It's big, colorful, and tasty, but do you know what you are really eating?
What is genetically altered food?
Approximately 50% of all the soy and 38% of the corn acreage planted in the US this year is genetically altered. In addition, much of the canola oil in the US market is from genetically altered plants.
Given the prevalence of these products in processed foods, unless you are eating all organically grown food chances are you're already consuming some of this food without knowing it.
It remains unlabeled and typically not segregated from non-altered food, so if you are consuming vegetarian products containing any of these ingredients not labeled as organically grown, it is more than likely that some of what you are eating is genetically altered.
There are two common forms of genetic alteration of foodcrops.
In the first, used frequently with soy, the plant is modified in order to be resistant to the Monsanto herbicide RoundupTM so that farmers can apply it to kill weeds without killing the young soy seedling.
In the second, often used with corn, the plant is modified to contain within its genetic structure a pesticide called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).
We are told that these genetic modifications are made in order to reduce the amount of chemicals applied externally. Yet, in part because of the increasing resistance to these chemicals by pests, all indications so far are that these genetic modifications may in fact be leading to their increased use.
Contrary to its proponents' sweet-sounding words, genetic engineering is a form of plant breeding radically different from anything that humans have ever practiced in our history. All prior forms of plant breeding have relied on the plant's natural mechanisms of reproduction. Only related species can be bred together in this fashion. With genetic engineering, however, genes from one species are synthetically inserted into a different species with which it could never breed in nature.
Furthermore, traditional breeding always takes place on the species level, whereas genetic alteration is done at the level of the gene.
In order for this to happen, the natural species barriers of the recipient plant are deliberately overcome and broken down.
This process is typically affected by a virus that acts as a 'vector' to overcome the plant's normal protective mechanisms and insert the new genes into the recipient, and then as a 'promoter' in order to turn on the functionality of these new genes in the recipient plant.
This process is called 'gene expression.'
By altering the genetic composition of the plant genome (the entirety of the genetic structure of an organism), this process introduces new proteins into the human and animal food chains.
This means that human beings are now consuming products that have never before been considered foodstuffs. There is concern that these new proteins could potentially cause toxic or allergic reactions, or other health effects.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to predict the allergenic potential of GA foods since allergic reactions typically occur only after the individual consuming the food is sensitized by initial exposure to the allergen.
There has already been at least one known health disaster regarding genetically altered products. In 1989 the Japanese company Showa Denko marketed a GA version of the supplement L-tryptophan. After the release an estimated 5000 people suffered from an outbreak of Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome (EMS). It was initially reported that 37 people died, and 1500 were left with permanent disabilities.
When gene engineers splice a foreign gene into a plant or microbe, they often link it to another gene, called an antibiotic resistance marker gene (ARM), that helps determine if the first gene was successfully spliced into the host organism.
Some researchers warn that these ARM genes might unexpectedly recombine with disease-causing bacteria or microbes in the environment or in the guts of animals or people who eat GE food, contributing to the growing public health danger of antibiotic resistance. Research from the Netherlands show that these antibiotic resistant marker genes from genetically altered bacteria can be transferred horizontally to indigenous bacteria in an artificial gut.
One of the rationales offered by the federal government for its approval of GA food is the claim that it is "substantially equivalent" to non-GA food. This conclusion, however, was reached with inadequate study, and recent research has called it into question.
A 1999 study by Dr. Marc Lappe found that concentrations of beneficial phytoestrogen compounds — thought to protect against heart disease and cancer-were 12-14% lower in genetically modified soybeans than in traditional strains. It is important for EarthSave members to consider the number of vegetarian soy products on the market and to understand therefore how severe the threat is to the health of our plant-based diet.
Earlier in 1999, prominent front-page headline stories in the British press trumpeted scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai's explosive research findings that GA potatoes, spliced with DNA from the snowdrop plant and the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMv), a commonly used viral promoter, are poisonous to mammals. When fed to rats, these GA potatoes, found to be significantly different in chemical composition from regular potatoes, caused highly significant reduction in the weight of many organs, impairment of immunological responsiveness and signs suggestive of viral infection.
The biotech companies proclaim the benefits of the elements inserted via the genetic engineering process, such as herbicide resistance and insecticidal properties.
Unfortunately, nature doesn't work as simply as these scientists might wish, as we must consider not only what is added via the GA process, but to the process by which it is added. One of the most alarming parts of Dr. Pusztai's research was that damage to the rats' stomach linings - apparently a severe viral infection - most likely was caused by the CaMv viral promoter, used by nearly all GA foods and crops.