Are GMOs Good or Bad? 5 Reasons They Should Concern You

Submitted by ameyer on

More and more studies point to the idea that there’s grave cause for concern about the health effects of consuming GMOs, including food allergies, irritable bowels, organ damage, and more. But when GMOs appear so frequently in the grocery aisle, one might start to question if GMOs really are good or bad. We're here with five reasons you should avoid GMOs, for the health of people and planet. 

Today, 94 percent of the soybeans and 72 percent of the corn grown in the US are genetically engineered to be “Roundup Ready,” or able to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide or its generic form, glyphosate. While Monsanto initially marketed Roundup as being “safer than table salt,” several studies have pointed to health risks. A 2008 study in Sweden linked Roundup exposure to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A 2007 study in Ecuador found a higher degree of DNA damage in a population that had been aerially sprayed. DNA damage can ultimately lead to cancer or birth defects. A 2003 study of tadpoles exposed to Roundup in Argentina found a higher incidence of skull, eye, and tail abnormalities. Corresponding to that study, a 2009 study in Paraguay found that women exposed to Roundup during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to babies with skull and brain abnormalities.

As for the GMO crops themselves, there’s evidence that the new substances engineered into some GMO foods can mimic potent, potentially life-threatening allergens. So basically, we’re introducing new, hidden allergens into foods that will be much more difficult to pinpoint than a standard food allergy, making them deadlier than the average peanut or seafood allergy.

In addition, new research points to the possibility that GMO foods could damage the gut. Bt corn, for example, introduces a protein that pokes holes in the gut of common pests, killing them. While Big Biotech claims that humans won’t experience the same kind of damage, studies out of Cuba and Mexico have found that certain Bt crops do poke holes in the guts of mice. And Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France re-analyzed 17 studies in 2011 and again found statistically significant occurrences of these effects, in addition to liver and kidney damage in rats.

Could this kind of damage extend to humans? Researchers say more studies are needed, but the possibility is strong enough that Green America recommends exercising precaution and avoiding GMO foods whenever possible.

Seventy-two percent of US GMO crops are engineered to tolerate a certain type of herbicide. But the weeds that these herbicides used to kill are coming back bigger and stronger, creating herbicide-resistant “superweeds” that require greater quantities of more toxic pesticides to eradicate. 

In the US alone, superweeds resistant to the RoundUp/glyphosate herbicide have taken over 10 million acres of farmland.

Palmer pigweed, one of the worst of the glyphosate-resistant superweeds, has infested over a million acres in North Carolina, and has caused half a million acres in Georgia to be weeded by hand.

Overwhelmingly, the answer to these superweeds is to spray even more glyphosate, and to engineer crops to be resistant to other pesticides, such as dicamba and 2, 4-D. Dicamba has been linked to reproductive and developmental effects, and 2, 4-D—originally developed as an element of the
notorious Monsanto defoliant Agent Orange—has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, endocrine disruption, and kidney and liver damage.

It’s a vicious cycle of pesticides-resistant weeds-and ever-more-toxic pesticides, which will have devastating consequences on human health and the environment, while lining the coffers of pesticide and biotech companies.

Every three minutes, a farmer commits suicide in India due to meet rising debts, a phenomenon that has been steadily rising since the 1970s. While the causes behind the farmers’ crushing debt and resultant suicides are complex—ranging from unfair government floor prices for cotton to international trade agreements skewed in favor of other countries—GM seeds do appear to play a role. 

For millennia, farmers in India had cultivated cotton with seeds they’d saved from their own plants. In the 1970s, hybrid seeds came to market, which had been bred to increase yields. Hybrid seeds, however, cannot be saved, so the farmers had to buy more seeds each year. In time, the hybrids required more costly pesticides, as well. Farmer suicides began in 1997, as many went into debt and couldn’t make ends meet.

In 2002, Bt cotton seeds arrived, and though they promised higher yields and higher earnings, the suicide rate has kept going up. These seeds are injected with the Bt soil bacterium so they “naturally” produce an insecticide to fight off the bollworm, a primary pest.

But to produce the higher yields it promises, Bt cotton needs more water and fertilizer than cotton from heirloom or hybrid seeds, applied according to precise timetables. But 90 percent of farmers in Kopulwar’s region have no irrigation and are rain-dependent. They have no money for extra fertilizer.
And so, as the rains fail to come, their cotton plants start to wither. In addition, new pests like mealy bugs have started destroying cotton crops in India, because genetic engineering “weakens the plants,” says scientist and international activist Dr. Vandana Shiva.

And so, as farmers across India continue to pay Monsanto a royalty to plant Bt cotton—often the only kind of seeds available at local markets—the farmer suicide rate continues to climb.

