GMO = Genetically Modified Organisms. A 3 part series on GMO as seen in the APN newspapers:
In a world where our population is exploding and we may not be able to keep up with our own basic needs, such as food supplies, adequate nutrition and hydration, is GMO the answer? Experts on both sides of the fence weigh in.
By Nutritionist Honor Tremain
GMO has now become a hidden staple most of us unknowingly ingest daily in our diet, wound amongst our most common food groups and stealthily residing in our most loved snacks, margarines, and soft drinks.
Yet what do we really know about the long term effects of regularly ingesting GMO products? Could it have health consequences? Is it changing the DNA permanently of all seed offspring of plants and animals that undergo genetic modification? Is it changing our own DNA? Or is it helping us fight disease?
There are two very strong arguments for and against GMO food use.
On one side we have the real threat of overpopulation and not being physically able to sustain ourselves.
The supporters say that GMO allows farmers to produce more crops with fewer chemicals, which is cleaner and cheaper for everyone.
Those against GMO say that chemicals are still being used, and why swap one evil for another unknown one?
So what is GMO?
GMO or Genetically modified organisms are life forms whose genetic information has been altered using scientific techniques to do so.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an organization regulating the international trade of living genetically modified organisms, refers to GMO’s as “any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology.”
The process of GMO is carried out via cutting or splicing gene sequences from one organism, such as an animal, virus or bacteria, and inserting the foreign genetic material into the gene sequence of another, such as a grain, vegetable or fruit.
For example, the donor genetic material, called transgene, is inserted into a plant cell nucleolus at its infancy, where it intertwines with the plants own DNA. If successful, the plant will begin to grow with the donor genetics a part of it forever, passing this information onto its seed offspring too.
This form of engineering can be carried out on any living thing, be it plants, fruits, vegetables, bacteria, yeast, fish, animals and insects.
In the U.S. the most common GMO crops are rice, tobacco, alfalfa, cotton, corn, canola, soybean, sugar beet, papaya and summer squash.
Where 95% of all soybean is GMO, and 90% of all corn is GMO.
In Australia the crops we currently genetically produce ourselves are canola and cotton, and we import many other GMO foods from overseas.
Cotton is used in makeup wipes, tampons, pads, threads, cloth, cottonseed oil for cooking, and the left over meal is fed to cattle and other animals we commonly eat.
Canola is made into oil for cooking and in margarines, dairy blends, in snack foods and tinned foods. The meal is used as stock feed on the animal meat we regularly ingest.
The CSIRO is currently working on gene technology for our animal farmers to genetically modify their animals, boosting meat and milk production, whilst increasing factors such as fibre within their flesh.
Types of GMO:
The two most common forms of genetic engineering are:
-To make an organism insect resistant,
-To make an organism herbicide tolerant. Meaning, you can spray the plant with pesticides to kill the pests, but the plant will withstand the poison.
The other type of genetic engineering, which is concerning many doctors and health professionals is the Antibiotic resistance Marker Genes (ARG or ARM) range of GMO, which has inbuilt bacterial resistance.
Who’s for GMO?
Most of our governing bodies support GMO use. The Department of Health, the TGA or therapeutics goods act, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand and the CSIRO, who are all involved with gene technology and GMO here in Australia. And they have a good argument.
“Gene technology provides the opportunity to improve human and animal health, create a safer and more sustainable food supply, and generate prosperity for Australia.” CSIRO
They say that genetically modified crops, altered for insect resistance or herbicide tolerance allows the farmers to use less chemicals and pesticides on their farms.
Meaning fewer chemicals in the environment, and less harm to the friendly insects.
Gene technology is also assisting scientists in developing more effective therapies for diseases like diabetes, hepatitis C, influenza and cancer.
While many vaccines, and insulin for diabetic patients comes from yeast and bacteria that have been genetically modified to produce these medicines.
GMO can also have the benefit of improving particular foods, such as making nutrients in certain grains more absorbable, or fortifying other foods, such as soy, with oleic acid.
But when asked: “How and why GMO foods could be good for us now and in the future?” The governing bodies which support its use answered: with either “no comment” or:
“It’s not our role to comment about whether GM foods are good for consumers. Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s (FSANZ) role is to assess the safety of GM foods before they can be sold in Australia or New Zealand.”
The Flip side: Who’s for non-GMO?
I was lucky enough to have an interview with another expert in the field.
Best selling author, award-winning filmmaker and executive director of the Institute of Responsible Technology (IRT) Jeffery Smith, who is a strong advocate for eating healthy non-GMO foods and products, and who regularly appears on radio and television shows, such as the Dr.Oz show, Fox News and CNBC.
