Research raises serious red flags about the safety of genetically modified (GMO) foods

Scientific discovery has been – for better or worse – heavily influenced by the ability to patent the results. While the patent system has been spectacularly successful at encouraging technological innovations – the telephone, radio, television, and the entire ‘computer’ industry are only a few of literally millions of examples – legally, molecules and energies which are already found in nature are not patentable. This reality has ‘channelled’ an enormous amount of research energy into unnatural – but patentable – molecules for human health.

Natural molecules are not only relatively neglected by researchers but criticized and often ferociously attacked when it appears they might ‘compete’ with patent medicines. Of course, patent medicines are enormously more dangerous, simply because human systems are made from entirely natural molecules (and energies), and have not been created or evolved to deal with unnatural patent medicine molecules. So for the last century, patent medicines have come in and out of vogue on a regular 17-year cycle – which just happens to be how long ‘patent protection’ lasts. Bluntly put, patent medicines are ‘scientifically invented’ with enormous patent-protected profits in mind, and your health is secondary.

Five corporations could one day control our entire food supply

Patent medicines have tremendously retarded progress in health care research for nearly a century. But starting during the second half of the 20th century, another focus of the patent system has emerged, and it’s much worse than patent medicines, as it’s being focused on our food! We can (and many humans have) live entire lifetimes without patent medicines, but we can’t stay alive without food! This very serious threat to your health is generally known as ‘GMO’ food, and it’s nothing new to readers of Nutrition & Healing.  In fact, you probably already try your best to avoid them. But you may not know the depth and breadth of the problem. After you read this issue, I hope you will become more active in the fight to rescue our food supply from permanent degradation into a patentable, bad for your health, and (of course) much more expensive ‘patent food’ supply.

Patent-driven scientific research and development (in this case called ‘genetic engineering’) has found a way to modify – and patent – natural life forms for specific purposes. A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is by definition unnatural. DNA is inserted from the ‘genome’ (the technical name of the entire DNA of any living thing) of one species into the genome of another to create a new, unique set of genes that act differently from the original. The first time this was done was the development of recombinant E. coli bacteria in 1973. GMO applications are becoming more widely used in medical and other biological processes, ranging from inserting fluorescent genes from jellyfish into other organisms for study, to the development of patent medicines.

The most controversial use of GMO technology is in the production of ‘patent-protected’ food crops by five primary companies, collectively known as ‘Ag-Biotech’ (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and Dow).1 These patent-protected plants (‘patent plants’) contain ‘stacked traits’ designed to do two primary things: (1) resist herbicides so that weed-killer can be used around them and not destroy them, and (2) produce internal proteins not naturally present in these plants that act like the Bt-toxin in Monsanto corn, a protein that renders them less susceptible to pests but supposedly harmless to humans.

This type of genetic tinkering is not even close to natural plant reproduction or the natural systems used by plant and animal breeders over the centuries to select for desirable – and entirely naturally occurring – traits. Genetic engineering involves sharing genetic combinations that would never occur naturally through evolution or the process of random mutations in plant and animal cells. Totally unrelated species are brought together in ways that would be impossible in nature and the built-in protective mechanisms against a ‘bad’ combination are overridden.

The GMO cover-up that’s putting YOU in danger

Questions about the safety of genetically modified foods have been raised ever since consumers learned about them. As time has passed, it has become apparent that the public is not being told the truth. Rather than fully disclosing the known, scientifically researched dangers, the GMO industry emphasizes   that these crops have higher yields, thus they can feed more people. They also claim that they have a higher nutritional value.

There are several areas of concern among those attempting to monitor GMO foods.

While genetic engineering has one or more specific ‘goals’ in mind, there is no way to know what other unexpected actions these ‘new’ DNA combinations will cause in our food. We have no way to know in advance what harmful side effects are introduced when you change the genetic structure of a plant and its natural function. At the very least, GMO foods should have long-term rigorous testing for all their effects, good and bad, right? Surprisingly, no long-term, rigorous testing is required! The truth is, very little has been done to ensure that these never-before-seen combinations of molecules will not have an adverse impact. While not any better for your health, many patent medicines (literally ‘space alien molecules’) have gone through much more testing than GMO foods and agricultural crops.

