Genetically Modified Organisms: Hope It Makes You Angry

studentvoices01By Ashley La’a
LCC-Wai’anae student
April 2013
Instructor Danny Wyatt
Leeward Community College-Wai’anae instructor – English 100

[Note from the instructor: “With GMOs in the news, and a big topic for Hawaii especially, I have my class writing a couple of essays and research papers on whether labeling GMO products should be required. The first essay is on ‘reasons for requiring labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.’ The final submissions are students’ research papers examining what research appears to show about GMOs and proposals for labeling foods with GMO ingredients.” -Danny Wyatt]

As the genetically modified organism (GMO) empire continues to grow, opponents are seeking victory to mandate labeling on all genetically modified (GM) ingredients.  Synthetic, toxic, and dangerous, are just a few ingredients that best describe genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  GMOs are animals, plants, and even bacteria that have been engineered to exhibit certain positive qualities and eliminate attributes that are undesirable.  GMOs are in foods all across America, and millions of people, unaware of this agricultural method, are unwillingly consuming genetically modified foods.  GM foods are proving to be toxic to humans.  Every independent study conducted on the impact of GM food shows that it is damaging to the human body and causes a variety of changes. Why are these foods made available? According to the 1992 FDA policy, which remains today, is the reason why GM foods are on the market.  The FDA states that no safety testing on genetically modified food is necessary. The agriculture and life sciences company monopolizing from this is Monsanto, a corporation with a bad history  as seen in their contribution to the Vietnam War.  Agent Orange a defoliant contaminated with dioxin produced by Monsanto was used in the Vietnam war; however, the hazardous chemical remains active today in veterans.  50 illnesses and diseases, and almost 20 separate birth defects are connected to Agent Orange.  This problem resulted in a lawsuit  in which Monsanto refused to acknowledge the risks and toxicity of their products were connecting to the plaintiffs’ health problems.  Today, Monsanto is the global supplier of genetic engineering seeds that scientist are reporting harmful.  From the very beginning, this form of genetic engineering has been the subject of heated debate.  People are concerned with the possible dangers GM food presents, as research shows problems, so all foods containing GMOs should be labeled.

Health issues are the highest concern people have regarding GM food.   This is because of the diseases and viruses that have been discovered through the use of GM food.  Also, the potential for new diseases and /or viruses through the use of GM food is increasing, and people are not aware of the risks.  Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil bacterium that produces its own toxin, kills insects.  Engineers take the gene that produces the naturally occurring toxin and inserts it into corn and cotton and allow the plants to do the killing  themselves .  Chief scientist, Dr Elain Ingham emphasizes that the toxin is designed to break open the stomach of insects and kill them (“Genetic Roulette”). Feeding studies on laboratory and farm animals show that GM foods can be toxic or allergenic.

Corn, for example, has been modified to create its own insecticide.  Insecticides are chemical substances created to kill insects.  In fact, the French study, the first longitudinal study, shows adverse health effects in rats fed Bt corn. Scientists at the University of Caen said,

…rats fed on a diet containing NK603, a seed variety made tolerant to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer died earlier than those on a standard diet; according to the data, rats on the GM diet developed mammary tumors, as well as severe liver and kidney damage (Common Dreams).

This may mean that the GM crop alone is toxic and will possibly damage people’s immune systems.  Perhaps, if people eat corn chips, they too may eventually suffer the same effects as the lab rats.

Research also shows soy, another popular GM crop created to resist herbicides, can affect humans making them infertile.  Soy products include soy flour, tofu, soy beverages, soybean oil and other products that may include pastries, baked products and edible oil.   In one case, “female rats fed GM soy showed changes in uterus and ovaries compared with controls fed organic non-GM soy or a non-soy diet” (Brasil & Soares et al). Scientists are finding that the same effects are possibly occurring in people.  For example, in 2001, a California Biotech company patented a gene called Epicyte, which causes each man and woman who eats it in the form of any product to produce antibodies to sperm (“Genetic Roulette”).

If men eat it, they produce antibodies to their own sperm rending them irreversibly sterile.  If women eat it, they produce antibodies during intercourse to the sperm that has been deposited, and they become infertile (“GMO: Ticking Time Bomb”).

