Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as we know them today have been around since the 1970s. Before that time, scientists relied on the selective breeding of plants and animals to produce hybrids with different desirable traits. However, genetically engineered organisms are created by the artificial insertion of specific genes (usually from another species) into the DNA of the target animal or plant.
Whether these genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a boon to humanity or are instead dangerous to our health is an issue that has gained increasing importance over the past few years. One of the major reasons why there is still no definitive answer is because there are as yet no long-term studies that have been carried out on humans regarding how GMOs impact our health, despite an increasing number of studies that have been done on animals that reveal major health problems associated with GMO consumption.
A Short History of GMOs
Scientists initially were interested in the use of GMOs as a way to help feed a hungry planet with an increasing population, especially in countries whose population lived largely in poverty and where starvation was a chronic condition. The theory was that genetically modified crops would enable these countries to produce more food, while at the same time reducing the need to use herbicides and pesticides.
In the early 1980s the first pharmaceutical drug made from GMOs was produced, followed in 1992 by USDA approval for commercial production of the first agricultural food product, the Flavr Savr tomato, which was developed so that tomatoes would remain firmer longer, allowing them to be transported across the country with less damage. Despite the lack of any testing in regard to the long-term effects of GMOs on human health, the FDA stated that GMOs did not require any type of special regulation, as they were "not inherently dangerous."
Although GMOs may look the same as foods that have not been genetically modified and they may have comparable nutritional value, their DNA is not the same. Scientists can take genes from, viruses, bacteria, animals or insects and insert them into the DNA of another organism in order to alter its traits. This can lead to the creation of plants that have a resistance to the herbicides that are used to kill weeds and that are designed to produce their own insecticide.
Why GMOs May Not Be Such a Good Idea
While the original intentions may have been good ones, increasing evidence has shown that both weeds and insects are developing a greater resistance to these herbicides and pesticides, and a new generation of "super weeds" and "super bugs" are developing that will require ever stronger poisons to get rid of them. In the not-too-distant future, no herbicide or pesticide will be effective, leading to a major agricultural crisis.
The biotech companies such as Monsanto that engineered these organisms claim that there is no danger from GMOs. Although the toxins that these organisms carry are supposedly destroyed in our digestive system, this is not necessarily so, according to some studies. The only published study thus far that was done on humans has shown that a gene inserted into soy can transfer into our intestinal bacteria’s DNA and continue functioning, so long after we have eaten a meal containing GMOs, potentially dangerous genetically modified proteins may continuously be producing pesticides in our intestines.
The shameful fact is that neither the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have performed a single long-term study on the impact of GMOs on the environment and human health.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) in 2009 called for a moratorium on GMOs and advised "physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning the dangers of genetically modified foods." They encouraged long-term independent studies and called for labeling, saying "Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food," including infertility, immune problems, aging faster, insulin resistance and changes in the gastrointestinal system and major organs. They concluded by stating, "There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies."
GMOs Are Pervasive in Our Food
An estimated 70% of the foods on American supermarket shelves contain GMOs, at least in part. Oils, sweeteners (both sugar and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame), vitamin C, and flavorings are among the items that likely contain GMOs. You can pretty much be guaranteed that any processed food will have some genetically modified ingredient. And despite the increasing public demand for food labeling of GMOs, the FDA has turned a deaf ear and refuses to require that food labels list either presence or amount of GM products in a food.
So if you want to be sure to avoid GMOs, buy organic food as much as possible. No 100% organic products are allowed to have GMO ingredients in them. And support the labeling of foods to indicate GMOs in the ingredients. If the November 2012 California ballot initiative to label GMOs passes, other states may soon follow.