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What are the concerns about GMO foods—Part 3

August 10, 2012

Any time there is an advancement of science, there are protests. You probably know some people who still do not have cell phones. Some people do not bother with email and certainly there are a lot of people who are NOT on Facebook. For those of us who carry a cell phone and enjoy the Internet, it seems difficult to imagine why those people can’t just join in the fun.

So when the scientists, corporations and government agencies got excited at the potential of what genetic engineering can do for addressing problems in food production, they appear to have skipped a few steps in the rush to get initiate this process.

We entrust our government to use the protective steps they have in place to test and verify safety of new drugs before they are available to us. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a rigorous clinical trial system and yet there have been drugs that have been rushed though the process because of demand by some interest group, only to find there are hazards that are too high and those drugs are removed.

It appears that we are in a similar situation with GMO foods which have been produced since the mid 1990s. If you are older than 20 years old, that means some of the foods you purchase now in the same packaging you did before 1994 is not the same as the food you ate before then.  One major aspect of concern is that we have not known. No one told us. So let’s see what the basis of the concerns are:

Environmental hazards

  • Unintended harm to other organisms:   Some of the genetic modifications have been done to kill an insect that has been known to destroy a crop. What if there are other insects that also eat on that crop but are not major pests? Will they also be killed?
  • Reduced effectiveness of pesticides: Just as some populations of mosquitoes developed resistance to the now-banned pesticide DDT, many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to B.t. or other crops that have been genetically-modified to produce their own pesticides.
  • Gene transfer to non-target species: Another concern is that crop plants engineered for herbicide tolerance and weeds will cross-breed, resulting in the transfer of the herbicide resistance genes from the crops into the weeds. These “superweeds” would then be herbicide tolerant as well.
  • Seeds released from GM crops can become airborne and cross fertilize with non-GM crops nearby.  Makers of the GM seed have taken nearby farmers to court, suing them for “stealing” seed, so this is a concern to them financially, but this unintentional cross-pollination raises concern about the integrity of other strains of crops.

Human health risks

  • Allergenicity:  Many children in the US and Europe have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new  allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals.  Labeling of GM foods and food products will acquire new importance, which I shall discuss in Part 4.
  • Unknown effects on human health There is a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an unexpected and negative impact on human health. Rats and other rodents which have been fed Bt corn in studies have gained weight (concerns about obesity); had fewer, smaller and sicker babies over the long term; by the third generation hamsters seemed not to be able to reproduce; and stomach linings had excessive growth which raised concern for cancer. In addition, there have been  a dramatic and documented increase in the diagnosis of autism since GMO foods have been introduced in the  mid 1990s. Finally, other disorders which have been on the rise since the introduction of GM food include a huge increase and severity in allergic reactions to food substances, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and debilitating syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. These increase in these illnesses may be, as some suggest, only an improvement of testing procedures and diagnosis and merely a coincidence with the introduction of genetically modified foods into our eating habits.

Economic concerns

  • For thousands of years, farmers have saved seed from the crops they have harvested to plant the next season. Because of the desire of the agri-biotech companies understandably to make a profit from their expensive research and development process they have patented the seed. This means that any saved seed by individual farmers is an infringement of the patent.
  • Consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high that small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for GM crops, thus widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor.  It is ironic that the poor and hungry in these third world countries were one of the reasons the GMO foods were developed, and now, with the cost of the seeds, many farmers can not afford to plant.  It is hoped that in a humanitarian gesture, more companies and non-profits will follow the lead of the Rockefeller Foundation and offer their products at reduced cost to impoverished nations. In other words, charity will be needed.
  • Patent enforcement may also be difficult, as the contention of the farmers that they involuntarily grew Monsanto-engineered strains when their crops were cross-pollinated shows. One way to combat possible patent infringement is to introduce a “suicide gene” into GM plants. These plants would be viable for only one growing season and would produce sterile seeds that do not germinate. Farmers would need to buy a fresh supply of seeds each year. However, this would be financially disastrous for farmers in third world countries who cannot afford to buy seed each year and traditionally set aside a portion of their harvest to plant in the next growing season.

These concerns are being raised and fought actively by environmental and consumer groups. When I started to learn about this a few weeks ago it made me wonder why the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)did not use the kind of testing program that is in place by the FDA (Food and Drug Adminsitration) for pharmaceuticals. It appears that the public interest is not being considered.

