As GMOs are fast becoming available in commercial quantities around the world, critics have issued public cries condemning it as harmful and unsustainable. Scientific studies on the positive impacts of GMOs to humans and the environment are lacking.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) “is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing), gene modification or transgenic technology” . Proteins are fed into naturally occurring food products, thus making them genetically modified . Soybeans, corn, rapeseed and cotton are the most popular grown GMO crops. Most genetically modified (GM) crops are either “insect resistant” or “herbicide tolerant” due to the fact that the crops’ DNA has been altered to withstand foreign bodies.
There is a great divide in the conversation regarding GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). On the one side there is the claim that GMO foods and seeds are the miracle answer for delivering food to the world, especially in third world countries. On the other side there are the natural health specialists that question not only the efficacy but the unnatural method used to create these products.
While there are scientists on both sides, vehemently validating their positions, there also exists a suspicious trail that questions the development, testing and long term effects of GMO’s.
People who support GMO’s will stand firm in their argument that mankind has been manipulating plant and species development throughout the history of agriculture. While this is true, it must be recognised that the manipulation always included situations that could happen in nature. There has been a long history of animal domestication and even the slow process of realigning plant species to create a final outcome product that was larger and more nutritious. Each level of development was maintained within either the animal or plant species. This is important to note because hybrids do exist in the natural world.
The Controversy Behind GMO’s
To understand the critical situation of the GMO’s one needs to examine the more in-depth reasoning behind the development as well as who is involved and what scientific evidence has been used for validation. Disturbingly enough, the ‘top 6’ companies that have created GMO’s are also those that are responsible for the chemical pesticides used throughout the agricultural world: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto, and Syngenta. Some of these are the same companies that have developed the most toxic poisons such as Agent Orange (used during the Vietnam War) and the herbicide ‘RoundUp’, which has been labeled by the World Health Organisation as a potential carcinogen. This information adds an additional layer to the conversation, so that it transcends the ‘veiled’ idea that there is any effort being placed for the improvement of humanity, and instead results in the same old story of profit, under any circumstances.
To examine GMO’s, you have to return to the scientific research that was finalised during the development stages. The studies were not done by independent research laboratories and instead funded and supported by the biotech companies that were producing the GMO products. That, in itself, should have been an alert due to their monetary investment. However, it didn’t take long for some of their own scientists, who previously supported GMO’s, to dig deeper into the research to discover that all was not as it should be. A former GMO biotechnologist, Dr. Thierry Vrain, began reading the GMO reports that were coming in from European countries that were using GMO crops. He based his own research on over 500 scientific and government reports and articles that were published in peer-reviewed journals, many of which are considered to be recognised as the most respected in the world. He questioned the studies that were backed by the biotech companies and has stated,
“The Bt corn and soya plants that are now everywhere in our environment are registered as insecticides. But are these insecticidal plants regulated and have their proteins been tested for safety? Not by the federal departments in charge of food safety, not in Canada and not in the U.S.
There are no long-term feeding studies performed in these countries to demonstrate the claims that engineered corn and soya are safe. All we have are scientific studies out of Europe and Russia, showing that rats fed engineered food die prematurely. These studies show that proteins produced by engineered plants are different than what they should be. Inserting a gene in a genome using this technology can and does result in damaged proteins. The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins.”
Scientists themselves understand the basis for genetic manipulation. The base information indicates that when you insert genes from various species there is a great possibility for what they refer to as ‘rogue proteins’. Some of the protein variants are toxic or allergic, and an example of this is the ‘Cry protein’ (aka Bt toxin = Bacillus thuringiensis) that is now found in GMO corn and is considered by the biotech companies as a ‘safe food’. Additional studies that were outside of the biotech companies have found this same protein to be toxic for mammalian blood, deadly for mice (part of the food chain) and linked to a higher incidence of leukemia. A study done at the Sherbooke University Hospital in Quebec, Canada resulted in the findings that showed Bt-toxin from corn in the blood of both pregnant and non-pregnant women and were associated with increased levels of body inflammation, MS, allergies and cancer.
