What to Know and Do About GMOs
Jun 29, 2013 02:52PM
● By Charmaine Rusin
On May 25, an estimated 2 million people in 436 cities of 52 countries worldwide participated in the global March Against Monsanto to protest genetically engineered foods and their agricultural chemical companions. Currently, of crops grown in the United States, approximately 91 percent of corn, 95 percent of soy, 90 percent of cotton and canola and 95 percent of sugar beets are genetically engineered. Yet, what is most alarming is how little Americans seem to know about genetically modified organisms (GMO), the products of laboratory manipulation of a plant’s DNA.
To create GMOs, scientists take the genes of one organism, usually a virus or bacteria, and inject them into the DNA of the host plant. This DNA is cloned until a plant is produced, the seeds of which are then patented and sold under brand names such as Roundup Ready Soy and Bt Corn. The genes that have been added are present and expressed in every cell of the new organism. This process is entirely different from traditional crossbreeding, which has been practiced to the benefit of farmers for thousands of years, because in genetic engineering, two species that never could have crossbred in nature are combined to create a novel organism.
The two main types of genetically engineered crops on the market are those bred to produce their own pesticides and those that are herbicide-resistant. Some crops have both traits. The big sell to farmers when GMOs came on the scene was that they would reduce herbicide use and increase yield. Neither of these claims held true, and since their introduction, total herbicide use in the U.S. increased by 383 million pounds.
The pesticide-producing plants are injected with naturally occurring soil bacteria called bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. In small quantities, this natural pesticide is approved for use in organic farming because it breaks down over time and when exposed to rain and sunlight. In GMOs, however, this toxin remains present and active in every cell of the plant. Being naturally occurring bacteria does not ensure the safety of large-scale spraying or genetic modification of plants. According to reports published by local governments, professional journals and citizen advocate groups, when Bt has been used as an aerial spray, area residents and exposed workers have reported effects that include allergies, asthma, flu-like symptoms and other respiratory complaints.
Bt works by causing a bug's stomach to explode after ingestion. According to Jeffery Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, who writes and speaks on the dangers of GMOs, consuming genetically engineered Bt food may allow enough of the toxin into people’s digestive tracts to weaken the walls of the intestinal cells and cause gut permeability, an underlying trigger for other diseases and syndromes.
Herbicide-resistant crops are engineered to withstand extremely high doses of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. This allows farmers to spray their crops directly with large quantities of the herbicide and while surrounding weeds die, the GMO plant lives. Opponents of these crops point out that the surviving plants are nutritionally deficient and weak and have absorbed large quantities of Roundup.
Many articles have been written about the devastating impact of glyphosate. In a study published this year in the journal Entropy, scientists Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff describe how the chemical causes inflammation that damages cellular systems throughout the body and disrupts the work of the vital micro flora of the gut. Other studies have linked the toxin to disruption of the endocrine system, infertility, low birth weight, birth defects, premature aging and neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease. To make matters worse, the chemical appears to deplete soil, reduce biodiversity and increase weed resistance.
Concerned citizens are taking actions to keep genetically engineered foods away from their dining room tables. They buy locally grown food from a trusted farmer, making it easy to ask questions about the seeds and growing methods used while supporting a sustainable local food economy. Organic certification requires that the food and the seeds used to grow it do not contain GMOs. It is also best to avoid the foods that come from the most commonly genetically engineered seeds.
Beyond personal food choices, citizens can take action by calling their local legislators, letting them know that this issue is important and asking that they support Senate Bill 653, which will require labeling of GMOs in Pennsylvania. The needless suffering of many people because of these toxins is just one good reason that everyone deserves to know if their food is created in a field or a lab.
For more information, contact GMO Free PA by emailing RightToK[email protected] or visiting Facebook.com/GMOFreePa.
Charmaine Rusin works as an outreach leader for GMO Free PA. Connect with her at [email protected] or 610-547-3073.