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GMOs Are Not Real Food

Learn all about GMOs in a four-part series.

[Editor's Note: This is Part I of a four-part blog series.]

Some of you may have heard some chatter recently about genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), but I am guessing most of you are asking yourselves right now, "what are GMOs?"  

When I first learned about GMOs a few years ago, my initial reaction was a mixture of fear and anger. You should expect a similar reaction, especially if this is the first you are really hearing of GMOs.  

It is my hope that this blog, and all my blogs for that matter, will help you make educated decisions about the food you eat. No matter what you decide in terms of eating GMOs or not eating GMOs, you should at least have all the necessary information.  So, please read on!

First of all, GMOs are NOT real food. GMOs are genetically modified organisms that are produced by taking the genes from one species (i.e. animals, plants, bacteria or viruses) and literally forcing those genes into the DNA of a food crop or an animal to introduce a new trait. Does that even sound like food to you?

Sounds more like science fiction to me. GMOs were created by biotech companies in order to make a lot of money. But, the last time I checked there were no biotech companies necessary when growing vegetables or raising an animal, right? That used to be the responsibility of farmers alone. So how did biotech companies get involved in our food?  

It's a really long story. You can read that story in the fantastic book "Seeds of Deception" by Jeffrey Smith. But essentially, GMOs are the result of what happened when biotech companies got greedy, the government neglected to regulate and protect Americans (I use the word neglected very loosely as this was a purposeful oversight), and the American people were taken advantage of. 

WHAT ARE GMOS?

There are currently five widespread GM Food Crops on the market: (1) Soy; (2) Corn; (3) Canola; (4) Cotton; and (5) Sugar Beets. GMOs have been engineered to be either herbicide resistant, pesticide producing, or both. Many dairy farms in the United states are also injecting the cows with a genetically engineered hormone called rbGH or rbST.    

HERBICIDE RESISTANT

Herbicide resistant crops are able to survive a high dose of herbicides which are used to kill weeds. You can imagine that when the crop is resistant to a particular herbicide, the farmers can spray extra herbicide to kill the surrounding weeds which means a much greater herbicide residue on the vegetable crop being grown specially for you. One particular herbicide resistant crop is the Round Up Ready Soybean. The company, Monsanto, engineered a Soybean that is resistant to Round Up and now currently sells the herbicide as a package with its Round Up ready soybean seed which accounts for at least 40 percent of the companies annual revenue.  

A small amount of Hawaiian papaya, zucchini, and squash have also been genetically modified to resist a plant virus. Previously there were GMO tomatoes and potatoes but they have been taken off the market.     

PESTICIDE PRODUCING

Pesticide producing crops include corn and cotton. A gene from BT (Bacillus thurgiensis), a bacteria found in soil, was inserted into the plant's DNA which then caused the crops to literally produce their own pesticide by secreting BT toxin.

Essentially, pesticide-producing crops have been engineered to release their own poison.     

GROWTH HORMONES - rbGH, rbST

Cows, like humans, produce their own hormones. Bovine somatotropin is a hormone produced by the cow's pituitary gland. Through technology, the hormone can now be created in labs and delivered to a dairy farm near you under the names rbGH, rbST, or artificial growth hormone. Let it be known that the United States is the only developed country where it is legal to use these artificial growth hormones in cows that are producing dairy for human consumption. Australia, Cananda, Europe, Japan, and New Zealand have all outlawed the use of artificial growth hormones. Does that concern any of you? If using artificial growth hormones is too dangerous for the citizens of all those countries, it's too dangerous for Americans as well.       

www.taracook-littman-realfoodforreallife.blogspot.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

