Skip to content

The term “genetically modified organism” (GMO) occurs when genetic material has been changed in a way that does not occur naturally. It can also can be referred to as genetically engineered (GE) or transgenic.

The genetically engineered seeds that are destined to be in our food, have their DNA artifically altered in the laboratory using genes from bacteria or viruses to create plant breeds that do not occur in Nature. Most of the GMO seeds are genetically manipulated to either produce their own pesticides inside the cells of the plant (systemic) or it is engineered to withstand heavy doses of chemical pesticides in order to survive in the field. As a result, GMOs are implicated in ecological and environmental issues the collapse of biodiversity and the disappearance of pollinators.

Roundup, the chemical sprayed on most GMOs, has been linked to cancer, DNA damage, premature births, ADHD and the permutation of the endocrine pathways which can lead to obesity, heart problems, circulation issues and diabetes. Yet, the U.S. EPA has raised the allowable levels of glphyosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, in our food.

GMO ingredients have never been adequately tested for long-term impacts on public health despite hitting the market in 1996.

The transgenic food industry  has led to one of the most persistent debates about mandatory labelling. How can consumers make a conscious choice if they can’t understand the components that are in the food they are about to purchase or how these mysterious ingredients may affect your health or the health of your family.

A strong movement of opposition to genetic engineering in agriculture has developed throughout the world. The movement has led to a moratorium in the EU toward imported genetically modified (GM) products, as well as to acts of open opposition. In the United States opposition to transgenic crops and mandatory labeling is also mounting.

Unlike most other developed countries—such as the 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China—the U.S. and Canada has no laws requiring labeling of GE foods. Yet polls have repeatedly shown that the overwhelming majority of citizens in these two countries believe GE foods should be labeled. Health Canada, which shares responsibility with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for food labelling policies, does allow food makers to voluntarily mention whether their foods contain GM ingredients but these 'standards' are not effective.

The agrochemical industry is valued at over $42 billion and operates with impunity while over 355,000 people die from pesticide poisoning every year, and hundreds of thousands more are made ill. In addition, pesticide corporations have put livelihoods and jobs in jeopardy, including, farmers, beekeepers and fishermen.

For all the empty promises the bioseed corporations have made to try and convince consumers that GMO food is safe, a study from University of Sherbrooke, in Quebec, Canada is perhaps the most telling.

Genetically modified crops include genes extracted from bacteria to make them resistant to pest attacks. The toxin is derived from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Corporate scientists who engineer these bioseeds claim there is no danger to the environment or to human health maintaining that the Bt toxin poses no danger to human health as the protein breaks down in the human gut. But the presence of this toxin in human blood clearly demonstrates that this does not happen.

The study covered 30 pregnant women and 39 women who had come for tubectomy at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS) in Quebec. The scientists from University of Sherbrooke detected the insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab circulating in the blood of pregnant and non-pregnant women. Alarmingly, they also detected the toxin in fetal blood, implying it could pass on to the next generation.

None of these women had worked or lived with a spouse working in contact with pesticides. The women were all consuming typical Canadian diet that included GM foods such as soybeans, corn and potatoes. Blood samples were taken before delivery for pregnant women and at tubal ligation for non-pregnant women. Umbilical cord blood sampling was done after birth.

Cry1Ab toxin was detected in 93 per cent and 80 per cent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively and in 69 per cent of tested blood samples from non-pregnant women. Earlier studies had found trace amounts of the Cry1Ab toxin in gastrointestinal contents of livestock fed on GM corn. This gave rise to fears that the toxins may not be effectively eliminated in humans and there may be a high risk of exposure through consumption of contaminated meat.

The research paper has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Reproductive Toxicology.

'We now eat food grown by unnatural processes which make use of a host of chemical substances: hormones, antibiotics, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides - of which residues are to be found in nearly all the food commercially available today.' Edward Goldsmith, The Ecologist, Vol 30 No 7, October 2000

Although toxicologists are able to investigate single substances quite efficiently, they have no basic methods for analyzing complex mixtures of toxic substances and the 'cocktail' effect of the mixture of several hundred synthetic chemicals that each one of us carries in our body.

According to the EWG's Body Burden website, there are 80,000 chemicals in commerce. The site states, "No one is ever exposed to a single chemical, but to a chemical soup, the ingredients of which may interact to cause unpredictable health effects."

There are only a few studies that evaluate the combined effects of food additives. One 2006 study published in Toxicology Science concludes that the combination of several common additives appears to have a neurotoxic effect. "Although the use of single food additives at their regulated concentrations is believed to be relatively safe in terms of neuronal development, their combined effects remain unclear." Of the four additives examined, only one is banned in the US, while the rest remain in the foods on our grocery store shelves. A 2000 study, looked at the combination of four major food additives or a mixture of six typical artificial food colours and found indications of toxicity in both.

Perhaps the most alarming study comes from a 1976 Journal of Food Science. Young rats were fed a low-fiber diet along with sodium cyclamate, FD&C Red No. 2, and polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monostearate individually and in combination. While the study found that any one of the three food additives given individually had little negative effect, the combination of all three additives resulted in weight loss and the death of all test animals within 14 days. Sodium cyclamate is an artificial sweetener banned in the U.S., but FD&C Red No. 2, a food dye, and polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monostearate, an emulsifier, are still in regular use in the food supply, according to the FDA's website.

And it's not just food. A number of additional toxins also enter our systems from other industrial sources often in the form of phthalate plasticizers and parabens -- both of which are used in personal care products, some medications, and even foods and food preservation. The vast majority of us use some form of shampoo, soap, lotion, and antiperspirant every day, and these toxins are absorbed through the skin.