Strangely enough (or perhaps not), ‘safety testing,’ suggested by  ‘regulatory authorities’ in the US, on the effects of GMO crops is primarily limited to three-month (90 day) studies in laboratory animals. These tests are not mandatory, not independently verified, and, in essence, are conducted in secret. GMO foods can now be found in up to 70 per cent of processed foods in supermarkets in the US, and in increasing amounts in many other countries. Despite widespread public opposition to GMO crops in Europe, GM food and animal feed usage in Europe is continuing to grow. The difference in Europe, compared with many parts of the world, including the US, is that there is compulsory labelling of GMO-containing foods (at least those that contain more than 0.9% GM). The trouble is, European consumers clearly don’t study labels that carefully and are consuming ever larger amounts of GMO-containing produce, as revealed in a recent EU study involving five countries, led by scientists at Kings College London. In the EU, products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GMO animal feed do not need to be labelled.

Recently, studies independent of the GMO industry have surfaced. The results have shown what can always be expected when unnatural molecules or ‘space alien molecules’ are fed to animals and humans whose body substance is made up entirely of molecules natural to planet Earth.

Reviewers of GMO research recently listed the important points about health risks for GMO soy, rapeseed oil (Canola), and corn, all of which have been genetically engineered to be tolerant to Roundup® (a herbicide produced by Monsanto) and to produce internal toxins (never before present in those plants) to eliminate pests. In their discussion, they point out that the potential for chronic health problems has not adequately been evaluated based on their assessment of the research data.2

Previous reviews by this same team suggest that kidney and liver toxicity may result from three of the GMO products – for the technically inclined, ‘Maize NK 603’, ‘MON 810’, and ‘MON 863’3. In another review, these researchers stated: “Generally speaking it seems to us unbelievable that a risk assessment carried out only on forty rats of each sex receiving GMO-rich diets for 90 days (yielding results often at the limits of significance) have not been repeated and prolonged independently.”4 In other words, there’s no way that a single short-term rat study tells us all we need to know about these foods before dumping them into our food supply.

Are GMO foods making you sick?

In 1999, a team of GMO industry-independent researchers reported a study of GMO foods, which had been done in response to the efforts of the UK government to assess GMO safety. This study6 was one of the most complete done to that date. The GMO potatoes were genetically engineered with DNA that caused them to make a ‘lectin’ (a molecule which adheres to other specific types of molecules) called GNA (Galanthus nivalis agglutinin) lectin. After just 10 days of consumption, the GMO potatoes caused harm in every organ of every young rat in the study. The rats’ pancreases and intestines enlarged, and their livers began to atrophy. By comparison, animals fed non-GM potatoes were not affected. But even though the lead researcher was an extremely well-qualified and highly-respected professor, when the results were published, transatlantic telephone calls were made between ‘officials’, attempts were made to bury the results, and the lead researcher was fired.

Nine years before, the same researchers had reported the effects of the same GNA lectin – the lectin itself, not potatoes genetically engineered to make and contain it – on young rats, once again the study lasted for 10 days. Damage to the rats’ intestines was minimal, and their livers and pancreases were unaffected.7

In 2003, an independent review group concluded that based on the data in the 1996 and 1990 studies (above), the damage to the rats internal organs was not due to the potatoes or the GNA lectin, but instead the “genetic modification process itself”.8

By now, most of the corn produced in the US is a GMO crop, almost exclusively engineered and patented by Monsanto. Those who sign up to plant Monsanto corn are required to also use Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup®. The corn itself is genetically modified to produce Bt-toxin.

In a three-month feeding trial of the genetically modified corn, MON 863, in rats, some statistically significant changes in blood sugar, absolute lymphocyte and white blood cells and absolute basophils were noted but considered not biologically relevant at the end of the study.9

While not considered a factor in this study, healthcare professionals know that changes in these values in patients can suggest an increased risk for developing allergies, infection and diabetes.

