safety says that GE crops “…may be the greatest threat to sustainable agriculture on the planet.”
The Center for Food Safety also reports that “a significant percentage of processed foods purchased today contain some genetically engineered (GE) food products. As a result, each day tens of millions of infants, children and adults eat genetically engineered foods without their knowledge.” Apparently the FDA does not require safety testing before genetically modified foods go on the market. This despite a ten-year study following three generations of rats fed genetically modified Bt corn which found so many changes to normal tissue, organ weights, chemical abnormalities including creatinine, total protein and globulin levels that you have to read the study to realize just how subtle and pervasive the change to a body appears to be.
And what about the presumed benefits of genetically modified crops such as corn and soy as a way to feed hungry and starving populations? It doesn’t pan out. Failure to Yield reports that after more than twenty years of research and thirteen years of commercial investment, genetic modification of agricultural products has “done little to increase overall crop yields.”
If the changes to humans are anything akin to those among laboratory animals, it seems wise to consider provisionally – though personally I find the evidence compelling – that genetically modified food can affect the expression of genes and therefore most certainly the health and future of an unborn child. In Europe genetically modified food and food containing genetically modified ingredients must be labeled. The law is strictly enforced. Similarly anything labeled organic perforce does not contain anything genetically modified. Whether we can influence the United States government to follow suit is another matter entirely.