In our GMO primer we discussed what genetically modified organisms are and identified a few of the pros and cons to genetic engineering. Now let’s focus on one of the cons – the potential health risks of GMOs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the prevalence of children with food allergies rose 18% between 1997 and 2007. The first genetically modified food hit grocery store shelves in 1996. Coincidence? It’s difficult for scientists to establish a correlation since there could be other factors at play but many experts believe that GMOs have resulted in an increase in food allergies.
Robyn O’Brien, former food industry analyst and author of The Unhealthy Truth, is the founder of the AllergyKids Foundation. O’Brien began looking at food allergy data after her youngest child had a severe allergic reaction during breakfast one morning. What she found was startling. Remember 1996, the year we mentioned above? The year GM food hit grocery store shelves? O’Brien learned that from 1997 until 2002, there had been a doubling of the peanut allergy. And that today, one out of 17 kids under age 3 has a food allergy.
“Is there something foreign in our food that wasn’t there when we were kids?” O’Brien asked.
Watch Robyn O’Brien discuss GMOs and how she went from the top of her business class and a successful Wall Street career to a “Real Food” evangelist:
Jeffrey Smith, another crusader for the anti-GMO side and the Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, also believes that GMOs have been a major contributor to the rise in food allergies.
“The process of genetic engineering can cause hundreds of thousands of mutations up and down the DNA and up to 5% of the existing natural genes can change their levels of expression. Animals consistently react to GMOs when their immune systems are tested.” Smith said.
Since the techniques used in genetic engineering (gene guns, bacterial vectors, etc.) are imprecise there can be massive collateral damage including deletion of desired natural genes, mutations, and damage to the existing DNA. The resulting proteins, intended or unintended, can trigger allergies and promote disease.
Other evidence that GMOs could be linked to allergies include:
- A 50% increase in soy allergies in the UK after GM soy was introduced.
- One study showed that some people, who didn’t react to wild natural soy, reacted to GM soy. Reference: Hye-Yung Yum, Soo-Young Lee, Kyung-Eun Lee, Myung-Hyun Sohn, Kyu-Earn Kim, “Genetically Modified and Wild Soybeans: An immunologic comparison,” Allergy and Asthma Proceedings 26, no. 3 (May–June 2005): 210-216(7).
- Mice fed the GMO pesticide, Bt-toxin, showed a significant immune response and then started having reactions to other substances that were formerly harmless suggesting that Bt-toxin might cause allergies to many foods.
- Mice fed GM peas also started having allergic reactions to formerly harmless foods.
- Farm workers in India suffered allergic reactions after handling GM Bt Cotton was causing allergic ailments among people even as cattle have reportedly perished after consuming its seeds.
Organ Damage, Reproductive Damage and Cancer
A study by Joël Spiroux de Vendômois et al. published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences in 2009 analyzed blood and organ data from rats fed three different genetically modified corn varieties for 90 days. The authors concluded that there was a clear negative impact on the function of the kidneys and liver. Effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also noted. The data collected strongly suggests that the GM corn induced a state of hepatorenal toxicity.
GE potatoes fed to rats showed lowered nutritional content and suffered damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers and testicles and enlarged intestines. Excessive cell growth in the stomach lining, a condition that may lead to cancer, was also shown.
Rats fed GM soy before conception, during pregnancy and while nursing showed an abnormally high offspring mortality rate and lower offspring birth weights compared to offspring of rats fed non-GM soy or normal rat food during the same time period.
In Austria, a government study led by Dr. Jürgen Zentek, Professor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Vienna, showed that mice fed the GE corn diet had fewer litters, fewer total offspring, smaller offspring, and more females with no offspring, than mice feed the conventional corn. And furthermore, the effects were particularly pronounced in the third and fourth litters, after the mice had consumed the GE corn for a longer period of time. However, following “issues” between Monsanto and the Austrian government concerning this study, Austria withdrew it’s findings.
Additional Cause for Concern – A Human Study
A study published in 2004 in Nature Biotechnology by Trudy Netherwood et al showed that the genetic material from GM soy transfers into the bacteria living in our intestines. That’s right. In HUMAN intestines. So well after we ingest GM soy, we may still have the GM proteins living inside us.
A Warning from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges physicians to advise all patients to avoid genetically modified (GM) food. They cite infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system as some of the serious health risks associated with GM food.
“In 2012, research still shows that genetically modified foods pose a threat to consumers’ health,” said Dr. Amy L. Dean, President Elect of AAEM.
You can read the AAEM’s position on genetically modified foods here.
How to Avoid GMOs
Until GMOs are identified on food labels, the only way to avoid them is to purchase organic products. The five major GM crops are:
- sugar beets
Also, some of the Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash sold in grocery stores have been genetically engineered to resist a plant virus but those three GM crops are far less common than the five major varieties listed above.