J Bauer April 13, 2012 at 02:18 PM
To answer your question, Gavin, the French have been selectively breeding BT friendly crops since the 1920s and using concentrated BT toxin as insectiside spray. Such prior efforts gives us a good understanding of environmental impact. As for all of your other comments, well, here is the thing. There are lots of opinions and non rigorous "studies" on GMO crops. For every piece of evidence you cite, I can find a report that refutes it. What there has not been to date is a truly rigorous FDA study, of the kind that is required before the FDA approves a completely new cancer drug. And, for that matter, I agree that there should be.
J Bauer April 13, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Yes, many European countries have done that. And, since they are always so forward looking and so good at managing their affairs, we should certainly take a cue from over there. ahem....
Jimmy Pursey April 13, 2012 at 03:40 PM
"the definition of genetic engineering doesn't really matter" Um, I would assume it matters quite a lot, actually. Here it is, courtesy of Wikipedia: "...the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest. The introduction of new DNA does not require the use of classical genetic methods, however traditional breeding methods are typically used for the propagation of recombinant organisms. An organism that is generated through the introduction of recombinant DNA is considered to be a genetically modified organism. The first organisms genetically engineered were bacteria in 1973 and then mice in 1974. Insulin-producing bacteria were commercialized in 1982 and genetically modified food has been sold since 1994."
Christine E. April 13, 2012 at 05:49 PM
At least they label. In this country we're backwards. We label anything that isn't a GMO as "organic", and the average person won't buy it because they associate the word 'organic' with holistic health nuts.
Elyse April 13, 2012 at 06:12 PM
The biggest problem with GM (aka transgenic) foods is what is in it, what will it do to you if you eat it, and what will it do the biodiversities which surround those crops. & it’s not just the food that is modified but their feed as well. I don’t want extra antibiotics grown into my food, nor do I want extra hormones, but both are added because they increase the yield. It’s not to help the consumer, except perhaps in cheaper steak. Some good links: http://www.nobelkepu.org.cn/english/life/136898.shtml (what is GM food) http://phys.org/search/?search=gm+food (articles) http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/engineered-foods-allowed-on.html http://gmoguide.greenpeace.ca/shoppers_guide.pdf (avoiding it) http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/27/149474012/activists-say-americans-support-labeling-genetically-modified-food http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/ (WHO’s stance) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gm (articles) As for the term ‘natural’, you can toss it out the window when it comes to buying products. ‘Natural’ is one of marketing’s biggest ‘weasel words’ (look it up). Arsenic is natural. So is radium. The FDA has no definition for the term natural or its derivatives.
NewRes April 13, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I think all the people in favor of GM food should eat it. Feel free to give yourself a second helping. And those of us with a little more sense will continue eating the non-GM option. Darwin will take care of the rest.
J Bauer April 13, 2012 at 06:26 PM
No, Christine - people will not buy it because "organic" food is usually 50% more expensive and not everyone in the U.S. has the ability to pay 50-100% premium for their food. Personally, non hormone/antibiotic meat and free range eggs. Conclusive studies on those prove to me that the additional cost is worthwhile. Organic vegetables, I have absolutely no interest in if they come at more than a 3 or 4% premium to the regular stuff.
Christine E. April 13, 2012 at 07:05 PM
J Bauer, I never said cost wasn't a contributing factor. I am simply saying that I know MANY people who think organic means 'health food'. They know nothing about GMO's, and wrongly assume that Organic Foods are things that the overly health-conscious buy.
James H April 13, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Global population has been steadily increasing at a terrifying rate over the past few centuries. Logic dictates that as the population builds, the lands available for agriculture will continue to be encroached upon. Unless we find a way to either curtail population growth or increase food production the human race will ultimately face extinction. Traditional wheat tends to collapse on itself given the weight of the kernels grown with modern fertilizers...Norman Borlaug, through genetic engineering, was able to solve that with the development of the dwarf wheat. His efforts resulted in a wheat crop that can grow in areas that normally would not support growth. I don't know where the proverbial line is and when it will get crossed, but if we're willing to use science to prolong our lives through drugs and medical advances isn't it hypocritical to condemn the science that is trying to feed us?
Gavin Curran April 13, 2012 at 11:06 PM
"As for all of your other comments, well, here is the thing. There are lots of opinions and non rigorous "studies" on GMO crops. For every piece of evidence you cite, I can find a report that refutes it." Ok.
Gavin Curran April 13, 2012 at 11:07 PM
""the definition of genetic engineering doesn't really matter" Um, I would assume it matters quite a lot, actually." I don't think you understand what I meant. I wasn't going to argue with sowelu about what he thought genetic engineering was, I don't happen to agree with him which is kind of the point...
Gavin Curran April 13, 2012 at 11:08 PM
