Although genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been with us since the early 1990s, it is only fairly recently that mainstream consumers have begun hearing about them. There is a very good reason for this: the companies that develop them, along with various government agencies, insist that there are no differences between genetically modified crops and their non-GMO counterparts. The public is told there is no danger to health or contamination of non-GMO products. These same entities also contend that genetic engineering is highly beneficial, will help feed the world, will save natural resources such as water, and will result in less use of pesticides.
But according to best-selling author, consumer advocate and GMO expert Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), consumers still haven’t heard the truth about GMOs; and Smith would know—he’s been following the story from the beginning.
“I learned about GMOs before most people even knew what one was,” Smith told Natural Vitality Kids. “In 1996, just before they were being planted around the Midwest, where I’m from, I went to a lecture by a molecular biologist who explained that the process of genetic engineering was fraught with unpredicted side effects and could create higher levels of existing allergens, toxins, carcinogens or anti-nutrients. It could also create new ones that had never been seen in the food. He explained that the crops would cross-pollinate in an irreversible genetic pollution. I realized that this was an unprecedented deployment of an infant technology, which would affect everyone that eats and all future generations and the entire ecosystem. The genes that they were about to release would outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. I knew this was an urgent situation and something had to be done—people needed to know—so I started translating concerns by scientists into language that everyone could understand. I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Information has subsequently become public that shows GMOs raised regulatory alarm right at the beginning—events that set trends that are still with us today. “According to documents later made public from a lawsuit, FDA scientists in 1991 and ’92 were very concerned about GMOs,” Smith explained. “They determined that GMOs offered unique and different risks, and that those risks included possible allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems. They repeatedly urged their superiors to require testing, but the person in charge of policy at the FDA at that time was the former attorney of one of the largest corporations promoting GMOs. He was later that company’s vice president and is now the US Food Safety Czar. He ignored the scientists, and his policy allowed GMOs out on the market without a single safety study. No approval was necessary; companies could simply put them on the market without even informing the FDA and no labeling was necessary. It was a hijacking, and the science was ignored. The mythology about GMOs was then institutionalized—the idea that they would feed the world, improve exports, reduce agricultural chemicals, and that they were safe and no different from regular produce—and a fortune has been spent to keep that myth alive in Washington.”
GMO Health Risks
While the FDA has not required that GMOs be tested for adverse health effects, there are individuals and laboratories that have proceeded with testing anyway. Plentiful results can be found on the Institute for Responsible Technology website.
“The only human feeding study ever published showed that genes can transfer from genetically modified crops into the gut bacteria and continue to function,” Smith related. “This means long after we’ve stopped eating GMOs we may still have genetically modified proteins produced continually inside us. This was done using soybeans that were Roundup Ready [made resistant to Monsanto Roundup pesticides]; the folks in the study had Roundup Ready gut bacteria.”
“If this is also true with Bt [a bacteria that has been genetically introduced into corn], which we don’t know, it would mean that the pesticide-producing genes in corn might transfer from corn chips and turn our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories. We know that the Bt toxin in its natural state, when it’s not genetically modified, when fed to mice causes tissue damage and immune system responses, and when sprayed on people it causes allergic and flu-like symptoms. The GM crops produce the toxin in thousands of times more concentrated form than in its natural state.
“Elsewhere, thousands of farm workers in India are getting allergic and flu-like symptoms from just touching cotton that has had Bt modified into it. When they allow animals to graze on the cotton plants after harvest, thousands die. And unfortunately the corn that we eat is genetically engineered to produce this same toxin.”
Dangers to Children
The dangers for children, however, are significant enough to motivate any parent to stay clear of GMOs. “We have seen a lot of interest in GMOs among parents, especially since the recent epidemics of obesity, diabetes and ADHD,” Smith said. “Parents realize more and more that food is the big culprit, and that the most radical change of the food supply in history is the introduction of genetically modified foods; therefore it is a main candidate for contributor to these and other diseases and disorders.
“Children are most at risk for the potential dangers. For example, as regards allergies, they are three to four times more likely to develop allergic reactions, especially children below two years of age. They are more susceptible to nutrition deficiencies in the food and more susceptible to toxins. A young and fast-growing body will treat the food differently than an adult’s body; it’ll incorporate the food into the organs and into the body, as opposed to just using food for fuel. That’s why the nutritional animal studies typically employ young, fast-growing animals—and also why one of the major biotech companies tends to use older animals for their own studies, because according to critiques of their studies it would be very difficult for those animals to actually show any problems.
“What we have seen in animal studies with reproduction is absolutely horrific. We have found that with hamsters fed GM soy for three generations, by the third generation most lost the ability to have babies; the infant mortality rate was four or five times that of controls; many had hair growing in their mouths; and they also grew more slowly. Rats fed genetically modified soy showed a similar five-fold increase in infant mortality; most of the babies died within three weeks; they were smaller as well and could not reproduce. The male rats fed GM soy had changes in their testicles—they actually changed from pink to blue. Male mice fed GM soy also had changes in their testicles including damage of the sperm cells, and the offspring showed changes of the DNA functioning at the embryo stage. Female rats fed GM soy had changes of the uterus and the ovaries. Mice fed genetically modified corn had smaller babies and fewer babies. These are examples of what could happen to children whose parents may have been fed GMOs.”
