The Crestone Eagle, February 2005:
That tomato may not be all-tomato: The hazards of genetically engineered foods and crops
by Linda Spade
Last month we learned that although Blue Sun’s biodiesel plant in Alamosa is a welcome addition to the Valley, thus reducing the dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels and precluding reasons to invade foreign countries without provocation, Blue Sun may be contracting with farmers in the San Luis Valley to grow genetically engineered (GE) canola to provide 20% of the biodiesel formula. Why should we care whether San Luis Valley farmers are planting genetically engineered canola, or any genetically engineered crop for that matter?
On January 20, stockholders challenged Monsanto, the world’s largest agribusiness conglomerate, on the safety of genetically engineered food. “Recent reports by the National Academy of Science, Environmental Protection Agency, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Center for Food Safety, among others, raise warnings about extensive crop contamination, increased pest resistance, increased herbicide use and impacts on non-target populations. Furthermore, the reports identify serious gaps in testing methodologies, the regulatory approval process, and a lack of oversight once products are commercialized.”
Currently, up to 40% of U.S. corn is genetically engineered, as is 80% of soybeans. It has been estimated that upwards of 60% of processed foods on supermarket shelves—from soda to soup, crackers to condiments—contain genetically engineered ingredients.
A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.
FDA scientists have repeatedly recommended that GE foods be tested, but the FDA officials, many of whom are former employees of agri-business giants like Monsanto, have chosen to ignore the recommendations of their own scientists.
Here are some of the possible human health risks:
• Toxicity. Genetically engineered food is unstable, the companies guessing where the introduced genes, antibiotic markers and viruses are being inserted and hoping that the combination isn’t toxic with formerly non toxic elements of the food. Pesticides and heavy metals can bio accumulate from the environment. Early tests on one of the first GE tomatoes showed stomach lesions in laboratory rats, and the tomato was removed from the market. Earlier the FDA concluded GE was a possible cause of 37 deaths and 1,500 disabling illnesses caused by consumption of the dietary supplement L-tryptophan, manufactured by a Japanese company in the late 1980s. It contained a toxic contaminant by-product which caused the deaths and illnesses.
• Allergic reactions. In the U.S. a quarter of the population has some allergic reaction to food. When a gene from a Brazil nut was engineered into soybeans, people had an allergic reaction to the nuts when consuming the soy product, unbeknownst to them due to no law mandating the labeling of genetically engineered food. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “people with known food allergies have no way of avoiding hidden allergenic material.”
Furthermore, genetically engineered foods contain altered genes, bacteria, viruses, promoters, marker systems and vectors which have never been part of the human diet and could be creating thousands of different and new allergic responses. These responses can include sudden death, and affect children the most (see partial list of genetically engineered foods, including baby formula).
• Antibiotic resistance. All GE foods contain antibiotic resistance markers to help producers identify whether the introduced genetic material has been actually transferred to the host food. Medical professionals world-wide are extremely alarmed at the increased resistance to antibiotics due to the massive infusion of antibiotic genes into the human diet through GE foods. A genetically engineered maize (corn) plant from Novartis includes an ampicillin-resistant gene. European countries have refused to permit Novartis B.t. (Bacillus thurengensis) corn to be grown.
• Immuno-suppression. A study reported in The Lancet found that rats consuming GE potatoes with B.t. showed detrimental effects on organ development, body metabolism and immune function. Twenty-two leading scientists confirmed the test results linking GE food to immuno-suppression. What does that look like in terms of immuno-suppression illnesses—Fibromyalgia, Hashimoto disease, chronic fatigue and HIV, to mention a few?
• Cancer. In 1993 the FDA approved bovine growth hormone in dairy cows to produce more milk. Both Canada and Europe have rejected the drug as recent research shows conclusively that the levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) are increased in dairy products produced by cows treated with bovine growth hormone. This IGF-1 can survive digestion in consumers and make its way into the intestines and blood stream. Studies now demonstrate that IGF-1 is a factor in the growth of breast, prostate and colon cancer.
• Loss of nutrition. In 1992 FDA scientists warned the agency that GE foods could result in alteration in the nutrient levels of food. The agency ignored their scientists and never subjected the foods to mandatory government testing of any sort.
So, let’s see, where does that leave us? Can’t consume cheese, milk, soy milk, tamales, half and half, yogurt, infant formula, tofu, Ritz crackers, butter, canola oil or margarine, cornbread, tacos, granola, corn flakes (for heaven’s sake), potatoes, beer or soy burgers. Then of course there’s mad cow disease, so no hamburgers either. Forget French fries. No milkshakes. No cheeseburgers.
Having a predilection for Ritz crackers, I ran to the pantry. Oh, brother. Soybean oil, soy lecithin and high fructose corn syrup. It’s a 60 percent chance that these ingredients came from genetically engineered crops.
There’s a long list of genetically engineered food brands at the site for Center for Food Safety in their Food Safety Review Spring 2000 Volume 1. (www.centerforfoodsafety.org) Such brands as Morningstar, Boca Burger, Gardenburger that you may have thought safe, are potentially not. The Organic Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org) have a list of all the genetically engineered crops foods allowed on the market thanks to the FDA not doing their job.
Going shopping is like playing Russian roulette, since none of the GE food is labeled, again thanks to the FDA being bought out by agri-biz. And what happens if you do get sick and suspect it could be from eating genetically engineered food? Nothing. The Center for Disease Control can’t track reports of illnesses from consumption of GE food because the FDA hasn’t mandated labeling.
If you’re a gardener or a farmer and have always saved your seed, you might well have to give that up now, too. Monsanto has successfully sued farmers and “settled” with hundreds of others, even though those farmers had no desire to grow GE crops. Farmers who have done natural selection of their own seed for generations can legally be deprived of their seed just because some wind may have blown pollen from the genetically engineered field two miles away and contaminated their crop. Since a GE version of their crop is now growing in local fields and ditches, it will continue to cross-pollinate their crops. If they want to continue growing that crop, because of patent laws, they will forevermore have to purchase seed on an annual basis as well as pay a patent fee to Monsanto or any other GE agribiz corporation for “using” their patented seed. They’ve now effectively become serfs of the corporation.
Furthermore, the genetic precursor to corn, teosinte, in southern Mexico has been contaminated with GE corn, despite a restriction by Mexico on growing GE corn. University of California professor, Chapela, was fired for pointing this out because UC got a big juicy grant from agribiz to suppress this information.
Increased Pesticide Use
More and more pesticides will have to be applied (and purchased) every year as the detrimental insects become more and more resistant to that which is already being applied. And of course these pesticides are carcinogenic, so you’ll see more and more cancer, an industry unto itself. Why do so many children suffer from deficit disorder?
Crops with Bacillus thurengensis are killing Monarch butterflies and other beneficial insects.
So what can you do about this? Go to the Organic Consumers website and sign the petition to have the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental “Protection” Agency do their job. Support organic farming. Join their Millions Against Monsanto. Come to one of the Citizens for GE-Free SLV meetings. Tell your friends. Show the video “The Future of Food” (available at the Baca Grande library and Co-Ev Coop). Join a Community Supported Agriculture garden. Lobby for the labeling of GE food ingredients. As the Bioneers say, “It’s all alive. It’s all connected.” And you’re a part of it.
(Contact the Bioneers at www.bioneers.org.)