Genetically Modified Foods Abound in U.S.
Jeffrey Smith has written the book on genetically modified foods (GMOs). Now he’s on a crusade to rid the U.S. of unhealthy food hybrids that not even animals choose to eat.
He tells the story of a farmer who was growing corn for his cows. The farmer grew non-GMO corn next to corn that had been modified by Monsanto, a large agriculture company. First, he grew the corn independently and then when it was ready for the big cow taste test he separated the corn and gave the cows a choice of which feed they wanted.
He says that without fail the cows chose the regular old non-GMO variety, AKA corn. He says the cows would approach the modified corn and sniff it before walking out of their way to reach the non-GMO corn trough.
Smith believes that if only humans had the sense of cows, we wouldn’t have any genetically modified ingredients in the food supply. He says, “It turns out there’s only nine food crops that are genetically engineered but they’re pretty widespread because soy and corn in particular are practically omnipresent in processed foods.”
Other countries have banned GMOs. Zambia, Venezuela India and all of Europe are GMO-free. But in the U.S. up to 70 percent of processed foods contain one or more genetically modified food ingredients.
What is a GMO?
A genetically modified organism is an organism that has been genetically altered using engineering techniques. In foods, the most common technique is called recombinant DNA technology, where molecules from different plant species are combined into a single hybrid with a new set of genes.
Some GMOs are transgenic, meaning that they have intact DNA segments or functional genes from another organism inserted into them.
Food expert Elisa Zied is the author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. She says, “If a food is genetically modified it means that its genes are altered. DNA from one species is inserted into DNA of another species to create a unique genetic combination that doesn’t occur in nature.”
There are only a handful of crops that have been genetically modified. They include corn, canola, cotton, and soy. However, those are the plants whose derivatives are found in just about all processed foods.
In addition, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is commonly injected or fed to cows which then genetically alters the milk they produce. That hormone is often blamed in part for human obesity. After all, the hormone stimulates milk production in cows. Imagine what it does in people.
The big fight over GMO foods was fueled by a single Supreme Court ruling in 1980, which allowed companies to patent lifeforms for commercialization.
California company Calgene began selling the the first genetically modified food in 1994. It was the flavrSavr tomato, which was more resistant to rotting than its unaltered version. No special labeling was required and the FDA took a wait and see approach to new gene-modified foods.
Then came insect-resistant cotton and soybeans that could tolerate a potent chemical herbicide, both in 1996. Then thousands of patent applications poured forth starting a GMO frenzy.
According to the Grocery Manufacturers of America in the U.S. by 2009, genetically modified varieties dominated 89 percent of the planted area of soybeans, 83 percent of cotton, and 61 percent of corn.
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho is a geneticist and biophysicist who runs the Institute for Science in Society. She says, “Genetic engineering is inherently dangerous, because it greatly expands the scope for horizontal gene transfer and recombination, precisely the processes that create new viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics, and trigger cancer in cells.”
But well-meaning scientists invented genetically modified food crops as a means to common crop problems. GMO plants are resistant to disease and they can tolerate herbicides. They can also become more nutritious when vitamins are added.
However, most anti-GMO activists say the danger far outweighs the benefits and that a worldwide ban on GMO foods must be levied before it’s too late.
The U.K. Greenpeace website calls GMOs an utter disaster. It says, “The science of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another was supposed to be a giant leap forward, but instead they pose a serious threat to biodiversity and our own health.”
The debate rages on and for now GMO is making its way into our grocery stores and our stomachs.
Jeffrey Smith, anti-GMO activist and author of Seeds of Deception says, “I would say 70 to 80 percent of the food sold in the supermarket has some derivative of genetically modified food crops. In addition you have alfalfa, which is used as hay for animals, a little bit of zucchini, crooked neck squash and Hawaiian papaya. There’s also a genetically engineered drug for cows that increases milk supply, but also creates a hormone in the milk that many doctors and scientists think is quite unhealthy.”
No Laws Against GMO in the U.S.
Some consumer advocates estimate as many as 30,000 different products on grocery store shelves are contain genetically modified ingredients. That’s largely because many processed foods contain soy. And, half of North America’s soy crop is now genetically engineered.
Now, 93 percent of soy, canola oil and cottonseed, 86 percent of corn and 95 percent of sugar beets are genetically modified and they are base ingredients in most of the foods we eat and find in grocery stores.
Smith says just nine food crops have been approved for genetic modification but many others have been affected in the process.
Honey - Honey can be produced from GM crops. Some Canadian honey comes from bees collecting nectar from GM canola plants. This has shut down exports of Canadian honey to Europe.
Cotton - Resistant to certain pesticides – considered a food because the oil can be consumed. The introduction of genetically engineered cotton plants has had an unexpected effect on Chinese agriculture. The so-called Bt cotton plants that produce a chemical that kills the cotton bollworm have not only reduced the incidence of the pest in cotton fields, but also in neighboring fields of corn, soybeans, and other crops.
Rice - Genetically modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A. And rice containing human genes is being grown in the U.S. but destined to treat infant diarrhea in the developing world.
Soybean - Genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides – Soy foods including, soy beverages, tofu, soy oil, soy flour, lecithin. Other products may include breads, pastries, snack foods, baked products, fried products, edible oil products and special purpose foods.
Tomatoes - Made for a longer shelf life and to prevent a substance that causes tomatoes to rot and degrade.
Corn - Resistant to certain pesticides – Corn oil, flour, sugar or syrup. May include snack foods, baked goods, fried foods, edible oil products, confectionery, special purpose foods, and soft drinks.
Sweet corn – genetically modified to produce its own insecticide. Officials from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have said that thousands of tonnes of genetically engineered sweetcorn have made their way into the human food supply chain, even though the GMO crop was approved only for use in animal feed. Monsanto says that about half of the U.S. sweetcorn acreage has been planted with genetically modified seeds.
Canola - Canola oil. May include edible oil products, fried foods, and baked products, snack foods.
Potatoes - (Atlantic, Russett Burbank, Russet Norkatah, and Shepody) – May include snack foods, processed potato products and other processed foods containing potatoes.
Flax - More and more food products contain flax oil and seed because of their excellent nutritional properties. No genetically modified flax is currently grown. An herbicide-resistant GM flax was introduced in 2001, but was soon taken off the market because European importers refused to buy it.
Papaya - The first virus resistant papayas were commercially grown in Hawaii in 1999. Transgenic papayas now cover about one thousand hectares, or three quarters of the total Hawaiian papaya crop. Monsanto, donated technology to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, for developing a papaya resistant to the ringspot virus in India.
Squash - (yellow crookneck) – Some zucchini and yellow crookneck squash are also GM but they are not popular with farmers.
Cotton seed oil – Cottonseed oil and linters. Products may include blended vegetable oils, fried foods, baked foods, snack foods, edible oil products, and smallgoods casings.
Meat - Meat and dairy products usually come from animals that have eaten GM feed.
Sugarbeets - May include any processed foods containing sugar.
Dairy Products – About 22 percent of cows in the U.S. are injected with recombinant (genetically modified) bovine growth hormone (rbGH).
Vitamins - Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from corn, vitamin E is usually made from soy. Vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12 may be derived from GMOs as well as vitamin D and vitamin K may have “carriers” derived from GM corn sources, such as starch, glucose, and maltodextrin.
How can the public make informed decisions about genetically modified (GM) foods when there is so little information about its safety? The short answer is labeling. But efforts thus far to pressure the FDA have fallen short.
According to the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are over 50 new plant varieties that have completed all of the federal requirements for commercialization and are waiting to go into production.
Just Say “No” to GMO Rap, by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger