Avoiding GMOs may be harder than you think

It’s hard enough to avoid GMO foods when there are no laws requiring the labeling of them, but it’s harder once you learn that other common ingredients may be manufactured from GMOs.  For example: if you see maltodextrin in the list of a product’s ingredients, know that most of that is made from GMO corn (unless the product is labeled as “USDA Organic”).  Vitamin C is another GMO corn product (mostly).  Same with ascorbic acid.  Will these GMO products cause you harm?  That’s the big question, and frankly until the scientific testing has been done to show that a particular GMO crop is safe to eat, it’s best to avoid this stuff (IMHO).

(read more about this at Care2)

GMO labeling law fails in CA

California failed to pass Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.  This came as  a surprise given the initial public support, though the money raised by the opposition managed to sway voters in the end.  For a law that would not have outlawed anything, just required labeling, it’s really sad California couldn’t get this passed.

I feel it’s inevitable that laws like this will come to be…and until then, if this is an issue you care about, shop for organic fruits and vegetables, and check out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide for more shopping advice.  In general, unless labeled as being Non-GMO (see label above), avoid corn, soybeans, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, and ingredients derived from these (like ‘sugar’, instead of ‘pure cane sugar’, as it is likely to have some GM sugar beets in it).

A quick GMO summary

Check out the Huffington Post for a great, short summary of what you should know about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  I’m quoting the key points below, but read the full article for the explanations, details, and supporting facts:

  1. GMOs have never undergone standard testing or regulation for human safety.
  2. But we know that GMOs have proven harmful in animal studies.
  3. And the most widely used GMOs are paired with an herbicide linked to serious health risks.
  4. The consequences of GMO technology are inherently unpredictable.
  5. GMO makers intimidate and silence farmers and scientists.
  6. GMOs undermine our food security.
  7. GMOs aren’t needed in the first place, so why would we take on these risks and harms?

Voters in California have the opportunity this year to force companies to indicate if the food they produce contains GMOs.  If CA votes to implement that, it’s likely to start a nationwide movement not to ban GMOs, but to at least let people know whether or not they’re consuming GMOs so they can make the choice for themselves.

Rats fed GM corn die young (with tumors and organ damage)

Researchers in France fed rats a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s GM corn (NK603, to be specific), and found that 50% of the males and 70% of the females died prematurely (compared with 30% of the males and 20% of the females in the control group).  They suffered from mammary tumors, also severe liver and kidney damage (this is in stark contrast to the carefree life portrayed by French rats in Ratatouille).

What’s most interesting here, to me at least, is the implications.  Specifically…NK603 is a type of corn that’s tolerant to the pesticide Roundup…it wasn’t stated specifically, but I’m assuming that when growing NK603, they did so by using Roundup as intended.  Thus these deaths are not necessarily due to the genetic modification of the corn plant, but rather the pesticides that that modification allowed the use of.  In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter, the result is dead rats…but I worry that a GM crop could be shown to be perfectly safe by itself, but use of that will result in secondary factors that lead to problems down the line.

I’m also disturbed by the article’s statement that GM crops are approved based upon a 90 day feeding trial.  As this study showed, there are lifetime impacts that need to be properly quantified…a mere 90 day test may be insufficient to expose long-term health impacts.

NK603 was approved for food use in the US in 2000.

You can read the full article at Reuters.

This is why we need to be cautious about GM crops

If you want to know why I’m worried about genetically modified foods, read this article from New Zealand.  Scientists are concerned about GM wheat being tested in NZ and Australian, and more specifically, they claim:

  • SiRNA, a form of ribonucleic acid, like DNA, could transfer to humans through food when produced in GM wheat.
  • When eaten, the siRNA engineered to suppress the wheat-branching enzyme would also silence the human-branching enzyme which produces energy-storing glycogen.
  • This “unbranched” glycogen would have low solubility in human cells and could create build-up in the tissues of the body, especially in the heart and liver.
  • This could lead to the disease Glycogen Storage Disease IV, resulting in an enlarged liver, cirrhosis of the liver, and failure to thrive.

So, do we need to be worried?  I think the bottom line is that we don’t know.  I think this DOES show, though, that we need to be cautious and thorough in testing GM crops for possible side-effects on people…we must not rush this technology to market, but rather, each and every modification to the genetic code of our food supply needs to be tested.  Right now, that’s just not happening, and that’s the scary thing.

Drought-tolerant corn

The drought hitting much of the US is highlighting why genetically modified crops (or GMO, as they’re commonly referred to) are something that’s hard to avoid in our future.  As corn fields wither and die under the drought conditions, some drought-tolerance corn is doing OK, and while that particular strain is not GMO (next year should be the first production crops of GMO corn that has been engineered to be drought-tolerant), this does help show the promise of GMO in agriculture.  Instead of fields of dying corn and rising food prices, we could have just another normal, un-news-worthy year.

I still fear our current system of using humans as guinea pigs testing the safety of GMO crops, but I believe that if properly managed and scientifically tested for safety, GMO crops could go a long ways towards feeding a growing population on a planet with a changing, more extreme climate.  Frankly, I don’t see another choice.

(via TechnologyReview)