Genetically Modified Food and the Link with Pesticides
Information about the dangers of genetically modified food is sorely lacking in the mainstream media. In Unhealthy Betrayal I have reviewed much of the skewed science on this important topic. I have included an interview with Professor Don Huber who was Emeritus Professor at Purdue University and senior scientist on USDA’s National Plant Disease Recovery System (he has now retired). Professor Huber was concerned with the problems being reported to him by farmers, with animals dying—herds where 40 – 50% of the new-born calves just died and where the fertility rate was already compromised by between 10 – 15% to start with. He was so concerned that he wrote to Secretary Vilsack at the US Department of Agriculture. They had discovered this problem was due to some new organism, and organism that was new to science that was causing this problem.
He had be studying the use of glyphosate and Roundup, the most commonly used herbicide in the US. He believes that glyphosate (glyphosate is the main component of Roundup) was responsible for changing the gut flora of animals to such a degree that they were dying from organisms that they used to be protected against:
But all of a sudden we’re seeing cases now, especially in dairy and other situations, where the animals are dying and becoming impaired from the botulism toxin from the Clostridium in the intestinal tract, and rumen in the stomach. That normally didn’t occur before, because you have all of those organisms that provided the natural biological control.
If you are thinking well why should I be concerned about this, it is because whether you realise it or not, most of the animal feed in the USA and much of the animal feed in Europe is genetically modified, and sprayed with ever increasing levels of these very herbicides (over 600,000 tons annually).
Following recent revelations by the World Health Organisation, stating that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, Swiss supermarket giants Coop and Migros announced that they will no longer sell products that contain glyphosate, and they will be exploring non-toxic alternative weed killers. This follows on the heels of the giant German retailer REWE Group’s decision in May, to remove glyphosate herbicides from their stores.[i]
Earlier in the year the Dutch Parliament voted in favour of a ban on the sale of Roundup (and other glyphosate-containing weed killers) to individuals, garden centres and other shops.[ii]
Unforeseen Consequences, Unnecessarily Released?
One type of genetic modification makes a crop produce a pesticide, systemically (throughout the plant). The worry is that if we eat this plant, that we ourselves could have our gut flora altered, in a way that would be irreversible, with unknown consequences. The potential exists, in this example, to turn your ‘gut biome’, that is your intestinal flora that are keeping you alive and supplying vital nutrients to your body—into a pesticide factory—with consequences so immense, one shudders to think about it.
Dr Mae-Wan Ho, a geneticist researcher worries that once genetic variations are released into the environment that there could be grave unforeseen consequences. Dr Ho cites a number of examples that raised her concerns: one by Australian scientists who engineered a virus that hopes to control mouse plagues in the wild—but stops mice from getting pregnant. Critics point out that such a contraceptive virus could cause an ecological disaster if released, and could infect and sterilise non-target species.
She cites the rapid rise in anti-biotic resistance, and the emergence of more virulent pathogens such as S. enteritidis and S. typhimurium—and the more than 20-fold increase of Salmonella infections over the last 20 years. She explains how the presence of antibiotics can actually increase the frequency of horizontal gene transfer 10 to-100 fold. She does not believe that all the increase in virulence, and all antibiotic resistance, is simply due to our overuse of antibiotics. Her concern is the very nature of genetic engineering:
“Although there is no direct evidence linking genetic engineering biotechnology, to the spread of virulence and antibiotic resistance, there is clear evidence, that horizontal gene transfer is responsible for both. And, there is no escaping the fact, that the raison d’être, and aspiration of genetic engineering, is to increase the facility of horizontal gene transfer, so as to create ever more exotic transgenic organisms.”
Proponents of genetic engineering have argued from the beginning that crops produced by this method are no different from crops developed with conventional breeding techniques. The very fact that the U.S, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted genetically engineered crops and foods, ‘Generally Recognised as Safe’ (GRAS) status—encourages proponents to argue that this supports the previous statement.
However, it is now widely recognised that this stance taken by the FDA, was more a manoeuvre orchestrated by political expediency by the Reagan Administration (and continued by the subsequent administrations of Bush, Clinton, and Obama), rather than due to any real scientific understanding.
A common claim made is that GM foods have been proved safe to eat and that there is a global scientific consensus that supports this view—this is used to justify the claim that therefore there is no need for labelling these foods and crops.
David Shubert suggests that both claims are “blatantly false”, and further suggests that there is neither evidence that GM food is safe for human consumption nor is there any consensus on this topic within the scientific community. He goes much further and says:
It is critical for the public to educate itself about the realities of GMOs and not be fooled by the rhetoric from companies that sell it. Most of the world has studied this issue and concluded that GMOs are not worth the risk. Passing GM labelling initiatives in states will be the initial demonstration that the public understands what is at stake.
He further reports that India, Peru, Bolivia, the Philippines and Mexico have issued moratoria on GM food crops, along with Japan, South Korea and a large number of other countries. Whilst China initially embraced the technology, it is now involved in an extended debate about this, and Russian scientists have proposed a total ban on all GM products. [iii]
I have touched briefly on some of the topics that are discussed in Unhealthy Betrayal, there is obviously much more to the story than I have revealed here. In the book there is a resource section for more information. Check out the video Seeds of Death.
Andrew A D Burgoyne
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOUIS REED UNSPLASH