Gambling with Our Genetic Future: GMOs and the World Food Supply

Terminator Technology

Farmers have saved seeds since the beginning of time. What we are seeing here is something new under the sun. Clearly, most Americans are unaware that this is going on. It’s stunning, really.

It gets worse. The biotech industry wants to introduce “terminator technology,” which would render the seeds sterile. When this was being developed, the biotech brochures and promotion admitted that they were going to use this to target the 1.4 billion farmers in the world who save their seeds.

Now, if you think about food security, diversity is key, especially at a time of global climate change. There are millions of varieties of seeds, particularly because farmers identify and save those that perform best under a variety of conditions. If the biotech industry gets its way, they will eliminate seed saving and force farmers to only choose from the limited genetics available in the seed company’s catalog. They are risking the entire food supply in order to generate more profit.

Scientific Credibility

You are a citizen activist rather than a degree-bearing scientist. In this country and elsewhere, there is a long and noble tradition of citizen activism. How do you respond to people who say that as a non-scientist, your views are not worthy of respect?

In my book, Genetic Roulette, every single page was reviewed by at least three scientists, usually including the scientist whose paper is being featured in that section. I typically will interview a scientist and then send the scientist my work, to make sure that I am accurately representing his or her opinion. I further engage multiple scientists when there is disagreement among them, and typically choose the more conservative interpretation for my publication. So in that sense, I am a translator and a compiler, and the attempts to try to discredit me as being a non-scientist, are entirely predictable and part of the mechanism through which the biotech industry tries to distort, divert and deny the mounting evidence of harm.

They will also attribute false motivations and engage in personal attacks. This is something that they do not only for citizen advocates like myself, but especially in the case of scientists who discover problems. There, we have a long, documented history of scientists who have been fired, stripped of responsibilities, forced out, denied funding, denied tenure, or threatened. This is one reason why our work is so important, because the scientists are often unable to convey their concerns and findings to a wider audience.

Is there anything else that we’ve not discussed, that you want to add?

Yes. When you asked how to get rid of GMOs, I said there were two angles. The first was the tipping point [of consumer awareness]. The second angle, I believe, is the labeling, because I believe that the food companies would rather remove GMOs than admit that they use them. And most Americans say that they would avoid GMOs if they were labeled. I think the labeling initiative in California, and the bills that have been introduced in more than 20 states, are watershed opportunities to effect change.

Second, we have not really discussed some of the health dangers of GMOs. I want to take a moment to summarize why I consider this such an important topic, and why I urge people to go immediately to www.nonGMOshoppingguide.com, or download the free iPhone application, ShopNoGMO, in order to help you avoid GM products.

Let’s take one of the areas that the American Academy of Environmental Medicine highlighted as an area of problems with animals fed GMOs—reproductive disorders. In laboratory experiments, rodents that were fed GM Roundup-ready crops (these are crops that are designed not to die when spread with Roundup herbicide), in these studies it was soy or corn, mice had damage to the testicles, young sperm cells, changes in the color of the testicles from pink to blue, changes in the uterus and ovaries, changes in the way the DNA expressed itself in the embryo offspring.7 More than half of the babies of rats fed GM soy10-13 died within three weeks, compared to a ten percent death rate among the controls that ate non-GM soy. The babies were also smaller and could not reproduce. Among hamsters fed GM soy for two years,14 by the third generation most had lost the ability to have babies. They died at four or five times the rate of the others. Some had hair growing in their mouths. An Austrian government study15 found that mice had fewer babies and smaller babies. These are within the confines of controlled studies.

Moreover, if we look at livestock, we see a near-epidemic problem with infertility and miscarriages among cows, goats, sheep, pigs and horses in the United States. And when we hear from veterinarians and farmers who switch animals fed with GM to non-GM, the incidence of conception goes up, the litter size goes up and the ability to maintain the pregnancy goes up. In addition, these farmers and veterinarians are reporting that the death rate goes down, the infectious disease rate goes down, birth defects go down and overall health and uniformity of the size of their livestock is better.

Another thing that I have found is that the farmers and veterinarians describe the animals as “happier.” Also, I’ve seen over 50 farmers this year, and many more reported in previous years, who say that given a choice, both livestock and wild animals will avoid eating the GMOs, suggesting that they have some form of inner wisdom that we have not yet been able to obtain.