"To answer your question, Gavin, the French have been selectively breeding BT friendly crops since the 1920s and using concentrated BT toxin as insectiside spray. Such prior efforts gives us a good understanding of environmental impact." France has banned some GM crops, they don't seem to have much faith in the safety and efficacy of GM.
Michelle Ku April 14, 2012 at 01:06 AM
We are all guinea pigs in the sense that data can be collected and epidemiology done to evaluate our responses to drugs, foods, environmental exposures. However, implying that GMOs have not been extensively tested prior to their approval is incorrect. Depending on the use, each food is independently approved by the FDA, USDA or EPA. Considerations include: • The GM plant and its use as food • The source of the gene • The inserted DNA and flanking DNA at the insertion site • The expressed substances (e.g., proteins and any new metabolites that result from the new gene product) • The potential toxicity and antinutritional properties of new proteins or metabolites • The introduced protein compared with those known to cause celiac disease if the DNA is from wheat, barley, rye, oats or related grains • The introduced protein for potential allergenicity • Key endogenous nutrients and antinutrients including toxins and allergens for potential increases for specific host plants (DNA recipients)
Michelle Ku April 14, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Questions about GMOs have been around for at least 20 years. Everything carries potential risks and benefits – leaving the house, taking medications, using a cell phone. At this point, the risks of GMOs have been fairly well characterized, and the scientific community has accepted the risks as being negligible. I suggest going to the scientific literature (Nature or Science are well-respected journals) to answer questions that you might have and to ultimately decide how you want to weigh the risks versus the benefits of consuming GMOs.
Gavin Curran April 14, 2012 at 11:17 AM
I have a question for all the GM supporters- if genetically engineered food is so amazing, tasty, and healthy, why would you not want to label it so people know they're eating a (supposedly) higher quality product? It's all about marketing, and if you can convince consumers they're eating better food they'll buy it especially if its cheaper than the alternative.
chick45 April 14, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Good point Gavin. Also consider that people with food allergies would benefit from labeling GMO in order to know if what they are consuming is crossbred with a plant/species that is an allergen. This is why it is also a safety issue.
Michelle Ku April 14, 2012 at 02:27 PM
It seems unlikely that FDA would enforce labeling since the FDA has taken the stance that the GMOs that are currently approved are safe. The FDA will enforce labeling if the GMO 1) is significantly different from its traditional counterpart such that the common or usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, 2) an issue exists for the food or a constituent of the food regarding how the food is used or consequences of its use, a statement must be made on the label to describe the issue, 3) a bioengineered food has a significantly different nutritional property, or 4) a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food. I think that most people wouldn’t have an issue with foods being labeled. I certainly don’t………..until I think about the cost of monitoring and enforcing labeling. I prefer that the FDA spend its resources in other ways – making sure that the drugs that we take are safe. Once again, everything has a cost and a benefit. I would think that consumers would have more of a voice with the manufacturers – asking that the manufacturers label their foods, and buying only those that are labeled as “non-GMO”.
chick45 April 14, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Michelle, here is your answer as to why the FDA will not enforce labeling. It's because those in the FDA have ties to Monsanto. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/10/10/Obama-Monsanto-Alliance-Too-Close-for-Comfort.aspx
Concerned April 14, 2012 at 03:52 PM
One thing that has always concerned me, how does the FDA know the GMO foods are safe? These foods were first introduced in 1995. What if the foods cause ailments that take 20 years to manifest? How could the FDA possibly know that will not happen? Does the FDA have a time machine? Cool.
Michelle Ku April 14, 2012 at 05:59 PM
You won’t get me to defend the politics/economics of Monsanto. I don’t like that the FDA’s Michael Taylor is so closely tied to Monsanto. I don’t like the control that the big companies have over farmers. However, these politics do not change the science, which, I believe, shows that the GMOs on the market are safe. As for the issue of possible effects twenty years down the road, you could make that argument about any new technology. Should we stop everything from advancing? I’m not advocating that we should throw all caution to the wind, but in this case, the weight of the evidence, indicates that the risk is much smaller than the benefit.
Bill April 14, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Gmo's cause organ failure in rats. In a study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences, analyzing the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers found that agricultural giant Monsanto's GM corn is linked to organ damage in rats. According to the study, which was summarized by Rady Ananda at Food Freedom, "Three varieties of Monsanto's GM corn - Mon 863, insecticide-producing Mon 810, and Roundup® herbicide-absorbing NK 603 - were approved for consumption by US, European and several other national food safety authorities."