Due to this high risk, Smith and his organization have made getting GMOs out of schools a prime objective. It’s no small target, and they are not taking small measures to address it. “We are training people to speak about GMOs—we’ve already trained around 140 this year,” Smith reported. “We are also starting a non-GMO working group specifically focused on parents and on schools, and there will be another one for campuses. Beyond that, we’ll be starting other working groups, each focused on different targeted demographics like healthcare practitioners, patient advocacy groups, health-conscious shoppers, the media, youth, and more. Very soon we’ll be announcing an opportunity for people to come through our website and sign up, to decide which working group or groups they want to be a part of. People can also sign up to be part of a local working group where they could meet regularly with non-GMO potlucks and show films. They can create a group in their area to make it fun and more effective, to do outreach to schools and parents and other groups.
“We have a 35-page manual on how to conduct a GM-free school campaign, which we will send to people who would like to participate. We have other materials that easily convey the dangers, such as a brochure called the GMO Health Risk. We have a non-GMO shopping guide, which makes it much easier for parents to select non-GMO foods for their children and their whole family. And we have the source book, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, which can convince any open-minded person that GMOs are unsafe, because it actually presents the scientific evidence in ways that people can understand. It was laid out in a format that can be read very quickly so that it could be used by superintendents, by biology teachers in the schools, and so on.
“There is also a video called Hidden Dangers in Kids’ Meals, which is free online. It’s something that people can buy inexpensively and play on their local access television. It’s designed to be 28½ minutes so that it fills a TV slot, and it’s also short enough to show and then follow it with a presentation.”
Hope for the Future
Despite the lack of mainstream media, the fight against GMOs has been mounting and is having success in many areas. In addition to the plentiful work being done by Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology, the Center for Food Safety, using legal channels, managed to halt the planting of GM alfalfa and sugar beets, and is waging a battle to prevent the breeding of GM salmon. The Non-GMO Project is the first third-party entity to certify products as “non-GMO,” giving shoppers a definite guideline, and now has thousands of products enrolled in its program.
A great deal of progress has been made in getting rid of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in dairy products. “We’re doing pretty well with recombinant bovine growth hormone, a genetically modified drug injected into cows to increase milk supply,” Smith said. “Concerns by parents primarily have forced companies like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Yoplait, Dannon and most American’s dairies to eliminate rBGH from their milk production. It’s been banned in many schools, it’s banned in many hospitals, and it’s condemned by the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association. It continues to be sold in some other major dairy products, so I would say parents still need to be vigilant; they can’t let their guard down. If they want to know more about this subject, they can watch the 18-minute film online called Your Milk on Drugs: Just Say No. It can be found at www.yourmilkondrugs.com. That should be sufficient to convince someone to change their brand if their brand is still using GM bovine growth hormone. There’s also plenty of evidence to bring to schools now to make it an easy change.
“As far as overall GMOs go, we are looking to get 5 percent of the population to avoid GMOs. We think parents are among the most receptive groups; many people could care less about their own diets but are much more concerned about those of their young babies. That’s when more people convert to healthier organic food than any other time, and when they’re more receptive to the fact that GMOs are so dangerous and should be avoided. I’ve seen a lot of parents very, very concerned about GMOs; and I find that this year, compared to all other years of traveling around the country, there are more informed and enthusiastic parents spreading the word about GMOs than ever before. It’s a very good sign, and we actually are having an effect in the marketplace. We know that ‘GMO free’ was the fastest-growing store brand claim in 2009 and the fifth fastest overall health-and-wellness claim in 2010 so far. The Supermarket News trade journal predicted an unprecedented consumer awareness and concern about GMOs for this year. We saw Non-GMO Month take hold in October, and over 600 participating stores and manufacturers are educating consumers about GMO health risks and promoting the Non-GMO Project’s third-party verification system.”
Smith concluded by offering strong encouragement. “I would like to say to parents, don’t lose hope; don’t feel like a victim. Flip it and feel like a victor. Make the decision that it will be up to you to decide what you call food for yourself and your family. Rather than taking directions from the biotech industry, you can opt out of this dangerous experiment and learn to avoid GMOs by going to www.nongmoshoppingguide.com or downloading the iphone application shopnogmo. By doing so and by sharing with others, we can create a revolution from our kitchens, from our shopping carts, from our healthier non-GMO choices, so that a small percentage of people can dictate terms to the food industry and we can reclaim a non-GMO food supply.”
For much more information, or to become involved, visit the Institute for Responsible Technology website at www.responsibletechnology.org.