If people continue to consume soy flour, tofu or any other soy products, they, too, may become infertile. In addition, babies consuming soy formula such as, Infamil or Similac, are likely to grow up with toxic chemicals living inside of their stomachs as these both employ soy ingredients.

Like corn and soy, cotton has been designed to resist pesticides. It is used as food because its oil can be consumed.  However, GM cotton is causing allergic reactions in animals and people, for some, even death. The amino structure of the Bt toxin has a section that is identical to a known allergen. It fails the allergy tests recommended by the World Health Organization (Gendel). An investigation report states,

After the Bt cotton is harvested, shepherds take their flocks into the areas to graze on the Bt plants.  Within five to seven days, one out of four sheep died.  It is estimated that 10,000 sheep died in one region in 2006.  The medical investigators also found black patches in the intestine, liver, and bile ducts.  The shepherds reported that there was nasal discharge, sense of dullness, depression, diarrhea and coughing amongst sheep.  Animals continue to die in subsequent years after grazing in Bt cotton fields.  Some regions also report allergic type itching reactions among livestock (Pradesh).

In addition, “In India, hundreds of laborers picking cotton and working in cotton ginning factories developed allergic reactions when handling the BT cotton.  This didn’t happen with the non-Bt varieties” (Gupta et. al).  Possibly, Bt cotton is causing more damage than allergic reactions which people are unaware of. Unfortunately, the longer people are uneducated about the harmful effects of Bt cotton, the less likely they will be to determine the possible health issues relating to these crops.

The studies found that the GM foods are more toxic or allergenic than their non-GM counterparts.  Sadly, people are  often unaware of the risks of GM food.  This poses a serious threat to the potential health of people, as they are nothing but lab rats waiting for their first abnormal twitch.  GM food are not dangerous only to people, but the environment too.

GM food has the potential to severely disrupt the environment. Various environmental problems associated with genetic engineering have been well documented, including biodiversity loss, an overall increase in pesticide use, and possible insect depletion, and the unintentional contamination of non-GMO and organic crops.  Because men are creating superior organisms and releasing them into the wild, natural selection is being tampered with.  It will no longer be natural selection; it will be changed to manmade selection.

The herbicides used with GM tolerant crops are harming biodiversity. The UK government conducted trials over a three year period to examine the impacts of managing GM herbicide tolerant crops such as, maize, sugar beet and canola, on farmland biodiversity.  The trial included one half of non GM plants and the other half, a GM herbicide tolerant variety.  The crops were sprayed with Monsanto’s glyphosate Roundup herbicide killing all the weeds but allowing the crops to survive.  However, weeds provide food and habitat for birds, insects, and other wildlife.  Scientist Avery reports,

Many farmland birds rely on seeds from weeds for their survival and the UK governments farm scale trials showed the GM beet and GM spring oilseed rape (canola) reduced seed numbers by up to 80 percent compared with conventional beet and oilseed rape (Avery).

This shows that the cultivation of GM herbicide resistant crops damages biodiversity, and reduces wildlife populations.   If this practice continues, wildlife may be destroyed.

The increase of insecticide-resistant crops are also threatening the environment.  These crops may wipe out beneficial insects, such as bees, that play an important role in pollination. Bees are responsible for about 80% of the fruit nut pollination so without bees, agriculture will severely suffer (“Genetic Roulette”). Some of the most valuable fruits, vegetables, nuts and field crops depend on insect pollinators, particularly honeybees. Leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that,

Canada wants all governments to accept the testing and commercialization of “Terminator” crop varieties. These seeds are genetically engineered to produce only infertile seeds, bees that are trying to collect pollen, found to have their digestive tract diseases, such as amoeba and nosema disease” ( Mellon and Rissler).

These diseases are mainly located in the digestive tract system. After autopsy studies, the most alarming trait is that the lower intestine and stinger have discolored to black vs. the normal opaque color, similar with colon cancer in humans. (UCUSA Organization)  This simple study shows that Bt toxin impacts bee learning behavior, interfering with bees ability to find nectar sources for food.