Even when a farmer isn’t growing GM crops, contamination can easily occur—through seed mixing or pollen drift from neighboring GM fields. While this contamination is troubling for those of us who wish to avoid GMOs, it can be an economic disaster for organic and family farmers.

In their 2004 report “Gone to Seed,” the Union of Concerned Scientists found that most of the traditional US corn, soy, and canola crops they tested were contaminated with GMOs.

USDA Organic standards mandate that certified organic produce must come from non-GMO seeds. To prevent inadvertent GMO contamination, organic farmers must establish barriers between their fields and potential GMO contamination. Even with these measures, GMO contamination of organic fields occurs. Absurdly, the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21), a group appointed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address transgenic contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered (GE) crops, recently issued a report recommending that organic and non-GE conventional farmers pay for crop insurance or self-insure themselves against unwanted GMO contamination. The burden is placed on organic farmers to stop unwanted GMOs from contaminating their fields, instead of being placed on the companies that sell GMOs.

In addition, organic and family farmers are under the threat of spurious lawsuits related to this accidental contamination. US biotech giant Monsanto is now notorious for its “seed police,” which detect Monsanto-patented GM seeds or plants on farms that have not purchased the seeds; Monsanto then sues farmers for patent infringement, even if the farmer is a victim of accidental contamination through seed or pollen drift.

Monsanto filed 144 such lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and 2010, and has brought charges against 700 more who chose to settle out of court, according to the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA).

Most non-organic soy, corn and sugar beets are GMO, and they make up a significant portion of the Today, most non-organic US corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets are GMO—and combined, they provide a vast portion of the additives used by food manufacturers. 

Green America and our allies believe it’s imperative to mandate labeling on foods containing GMOs, so consumers can avoid these foods if they choose. Unfortunately, the big biotech and processed food companies are fighting back against consumers’ basic right to know, both by spending millions to prevent labeling laws (such as California’s Prop 37) and by working to discredit studies that reveal potential health risks of GMOs. Read more…

Click through to longer version:
This fall, processed food conglomerates and big biotech celebrated as California’s Proposition 37, or the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” was defeated. Prop. 37 would have mandated labels on GM foods and foods containing GM ingredients.

Given that polls show that over 90 percent of Americans would prefer GMO foods be labeled and a majority would avoid GMO foods, it’s clear that the companies with a financial stake in these foods would benefit from keeping their GM ingredients hidden. Monsanto, General Mills, Coca-Cola, and others sunk over $35 million into defeating the measure. Despite enjoying a 70 percent lead early on, California’s Prop. 37 was defeated, and the corporate campaign won the day over the public interest and consumers’ right to know.

But big biotech isn’t stopping there. According to Consumer Reports biologist Dr. Michael Hansen and the Institute for Responsible Technology’s Dr. Jeffrey Smith, the big biotech companies often try to obscure results from GMO safety studies that aren’t in their favor.

Says Hansen: “What the biotech companies will do, if they find [unfavorable,] statistically significant results, they’ll say, ‘We see this result, but only in males, not females, so it’s not biologically significant.’ Or, ‘We only see effects at a low dose and not a high dose, so there’s no dosage dependency, and there’s no real effect.’ There are things that can harm and that can behave in a way that isn’t linear, but rather in a U-shaped curve: They can have an effect at a low dose, not much at an intervening dose, and then another effect at the higher dose.”

That phenomenon became all-too evident in the summer of 2012, when biologist Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini at the University of Caen published another study in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicity pointing to possible health risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Seralini and his team fed 180 rats GM corn for two years, and found that the rats developed large tumors or kidney problems and died 2-3 times more often during the study than the 20 control group rats. He found similar results in rats fed GM corn and Roundup, the Monsanto herbicide that certain types of GMOs have been engineered to tolerate. Critics took swipes at the Seralini study immediately after its release, dismissing the claims because the study tested a too small group of rats and included a too-small group of control rats to be statistically relevant.

Echoing Hansen’s warnings, these critics also hit at Seralini’s team because, as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik put it, “The rats fed higher doses of pesticide or GM corn didn’t consistently get sicker than those fed lower doses. In fact, some rats fed higher doses did better than the others.”

And here we are, hearing the exact same criticism of Seralini’s new study as Hansen predicted. In fact, Hansen and eight other scientists wrote an open letter to Independent Science News—signed by 92 scientists from around the world—defending Seralini. “The Seralini publication, and resultant media attention, raise the profile of fundamental challenges faced by science in a world increasingly dominated by corporate influence,” the letter states. “... Seralini and colleagues are just the latest in a series of researchers whose findings have triggered orchestrated campaigns of harassment.”

As a result, Green America’s GMO Inside Campaign recommends additional research to see of the Seralini study is validated. If additional research supports Seralini’s findings, the call to label and remove GM ingredients will only grow.

More from the Blog