When I asked him what the known and theorized health impacts of GMO foods were at this point, he answered:
“The current generation of genetically engineered foods is fraught with unpredicted side effects. The process of gene insertion, whether done by gene gun or bacterial infection, followed by cloning of the cell into a plant, causes between 2 to 4% of the DNA to be different compared to the non-GMO parent.
Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops are engineered to withstand their Roundup herbicide, which gets absorbed into the food and can’t be washed off. We eat this.
A 2014 study found Roundup the most toxic of all herbicides and insecticides they tested. According to MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff, Roundup may be “the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions, including obesity, heart disease, inflammatory bowel, IBS, autism, allergies, MS, Parkinson’s, depression, infertility, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
And some GMOs, like corn, have built-in pesticides that break open holes in the stomach of insects.
A 2012 laboratory study confirmed that these toxins opens holes in human cells. And a Canadian study found both the toxin and Roundup in the blood of many pregnant women and their fetuses.”
Q) Is their any evidence pointing to the Antibiotic Resistant Marker Gene (ARG/ARM) type of GMO foods, which are bacteria resistant, affecting our own gut bacteria? (Tremain)
“The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Division of Anti-Infective Drugs have repeatedly warned about the possibility of ARM genes transferring from genetically engineered food into gut bacteria.
Numerous claims by the biotech industry state that it would never happen, but research confirmed that part of the DNA “transgene” inserted into GMO crops actually transferred into the DNA of gut bacteria.
Published in Nature Biotechnology in 2004 by a team of British scientists, they found that part of the gene from herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready (RR) soybean had integrated into the DNA of the intestinal flora of three out of seven subjects tested.
In other words, the gut bacteria became herbicide-tolerant!
This suggests that the transferred genes from GMOs continue to function after they have integrated into our gut bacteria. If so, we may have GM proteins continuously produced inside our intestines long after we stop eating GMOs.
A big concern here is not only what this is doing to our extremely important gut flora, but the potential to also increase the already devastating levels of antibiotic resistance in humans we are beginning to see, making it difficult to treat even basic infections.”
Q) The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) released a position paper on Genetically Modified foods stating that: “GM foods pose a serious health risk,” and called for a moratorium on all GM foods whilst recommending doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all the patients. Would you also recommend people avoid eating GMO foods and why? (Tremain)
“Thousands of physicians in the US are advising patients to avoid eating GMOs. When people eliminate GMOs, they often report more energy, weight loss, better digestion, reduced allergies and skin conditions, and relief from numerous chronic conditions.”
Q) How could GMO stock feed affect the animals we eat? And what could that do to us? (Tremain)
“According to the former head of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, “Residues of plant constituents or toxicants in meat and milk products may pose human food safety concerns.” Toxins can theoretically bio-accumulate in animals, becoming more concentrated in milk and meat than in the GM crops they just ate.”
Q) Could regular eating of GMO foods change our own DNA? (Tremain)
“It is theoretically possible that genetically modified DNA can integrate into the DNA in human cells. GMO DNA from feed has been found in the blood stream and various organs of animals.
A recent study showed that a double-stranded RNA sequence, which was supposed to have no impact, actually changed the expression of 1100 genes in exposed honeybees.
This could be permanent, passing from one generation to the next, forever changing them.”
Labeling of GMO foods in Australia:
In Australia, ingredients from GMOs are usually only found in highly processed foods. Australian laws require that foods containing 1% or greater in GM ingredients are labeled.
You will find the words ‘genetically modified’ on the label next to the name of the food, e.g. genetically modified soybeans.
Foods with less than 1% of GMO, such as additives, flavours or colours, food from fast food outlets, and restaurants, do not require a label stating it’s in your meal, or fed to the roast beef sandwich you are about to eat.
So why does Frankenstein keep coming to mind?
How do we really know that one day when you’re eating your delicious GMO apple muesli bar, with genetics from whichever animal and bacteria slotted into it, it’s not going to come alive, open it’s eyes and ask us what the heck we’re doing?
And what does this mean for vegetarians or vegans? Could many of your previously presumed and labeled vegan snacks actually contain animal or insect DNA through GMO?
In Smiths eye’s, he says: “GMOs should never have been introduced. A multitude of scientists reviewing the facts agree that the foods were put on the market long before the science was ready. As such, we are feeding the products and immature, side effect prone technology to the entire population.
The intelligent public policy would be to remove GMOs from the environment and from our foods, to put them back in the laboratory, and require long-term rigorous studies conducted by independent scientists.”
So there are two very good arguments for the use and the cessation of GMO foods.
We are overpopulated and cannot sustain ourselves, this is a real threat, but with GMO foods only being on the market since 1994, is this enough time to understand their effects on humans now, and on our future generations?
Could it be saving us or changing our very DNA forever?