In addition, Bt insecticide-producing crops have been found to have toxic effects on non-target insect populations as well, such as the monarch butterflies.  Monarch butterflies are good for pollinating. In the spring of 2000, the U.S. media was abuzz with stories about a preliminary report in Nature indicating that pollen from Bt corn could kill the larvae of monarch butterflies.  The studies worried that if the pollen of Bt corn were indeed toxic to butterfly larvae under field conditions, the widespread planting of Bt corn will threaten an estimated 50% of the butterfly population ( Mellon and Rissler).

Furthermore, GM crops also increase the use of pesticides that in turn rely on expensive specialized farm equipment and machinery that require heavy use of fossil fuels, thus destroy biodiversity.    Pesticides damages soil ecology by depleting and reducing the diversity of soil nutrients.   In the words of Michael Pollan, author of the The Omnivore’s Dilemma,

“The faster, bigger, cheaper approach to food is slowly draining dry our plant’s resources and comprising human beings health.  The Earth’s soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced, and it’s already lost 75 percent of the world’s crop varieties over the last century” (Pollan). 

Furthermore, “in 2008 the Us, according to official government data, GM crop acres required over 26% more pounds of pesticides per acre than acres planted to conventional varieties” (Benbrook).

On the other hand, Roundup, the glyphosate-based herbicide used on most GM crops is supposed to break down quickly and harmlessly in the environment.  But research has shown this to be untrue, and therefore completely harmful to the environment. “In soil, glyphosate has a half-life (the length of time taken to lose half its biological activity) of between 3 and 215 days, depending on soil conditions.  In water, glyphosate half-life is 35-63 days” (Dodge & McNeil).  This means that even when before glyphosate is eventually broken down into the soil, it may still wash out into the drinking water.

Glyphosate also causes plant diseases.  “When you spray glyphosate on a plant, it’s like giving it AIDS” (Dodge & McNeil). Glyphosate makes the plant more susceptible to disease potentially leading to the plant’s death from the disease.  A study found that once glyphosate is applied to the plant, it accumulates in the plant tissues and then is released into soil through the roots.  There it stimulates the growth of certain fungi, notably Fusarium, a fungus that causes wilt disease and sudden death syndrome in soy plants.  Fusarium not only affects plants, but it can produce toxins that can enter the food chain and harm humans and livestock.  In pigs, Fusarium-contaminated feed impairs reproduction and increases stillbirths (Diaz-Delino& Smith).

Finally, GM crops are contaminating their non-GM counterparts. Contamination occurs through cross pollination through the spread of GM seed by farm machinery, and inadvertent miscuing during storage. Scientific studies confirm that GM contamination is unavoidable once GM crops are grown in a region (D‘Hertefeldt, Jorgensen et al).  For instance,

GM herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape, GM herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape (canola) seed can persist and remain viable in soil for years.  GM herbicide-resistant “volunteers” – plants that were not deliberately planted but are the result of germination of residual GM seeds from crops previously grown in the field-  were found growing ten years after the GM oilseed rape crop had been planted (D‘Hertefeldt, Jorgensen et al).

This shows that GM crops are not only harmful, but that they remain in the ground after the crops are deceased. If this process continues, there will no longer be natural soil, thus organic crops will become obsolete.

GM foods are ubiquitous, and they are hazardous to consumers.  People are unaware of the actual engineered ingredients in their food.  That alone is a dangerous science in itself. Once GM food is released, it can never be recalled since it contains living, breathing, unpredictable organisms.  Unfortunately, people are unknowingly consuming these products because the FDA and biotech corporations such as Monsanto feel there is no need to release this information.  Without disclosure, consumers of genetically engineered food unknowingly may violating their own dietary religious restrictions.

GMOs are currently available in 9 food crops: soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, sugar beets, papaya, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and alfalfa, but their dividends are found in over 70% of the food shelved in marketplaces (“Genetic Roulette”).  However, nowhere on the packaging will it contain information regarding GMOs.

Ingredients, calories and sodium are already listed on the nutritional facts sheet.  Evidently, the information provides some knowledge for consumers to make their own choice as to whether or not they would like to consume GMO ingredients in their food.  Not labeling foods containing GMOs shows that people’s rights are being abused.

