By Michael D. Haughey, January 24, 2013
In the beginning they were not called GMOs. They were the promise of a better world through genetic engineering. Oh sure, there were doubters and skeptics – aren’t there always?
The ability to engineer crops to increase yields, increase nutrient content, increase resistance to insects and disease – this was the promise, and the hope and expectation of the world.
Now we call them GMOs – for Genetically Modified Organisms. According to Wikipedia, scientists first noticed in 1946 that genes can transfer between organisms. It wasn’t until 1983 that the first genetically modified plant was engineered: an anti-biotic resistant tobacco plant. In 1992 the first genetically modified tomato was approved by the FDA according to Food and Water Watch. It was engineered to ripen after it was picked to accommodate the long transport time from field to market. We now have about 20 years of experience with GMOs in our food supply. Has it been a success?
This topic is huge. This article will therefore only skim the surface, yet hopefully provide enough references to facilitate further information-gathering.
The Science – how are GMOs made?
It was a mystery for quite some time. How did they actually get the genes from one species into another? We envisioned tiny little scientists in white lab coats with ultra tiny instruments inserting genes into cells while somehow inside an incredible microscope, and then getting the cells to multiply on a mass-production scale. Or maybe that was just me.
That is not how it is done. I’m not really sure how they do it – still a bit like magic. Sometimes they use a bacteria or a virus to infect another organism (in an unnatural way). Another method has been described as more like using a shotgun to spray genetic material from one organism into another organism in the hopes of creating a useful mutation. Tiny particles of Tungsten are coated with the genetic material and “shot” into the target organism. The result is a bit random. Through a long, long, long series of trial and error, eventually they get a result that is somehow useful.
As you might expect, there are other mutations in the resultant organism in addition to the useful mutation. As I understand it there are about 3 billion genes in a typical chromosome, so the scientists cannot be expected to understand all the possible interactions.
The Primary types
The GMO food on the market today consists primarily of two types of GMOs.
Glyphosate resistant plants are one type. Glyphosate is Roundup, a product of Monsanto with a multi-billion dollar market. Another category name for these plants is “Roundup ready”. Roundup is used for weed control. The idea is that you can spray Roundup on the crop and only the weeds will die. Glyphosate partially works by essentially chelating nutrients and minerals out of the food of the organism that feeds on it, the target being weeds. They weaken and die. The process has also been described as unleashing a systemic poison preventing the formation of essential amino acids. It appears that both are true. The chelation may occur primarily in the root zone. Chelation is basically binding to target molecules, and the Glyphosate binds to micronutrients and minerals in the soil. Once bound, they are no longer available to the plant. One effect is that the chelated nutrients are also not available to other plants in the root zone. Other plants that are not the target weeds are thus affected, and as these chemicals wash further into the environment, the effect spreads.
Bt infused crops are the other primary type. Bt is a bacteria that is an insecticide. In these plants the bacteria Bt has been genetically inserted (using the shotgun approach) and the result is a plant that has a built-in insecticide. The plants themselves are toxic (theoretically only to insects).
There are eight GM food crops. The five major varieties—soy, corn, canola, cotton, and sugar beets—have bacterial genes inserted, which allow the plants to survive an otherwise deadly dose of weed killer. Farmers use considerably more herbicides on these GM crops and so the food has higher herbicide residues. About 68% of GM crops are herbicide tolerant.
According to How Stuff Works:
“Glyphosate-based herbicides all work on the same biochemical principle — they inhibit a specific enzyme that plants need in order to grow. The specific enzyme is called EPSP synthase. Without that enzyme, plants are unable to produce other proteins essential to growth, so they yellow and die over the course of several days or weeks. A majority of plants use this same enzyme, so almost all plants succumb to Roundup.”
And ResponsibileTechnology.org says:
“The second GM trait is a built-in pesticide, found in GM corn and cotton. A gene from the soil bacterium called Bt (for Bacillus thuringiensis) is inserted into the plant’s DNA, where it secretes the insect-killing Bt-toxin in every cell. About 19% of GM crops produce their own pesticide. Another 13% produce a pesticide and are herbicide tolerant.”
“The Bt toxin dissolve in the high pH insect gut and become active. The toxins then attack the gut cells of the insect, punching holes in the lining. The Bt spores spills out of the gut and germinate in the insect causing death within a couple days.”
The same process is suspected in humans. The cells of intestinal lining become perforated and leak undigested food into the bloodstream. The industry claims that natural Bt is common and not harmful, which is itself a questionable claim. However GM Bt is genetically modified and therefore is not the same as the natural varieties.