Rick Kenneally April 14, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Tara said: "It is my hope that this blog will help you make educated decisions about the food you eat." And both she and Gavin are requesting better labeling of GMO foods. Sounds reasonable, yes? So why all the discussion about "fear and anger"? Why is the blog entitled "GMOs are not real foods"? Why the statements about GMOs being "science fiction" and the exploitation of the American people? If the call for labeling is to support a European-like, fear-driven boycott of all things GMO, the I believe this is wrong and ultimately harmful to humanity. Fear-driven campaigns have severely damaged our vaccination programs and have stopped dead in its tracks the global attempt to eradicate polio like we eradicated smallpox. A similar story can be told about nuclear energy while we watch hundreds of millions of people die prematurely each year due to fossil fuel pollution. Socrates spoke out strongly against the new technology of books because they would erode human memories. And while there have been some bad books, by and large books have worked out rather well. With each new technology since, there has been somebody trying to make others afraid of it. Tara said: " I am a blogger writing my own views on a topic, so with all due respect, I don't need to consider a more balanced tone." That's true. But just because you have the right doesn't necessarily make it the right thing to do.
Rick Kenneally April 14, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Yes, and while we're writing to our representatives, let's tell them that we want all clothing manufactured with GMO-produced enzymes to be labeled as such so we may boycott those. After all, they're not "real clothes". And let's get all those medicines made using GMOs labeled as not "real medicines". While this may cause a few pharma companies to pull out of the insulin market, and may slow the development of alternatives to using millions of chicken eggs for flu vaccines, at least people will be properly informed. Oh, and let's also label everything about a food product that might cause harm. All fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, enzymes and chemicals used in the production of the food should be clearly labeled. The date of the last inspection for proper sanitation of all steps in the production process should be included as well. After all, bacteria in foods actually does kill people. This especially applies to small or local farmers who have fewer processing steps between manure and shopping cart. If our goal is actual informed consumers, then let's adopt all the above labeling measures. If, however, our goal is just to establish the basis for an anti-GMO fear campaign, let's just leave our representatives in peace.
Michelle Ku April 15, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Bill, I think that you are referring to a study done by de Vendemois, et al. in 2009 (http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm) The authors took data from studies that other people did and analyzed it using their own statistics. They came up with statistically significant differences which were not in the original studies. That is not good science. In fact, when companies do studies for regulatory submission for approval of a new drug, medical device, pesticide, or chemical, they must document the statistics that will be done before they start collecting data. Otherwise, it would be possible to pick and choose the statistics that give the results that you want. Who knows how many studies de Vendemois, et al. re-analyzed that didn’t have any significant differences. Additionally, the biological plausibility of there being toxicity is lacking. Both Bt proteins and glyphosphate (the putative toxicants) have been evaluated for toxicity without evidence of liver or kidney toxicity. There are other issues, but I will end by saying that the de Vendemois paper was dismissed as having any relevance by the Europen Food Safety Authority, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and the French high Counsel on Biotechnology.
Siwanoy April 16, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Gavin, tell me your joking... """the definition of genetic engineering doesn't really matter" Um, I would assume it matters quite a lot, actually." I don't think you understand what I meant. I wasn't going to argue with sowelu about what he thought genetic engineering was, I don't happen to agree with him which is kind of the point..." You don't agree with me on the definition of a word, but you do realize that you don't set the words definition right? Following your logic, there's no point in have any conversation, since you can make up your own definitions to any word as you see fit. It has NOTHING to do with what I THINK genetic engineering it, there is a standard definition set in place for all of us who use the American version of the English language.
chick45 April 19, 2012 at 11:30 AM
For those of you who don't believe that GMo's and pesticide are ok read this. http://www.panna.org/blog/mother-takes-monsanto-wins-global-prize
Siwanoy April 19, 2012 at 05:23 PM
ehhh... "The explosion of GE soy production in Argentina has brought with it dramatic increases in pesticide use, and specifically aerial spraying of Monsanto's weedkiller, RoundUp. Spraying of the antiquated insecticide endosulfan was also common until this year." the blog it self makes it seem more of a spraying round up issue then GMO's so I fail to see the connection.
Siwanoy April 19, 2012 at 05:25 PM
These special interest blogs are making patch less and less of a go to for news. I come here to get news about the community, not to read biased blog posts. Patch needs to decide if they are just a collection of blog postings with some news in there, or they are a news source.
Leslie Yager April 19, 2012 at 10:23 PM
really makes you think...what's safe and sustainable?
Gavin Curran April 22, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Siwanoy you realize that pesticide use is an inherent part of the GM-based agricultural system? As I explained above, plants are modified to be resistant to a particular pesticide, typically glyphosate (which is carcinogenic). The ecological effects of GM crops cannot be understood without the context of how they are grown.

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