So with this kind of hidden and secretive information regarding GMO’s one wonders how the process could be supported by government agencies. For that you need to open the books on the methodologies involved in lobbying, financial support for politicians and the avenues recognised (as well as ignored) for the supply of scientific research for approval and validation. In essence, follow the money and you will see that the skewed scientific results were accepted as valid, with a theory that any positive results would outweigh the overall potential negative.
Given that the U.S. has the ability to offer third world countries and those that are suffering from starvation and hunger the option of having food production using GMO’s, many of the countries have been left without any choice in the situation. The fact that they are being forced to accept GMO’s has now been elevated around the world and other countries are coming to the defense and rejecting GMO’s in their entirety. It has taken some time for the secretive information to leak out as well as the longer-term studies to be revealed, but as of this writing, 38 countries have officially rejected GMO’s, and the number is growing.
So What Are The Effects Of GMO’s
Questioning the long-term effect of GMO’s on humans is a slippery slope. To date, there have only been studies done on animals over a forty year period and no studies on the GMO effects on humans. The final outcome of the GMO condition has created a situation for the biotech companies themselves. While the U.S. may continue to allow and support GMO’s, the biotech companies are experiencing a downslide in both financial stock status as well as some are being required to downsize their employee size due to reduced profits.
The early 1990’s marked the first production of GMOs in commercial quantities which were produced in the USA and Argentina . As of today, there is an increasing spread and use of GMOs globally. About 14 million farmers in the world now grow GM crops. In 1996 the land area for growing GM crops was 1.7 million hectares and this increased to 134 million hectares in 2009 . What is worrisome about GMOs is the fact that there seems to be no adequate scientific research and proof of the possible long-term effects of a diet of GMO plants on humans or animals. There is an absence of proven scientific research and analysis due to the GMO agribusiness companies like Monsanto, BASF, Pioneer, Syngenta and others prohibiting independent research .
Despite the absence of proven scientific studies on the effects of GMOs on humans, debates on GMOs throughout the globe are surging. The debates around GMO have taken two forms. First, GMO proponents are of the opinion that GMO plant, animal or microorganism is good for human consumption while antagonists believe otherwise. Today I am going to share with you both sides of the argument. I then urge you to delve deeper by doing some research so that you can come up with your own opinion on whether GMO’S are safe or not.
The views of the possible negative effects caused by GMOs to humans and the environment are commonly raised by GMO antagonists; however, it is imperative to note that proponents of GMOs have positive views of the effects of GMOs to humans and the environment.
Human Health Risks
At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development held at Johannesburg, a coalition of mostly European non-governmental organisations led by Friends of the Earth warned that “GMOs might cause allergies, chronic toxic effects and cancers” . The assertion by Friends of the Earth that GMOs could cause cancer has been reported in many other debates around GMO in the world. For example, in a controlled experiment lasting 90 days reported by Jeffrey Smith, an American Consumer Activist, rats were fed with GM corn. As a result, 80% and 50% of female and male rats respectively started growing tumours .
On the debate on the allergic effects of GM crops on humans, it is believed that GM crops such as GM corn is made up of a unique protein ingredient that does not break down easily in the human digestive system . It is believed that the ability of GM corn to withstand heat and gastric juices might cause an allergic reaction in humans.
Furthermore, GM crops are also associated with genetic hazards . Antibiotic resistance genes are used in genetic modification. These antibiotics in GM foods could be eaten by bacteria in the gut during digestion and this could cause infection, which would be very difficult for doctors to treat. Although it is believed that the probability of antibiotic genes been taken up by bacteria in the gut is very low . However, it is still a possibility.
Pollute The Planet
Apart from the effects on humans, GMOs also can interfere with the environment. Their interference with the environment can sometimes create problems. There are currently debates on the potential of the introduced genes created by genetic modification to outcross into other species to generate new weedy species . The Guardian in 2005 reported that “modified genes from crops in a GM crop trial have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant super-weed” . It is believed that Charlock can grow on lands used to grow GM rapeseeds. From an ecological point of view, the tendency of GM crops to produce new super-weeds is environmentally unsustainable. The treatment of weeds does require pesticides which could create other environmental issues. Pesticides can sometimes find their way into ground bodies through wash-offs and cause ground water pollution . Water pollution can harm and endanger marine life.