What actually happened
It turns out that GMO crops can have a good first year, maybe two, although generally not even that. Then the yields decline. The primary reason is that weeds and insects mutate on their own (natural evolution) and become resistant.
For the Roundup ready GMOs more and more Roundup has to be sprayed on the plants each year and even with that the yields still decline because the weeds become more resistant.
For the Bt resistant crops, the effect is not 100% and pesticides still have to be used. Bt bacteria secrete a toxin that is harmful to insects. Very quickly the insects become more and more resistant and pesticide use has to be increased.
The result is that in just a few years the GMO crops need far more herbicides and pesticides than the non-GMO crops.
Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield – the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield.
Mega-Corporatization of GMOs
There is really big money in GMOs. By now you have heard the reports of farmers being sued by Monsanto because their crops contain GMO seeds patented and copyrighted by Monsanto. Monsanto generally wins these cases, except one or two recent cases, even though the GMOs got into the farmers field because the wind carried them there from someone else’s GMO crop fields.
We can get an idea of how big the market, and thus how strong the economic and political forces, by looking at the penetration of the agriculture market already by GM crops. ResponsibileTechnology.org (and others) provide this data:
Currently commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), corn (88%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash (over 24,000 acres).
That has to be huge – at least in the $billions. Given the current Mega-Corporation culture where outright lying and buying elections and politicians seems to be accepted, is it any wonder that huge obstacles are in the way of information getting out and protections for the consumer and environment being enacted?
The tide may be turning slightly, if only for a moment, as consumers and organic farmers fight back. “This past spring a lawsuit was filed against Monsanto, preemptively seeking legal relief from the strong-arm tactics for which the firm has become famous.”
The claim of Monsanto and others is that GMOs are harmless and that Roundup biodegrades in a very short time. The claim is that should the herbicide come into contact with the soil, over time it breaks down into harmless carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Supposedly that is due to the natural Bt that is already present in the soil. That may only be true of overspray that lands on the ground. Roundup that gets into the soil, perhaps having been transported there by the sprayed crops, may be another matter entirely. Not all of it biodegrades. It still gets into the environment through the air and waterways and kills other species.
The Bt toxin similarly kills or weakens other organisms. Note this passage on the Rachel Carson Council website:
“There is a common understanding that the widely used herbicide, glyphosate is easily degraded and adsorbed in soils and thus, harmless for use in agriculture. We can demonstrate, however, that this conclusion is wrong and dangerous for farmers because in former risk assessments the behavior of glyphosate in the rhizosphere was not properly considered. In… experiments we can show that foliar applied glyphosate to target plants is released in the rhizosphere after a fast translocation from shoots to roots. In the rhizosphere glyphosate can ….achieve negative results on non-target plants. Such a negative side effect is for example, inhibited acquisition of micronutrients such as Mn, Zn, Fe and B, which are involved in plant disease resistance mechanisms. … We predict an increase in disease problems, particularly on soils with low micronutrient availability as already reported in the USA. In view of plant and soil health, we urgently call for a re-assessment of glyphosate “ (Neumann, 2006)
The poisoning of the rhizosphere is just the beginning. Almost all the corn in Mexico is now contaminated with GMO thanks to Monsanto and from seeds that have blown in the wind and pollinated non-GMO crops in spite of Mexico’s efforts to keep GMOs out of their country. Weeds and insects are evolving to be more resistant to the sprays used, so more poison is needed. For a place to learn more, The Institute for Responsible Technology is a good place to start.
Human health impacts
It is important to recognize that, just as with insects, some humans are more resistant to chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs than others. Some of us are canaries in the coal mine.
Just because something biodegrades doesn’t mean that it becomes less harmful or that all of it bio-degrades. One study found glyphosate in the urine of ALL samples tested. As an example of biodegrading but remaining harmful, DDT metabolizes in the human body within 6 months into DDE which is just as harmful. DDE has a half-life of 20 to 30 years. After 6 months the DDT cannot be detected by normal testing, but the DDE can. Since DDE is also in the sprays, it is difficult if not impossible to know how much of the DDE was originally DDT.
Roundup sprayed crops do contain roundup residue. You just can’t wash off 100% of the stuff. Since it travels from the leaves to the root zone, one can deduce that it is also in the plant itself, at least for a time. Thus when we eat it we get the residue on the leaves, the part in transit to the root zone, and whatever soil comes with the plant when it is harvested.
In humans, the glyphosate can chelate minerals and nutrients out of your body just like it does in the root zones of plants, making you weaker and more susceptible to disease and allergies.
Bt crops still contain small amounts of Bt toxin. We eat them and over time they accumulate in our bodies.
In humans, the Bt toxin can make the stomach lining porous which releases undigested food into your blood stream. Since your immune defense system has never seen food in this undigested form, it attacks, which is the very definition of an allergic response. People are commonly becoming allergic to more and more foods that previously never caused allergic reactions.
How do you know if YOU have Bt toxin or the Bt gene in your system? I tried to find out for myself, and I could not find any test. After some research it seems that testing for the Bt gene or toxin in humans has been done once, at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec, Canada for a research project. So here is the catch 22: this incredible poison that has the potential, indeed the probability to infect bacteria in your intestines so that they produce the Bt toxin, has been unleashed upon us in our food supply and there is no test! Not only does the GMO industry, the government, and the medical community tell us that it is safe and cannot transfer into mammals – let alone humans – but there is no test to prove that they are right or wrong. At the very, very least our government(s) should not allow such a poison to be unleashed upon us until there is a test!. There are, however, studies and mounting evidence that in fact the Bt toxin IS in our systems.
As reported in NaturalNews.com, “The physicians at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec, Canada discovered Bt-toxin in 93 percent of 30 pregnant women, 80 percent of umbilical cord blood of their babies and 67 percent of 39 women who were not pregnant. Considering Bt-toxin is linked with cancer, autism, severe food allergies and autoimmune disease, these findings are downright frightening.”
93% of pregnant women? That extrapolates to meaning that it is in just about all of us.
What can you do?
First and foremost, DO NOT eat any of the 8 primary GMO crops unless they are certified organic.
papaya from China, or Hawaii (most)
zucchini and yellow squash,
OR any animal products (unless organic). Remember that animals eat this stuff as feed stock, especially corn and alfalfa.
GM alfalfa is fed to livestock.
That is just the 8 primary crops – there are others (some potatoes, etc.).
Don’t trust “All Natural” labels. That is now meaningless and often used to market products that contain GMOs.
Look for the Non-GMO Project Seal on products.
Sugar: If a non-organic product made in North America lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT “pure cane sugar”), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets. Don’t buy it, don’t eat it.
Dairy products may be from cows injected with GM bovine growth hormone. If it’s not labeled Organic, or Non-GMO Project Verified, DON’T EAT IT. Also look for labels stating No rbGH, No rbST, or no artificial hormones.
Use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide
Visit NonGMOShoppingGuide.com to see a complete list of Non-GMO products available from each brand in this guide or use the ShopNoGMO App on your iPhone—available for free at the iTunes store.
Watch the film Genetic Roulette – can be watched free on the responsibletechnology.org website. This is one of the better documentaries on GMOs and leaves a visceral impression of why avoiding GMOs is a necessity.
Join the increasing number of voices who are saying NO to GMOs.
Eat organic. Become an organic vegan. Become an organic Raw-Foodist. Move to another planet.
Join the class-action lawsuit against Conagra for lying to us with the “natural” labels. “the law firm suing ConAgra, Milberg LLC, is asking people who feel as though they’ve been deceived by natural labels on GMO foods to submit their claims on its website. As part of the basis for the lawsuit, the firm cites numerous studies that show nearly everyone in the U.S. wants GMO ingredients to be labeled on foods.”
This may be the most important of all. The next time you visit your doctor, insist on a blood test for the gene “Bt Cry1Ab toxin”. Don’t take no for an answer even though you know there is no test. It is important that the test be for this particular gene, not the Bt gene that was inserted into the crops initially. The original gene changes in the plants and the GMO industry like to test for that in their crops and then say “see – it is not there”. If enough of us demand the test, that could create a market for one of the testing companies. Once there is a test available to all of us and not just in research laboratories (it has to be an accurate test), then knowledge should spread. And knowledge is power.
The expectation of a hunger-free world through the magic of genetic engineering has not come to pass. Instead more of a Frankenfood has been unleashed upon us and the world now has literally a fight for its life. The sooner we get rid of GMOs the better. That is not to say that in the future the scientists will not learn how to make GMOs that are safe, but that time, if it ever comes, (and if the Human race lasts that long) is a long way off.
We canaries had given our warning. Stay GMO-Free. Fight back. Your health, your life, may depend on it.
Suggested Reading and informative documentaries:
Genetic Roulette (DVD – see above)
The World According to Monsanto (DVD)
The World According to Monsanto (Book)
More to come…
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