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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now infest almost everything we consume. Yet, amazingly, most Americans don’t even realize they eat GMO food at just about every meal. That’s because they are deceptively hidden in the list of ingredients.
The term genetically modified, when pertaining to foods, refers to food plants and animals that have been modified at the molecular or genetic level to enhance or create certain desired traits. It is a process very different from hybridizing or selective breeding.
GMO proponents argue that the technology is safe. But there has been little research on the short-term effects and even less on the long-term effects of consuming foods that have been modified genetically or molecularly.
This is by design. Monsanto, one of the leading creators in the GMO field, owns Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies. And when independent labs begin researching the effects of GMOs and producing their findings, Monsanto either squashes them under an avalanche of lawsuits or buys them up and buries the research. But recent discoveries about what happens in the genetic material of altered organisms are not reassuring.
For example, suppose you want to create tomatoes that can withstand cold weather. In theory, you take the genes that allow a frost-resistant plant to survive freezing temperatures and you put it into a tomato plant. When seeds of the new tomato plant grow, the presence of this genetic material stimulates activity in the new plants that keep them alive as the temperature drops.
In practice, however, unforeseen complications arise. Only during the past few months have scientists discovered that the genes technologists insert into plants are often contaminated with unintended material. That includes viruses.
Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) discovered that when lab scientists altered genes in GMO food, they were also feeding in parts of a virus gene. No one had ever noticed that before. This virus gene, however, is now in the food we eat. Is it safe? Will it lead to unforeseen illness among the millions of people who consume it? The experts are uncertain. It has never been present in our food previously. And until this recent scientific discovery, nobody knew it was in our GMO foods.
Reports about this virus show that of the 86 different processes being used to insert genes into GMO crops, this virus is present in 54 of them. Meaning this virus of questionable safety is in a lot of the snack foods sitting in your cupboard.
Experts explain that these types of viral genes can be extremely dangerous. Viral genes are designed to hobble our immune systems (and the immune systems of plants and animals) so that the viruses can invade cells and flourish.
Scientists are concerned about this newly discovered viral material because the viruses that invade the cells of a plant do not fundamentally differ from the viruses that cause illness in humans and animals.
Concern about these genes caused Pete Riley, director of the public interest group GM Freeze, to warn: “This is a clear warning (that GMO food) is not sufficiently understood to be considered safe.” Riley also told the British newspaper The Daily Mail: “Authorization for these crops must be suspended immediately, and they should be withdrawn from sale, until a full and extended review of their safety has been carried out.”
Farmers in both the United States and around the world plant shockingly vast amounts of these laboratory-created crops. In particular, soy, corn and cotton (our food frequently has cottonseed oil added to it) have been genetically engineered to contain toxic pesticides and to withstand massive amounts of herbicides applied to farm fields. This allows GMO crops to survive and be harvested, while weeds are supposed to wither and die. Of course, other beneficial living things — most especially pollinators like honeybees, butterflies and a wide collection of other wildlife and fish — also perish from pesticide exposure. And the pesticides often persist long enough to poison our water and air.
Right now, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications estimates that since GMO crops were introduced in the 1990s, 1 billion acres worldwide have been planted with these plants. That’s an area larger than the continental United States.
One of the modifications to many crops has made them resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. This has allowed farmers to coat their fields with Roundup in order to wipe out all the weeds growing there.
Monsanto claims glyphosate is biodegradable and environmentally friendly. But in 2009, a French court found Monsanto guilty of lying about these claims. Glyphosate is being found in groundwater many miles from farmland. It is being detected in human and animal blood samples, and it has been shown to cross the placental barrier.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 88,000 tons of glyphosate have been used in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency lists it as a Class III toxic substance. It is an endocrine disrupter, and just 30 grams can be fatal to humans. It has been linked to more than 20 adverse health effects, according to peer-reviewed literature.
The ailments and deleterious effects attributed to glyphosate exposure include autism, gastrointestinal diseases, obesity, allergies, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
But back to the GMOs themselves: GMOs are surreptitiously inserted into almost every form of processed food or product, and they are even found in vitamins.
According to the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, hidden GMOs are listed as innocent-sounding ingredients that include everything from baking powder to colorose to corn flour to cottonseed oil to food starch to fructose to invert sugar to malt to soy flour to starch to vitamin B12 to xanthan gum. A list of likely hidden GMO ingredients can be read in the guide here.
In vitamin supplements, GMOs are hidden as ascorbic acid, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin and sucrose, as well as other ingredients.
The proliferation of these substances makes avoiding them almost impossible and renders vigilance against them a full-time necessity.