Americans have been eating genetically modified ingredients in most processed foods, beginning in 1996. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) stated in 2009 that, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food.” This includes immune problems, accelerated aging, infertility, faulty insulin regulation, and alterations in the gastrointestinal system and major organs, and the AAEM requested physicians to advise all patients to avoid genetically modified foods. The controversy surrounding genetically modified food is vast. Some continents and countries such as Europe and Japan have even gone as far as rejecting GMO because of the negative effects. We are brought to the various questions of, what exactly is genetically modified food? How does it effect the environment, animals, and most importantly, the health of people?
To begin, genetically modified food is defined as “genetically modified organism: an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering” (1). GMOs generate combinations of animal, bacteria, viral, and plant genes that don’t occur in the usual crossbreeding methods or in nature. Conventional processed food in the United States are approximately 80% GMO, and unlabeled on food products (3). The United States, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, and Uruguay are the top ten counties planting genetically modified crops (2). However, there are significant restrictions on the production and sale of GMOs and over 60 countries have limited or banned GMOs (3).GMOs are made by foreign genes that are forced into the DNA of genetically modified plants such as cottonseed, canola, corn, and soybean. This insertion is done by either using bacteria to invade the cell with foreign DNA, or by shooting genes into a plate of cells. The human food supply has never had these inserted genes that come from species of viruses and bacteria (5). Because of this fact that genetically modified plants are altered in a non-natural way to be herbicide tolerant, or virus and insect resistant, there are a number of environmental problems. Chemical herbicides and pesticides commonly used with GMOs cause a big issue with toxicity (4).
GMOs may be toxic to non-target organisms such as butterflies and bees. Bees are crucial to the pollination of most food crops but are vastly endangered by genetically modified crops. GM maize plants pose a particular threat to Monarch butterflies. Birds are also in danger from pesticides who work as biological control pollinators and agents like bees (4). Moreover, the pests that are targeted can adapt to herbicides, pesticides, as well as the DNA changes in the genetically modified plants that make them “resistant”. In addition, while biodiversity is vital in all ecosystems, it is threatened by genetically modified plants. Many heritage seeds aren’t used when GM crops are planted which causes less weed flowers. Therefore, there is less nectar for pollinators. Furthermore, the soil bacteria that are necessary for healthy soil for plants to grow, are depleted with the toxins that are released into the soil. Genetically modified crops leave toxic residues in the soil, and nutrients aren’t returned to the soil. This causes the soil to become void of nutrients and dry. The irrigation that is used to grow GM crops carries all of these problems into the air and water sources, exposing other insects, animals, and bacteria to the same problems (4).
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, “The genetic engineering process creates massive collateral damage, causing mutations in hundreds or thousands of locations throughout the plant’s DNA. Natural genes can be deleted or permanently turned on or off, and hundreds may change their behavior. Even the inserted gene can be damaged or rearranged, and may create proteins that can trigger allergies or promote disease” (5). After many extensive studies, doctors and physicians are finding a link between the drastic rise in autism to genetically modified foods and soon after the GM soy was introduced, soy allergies rose drastically by 50% in the UK. Some people react to GM soy but not wild natural soy, according to an allergy test taken. Cooked GM soy has 7-times the amount of a known soy allergen, and also an unexpected one not found in wild natural soy. The World Health Organization advises a screening protocol, yet no test can guarantee that GMOs won’t cause allergies. The genetically modified corn, papaya, and soy in our food supply fail those tests on account of their proteins having properties of known allergens (5).
