Written by Joyce Smith, Staff Writer. This article contains valuable information on genetically modified foods and how to avoid them, as well as the health dangers of glyphosate, an ingredient in the commonly used pesticide “Roundup”.

GMOWhat are genetically modified foods?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.

There are 3 kinds of seeds:

  • Heirloom seeds are the ones your grandma saved and planted every year in her garden and which is supposed to yield the same plants from one generation to the next.
  • Hybrid seeds produced by cross-pollination, on the other hand, when saved and planted will not “come true” but instead will likely revert to the parent plant.
  • Genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds are ones that have been created in a laboratory. 

How are GM foods developed?

They are the result of a laboratory process where the DNA representing a desired genetic trait from one plant species is isolated and spliced into the DNA of the target plant with the hope that the target plant will take on the characteristics of the inserted gene. For example, Roundup ready-crops have been genetically modified to tolerate repeated doses of the chemical weed-killer Roundup. Bt corn carries genetic material from the bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis) in every cell. This gene functions as an insecticide to prevent insect damage to corn.

Unfortunately the results may not always be what you expect. For example, while roundup has successfully improved crop yields by reducing or eliminating competitive weed plants, it has also inadvertently reduced the numbers of monarch butterflies by reducing the amount of available milkweed since milkweed is the only food that the monarch caterpillars can eat. Pesticide use has also adversely effected our honeybees. Our Federal government is developing a strategy to promote the health of pollinators such as the honeybee and monarch. 1

What crops are genetically modified?

Corn, soy, canola, cotton, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and crookneck squash, sugar beet, tobacco (yes, even tobacco), alfalfa, and grains (rice, flax) have been genetically modified. Unless you see an “organic” or “non-GMO” label, assume all foods and food products from salad dressings to snacks contain ingredients obtained from GMO’s.

How are GM foods harmful to our health?

GM foods typically contain higher levels of pesticides than organically grown foods, and may or may not contain more heavy metals. 2 Higher amounts of heavy metals may be due to the higher levels of cadmium, copper and zinc present in the inorganic fertilizers that are commonly used in genetically engineered crops. 2 Organically produced crops contain low amounts of both pesticide residues and heavy metals which may contribute to the anticancer effect of organic food. 2

Why is Glyphosate in Roundup dangerous to our health?

Of the pesticides used in GMO farming, glyphosate stands out as a potential carcinogen, neurotoxin, cell toxin and endocrine disruptor. 3 Here is a brief description of their potential damaging effects.

  • Genetically engineered crops cause weed resistance which necessitates the need for ever-larger amounts of glyphosate to be used. 4 In a study, which appeared in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal “Environmental Sciences Europe,” Charles Benbrook from Washington State University stated, “Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent,” 4
  • “Dr. Stephanie Seneff, well known for her research on glyphosate and autism, warns, “At today’s rate, by 2025, one in two children will be autistic” 5 The number of kids with autism has gone from 1 in 5000 in 1975 to 1 in 68 today which correlates with the rise in glyphosate use.” 5

Endocrine Disrupter:

  • Just 0.5 ppm of glyphosate disrupts our endocrine system, causing reproductive disorders such as excessive production of estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone, leading to infertility in both men and women. 6
  • A 2016 study revealed that occupational exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides among agricultural workers in Brazil was correlated to the occurrence of abortions, congenital abnormalities, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 7

Carcinogen: WHO (World Health Organization) found enough evidence to classify glyphosates as a “probable carcinogen”. 8

  • Several studies implicate pesticide residues in the development of certain forms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, autism, colitis, depression, and endocrine related disorders. 9
  • Studies have also shown pesticide residues to be significantly higher (4 times higher) in conventional than in organic foods. 2
  • Agricultural workers who apply glyphosate to crops have been shown to have an 80% increased risk of developing melanoma. 10,11

Cell Toxin: Glyphosate, when applied to crops does not degrade in the soil, but rather becomes systemic throughout the plant and can’t be washed off. 3 When the plant is eaten, glyphosate accumulates in all body organs where it may cause DNA damage to human cells and “Widespread disturbances of many body 3systems . . . after exposures at normal use levels…” 3

  • Just 1ppm of glyphosate was shown to kill beneficial bacteria in the soil and gut of animals and humans where it destroys the good bacteria that we need to produce amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Glyphosate interferes with this process in plants as well. 12
  • Certain compounds can enhance glyphosate toxicity. Experimental studies suggest that the toxicity of the surfactant, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA) when combine with, is greater than the toxicity of glyphosate alone. These chemicals actually increase the absorption of the herbicide and may increase human exposure. 13,14 “Millions of farmers suffer poisoning and death in developing countries, and occupational exposures and suicide make glyphosate-based herbicide toxicity a worldwide concern. As Glyphosate-based herbicides are found in human plasma, widespread hospital facilities for measuring it should be encouraged” 15
  • Since 1999 the EPA approved doubling the tolerable residual level of glyphosate in soybean grain. It also approved a 49-fold increase on corn grain and a 2,000-fold increase on alfalfa grown for animal feed. Just recently, the EPA approved a 5-fold increase for wheat, thus running the potential risk of glyphosate ending up in flour. Testing has found glyphosate in “samples of honey, soy sauce, infant formula and even breast milk.” 16

Antibiotic Resistance:

  • Non-GM organic foods are typically grown without the use of antibiotics which decreases the development of antibiotic resistance. However, cattle are, unfortunately, fed GM grain and could be given antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth. Although most antibiotics used in cattle are used therapeutically to treat disease, the prophylactic use of antibiotics has led to concern for potential development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in our retail meats and meat products. 17 Interestingly, research studies have consistently found a significant reduction in the amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria present in organic compared to conventional meats. 18

How can You Avoid GMO foods? 19

  1. Buy food labeled 100% organic…US and Canadian governments do not allow manufacturers to label something 100% organic if that food has been genetically modified or (if an animal) fed genetically modified feed. The word “organic” does not mean that it does not contain GMO…it can contain up to 30% GMO products and still be labeled “organic.” 19
  2. Check the PLU # on fruits and vegetables…If it is a 4-digit number, the food is conventionally produced. If the food has a 5-digit number beginning with an 8, it is GMO. However, not all GMO foods have a 5 digit PLU# (labeling is optional). A 5-digit PLU # number beginning with 9 is organic. 19
  3. 100% grass-fed…most cattle spend the last portion of their lives in feedlots where they are often given GMO corn. 19
  4. Shop locally…ask the farmer or butcher…you may be able to avoid GMO products. Many small farms are offering GMO-free grains and food products directly to the consumer. 19
  5. Contract with local farmers or organic co-ops….many of these can be found online with a simple Google search.19

Labeling of GM foods is required in the European Union, China, Russia, Australia and Japan. We, in the U.S. already have the right to know the fat, salt and sugar content of the foods we eat; however, we don’t know whether our foods are genetically engineered in spite of the potential risks these foods may pose to our health and the environment. 20 We have the power to dry up demand for Monsanto’s glyphosate by demanding GMO labeling laws. But do we have the will? 20

  • When laws require that all our food products carry labels stating that they contain GMOs, consumers will find alternatives. 20
  • When consumers stop buying foods containing genetically modified ingredients, food manufacturers will stop putting GMOs in their products. 20
  • When consumers stop eating meat from animals fed GMO crops, farmers will stop growing GMO crops for animal feed.20

It’s as simple as that – let’s make it happen!

Posted September 29, 2016.


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