Tomorrow I will present how these GMO strains are in our food. Stay tuned.

~~~~~~~~~~

I have had comments on the prior 2 blog posts about GMOs by about six people, and wonder if because these essays are a bit long and without photos and are not being read by more people. I have gotten pretty concerned about the effect of GMOs on our public health, which is why I have attempted to use this blog as a way to educate people about the issue. If you have read this, please leave a comment to let me know how effective it is reaching out. Thanks.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. kennyrice permalink
    August 10, 2012 2:10 pm

    I have been expecting you to get to this issue. Thank you for tackling it head on. The public must be told the truth about this and I have found a documentary that will do just that. The link is below.

    I don’t buy the story about helping 3rd world nations in poverty. This is about gaining control over the Ag industry. Complete control is the goal.

    Everyone concerned about food MUST see the documentary about Monsanto. Below is a short video about the nation of India alleging criminal actions by Monsanto. Next is a French documentary, in English, called The World According to Monsanto.

    STUNNING information in that report. I do know I’ll never buy RoundUp again nor eat any GMO food if I can help it.

    Face it. Monsanto planted its own agents inside the FDA, similar to what has been done to our Treasury Department and Wall Street, in order to escape the scrutiny of the public and even its own scientists! Please find time to watch The World According to Monsanto soon. You will see crucial interviews with people directly involved deep inside this entire GMO issue: scientists, regulators, activists, journalists, authors.

    India vs Monsanto – seeds of discord – YouTube

    The World According to Monsanto – GMO Documentary – YouTube

    Stalin said to control the food is to control the people. Henry Kissinger agreed.

    • August 10, 2012 8:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing the links to the videos. We Americans take great pride that we are the “best” country int eh world, but we are slow on the uptake on many issues in comparison to other nations.

  2. August 10, 2012 2:53 pm

    I’ve definitely been reading and digesting your GMO posts. They’re long, but they need to be. That’s not what’s stopping me from commenting…more a case of there’s so much to think through on this topic. I sure hope you keep going with the series. I have defintely known some of this for ages, but it’s been good to see it presented so cohesively.

    My husband and I are not in total agreement about GMO’s. He pulls out a lot of the “pro” or “good” stuff about them that you mentioned yesterday, and I always feel that my rebuttal is not convincing enough – which usually includes the “we don’t know what effect they have on humans yet” line of thinking as well as the idea that’s it’s just not ethical to patent seeds -the very foundation of life. By patenting seeds, someone is claiming ownership to everything about them, and it seems to me that that’s a dangerous mindset.

    He gets all that, but his view is that genetic modification can be a real boon to medical science, that if one of our children needed a new organ of some sort, and the only one available was one from a GM pig, would I go for it? Good question…probably. He doesn’t see GMO corn as a big step away from regular hybridization techniques, and says we may be fussing unnecessarily. I can’t deny that I see some benefit with hybridization, so I always feel like my feet have been cut out from under me in the discussion.

    I don’t have a cell phone – it doesn’t make me a Luddite. I have good reasons. I have a regular phone with a message machine. I have email and and a blog and I go on Facebook. (I have a grand total of 20 friends, almost all of them relatives that live more than 1000 miles from me). I don’t need a cell phone – there is nothing so urgent in my life that it can’t wait till I can be reached at work, or at home. That said, my husband needs his for work – we would never see him in daylight hours were it not for that cursed little device – but I resent that our culture has allowed itself to insist that people should be available to each other instantly. So I think cell phones are useful to some people, but not all.

    My bottom line with both GMO’s and technology is – just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do it. There are ethical, moral, and future ramifications we should think through. But business thinks of only one thing, the bottom line. It’s always about money and power, and those who have it always want more.

    • August 10, 2012 8:10 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. My husband is a chemist and is not concerned about GMOs either, although he is more than happy to be eating the local foods since they taste so good. My point about the cell phones, Facebook, etc was that there is ALWAYS going to be two sides—some people will hop on to a new thing and others see no reason to make a change to include it. Perhaps I needed to state that more clearly. Many of the comments I got yesterday when I was indicated the advantages for GMO were concerns I had not been fully informed. I try to present all info in this blog as evenly as possible…pros and cons and hope people who have not researched something already will have a chance to think about ti and make a decision. I know not everyone will understand the concerns enough to change their diets tho.

      • August 10, 2012 8:32 pm

        That’s exactly why I said what I did about FB and cell phones – i did my research and thinking about them way back when and decided that cell phones cons outweighed their pros for me. In the same way, I’ve made decisions based on research like yours that are different from the ones my husband, and yours, have made, based on the same info.