Over 60 countries require labeling on all foods containing GMOs, some of which  restrict GM food from entering in their borders because the lack of research on the long term human health effects consuming these foods (Just Label It).  The FDA claims that GM food is equivalent to non-GM food, thus there is no need for labeling. However, in 1998 a lawsuit proved otherwise, the FDA claimed that there was an overwhelming consensus in their community that GMOs are safe, but their own scientific reports proved otherwise, yet they ignored them (“Genetic Roulette”). For this reason, people have the right to know what is being put into their foods.

Unlike the strict safety evaluations required for the approval of new drugs, the safety of genetically engineered foods for human consumption is not  not nearly as strict. The FDA and biotech  business’es,such as Monsanto, most common argument concerning GM food is that they are completely safe to eat and contain no harmful effects.  However, peer reviewed studies have countered that argument showing that there are harmful effects from GM food.  In fact, the American Academy of Environmental Science cites animal studies indicating infertility, immune deregulations, and changes in the liver and gastrointestinal system.  Laboratory and livestock animals fed GMOs were affected in one or more of these areas.

One source of adverse health effects from GM foods, are the GM gene products, for example, the Bt toxin in GM insecticidal crops – may be toxic or allergenic.  In fact, farmers in South Africa where corn is the staple were also affected by consuming Bt corn.  Not only were the farmers growing Bt corn but consuming it three times a day.  Eventually health issues, such as upper respiratory colds, running noses, ache feeling similar to the flu, and severe headaches, started occurring.  Some farmers, in their mid-twenties, were cross-eyed while talking with each other.    Normally, within 24-48 hours that person would be dead. As soon as the farmer switched to non-GM corn all health, issues vanished (“Genetic Roulette”).

Bt toxins are also affecting people’s gastrointestinal tract.  In the May 2, 2010 Science Daily article it states, “Gastrointestinal Problems Common in Children With Autism” parents of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) sometimes report that their children suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, such as diarrhea and constipation. Date from 1,185 children showed that 45 percent had GI symptoms. However, studies on how prevalent these symptoms are have had conflicting results.  Curt Linderman, Sr. Radio Show Host and owner of Box Organics, agrees that after learning of GMO at an autism conference, he immediately changed his autistic son’s diet.  Immediately, his son’s gut issues, bloating, and horrible bowel movements, subsided substantially (“Genetic Roulette”).

Contrary to frequent claims that there is no evidence of dangers to health from GM foods and crops, peer reviewed studies have found harmful effects on the health of laboratory and livestock animals fed GMOs.  Harmful health effects are also being found in the GI tract and linking to autism children.  Cases like those are not the only contributing factor for people wanting all GE food labeled; the list goes on.

Secondly, GM proponents claim that genetic engineering is just an extension of natural plant breeding.  They say that GM crops are no different from naturally bred crops, apart from the inserted foreign GM gene (transgene) and its protein products. On the contrary, independent scientists are finding this claim misleading.  GM crops are completely different from natural breeding and pose different risks.

For instance, Bt crops are harmful whereas non-Bt crops pose no harm. Aqua Ecologist of University of Georgia, Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall and her team published research showing that,

Bt maize material got into streams in the American Midwest and that when fed to non-target insects, it had harmful effects.  The larvae that fed on the Bt Maize debris grew half as fast as those that ate debris from non-GM maize.  Caddis flies fed high concentrations of Bt maize pollen died at more than twice the rate of caddis flies fed non-Bt pollen (Rosi-Marshall).

In addition, a German farmer says that a variety of Bt corn caused 12 of his cows to die, and others to fall sick (Green Peace Report).  Obviously, Bt is a detrimental insecticide as it shows in these two studies.

To emphasize, the Institute of Science in Society points out that Bt toxin kills human kidney cells.  A February 2012 study show that Bt toxin does break open little pores in human cells and it might cause the same kind of disruption in people’s guts as it is causing in the insects that it kills (Green Peace Report).

Given these examples, genetic engineering proves to be completely different form natural breeding and entails different risks.  Anti-GM advocates feel it is unnecessary to take risks with GM when conventional breeding has proven to be safe for so many years.  Apparently, opponents feel that GE is the magic for feeding the world.