There is also the issue of GM crops interference with non target organisms and disrupting naturally occurring habitats . For example, transgenic fish used in commercial fish farming has modified genes to withstand cold and to ensure a faster growth rate . This fish has the ability to outcompete and threaten the survival of natural breeds. Again, there is the possibility of gene exchanges through pollen between the two different crops (from transgenic crops to non-transgenic crops). Although scientists do not fully come to terms with the possibility of gene exchanges between transgenic crops and wild related matters . However, this is still a possibility.
Futhermore, the rain forest is currently threatened by GMOs . Thousands of acres of rain forests are being ploughed on a daily basis and prepared for growing GM crops. This practice no doubts destroys biodiversity around the world.
Support Fragile Farming Economies + Support World Hunger
A positive effect of GMOs is that farmers benefit from insecticide savings . This is because GMOs are made to be pest resistant. The benefit from insecticide savings is huge when considered from an African perspective where 60% of the population are farmers . Africa’s economies are also fragile. This means that money that would have been spent on pesticides could be saved using GMOs.
Furthermore, crop yields in Africa are not very productive . Since GMOs are made to be resistant from pests, it therefore generates more crop yields . As a result, it is thought by proponents of GMOs that they can be used to address hunger . In the spring of 2002, Southern Africa was hit with a food crisis. 15 million Southern Africans were short of food items and GM foods were brought in from developed countries to address the issue. Considering this current era of climate change, drought and famine are believed to be visible impacts of climate change and expected to rise. Therefore, GMOs could play a vital role in providing food for a lot of people and tackling food crisis. GMOs are also considered to have the capacity to withstand environmental hazards such as drought as they can grow using lesser water compared to those of conventional crops .
Besides the fact that GMOs can be used to provide food for a large number of people, it also contributes to social welfares by creating employment . GM products such as Bt cotton creates higher cotton yields and generates employment opportunities for agricultural labourers. For example, In India, one hectare of Bt cotton generates an income of 246 US dollars higher than those of conventional cotton. The creation of employment opportunities stimulates rural communities. Rural communities with good employments could drive the development of critical infrastructures such as transport. Higher income gains among agricultural labourers could mean a better life for inhabitants of rural communities.
Help With Nutritional Deficiencies
Furthermore, there are positive health and safety concerns about GMOs . GM foods could be used to treat diet deficiency problems. For example, golden rice is genetically modified to produce beta-carotene in the grain. Golden rice could be used to treat vitamin A deficiency. About 140 million pre-school children and 7 million pregnant women have vitamin A deficiency in the globe. This deficiency can cause death. It is believed that up to 3 million children lose their lives yearly due to vitamin A deficiency. Golden rice could help improve diets lacking vitamin A within a rice-eating populace.
Having discussed the issues surrounding GMOs in a two-way style, it is obvious that there are pressing and unresolved issues surrounding GMOs. To compound matters further, GMO giants are yet to conduct scientific studies to cleanse off the negative perception of GMO and gain public trust. Analysts have also talked about using GM labels to label GM foods so that people would know what they are consuming. This attempt has been criticised by GM proponents. GM proponents argue that GM foods are safe and as conventional food items are not labelled, GM products should follow the same non labelling path.
So what are your thoughts? Should we boycott GMO’S?
Not sure if you should consume GMO foods or not? A few tips to help you avoid GMO foods
- Go through your pantry and read the ingredients on all your packaged and tinned food carefully. Identify products that are not transparent and choose to not buy them again.
- Commit to eating more fresh foods and fewer processed foods – as most GMOs are found in packaged and processed foods.
- Buy organic where possible, as GMOs are banned under the organic label
- Make your own biscuits, cakes, dips, sauces etc with ingredients you trust
- Question your meat producers – unless labelled organic, animals may have been raised on feed with GMOs
- Avoid canola or “vegetable oil” unless marked “GMO-free”
- Avoid corn products unless marked “GMO free”. This includes glucose, glucose syrup, fructose, maltodextrin and thickener/modified starches (1410, 1412).
- Buy organic soy products. Also avoid any products with soy lecithin (additive/emulsifier 322), soy oil, soy protein and vegetable protein.
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