Furthermore, the effects it has on animals is vast, potentially being able to have those same effects on us. Rats that were fed GM potatoes had smaller and to an extent shrinking livers. GM soy changed mouse liver cells that alludes a toxic insult. Interestingly, after they switched to non-GM soy, the changes reversed. In addition, many reproductive problems are caused by GMOs. The babies of mother rats who were fed genetically modified soy were significantly smaller and over half of the died within three weeks. Male mice and rats fed GM soy had altered testicles, and the female rats had changes in their ovaries and uterus. Also the DNA of mouse embryos worked differently when their parents ate GM soy. They had less and less babies the longer they were fed GM corn and their babies grew smaller. Mice began to react to an array of other foods once fed experimental GM peas. The peas previously passed all the normal allergy tests done before a GMO gets on the market. Only this advanced test showed that the peas could actually be deadly, a test that is never used on the GMOs we eat. Most hamsters fed GM soy were unable to have babies by the third generation. Digestive enzymes in mice are radically reduced by GM soy. If our own digestion is damaged, we could be allergic and sensitive to a large diversity of foods (5).
Among the eight GM food crops are the five major ones, cotton, soy, canola, corn, and sugar beets. These plants can withstand an otherwise deadly dose of weed killer because of the bacterial genes that are inserted. The food has higher herbicide residues because farmers use significantly more herbicides on the GM crops. Around 68 percent of GM crops are herbicide tolerant. Found in GM cotton and corn is another genetically modified trait: a built-in pesticide. A gene from the soil bacterium called Bt, for Bacullus thuringiensis, secretes the insect-killing Bt-toxin in every cell when its inserted into the plant’s DNA (3). The biotech industry asserts that Bt-toxin is harmless to mammals and humans on account that the natural bacteria version has been used for years. Yet, the Bt in genetically modified crops is thousands of times more concentrated than the natural spray. Hundreds of people exposed had allergic symptoms, and farmers in India are getting the same allergic reactions from Bt cotton. At least five villages fell sick when a Bt corn variety was pollinating in the Philippines (5).
Moreover, mice and rats fed Bt corn had damaged intestines and intense immune responses, and began having immune reactions to previously harmless foods when fed Bt-toxin. Farmers in Asia and Europe reported that water buffaloes, chickens, cows, and horses died from eating Bt corn, and thousands of buffalo, goats, and sheep in India died when they grazed on Bt cotton plants after harvest, while others suffered reproductive problems and bad health. Rats had damaged immune systems, organs, and their stomach lining revealed excessive cell growth, a state that could lead to cancer (5).
No human clinical trials of GM foods exist, unlike safety evaluations for drugs. The one published human feeding experiment showed that the genetic material inserted into GM soy moves into bacteria inside our intestines, continuing to work, meaning we still have GM proteins functioning even after we stop eating genetically modified foods. Our intestinal bacteria could turn into living pesticide factories if the gene that creates Bt-toxin in GM corn were to transfer. In addition, super diseases that are resistant to antibiotics may be created if the antibiotic gene inserted into most GM crops were to transfer. DNA in food has the ability to travel into organs in the entire body (5).
In conclusion, with all the research and facts provided we can see that genetically modified food is not as safe as it seems. The numerous longtime effects that GMOs cause can be fatal and there are countless unseen effects that are harming animals, the environment, and people all across the globe. 53% consumers stated they wouldn’t buy genetically modified food, according to a recent CBS New York Times poll (3). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated they held no information depicting that genetically modified foods were considerably different from conventionally grown foods, saying they are safe to eat, and no safety studies were required in 1992. Yet internal memos made public by a lawsuit showed that their stance was stage by political appointees under orders from the White House to promote GMOs. The FDA official responsible for creating this policy was the vice president of the largest biotech company. The reality was that FDA scientists frequently cautioned that GM foods could create obscure, unpredictable effects including nutritional problems, toxins, new diseases, and allergies. The people responsible of deciding if GM foods are safe or not, are the same biotech companies found guilty of concealing toxic effects of their chemical products (5).
Today, facts like the ones stated are easily lost in the hurricane of debates and opinions people have. Each side clamors to inform people about the benefits or harms of genetically modified organisms. Regardless of any benefits that come up, if the peoples’ health is compromised, we have lost sight of the real goal. If the very thing that was meant to help people, is threatening us and the world we live in, then it should be eradicated.