Genetically Modified Food Safety: Myth or Fact?
Adapted from Dr. David Schubert, PhD, article: The Illusion of Genetically Modified Food Safety
Myth: GM food plants are thoroughly tested by the FDA.
Fact: FDA requires no safety testing. The FDA created the illusion, when GM legislation was first drafted, that GM foods passed rigorous safety testing protocols similar to those required for medicines and cosmetics. However, the health risks of all GM plants remain unknown.
Myth: “There is no evidence of harm after Americans have been eating GM-based foods for 15 years; therefore, the product is safe.”
Fact: If GM-based food causes disease, it cannot be detected because of the technical limitations of identifying an increase of disease occurrence and/or severity within the background of the disease in the population. This is compounded by the lack of GM food labeling. Childhood autism has recently increased at a rate that cannot be explained. GM foods or the toxic herbicides associated with their production have not been ruled out as a contributing factor.
Myth: GM food plants require fewer pesticides and herbicides, and increase food yields.
Fact: The initial introduction of Bt corn and cotton and herbicide-resistant soy was a boon to large factory farms because these crops reduced labor requirements. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a spore-forming bacterium that produces protein crystals that are toxic to many species of insects. Bt corn has been genetically modified to contain Bt protein. However, there has been no increase in yields and no net savings to farmers or consumers because the proprietary seeds and necessary chemicals are more expensive. Meanwhile, insects have become resistant to the Bt toxin and weeds have become resistant to the common herbicide. The result is a massive increase in the amount of herbicide and insecticide use relative to pre-GM cropping and a proportional increase in exposure of herbicides and pesticides to consumers. A recent study in France has shown that the common herbicide causes cancer in rats.
Myth: Bt toxins and herbicides used on GM food crops degrade before the consumer eats them.
Fact: Bt toxins and much of the herbicides are retained by plants and are therefore eaten by consumers. Bt toxins can attack the cells lining the gut, and herbicides can kill intestinal bacteria. Both are intimately involved in our immune systems and therefore in our overall health.
Myth: Bt toxins and herbicides have no environmental repercussions.
Fact: Bt toxins and herbicides degrade soil as they kill beneficial organisms. They also contaminate water resources used by wildlife and for human consumption.
Myth: Biotech companies will address the resistance problem in a manner that benefits the consumer, farmlands and the environment.
Fact: In an attempt to overcome the resistance problem, biotechnology companies have recently introduced plants that produce much greater amounts of Bt toxins as well as plants that are resistant to more toxic herbicides than those in current use. This is a futile battle with nature in which the only winner is biotech. The ultimate losers are the consumer, our farmlands and the environment.
Myth: The next generation of GM foods, the so-called nutritionally enhanced plants (NEPs), has been tested for safety prior to their introduction into the food supply.
Fact: NEPs are a new way for biotech companies to promote their technology. To do this, they are using genetic engineering to increase the amounts and kinds of compounds that are widely recognized as having nutritional value. Among the first of this group are 1) rice having elevated amounts of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, and 2) soy producing more omega-3 fatty acids. From a medical point of view, these types of GM plants present an even greater health risk than those currently on the market because they are specifically designed to create a product that is biologically active in humans. Because of the manner in which genes are inserted into plants, it is certain that molecules besides the desired products are going to be also made. In the case of enhanced beta-carotene production, potential side effects are various retinoids, which can be exceptionally toxic and are known to cause birth defects. Minute amounts of specific retinoids are required for normal brain development: too little or too much can be lethal. We also know that aberrant fatty acid composition of the brain is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and that fatty acid composition of the brain is dictated by diet because dietary fatty acids are directly incorporated into brain lipids. Any ingestion of non-natural fatty acids has the potential to seriously damage the brain. Since there is no mandatory safety testing of any of these products, consumers have no way of knowing the health risk of any NEP.
In summary, the current crops of Bt corn and herbicide-resistant soy degrade the environment, and our exposure to toxic herbicides and insecticides has been greatly increased while providing no benefit. Indeed, these crops have led to increased levels of Bt-toxin-resistant insects and herbicide-resistant weeds, are currently failing in farms throughout the world, and are leading to the introduction of a second cycle of even more toxic plants and chemicals.
Further, nutritionally enhanced plant products are entering our food supply with no safety testing despite their great potential for harm. There is no way to determine if any of these plant products are safe to eat after they are introduced in to the marketplace as any disease caused by them may take decades to manifest. Therefore, there should be far greater will in the U.S. to demand an end to this massive genetic engineering experiment until the government has the wisdom to require that the product be tested for safety before it is introduced into the food supply.