Do genetically modified foods pose a health and environmental danger? How can we understand the impact of genetic engineering on human health and on the environment?
Proponents of genetic engineering believe that scientists can plug a desired trait into a plant’s DNA without influencing any other aspect of its life. This assumption does not conform to what has been observed in other areas of human innovation.
Some examples of unforeseen side effects from scientific and technological innovation are wildlife kills from DDT and pollution from automobiles. Unlike automobile pollutants, however, damage at the genetic level cannot be “cleaned up.” The persistence of unanticipated, undesirable changes to the DNA is the inevitable result of artificial manipulation of the genetic code.
GMOs Found in Tissues
On July 11, 2012, a 90-day animal feeding study with GMOs, conducted at the Norwegian Veterinary College and reported at a Norwegian research website, found that the man-made genes were absorbed across the intestinal wall and then transferred to the blood. Animals tested included rats, mice, fish, and pigs.
This study is part of a ten-year effort to determine the effects of consumption of genetically modified animal feed.
The GMO industry often claims that the new genes in genetically modified foods cannot do any harm because all genes are decomposed in the intestine during the process of digestion. However, researchers found GMOs in such large masses in blood, muscle, and liver that they can easily be recognized.
Scientists examined digestive organs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, adrenal glands, and genitals, and found consistent differences from the control groups fed normal food. Over the 90-day study period, the GMO-feed group was slightly larger, they ate more, their intestines had a different microstructure, and the immune system was changed. Blood samples of fish were also changed.
These findings replicate numerous other short- and medium-term GMO feed studies, which routinely detected abnormalities, even after a brief period. Abnormalities were found in liver, pancreas, kidney, and reproductive functioning that may result in altered blood, biochemical, and immune response levels. Extended studies are needed to determine if these changes create a toxic situation over the long term.
Similarly, last year doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found Bt toxin from genetically engineered corn in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women tested, 80 percent of umbilical blood in their babies, and 67 percent of non-pregnant women.
Bt toxin acts by rupturing the stomach of insects. At present, it is unknown whether Bt toxins can damage the intestinal walls of newborns and young children.
How GMOs Affect the Earth
GMOs pose potential dangers for the environment too, as the following examples illustrate.
Klebsiella planticola is a soil bacterium that was genetically engineered to produce alcohol from waste agricultural biomass. After testing by the bio-tech industry, it was pronounced safe.
Fortunately, a team of independent scientists, headed by world-renowned soil microbiologist Elaine Ingham, ran their own tests. Their experiments showed that the genetically engineered bacterium produced alcohol in soil at levels capable of killing nearby plants. Commercialization could have lead to wide-scale contamination of the soil, rendering it unsuitable for producing crops.
“It is clear, therefore, that current testing procedures required by U.S. regulatory agencies are completely inadequate in assessing the potential risks involved with genetically engineered organisms,” Dr. Ingham said. “Until such time as adequate testing procedures are instigated and carried out, engineered organisms should not be considered to have acceptable risks.”
Superweeds and Superbugs
Newspapers report that genetic modification has backfired on numerous farms. For example, plants engineered to withstand herbicide spray have resulted in ever more resistant weeds that survive the herbicide. On July 25, 2010, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: “Farmers in the South started noticing the problem before anyone else. When they sprayed their fields with Roundup weed killer, weeds kept growing anyway. In some areas, fields became so choked with weeds that farmers abandoned them.”
Likewise, corn engineered with built-in insecticide Bt toxin to kill rootworm has given rise to superbugs. In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 15, 2012, a story headlined “Pests damaging biotech corn, getting an early start” details how rootworm has become toxin-resistant, destroying crops early in the growing season.
Do You Think GMOs are Safe?
Genetic engineering of the human food supply is a highly controversial issue. To learn about both sides of the debate in an easy-to-read format, see GMO Myths and Truths, available free at Earth Open Source, earthopensource.org.
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