With the global March Against Monsanto Day approaching, I thought it good timing to post this excerpt from my book ‘Mila’s Meals: The Beginning & The Basics’. It can be found in the chapter “Feeding with Awareness”.
What’s a GMO?
“A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic.” – Institute for Responsible Technology.
What kinds of traits have been added to food crops?
There are currently two types of genetic modifications: herbicide resistant and pesticide producing.
Herbicide resistant crops (known as Roundup ready crops) are able to withstand huge amounts of weed-killer (typically Roundup) being sprayed onto them without dying.
Pesticide producing crops (such as Bt cotton and Bt corn) have had the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria inserted into their genes. This bacterium produces a toxic protein that kills the corn borer and other insects which eat the plant by rupturing their stomachs – saving the farmer from having to spray pesticides. Essentially, the plant is the insecticide. These modifications have no health benefit, only economic benefit.
When you eat a genetically modified crop, or any of its derivatives, you are also eating the pesticides, which were liberally sprayed onto it, as well as the Bt toxin.
Since Bt is a bacteria, it doesn’t all pass out of your body with the unused remnants of the food it entered with. It joins the other bacteria living in your microbiome, and continues to have the same effect as it does on the insects – harming your digestive system by attacking normal gut cells and burning holes in the intestines. The Bt toxin used in GMO corn, for example, was recently detected in the blood of pregnant women and their babies!
When foreign genes are inserted into a plant, dormant genes may be activated or the functioning of genes altered, creating new or unknown proteins, or increasing or decreasing the output of existing proteins inside the plant. The effects of consuming these new combinations of proteins are unknown.
What foods are GM?
Globally the most common GM crops are corn (maize), soy (soya), canola, alfalfa and cotton.
Current commercialised GM crops in the U.S. include soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), corn (88%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash.
In South Africa current GM crops include: white Maize (80%); yellow Maize (55%); Soya (90%) and Cotton (100%).
Many other GM crops are currently in field trials and recent approvals include six different varieties of potato, two varieties of apple and one rice variety. In South Africa, numerous field trials have been approved for additional forms of GM maize, GM soya and GM cotton, as well as for GM sugar-cane, GM potato and GM cassava, amongst others.
What are other sources of GMOs?
All products made from the crops listed above, or foods made from any of their isolated compounds, have the genetically modified enzymes. The list of affected products is endless but to give you some idea here are some GM corn products: fresh corn, popcorn, mielie meal (pap), corn tortillas, grits, polenta, masa (corn dough), corn syrup, corn fructose (high fructose corn syrup), corn starch, corn dextrose, corn oil, corn flour, cornmeal.
Processed foods containing GM corn include anything with high fructose corn syrup (which is in almost everything!) and: corn chips, cookies, candies, gum, bread, cereals, pickles, margarine, beer and other alcohol, soft drinks, spritzers, fruit drinks, enriched flours, pastas, salad dressings, infant formula, vitamin C tablets!
GMOs can also be found in:
- Meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed (and the majority of the GM corn and soy is used for animal feed);
- Dairy products from cows injected with rbGH (a GM growth hormone);
- Food additives, enzymes, flavourings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses;
- Honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen.
- Wheat is not currently genetically modified but most of the commercial bread (in South Africa) has genetically modified soy added to it.
What are the potential dangers of eating GM foods?
There are a number of dangers that broadly fall into the categories of potential toxins, allergens, carcinogens, new diseases, antibiotic resistant diseases, and nutritional problems.
Hasn’t research shown GM foods to be safe?
The biotech industry and governments who approve GMOs will have you believe so by saying GMO crops have been scientifically studied and proven to be safe. Industry funded studies, however, are only conducted for 90 days – which is convenient for the GMO producers since the negative effects seen in independent studies were only found after 120 days.
The only feeding study done with humans showed that GMOs survived inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food. No follow-up studies were done.
Independent feeding studies in animals have shown potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy or increased density of the liver, odd shaped cell nuclei and other unexplained anomalies, false pregnancies and higher death rates.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration in America) does not even require safety studies, let alone conduct their own. Instead, if the makers of the GM foods claim that they are safe, the agency approves them.
In both the United States and South Africa, food safety tests do not need to be conducted for GM soya because it is considered to be substantially the same as natural soya. South African regulatory authorities adopted the principle without hesitation, and no subsequent studies have been conducted despite evidence that it does impact on both human and animal health. This means that approximately 70% of South Africa’s major food staple (bread) is now genetically modified, without it having been tested for potential health effects. These health effects would include allergenicity, damage to internal organs, antibiotic resistance, and horizontal gene-transfer. These will be added to the impact of the toxic pesticide Round-up which many GM crops are engineered to be used in conjunction with.
