Genetic Modification: What’s the big deal?

Genetically Modified Food: Should we be eating it?

Bt Corn

Bt Corn (Photo credit: argonutter)

Attempts to increase nutritional benefits and productivity of food crops with genetic modification have been made, but in reality the two main traits that have had widespread use to date are herbicide tolerance and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. Herbicide tolerance lets the farmer spray weed-killer directly on the crop without killing it. Crops such as Bt cotton produce pesticides inside the plant. This kills or deters insects, in hopes of saving the farmer from having to spray pesticides. The plants themselves are toxic, and not just to insects. Farmers in India, who let their sheep graze on Bt cotton plants after harvest, saw thousands in their sheep herds die. These crops have resulted in great economic benefit to the companies that have now been allowed to put a patent on nature while farmers and the environment have been put at a disadvantage.

With genetic engineering, scientists can breach species barriers set up by nature. The results are living organisms with traits that would be virtually impossible to obtain naturally, or by means of crossbreeding or grafting. Unlike proponents claim, genetic engineering is completely different from traditional breeding and carries unique risks. In traditional breeding it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but is not possible to mate a pig with a tomato or a cow. In nature, when species that may seem to be closely related do succeed in breeding, the offspring are usually infertile.

According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, it is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Scientists have worked on some interesting combinations when it comes to genetic engineering, spider genes have been inserted into goat DNA, hoping that the resulting goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests. Arctic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost. Human genes have even been inserted into corn to produce spermicide. Current trials underway include, corn engineered with human genes (Dow), sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center), corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University), tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii), rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics), and corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene).

Currently commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), corn (88%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash. Other sources of GM ingredients include any products derived from GM crops, including, soy protein, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. Additionally, other sources include, meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed. In the USA, most of the GM corn and soy is used for feed. Food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses, may all include genetically modified ingredients.

1994, marks the start of widespread use of genetically modified plants in the USA, the photo credit: www.prwatch.orgFlavrSavr tomato begins to be sold. In 1995, a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) Potato was approved safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, making it the first pesticide producing crop to be approved in the USA. Shortly after, Bt corn, or corn modified with a bacterium gene to give it insect resistance, goes on the market. In 1996, Roundup Ready Soybeans, which are soy beans resistant to glyphosate herbicide (Roundup) were introduced. Genetic engineering is not a precise science and unintentional side effects are often encountered. When foreign genes are inserted, dormant genes may be activated or the functioning of genes altered, creating new or unknown proteins, or increasing or decreasing the output of existing proteins inside the plant. The effects of consuming these new combinations of proteins are unknown.

Since the introduction of GM crops in the nineties, autism rates and obesity rates have grown exponentially. While this may be a coincidence, evidence seems to point otherwise. A recent study reported that when compared with non-GMO corn the round-up ready variety still contained toxic levels of formaldehyde (200ppm) and glyphosate (13ppm). According to OSHA,  diverse damage to organ systems including the liver, kidney, spleen, pancreas, brain, and central nervous systems can occur from the ingestion of formaldehyde. Peer-reviewed studies have found glyphosate containing herbicides can cause genetic damage to DNA, even at low concentrations. And furthermore, scientists now believe that the amount of toxic chemicals children are consistently exposed to cause developmental and neurological damage which can be observed in the rise of physical and mental effects being found in children today.

So is ingesting GM foods a big deal? In a word, YES!


5 thoughts on “Genetic Modification: What’s the big deal?

  1. Thanks for the link-back. Even after all the research I did on this topic I find it overwhelming. I now understand all the good reasons “why” farmers are choosing GMOs and I can’t say I disagree with their logic. But I can’t help but be concerned for all the reasons you mention and more. Great post!

    • Thanks Elizabeth, it is an overwhelming topic and there is so much misinformation out there, but I feel like at some point people need to be more important than profits, hopefully before the damage is beyond repair. While I can understand why farmers have begun to use GE seeds I do not understand how people logically think a plant that is toxic to pests because it produces its own toxin is safe to eat, where is the toxin supposed to go? Does it magically disappear before it reaches the dinner table? ❤

  2. I think you’re mistaking correlation with causality. Obesity rates correlate to an increase in food consumption as the amount of calories contained in an amount of corn or corn derivative is something that can be objectively measured, and is displayed for the consumer.
    Autism rates have often been attributed to anything that they correlate to (first it was vaccines, now GM crops) but In reality, they are actually entirely independent, as it has been demonstrated that recorded autism rates have increased because the increased understanding of autism has lead to more correct diagnosis’ taking place.

    In short, you’ve presented a startling lack of actual evidence here for concern. You’ve stated that human genes have been spliced into plants, and seem to assume we will all react negatively to this, but give no reason why this should be considered a problem, save for some sort of social taboo. then you note two correlating negative events, and simply infer that they are related to GM crops, with no real evidence to support this causal relationship.

    • Thanks for reading my article Mark, I think you and I most likely agree that we all have different chemical makeup and each up us will have a unique reaction to any given substance whether a medication or a gm food. I think we probably both agree that ingestion of pesticide or herbicide is bad for one’s health, especially in the case of children that still have a fragile developing nervous system. So I do not think I made a faulty connection, while I do agree that we understand more about autism and that it may get diagnosed more now than it did in the past, I do not think that explains away the staggering amounts of autism. Many of the gm studies were short term only lasting 90 days and when GM foods were studies in the long-term they did find weight-gain, tumors and an increased cancer risk. (Here is a link to that study ) and a recent study has linked autism to GM foods ( ) I think we as humans are mistaken in our thinking that we can ingest an array of chemicals and there will be no consequences to our health.

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