The use of GM corn, MON 863, was approved by regulators for use in Europe in 2005. When evidence mounted about potential health problems, a German court ordered the release of the Monsanto-conducted study. According to critics, there was significant evidence of a cover-up of data discovered at that time.10

In response to the release of the study data by Monsanto, an independent team of researchers analyzed the evidence collected by Burns. Their study of the data revealed several key pieces of research: a slight but significant decrease in growth for males; hepatorenal toxicity; increased triglycerides; and decreased urinary phosphorus and sodium. From their findings, they stated that “with the present research, it cannot be concluded that GM corn MON 863 is a safe product” and called for longer studies to understand its effects on health.11

‘Stacked trait’ GMOs kill human kidney cells

But the most recent damaging GMO-related evidence reported to date involves an assessment of ‘stacked traits’ (more than one intentional DNA modification) in genetically modified crops. In this 2012 study, researchers looked at the effects of plants genetically engineered to produce the insecticide originally found in nature in the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. These plants are also genetically engineered (‘stacked’ with another DNA modification) to resist the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup®. This last bit of genetic engineering is done to many GM types of corn.

Researchers singled out two Bt toxins produced in these GMO plants, ‘Cry1Ab’ and ‘Cry1Ac’ and looked for adverse effects they might produce in human cells. (The concentrations of these toxins ranged from concentrations of 10 parts per billion to 100 parts per million.) They looked at the effects on human embryonic kidney cells. Cry1Ab caused cell death at 100 parts per million; Cry1Ac did not show any effects.

Since the corn was genetically engineered to be ‘Roundup® resistant’, the researchers looked for adverse effects of Roundup® residue, which might be present in resistant corn. Roundup® caused cell death in human embryonic kidney cells at dilutions as low as 50 parts per million, a level far lower than is found after agricultural use. The authors argued that, contrary to what the GMO industry may have tricked the public into believing, Bt toxins are not without effect on human cells and when combined with pesticide residues, can increase side effects.12

Almost at the same time, a study reported that Roundup® is toxic to human buccal (inside of the cheek) epithelial cells at low levels, equivalent to a 450-fold dilution of the levels currently used to spray on GMO, Roundup® resistant agricultural crops. After observing that Roundup® damage was seen within 20 minutes after exposure, the researchers predicted that inhaling this insecticide  could result in DNA damage  to humans.13

Even though there are also studies that report that the key ingredient in Roundup® causes disruption to endocrine function and could be a risk for cancer, the company that produces it, and the large part of the agricultural industry that uses it, repeatedly denies it has any harmful effects.

Monkeying with genes… a recipe for disaster

‘Promoters’ are used in genetic engineering to alter the DNA of a previously all-natural food in a way that the genetic engineers consider to be favourable (and of course patentable). Promoters can permanently ‘turn off’ or ‘turn on’ already-existing genes in the previously all-natural plants. Unfortunately, this means that promoters may also ‘turn off’ or ‘turn on’ other genes in plants that were not at all the intended targets, and – even worse – this can happen without it being noticed at the time! Meaning that no one really knows all the genes that are affected, and what the result may be.

The promoter being used in the creation of almost all GMO crops is known as the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter. Evidence shows that the 35S promoter gene can in fact turn on other genes in unpredictable ways.14

And, as if all that wasn’t horrific enough, one study suggests that genetically engineered genes can ‘travel’… transferring from GMO organisms into intestinal bacteria, or possibly even into human cells!? That’s right, it looks like we ourselves may be becoming genetically modified organisms if we keep eating this stuff.

In the only study15 reported so far on GMO foods and humans, researchers found GMO soya genes in the gut bacteria of three out of seven study volunteers. Each of the study volunteers had had an ileostomy (removal of the lower intestines necessitating collection of faecal material in a bag). The results were inconclusive in the sense the researchers felt that genetic transfer had not occurred during the feeding study itself but sometime before it, since the transgenes were not found later in the faecal matter. However, the more important aspect that the study identified was the fact that transfer could in fact happen in humans. No follow up to these conclusions was ever done. Transgene transfer has been found in rat studies and was detected as much as 79 hours after the experimental meal.16,17

The small amount of independent research that’s available on GMO foods has found disturbing problems. Emerging research suggests that this may only be the tip of a very big, and very nasty, iceberg.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dr. Jonathan V. Wright
Nutrition & Healing

Volume 6, Issue 7 – July 2012

Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.

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