Why are children particularly susceptible to the effects of GM foods?
Children face the greatest risk from the potential dangers of GM foods for the same reasons that they also face the greatest risk from other hazards like pesticides and radiation – young, fast-developing bodies are less resilient and influenced most.
Reasons to avoid GMOs:
Without long term studies on their health effects, eating GM foods is effectively an experiment.
GMOs contaminate – forever. GMOs cross-pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up the contaminated gene pool.
GMOs increase herbicide use. GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides which are damaging to your health. The pesticide Roundup (with Glyphosate as its active ingredient), for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
GMOs harm the environment. GM crops and their associated herbicides harm bees, birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms.
GMO seeds concentrate power in the hands of a few biotech corporations and marginalise small farmers. GMO seeds are patented products – you have to pay to have the right to use them. It is a traditional right for farmers to save their seed for replanting, or to exchange with other farmers. However, GMO seed patents effectively put an end to these age-old practices. The control and ownership of seeds passes entirely to multinational corporations that hold the patents, like Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer. This undermines farmers’ rights, and places control of the food outside the country it is grown in.
By avoiding GMOs, you contribute to the coming tipping point of consumer rejection, which is the only way to force them out of our food supply. If even a small percentage of us start rejecting brands that contain genetically modified ingredients, GM foods will become a business liability. Recent South African examples of consumer success in rejecting GMO foods and forcing the manufacturers to use non-GMO ingredients include Futurelife cereal and Nestlé infant formula and cereals.
Oh South Africa!
The production of GM crops is supported by the South African government. In 1999 the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Act of 1997 came into force paving the way for the growth of the industry. The first GM crops were planted in 1998. 17 years later South Africa is the 8th largest producer of GMOs in the world. In 2013 alone South Africa produced 2.9 million hectares of GM crops.
South Africa is the only country in the world that has allowed its staple foods to be genetically modified (GM). The majority of South Africans are eating genetically modified food in the form of Mielie Meal (pap) or bread everyday, without their knowledge or consent and, in the case of mielie meal, without any other non-GM options. While wheat itself has not been genetically modified, most commercial breads in South Africa are made with the addition of GM soya flour.
South Africa is better off than some other countries in the fact that by law, foods containing GMOs’ are required to be labelled as such. In 2011 the Consumer Protection Act came into force requiring that all foods containing 5% or more GMOs content must be labelled.
However, several unintended loopholes created by vague wording in the Consumer Protection Act have allowed food producers to avoid the labelling requirements. Until the Consumer Protection Act is revised, food producers are hiding behind the label “May be genetically modified” – or, not labelling at all.
There is hope
While the rules of the World Trade Organisation (which South Africa and 150 other countries are members of) explicitly prohibits countries from banning GM products, as of August 2015 the following countries have made the decision to ban genetically modified crops: Germany, Scotland, Wales, Greece, Latvia, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Hungary, Austria, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Australia, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, and Mexico.
There are significant restrictions on GMOs in about sixty other countries.
How to avoid GMO’s
In the USA you can use Non GMO Shopping Guide. There are over 27,000 products verified as non-GMO listed. Alternatively, only buy products that have the non-GMO label.
If you do not see a non-GMO label or live in a country that does not have such labels, you can still avoid GMOs by avoiding products that contain anything that is derived from GMO food crops and ideally from the milk, meat, and eggs of animals that have been fed GMOs. In South Africa this would mean only buying organic milk, meat and eggs.
Alternatively – only shop at natural food stores and buy products that are organic.
If you would like to find out more about GMO’s I highly recommend Jeffrey Smith’s comprehensive book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.
What is the alternative? Organic Food!
What is Organic?
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasise the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic food is produced without using synthetic pesticides; fertilisers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bio-engineering (GMOs); or ionising radiation (irradiation).
Why should you choose organic food?
Aside from the fact that organic and biodynamic food are non-GMO and contain higher levels of vital nutrients, organic foods are also lower in contaminants that are detrimental to you and your little one’s health. These contaminants may include not only growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides – many of which have been classified as potential cancer-causing agents – but also heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and solvents like benzene and toluene.
- Heavy metals can damage nerve function, contributing to diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
- Solvents can damage white blood cell function and lower the immune system’s ability to resist infections.
- Pesticides have been linked to developmental problems in children (in both the brain and the nervous system); act as carcinogens and, disrupt the endocrine system – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
They are also highly toxic to honey bees and other pollinators – the creatures responsible for pollinating the plants that produce our food.