        Keep posting. I know I’m one of your “far away” readers, but I’m sure your local readership will improve as your market becomes more established. This GMO series has been great writing, objective and clear.

      • August 10, 2012 9:31 pm

        thanks…just finished the last part which will go out in the morning….a bit long again but I have trimmed it the best I can to still be succinct and inclusive

  3. August 10, 2012 4:35 pm

    I think many people do just click the “Like” button to help the numbers (I sometimes see “Likes” on my short story post literally within moments after posting one. )
    While the subject is intriguing, I sometimes wonder if folks just toss their hands up in the air and say, “OK, I should be aware of GMO’s but why worry about it… there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.”
    Keep posting my friend, not everyone who reads a post reply’s by comment or “Like” clicks. 🙂

    • August 10, 2012 8:06 pm

      I started this blog in the hopes of reaching the local consumers but it seems my best participants are you and some others who live in other areas. I was just hooping to awaken a few more people here. 🙂

      • August 10, 2012 8:14 pm

        Give it time, not many rural folks seem to be wordpress fans yet. I notice most all the ones that I follow and that follow me are city folk. Most rural folk got too much work to do than sit hours on end on their computers…unless it’s a dating site! LOL
        Maybe advertize the blog at the markets?

      • August 10, 2012 8:17 pm

        I’ve ordered some business card size cards that have all the web addys for the market, including the blog. All shoppers will get one in their bag when they check out. Until then, I printed up a bunch of papers with the info. Many people tell me they get it but don’t always read it. That’s one reason I like to include a lot of photos. *G*

      • August 10, 2012 8:21 pm

        That’s a great thought, folks like pictures! The cards in a bag are a good idea…I see you’re thinking on the right path 🙂

  4. August 10, 2012 8:10 pm

    You already know where I stand. 😉 Hope this wonderful even-handed summary reaches more people.

    • August 10, 2012 8:13 pm

      Well, a lot of people have access to my blog…over 1000…no telling how many actually take the time to read and think about it tho.

  5. JLH permalink
    August 11, 2012 1:16 pm

    I enjoy reading all of the blogs. I find this series about GMOs very interesting and it has educated me on something I knew very little about. Thank you for providing these and bringing attention to issues I’m sure not many think about.

    • August 11, 2012 9:39 pm

      I myself knew nothing about it until I started writing the food blogs earlier this year. It is a confusing issue because the government and the scientists and the farmers (read the comment above) believe it is safe. But there just might be correlation with the increase in health issues that have occurred since the mid 1990s. I hate to think that the desire for more and more and more profits related to more food production.. certainly not the farmers but the corporations….is getting in the way of really caring about the public health.

  6. August 11, 2012 3:45 pm

    I can understand that people who do not understand GE products will be a bit concerned, after all it is new science and new things are usually resisted by some part of the population. As a farmer I would like to comment on a few things.
    I must preface this in that I am making my entire living from farming, and not a part time farmer, but am not a large farmer. My father and I make a living on 700 acres in an area with many family groups that farm thousands of acres. We live in an area of Minnesota where the only decent markets are for corn and soybeans. We have few other viable crops.
    When the first hybrid seeds were developed for corn many people resisted using them because they could no longer use their own seed. The problem is that corn from saved seed never could produce more than 50 bushels per acre. New hybrid seeds quickly pushed that corn yield over 100 bushels per acre making the use of open pollinated seed corn not profitable. The same thing has happened with GE seeds. The yield of our crops has gone up dramatically. If we are going to feed the worlds population we need the higher yields that modern science has given us. Saving seed is no longer a viable option despite the cost of seed, we produce more food with GE seeds than we would with open pollinated seeds.
    During all of this advancement in farming practices we have learned to produce more food with less water, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, erosion and labor. Better food supplies have reduced the number of hungry people around the world while the worlds population has doubled and life expectancy has lengthened. Perhaps there are some increases in certain diseases, but are they caused by the type of food that we eat, or are they because we live longer and more babies survive that did not in the past because of better medicine?
    So far I have seen no scientifically repeatable studies that can blame any of the problems you note on GE products. Yes, once in a while someone will produce a study that hints at problems, but the science is not repeatable or statistically significant.
    So go ahead, try to paint GE products with a bad rap, but you are going to have to get better science on it to convince me.

    • August 11, 2012 9:28 pm

