Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Genetically Modified Organisms – Part 1

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Genetic modification (GM) may be the future of food as discussed in the documentary “Future of Foods” that came out a couple of years ago.  In reality, GM foods have been creeping into our food supply for some time now with the help of some giant corporations such as Monsanto.  Even more disturbing, there are few valid research studies to assess the risks of consumption of these foods over time. Corporations promoting these foods claim that research has been done, but you cannot get any information on the topic because it’s claimed to be proprietary.

I have found a couple references to research studies on animals, which affected the animal’s health in a negative way, but cannot find where they are published or verified by peer review, if at all.

According to Dr. Philip Bereano, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington: Conflicts of interest operate very institutionally, too, because a lot of scientists are in departments that get funding from the biotech industry.  Dr. Bearano has been looking into genetically engineered organisms in foods, crops, animals, and humans for three decades.

Aside from the politics and the effects on world food policies, my main concern is how these foods affect human health and the environment.

There seems to be a tremendous clash of ideas and emotions when it comes to GM foods.  For example, in Europe, it’s a volatile issue.  The EU has made labeling mandatory and some countries have banned these foods altogether.  U.S. surveys of consumers lean toward apathy- either due to not caring or lack of information or education about the various aspects of these foods.  The U.S. government has fully embraced GM foods more than likely due to the giant companies such as Monsanto political influences.

The process involves taking a gene from one organism (plant, animal, or microbe) and inserting it into the DNA of another organism.  The goal is to improve some characteristic of the organism receiving the donor gene, e.g. improved nutrition, faster growth, longer shelf life, and added resistance to pests and pesticides, hardier growth like drought resistance.

The prevalence in the U.S. food supply is that about 70% of supermarket food products contain at least one GM ingredient usually from corn, soy, cottonseed, or canola.  So far, these modified ingredients do not have to be stated on the label.  There has been an ongoing debate about whether these ingredients should be labeled; however, to date, the FDA does not require it.

What are the concerns?  When a gene is expressed in an organism, the expression or effect is due to the protein produced by that particular gene.  So we eat the the product it produced.  So the main health to humans could be the new proteins created that may cause an allergic reaction.  This did occur in the past when a gene from Brazil nuts was placed into soybeans.  As a result, people allergic to Brazil nuts were then also allergic to soybeans.  In this case, the soybeans were never marketed, but it does show that allergic reactions to GM foods are a possibility. Without adequate testing before the product is marketed, there is no regulation or control over this happening.

A major concern about the environment is that genes might mix with the natural genes of the native species and that permanent changes can occur in the ecosystem of the plant.

If you are concerned about your risks of consuming these foods and the new ones in the future, you may choose to participate in any of the following:

  • Go organic (this may change as organic farmers’ crops may become contaminated with GM seeds.
  • Look for possible GM ingredients on food labels:  corn, corn syrup, soy sauce, lecithin, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and sugar beets.
  • Shop at Stores such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joes.
  • Support the demand for labeling by writing your Congressmen.

What’s on the horizon?  The FDA is currently considering approval of a genetically-modified salmon that is a sterile Atlantic female with a  Chinook gene that can “grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon.

Additionally, scientists in China have created genetically modified cows that produce “human milk”.   Future poste will address these topics.  Stay tuned for Part 2, Part 3, etc. etc.


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