When it comes to feeding your little one it is important to remember that infants are more at risk for pesticide toxicity than older children and adults because their underdeveloped systems are less able to detoxify these chemicals. Also, children eat more fruits and vegetables than adults (relative to their body weight) so the negative affects will be more pronounced.
Recent research reveals:
- A clear link between a mother’s exposure to insecticides during pregnancy and deficits to children’s learning and memory that persisted through ages 6 to 9. (Rauh 2001; Lu 2008, 2010; Engel 2011; Bouchard 2011)
- An increased risk for ADHD among children exposed to typical levels of pesticides. (Bouchard 2010)
- Children with high exposures to pesticides were at greater risks of impaired intelligence and neurological problems.
- Eating organic food lowers your and your family’s pesticide exposure within days. Studies led by Chensheng (Alex) Lu of Emory University found that just five days after switching to an all-organic diet, school-age children were essentially pesticide-free (Lu 2006, 2008).
By choosing to buy organic produce wherever possible, you are protecting the health of your family and sending a message to food producers that you support environmentally-friendly farming practices that minimise soil erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife.
The Dirty Dozen
The American based non-profit advocacy agency The Environmental Working Group (EWG) helps consumers make the healthiest choices by releasing a ‘Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce list’ every year. While it comes out of America, fruit and vegetables imported from the rest of the world are included in the testing, and since conventional farming methods are similar across the globe, we can assume that this list will be applicable in your country too.
The Shopper’s Guide™ includes The Dirty Dozen list (produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue) and The Clean Fifteen (produce with the least amount of pesticide residue). Because organic foods tend to be more expensive than conventional produce, these lists will help you make informed choices in order to minimise pesticide consumption while keeping your budget in check!
Want to know more?
For a really comprehensive list of information packed movies, please visit the GMO Awareness page by clicking here.
Otherwise here are some of my favourite resources:
The World According to Monsanto
Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.
Eating genetically modified food is gambling with every bite.
The biotech industry’s claim that genetically modified (GM) foods are safe is shattered in this groundbreaking book. Sixty-five health risks of the foods that Americans eat every day are presented in easy-to-read two-page spreads. The left page is designed for the quick scanning reader; it includes bullets, illustrations, and quotes. The right side offers fully referenced text, describing both research studies and theoretical risks. The second half of Genetic Roulette shows how safety assessments on GM crops are not competent to identify the health problems presented in the first half. It also exposes how industry research is rigged to avoid finding problems.
This book, prepared in with input by more than 30 scientists, is for anyone wanting to understand GM technology, to learn how to protect themselves, or to share their concerns with others. It is presented in the clear, accessible style that made Jeffrey Smith’s Seeds of Deception the world’s best-selling book on genetically engineered foods. As the world’s most complete reference on the health risks of GM foods, Genetic Roulette is also ideal for schools and libraries.
Genetic Roulette DVD
Never-Before-Seen-Evidence points to genetically engineered foods as a major contributor to rising disease rates in the US population, especially among children. Monsanto’s strong arm tactics, the FDA’s fraudulent policies, and how the USDA ignores a growing health emergency are also laid bare. This sometimes shocking film may change your diet, help you protect your family, and accelerate the consumer tipping point against genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Get EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
Concerned about pesticides in your food?
Look no further than EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. This handy guide helps you avoid the Dirty Dozen, the non-organic fruits and vegetables that are highest in pesticide residues – and choose non-organic items from the Clean Fifteen List.
The Power Of Community DVD
How will our society change when oil becomes scarce? Find out what we can learn from Cuba and their forced movement to local organic food and self sufficiency. This movie will help empower you towards a more sustainable and healthy future.
Food Matters DVD
Food Matters is a feature-length documentary film informing you on the best choices you can make for you and your family’s health.
‘Food Matters’ features interviews with leading health experts who reveal the best natural healing choices you can make for you and your family’s health. In the film you’ll discover what works, what doesn’t and what’s potentially killing you when it comes to your health.
GMO OMG director and concerned father Jeremy Seifert is in search of answers. How do GMOs affect our children, the health of our planet, and our freedom of choice? And perhaps the ultimate question, which Seifert tests himself: is it even possible to reject the food system currently in place, or have we lost something we can’t gain back? These and other questions take Seifert on a journey from his family’s table to Haiti, Paris, Norway, and the lobby of agra-giant Monsanto, from which he is unceremoniously ejected. Along the way we gain insight into a question that is of growing concern to citizens the world over: what’s on your plate? –
Be an Agent of Change!
March against Monsanto on the 21 May 2016. Find a march in your area by joining the following Facebook groups:
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