      Michael, I appreciate your input more than I can express. The arguments you presented are exactly the reason why it sounds like a good idea. I think my biggest issue with it is the non-labeling. Since there is concern by many people, if foods were labeled it would provide the information to consumers. We know that not all consumers are concerned about healthy diets by ANY definition. But for that segment of the population who has expressed a desire to cut chemicals and other things that worry them out of their diet, information is all that is really needed. This is not your area as the farmer, so I know there is nothing you can do about it, but I suppose if the growers asked the processor why not label, it would help.

      • August 11, 2012 9:57 pm

        It comes down to are GMO’s bad? Putting a label on a product saying it is in the product implies something is not right. So far there is no proof of a significant difference. I can promise you that as soon as a product is labeled GMO free, it will cost more.
        Ever heard of Hormone free beef? There is no such thing! If it has life, hormones are part of it. There is more estrogen in your salad than there is in beef, but no one labels lettuce as having or not having hormones in it.

      • August 11, 2012 11:27 pm

        Michael…we discussed your comment here over dinner. My husband is a chemist and tends to agree with you, but he also agrees that the food we are getting now at the local market tastes a lot better. Labeling may be considered a sign that something is not good, but we have had food ingredient labeling now for some time. People who care to read them to make sure they avoid allergens or items that may cause them some health concern. Any GMO labeling can be considered the same. The majority of shoppers do not ever read any label.
        And yes, the meat I am now buying at our local market is ASH-free: antibiotics, steroids and hormones. They get antibiotics if they need them but are kept out of the food processing cycle for some time to clear the med from their system. And of course, they HAVE hormones….just no additional hormones added to make them grow faster. My choice is to pay for that and a survey of prices about 2 weeks ago (in this blog) show little difference for beef from the Wild Ramp Market and the local grocery stores.

  7. kennyrice permalink
    August 11, 2012 10:41 pm

    FDA officials admit that there GMO decision was political and NOT scientific. Ag Secretary Glick, under Clinton, agrees with that along with the FDA scientist in charge of the GMO issue James Maryanski. The scientists who objected, based on their tests, to the fast track approval of GMO were fired.

    3 science officials of the Canadian equivalent of their FDA testified that million dollar bribes were offered to them by Monsanto and they conducted hearings on the matter. Those 3 were fired after the news settled down.

    As for hormones, the issue is whether they are synthetic and injected in contrast with naturally occurring substances found in food. I choose to avoid synthetic products when possible. Of course hormone free food will be more expensive since this is all about cutting costs, corners, and increasing profits.

    I’m glad to pay more for traditional food since I’ve heard from the scientists who uncovered the problems they personally found in their own testing. One glaring example is the BGH or Bovine growth hormone in milk which causes infections in the cows. I won’t bother to go into what was discovered about BGH by these same scientists since we all have to due our own research.

    One more issue…..RoundUp. Why did they have to remove “biodegradeble” from their label? Because they were sued since after 28 days it was found that less than 2% complied with that claim. So imagine labels like that.

    • August 11, 2012 11:19 pm

      There are a lot of issues of concern which is why I wanted the blog to open the subject. Most of the people who comment here are already informed about food issues and try to make their choices according to what concerns them. My hope was that a few more people who had not heard about GMOs would at least get a basic understanding and be able to follow discussion, and perhaps begin to make choices. One choice, of course always is to change nothing. But informed decision making is needed and that was my hope.

  8. Angela Rotier permalink
    August 11, 2012 11:06 pm

    Have read posts 1, 2, and 3, on my way to 4. Just learning about GMOs. A link to your first post appeared in a Facebook page I follow and lots of people were posting comments there.

    • August 11, 2012 11:16 pm

      Thanks…..I’ll see if I can access them and copy them to here…..can you send me the link please?

  9. keithmears permalink
    September 16, 2012 10:37 pm

    Very good run down of the situation. It is imperative that people have access to real information – and in something so complex, the length is not a problem – rather a benefit. This is not a simple situation, and there is no simple way to present the facts. The public hears sound bites and slogans all day – to understand the possible problems with GMO’s they need more than a sound bite.

    Science was not allowed to weigh in on these products, so even a science geek (as I am), has a hard time convincing people that the resistance to GMO’s is not anti-science, but rather anti-corruption; the corruption that allowed these products on the markets despite the insistence on further testing by the (now fired) scientists charged with protecting the public.

    Keep up the good work.

    • September 16, 2012 11:04 pm

      The FDA once was an agency that we, the public, trusted to check to make sure that food and drugs were safe before they were introduced to the marketplace. Now, all I can wonder is how much money is passing under the table….corruption instead of concern. For the agencies and companies involved to say there is no health issue when the small amount of testing shows otherwise is scary…on many levels.

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