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Are GMOs safe?


By Rita Rector

Guest Columnist

GMOsMIXIn the world according to Monsanto, GMOs are safe. Their scientific study consisted of a 90-day rat feeding trial on NK603 (corn). Monsanto published the results of its test in 2004, which states differences were found in the GM-fed rats, but the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claimed that the differences were “of no biological significance” and that the GM corn was as safe as non-GM corn.
The issue of GM food safety was first discussed at a meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and biotech representatives such as Monsanto in 1990.
In its 1992 Statement of Food Policy, the FDA asserted: “Ultimately, it is the food producer (Monsanto) who is responsible for assuring safety.” In a rebuttal to the FDA statement, Monsanto said, “We should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” Later, the FDA moved to allow Monsanto to perform their own environmental impact study on the very GMOs they have been responsible for developing.
To facilitate rapid approval for genetically modified foods, the “substantial equivalence” concept was proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) in the early 1990s. The adoption of substantial equivalence allowed permission to market and sell new foods without any safety or toxicology tests as long as the new foods were not too different in chemical composition to foods already on the market. This move allowed the FDA to confer the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status to the newly developed GMOs. If you are a biology expert, you might like to Google the safety report: “The Principle of Substantial Equivalence.”
Substantial equivalence flies out the window when Monsanto seeks patents on GMOs. When seeking patents, Monsanto uses the terms “absolutely novel, never existed before.” But you can’t have both. In fact, the biotechnology industry itself gives up the claim of ‘substantial equivalence’ when it claims patents on GMOs on grounds of novelty.
A leading pro-GMO scientist, Dr. Andrew Chesson, admitted that substantial equivalence testing is flawed and that some current safety tests could allow harmful substances to enter the human food chain. It has been argued that by using the doctrine of substantial equivalence the GMO industry has avoided safety testing, and that any novel food production technologies may follow this example.
Wikipedia reported that Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues at Caen University in France obtained Monsanto’s raw data from their 90-day rat feeding trial and re-analyzed it. They found signs of liver and kidney toxicity in the GM-fed rats, and published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal in 2009.
Agency scientists warned that GM foods might create toxins, allergies, nutritional problems, and new diseases that might be difficult to identify. Internal FDA memos reveal that the scientists urged their superiors to require long-term safety testing to catch these hard-to-detect side effects. Nothing was done that would protect consumers. In fact, in the case of genetically modified bovine growth hormone, some FDA scientists who expressed concerns were harassed, stripped of responsibilities, or fired.
Bt corn produces its own insecticide. Furthermore, the plant-produced version of the poison is thousands of times more concentrated than the spray. To kill a susceptible insect, a part of the plant that contains the Bt protein must be ingested. Within minutes, the protein binds to the gut wall and the insect stops feeding. Within hours, the gut wall breaks down and normal gut bacteria invade the body cavity. The insect dies of septicemia as bacteria multiply in the blood.
Monsanto and the EPA swore that the GM corn they engineered would only harm insects. They said the Bt toxin produced inside the plant would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system and would not have any impact at all on consumers. However, the only feeding study done with humans showed that GMOs did survive inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food. No follow-up studies were done. Monsanto’s claims turned out to be false. In 2011, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found the corn’s Bt-toxin in the blood of pregnant women and their babies, as well as in non-pregnant women. Various other feeding studies in animals have resulted in potentially pre-cancerous 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.
Dr. Mercola reports that in addition to the obvious corn products such as corn and tortilla chips, GM corn is present in the vast majority of all processed, packaged foods and drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup, corn oil and other corn products. The toxin can also come from eating meat from animals fed Bt corn, which most livestock sold in grocery stores and raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are.
The herbicide Glyphosate is a systemic weed-killer. This means Round up ready crops distribute the herbicide (glyphosate) throughout the entire plant. It cannot be washed off. It is part of the plant itself. In March, 2014, the EPA raised the human tolerance levels of glyphosate residue in many crops. For example, the levels for soybean have been doubled, from 20 ppm to 40 ppm.
Dr. Mercola also stated research shows that glyphosate residue is found in most processed/packaged foods in the Western diet. GE sugar beets, corn, canola, and soy “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.” Argentina has become one of the largest producers of GE soy and corn, and along with it, the country has experienced an explosion of miscarriages, fertility problems, and abnormal fetal development.


Rita Rector is co-manager of the Howard County Farmers’ Market.