GM supporters’ claim that GM crops are needed to feed the world’s growing population; however, GM crops are misleading to feeding the world. Currently, the only available GM crops are engineered for herbicide tolerance or to contain a pesticide, or both. The two major GM crops, soy and maize, mostly go into animal feed, bio-fuels to power cars, and processed human food-products that have nothing to do with meeting the basic food needs of the poor and hungry.

The root cause of hunger is not a lack of food, but a lack of access to food, thus GM corporations are only interested in profitable markets, not feeding the poor. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, “we already produce more than enough food to feed the world’s population and could produce enough with existing agricultural methods to feed 12 billion people“ (Ziegler). Conventional breeding has succeeded where GM has failed in developing crops with useful traits such as tolerance to extreme conditions and poor soils, disease resistance, and enhanced nutritional value. Saying that GM crops will save the world has only done the exact opposite proving that it is inconsistent, thus labeling is needed so that people will learn to purchase non-GM food, and, as a result diminish the GM empire and increase natural food.

The benefits of GM crops, such as GE is no different, GM crops are safe for human and animal health and the environment, and GM crops are the key to saving the world are heavily exaggerated by the industry and its supporters.   Worse still, based on the findings presented earlier, these exaggerations are misleading.  The very process of genetic engineering causes harmful health effects and is a significantly different process.  The claim to solving world hunger is absolutely hideous when the problem is not the availability of food but rather the costs of food, and, hence, the distribution.  GM crops have not delivered on their promise; based on current evidence, it seems unlikely that they will provide sustainable solutions to the problems than face humanity, such as hunger. It is no wonder why people are fighting to mandate labeling on GM foods. President Norman Braksick of Asgrow Seed Co. comments, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.”  He is right!

Works Cited

Brasil, FB, LL Soares, TS Faria, GT Boaventura, FJ Sampaio, CF Ramos. “The Impact of Dietary Organic and Transgenic Soy on the Reproductive System of Female Adult Rats“. Anat Rec (Hoboken). Apr 2009; 292 (4): 587-594

Null, Gary, dir. “GMO Ticking Time Bomb”. Film. 17 Apr 2013.

Gendel, “The Use of amino acid sequence alignments to assess potential allergen city of proteins used in genetically modified foods, “Advances in Food and Nutrition Research 42 (1998), 45-62

Ashish Gupta et  al., “Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers Health (in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh), “Investigation Report, Oct-Dec 2005

“Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields – Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh” Report of the Preliminary Assessment, April 2006, gmwatch.org

D’Hertefeldt T, Jorgensen RB, Pettersson LB. “Long-term persistence of GM oilseed rape in the seed bank“. Biology Letters. 23 June  2008; 4: 314-317

Mellon M, and J Rissler, Union of Concerned Scientist “Environmental Effects of Genetically Modified Food Crops — Recent Experiences. Union of Concerned Scientist. UCUSA Organization. Web. 06 May 2013

Benbrook CM. “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the United States: The first thirteen years“.  The Organic Center. November 2009. Organic Center Organization.

Kirby A. “GM Scientists “know too little” on wildlife“.  BBC News. 21 July 2003

Smith, Jeffery, dir. Genetic Roulette. Institute of Responsible Technology, Film. 17 Apr 2013.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “Pesticide residues in food – 2005. Report of the Joint Meeting of the FAO Panel of Experts on Pesticide Residues in Food an the Environment and the WHO Core Assessment Group on Pesticide Residues“. Geneva, Switzerland. 20-29 September 2005; FAO Plant Production and Protection

Dodge J & McNeil M, Expert: GMOs to blame for problems in plants, animas.  Boulder Weekly. 11 August 2011

Diaz-Llano G, Smith TK. “Effects of feeding grains naturally contaminated with Fusarium mycotoxins  with and without a polymeric glucomannan mycotoxin adsorbent on reproductive performance and serum chemistry of pregnant gilts“.  J Anim Sci. Sep 2006; 84 (9): 2361-2366

“Rosi-Marshall, EJ; JL Tank, TV Royer, MR Whiles, M Evans-White, C Chambers, NA Griffiths, J Pokelsek, ML Stephen. “Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems,Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,104,41,16204,2007. National Academy of Sciences

 

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