Now, I know that many doctors are prescribing non-GMO diets and their patients report improvements in skin problems, weight problems, migraine headache, irritable bowel, all sorts of digestive problems, allergies and immune system problems, the full gamut. It is hard to identify GMOs as the main factor, because these patients may also be switching to organic food or less processed food. But with the animals, we’re seeing changes for the better when they switch to non-GM, along the same lines as the improvements in humans and in the laboratory animals. So we see a parallel between the lab animals, livestock, the patients of doctors as well as the health statistics in the United States. So, for example, inflammatory bowel disease is up by 40 percent in the years since GMOs were introduced; reproductive disorders are up, certain cancers. Multiple chronic illness jumped from seven percent to 13 percent. All sorts of problems are there in parallel with the introduction of GMOs.

It’s good that you make the distinction between statistical association (as when a disease increased during the period when GMOs in foods increased) and causation (where one factor clearly causes a particular response). On the other hand, the lack of proof of causation does not mean there’s nothing to worry about, which is the basis of the European Union’s ban on GMOs, based on their application of the precautionary principle. Are there any other data that our readers should know about?

New Evidence on Bt Corn’s Effects on Digestive Tract

I’ll end with one more set of risks that I think are particularly worrisome. Most of the corn that is being sold in the U.S. market is engineered to produce a toxic insecticide that breaks open the stomachs of insects and kills them. It’s called Bt toxin; it comes from soil bacteria, and in its natural state it has been linked to hundreds of allergic and flu-like symptoms in humans, intestinal damage and immune system responses in animals.16-21

In the crop version that’s genetically engineered, it’s even more toxic and more concentrated, and it’s linked to immune system problems and signs of toxicity in laboratory animals.22-24

The reason why the EPA and the biotech industry justify putting a toxic insecticide into our food is that they claim the toxin is completely destroyed in the digestive process and has no interaction whatsoever with human cells. These claims are not only contradicted in a history of peer-reviewed published studies, but two studies in particular suggest significant danger.

In the summer of 2011, Sherbrooke Hospital in Canada discovered Bt toxin in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their as yet unborn fetuses, showing that the toxin is not destroyed during digestion.25,26 The way the toxin kills insects is that it pokes holes into the walls of their digestive tracts, essentially destroying its integrity to kill the insect. The biotech industry claimed that no such interaction occurs with humans until February of this year, when the Bt toxin was extracted from the corn, exposed to human cells, and caused holes in the cells and leaky cells.27 The authors of the study say this may be the same mechanism by which it kills insects.

The only human feeding study ever published showed that genes from soybeans, designed to make the soybeans Roundup-ready, transferred in part to the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines, and appear to continue to function.28 This means that long after we stop eating genetically engineered foods, we may have these genetically modified proteins produced continuously within our digestive tracts. There have been no follow-up studies yet to see if genes that produce the Bt toxin—the ones that are found in corn chips, for example—also transfer to gut bacteria and continue to function.

If they do, it would turn our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories. If we go back to the Canadian study, the scientists were wondering why such a high percentage of the women had the Bt toxin in their blood, when the toxin would normally wash out of the blood very quickly. They surmised that there had to be a very frequent source of Bt toxin in the diet. And since the Canadians don’t eat corn tortillas and corn chips every day, they speculated that it was from eating the meat and drinking the milk from animals that were fed GM corn.

What about high fructose corn syrup?

That wouldn’t have the Bt toxin because it’s processed out. I think a more plausible explanation is that these women had Bt genes colonizing their gut bacteria and the toxin was produced continuously inside their gut. If we had that situation in North America, it could cause inflammation and digestive disorders, which are on the rise, and if it creates permeable intestines, it could increase food allergies, inflammation, autoimmune disease and even possibly things like autism. These are also on the rise.

We may be in a situation where the entire integrity of the digestive system and the immune system has been compromised in North America, resulting in degeneration of our health. If you look at the statistics, they are consistent with that hypothesis. Whether or not we believe this is the extent to which the harm has occurred, we know that this might occur, and we know that studies are not being done to evaluate the damage or to even follow up on the findings of independent scientists. So we’re in a very dangerous situation. This is why we call for a ban on GMOs in their current state, and until then at least labeling them so that people can opt out of this dangerous experiment. Especially for the children, who are most at risk.

Daniel Redwood, DC, the interviewer, is a Professor at Cleveland Chiropractic College–Kansas City. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Health Insights Today, Associate Editor of Topics in Integrative Healthcare and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association. Dr. Redwood’s website and health policy blog are at www.redwoodhealthspeak.com.