Years ago, when I first heard about the forced, artificial transfer of a gene from one species into the DNA of a completely different species for the supposed purpose of creating a “better” organism for commercial interests, I was intrigued, even as the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Advocates claimed that genetic engineering means a better future, that they are just speeding up the natural breeding process (as if a flounder could ever breed with a tomato), and there is no evidence of harm. They’ll feed the world and use less herbicide to boot.
The scientist in me was curious and fascinated. Deep down, though, I felt that genetic engineering — of foods in particular — was such a profound development with such unfathomable ramifications that it would require decades of work in secure laboratories to be approved for use — not seeing the literal light of day (let alone going to market) for a very long time. But the very next day I read that GMO soybeans and corn were not only being grown in the field and sold, but that no GMO food items were required to be labeled. Was I missing something?
Time for a little background, perhaps...
Some Overly Simplified Fundamentals of the Genetic Engineering Process
Once the gene to be transferred is selected, it is sequenced. Then scientists add a promoter sequence to turn it on. At the other end, a terminator sequence is attached, telling the DNA exactly where the new gene (transgene) stops. A marker antibiotic gene is usually added for later testing to determine which new cells have successfully incorporated the transgene. Collectively, these new sequences are called a gene cassette. It is the cassette which is placed into the host cell’s DNA, usually by one of two main methods. Bacterial transfer involves the placement of the cassette into circular bacterial plasmid DNA which has the capability of reproducing itself many times over inside the bacterial cell. The newly minted cassettes are then inserted into plant cells…using highly mutagenic tissue culture techniques.
The second means of gene transfer to plant cells is by using a gene gun, the particle insertion or biolistic method. Millions of particles of gold or tungsten are coated with gene cassettes and are then forcefully shot into millions of plant cells. A few target cells’ DNA will finally incorporate the foreign gene.
Whichever insertion method is used, when a GM plant is created, researchers must isolate the survivors (using the marker antibiotic gene and antibiotic treatment to kill those cells with unsuccessful transfer). These plant cells are then grown in various rounds of tissue culture. Jeffrey Smith (mentioned below) writes, “Taken together, the process of gene insertion combined with tissue culture typically results in hundreds or even thousands of mutations….The changes are vast.” Other researchers state that an even greater unpredictability results from GM progeny (plants grown from single cells) known as somaclonal variability.
But They’re No Different than Non-GMO
Despite the potential for countless mutations of all sorts, the all-knowing FDA judged that GM organisms were “substantially equivalent” to their non-GM counterparts. Safety testing was therefore summarily dismissed as unnecessary.
Let’s see…substantially equivalent. Quite a leap. Besides, these living GM seeds/organisms are patented, as absurd as that may seem to many of us, so the logic escapes me. After all, to win a patent you have to demonstrate that your “invention” is unique enough to call your own! Are we confused enough?
I should mention that the average American believes that anything approved by the FDA has undergone extensive testing.
It turns out that Monsanto and its competitors prevent safety testing by requiring buyers of their GM seeds to sign an End User Agreement, declaring that no testing of these seeds is allowed without their permission. So, what are they afraid that testing will discover in feeding these substantially equivalent organisms to animals or people? They stubbornly insist, with no data to show it, that eating GMOs is harmless.
Serious Problems with Ingesting GMOs
Much of the evidence that exists of the widespread health damage caused by GMOs is clearly and carefully explained in Jeffrey Smith’s second book Genetic Roulette – the Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. For healthcare practitioners, this book provides the best resource on the unpublicized dark side of GM foods. It’s for all types of readers, from scanners to in-depth researchers. For a real-life thriller on this topic, read his first book, Seeds of Deception. You can watch author Jeffrey Smith’s interview with Dr. Ron Klatz during an anti-aging medicine conference below:
I met Smith in 2007 and I was impressed with his head full of knowledge on the technology, bioscience, and politics behind GMOs and his ability to articulate it. His website www.seedsofdeception.com can provide solid background for your education on GM foods.
When he learned that Metametrix did DNA-based stool testing, Smith told me that soy transgenes had been found in gut bacteria. We know that gut bacteria need to hand off genes to each other all the time, so I wondered how this transgene may affect our GI tract or immune system or other tissues in our bodies. It is notable that when GM soy was introduced a few years ago, soy allergy increased 30% in the UK.
What to Do?
If you think GM foods are a problem, then you can speak volumes through your spending habits. Find out where GM food components lurk and avoid them as best you can. Cut out processed foods. Start a garden or contribute to a community-supported agriculture organization near you. Buy organic foods, especially those of animal origin.
Organic foods do offer us a lot of protection. The environment, however, is an open system. So, organic farmers today can lose their certification just because the wind blows GM pollen onto their fields. This fact is cruel when you consider that natural agriculture and organic practices have been here all along. Field-grown GMOs are infantile by comparison.
I’ve concluded that no one could invent enough suitable tests to show the dangers inherent in feeding genetically engineered foods to farm animals and humans. Because unlabelled and untested GM food is solidly on our plates, you and I are cozy with an insidious potential adversary that’s not yet ready for prime time.
May, 2010 — Percentages of GM food in US food supply:
- Soy (91%)
- Cotton (71%)
- Canola (88%)
- Corn (85%)
- Sugar Beets (90%)
- Hawaiian papaya (> 50%)
(Cotton is included as food because it is the source of widely used cottonseed oil in baked goods and other processed foods.)
This blog post is my opinion only and does not necessarily reflect that of any other person at Metametrix.
Terry Arden Pollock, MS