Chemicals used in all of these industrial products are big business and food corporations are once again some of the biggest offenders. Many own shares in some of the largest personal care companies in the world. For example, Nestlé owns 30 percent of the world's largest cosmetic and beauty company L'Oreal. They use cheap, industrial ingredients to maintain their enormous profit margins.

Our governments are not being proactive. Using the precautionary approach when purchasing food and personal care products is the only solution currently available. Read the label - your body will thank you.

The danger of transgenic food whether boxed or slaughtered is not that the consumer suffers an acute onset of disease. The danger is in the concentrations of bio-ag chemicals in the body over time, just like the deadly effects of cigarette smoking.

Within the last three decades, coinciding with the increased ingestion of transgenic ingredients, the rates of obesity, Diabetes II and autism have steadily increased worldwide. Our kids are developing dietary diseases that are characteristic of a much older generation and for the first time in human history, the likelihood exists that parents will outlive their children.

In May, 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on all ‘physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid GE foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.’

In the first study to measure the delayed effects of exposure to Roundup on sperm in mammals, the molecular biology department at the University of Caen, France, found that rats exposed to the glyphosate based pesticide Roundup altered testicular function after only 8 days of exposure at a concentration of only 0.5%. This concentration is similar to levels found in water after agricultural spraying.

Dr Séralini's team found that Roundup changed gene expression in sperm cells, which could alter the balance of the sex hormones androgen and estrogen. A negative impact on sperm quality was confirmed, raising questions about impaired sperm efficiency. The authors suggested that repeated exposures to Roundup at doses lower than those used in agriculture could damage mammalian reproduction over the long term.

The study’s findings should raise alarm in farm workers, as well as people who spray Roundup for municipal authorities and even home gardeners. People exposed to lower doses repeated over the long term, including consumers who eat food produced with Roundup and people who happen to be exposed to others’ spraying activities, should also be concerned.

An important and controversial piece of independent research that provides new insights into the risks of genetically modified organisms in food was republished in 2014. The events around the retraction pointed to how far agri-corporations will go to protect their very lucrative market.

In 2013, a research paper was summarily retracted without just cause by The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT). The retraction basically removed the study's findings from the realm of accepted science. Independent scientists all over the world objected. Many believe the study was removed from the journal due to pressure by Monsanto, the owner of the plant and Roundup. Monsanto’s position was that the results of the Séralini study were inconclusive as was its own (90-day) research.

The two-year study, conducted by a team lead by French biotech critic Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen, found that groups of lab rats fed a lifetime diet of either Monsanto's NK603 corn (NK603 is treated with Roundup herbicide) or exposed to varying levels of Roundup herbicide in drinking water died earlier and had higher rates of tumors and organ damage than controls. NK603 is a genetically modified organism, or GMO, that is bioengineered to tolerate Roundup.

The publication claimed Séralini did not experiment on enough rats to support his explosive cancer claims, and the Sprague Dawley lab rats used in the study are prone to developing tumors if allowed to live long enough. Independent scientists, however, say the Sprague Dawley breed is an industry standard for toxicity research, and while the Séralini study is not perfect, there is no legitimate reason to remove it from scientific debate.

After the research was yanked from FCT, the study underwent two additional peer reviews, both of which reinforced the validity and results. Consequently, the study has again been published, this time in Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication. The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published – unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret.

Sometimes the truth does prevail.

California is the leading producer of strawberries in the U.S. In 2013, more than 2.3 billion pounds of strawberries were harvested annually. Of the 16.3 percent exported, Canada imports the majority of California’s fresh and frozen strawberry produce. So do California's new pesticide rulings make these treasured sweet berries safe to eat? Unfortunately not.

California strawberries are grown in temperate coastal regions, like Monterey, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties. The population in these areas has grown considerably pushing residents closer to agricultural fields where they face increasing health risks from pesticides drifting into neighbourhoods, schools and work sites.

Strawberries are the most chemically intensive crop in California. One of the many chemicals that are used by strawberry growers is chloropicrin, a pesticide that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is "an irritant with characteristics of a tear gas”. Growers have used the pesticide for decades but its use has increased in recent years as an alternative to methyl bromide, which is being phased out under an international treaty. Growers applied more than 9 million pounds (4.08 million kg) of chloropicrin in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. However from 2002 to 2011, state records show 787 people suffered symptoms including watery eyes, irritated lungs, coughing and headaches as a result of exposure to chloropicrin gas. Advocacy groups say the number of incidents is probably higher because many illnesses are not reported.

New rules now establish wider buffer zones of up to 100 feet around fields where the pesticide is applied. Growers will be restricted to fumigating 40 acres a day unless they use stronger tarps to prevent the chemical from drifting away. Growers are also required to give the state 48 hours' notice before fumigating and to notify surrounding homes and businesses in Spanish and English.

"The right to farm does not include the right to harm," said Brian Leahy, director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation. "Part of the cost of doing business is putting protective measures in place that ensure that no one is getting hurt.”

Anne Katten, who monitors pesticide and worker safety for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, maintains the buffers are not large enough. "The long-term solution is to phase out the use of chloropicrin and other high-toxicity soil fumigants and move to alternative measures to control soil pests that are safer and more sustainable.”

While the new regulations are a step in the right direction, current laws and regulations are still not doing enough. Strawberries are one of Nature's most potent packages of health-defending antioxidants. But when the Pesticide Action Network did an analysis of pesticide residues using USDA data, it found 54 different pesticide residues among strawberry samples. The testing turned up nine known or probable carcinogens, 24 suspected hormone disruptors, 11 neurotoxins, 12 developmental or reproductive toxins, and 19 honeybee toxins. Traces of fungicides captan and pyraclostrobin turned up on more than half of strawberry samples tested.

A solid reason to buy organic or wait until they are in season.

Pregnant moms exposed to a common insecticide used in farming could give birth to children who go on to develop brain damage years later, according to a new study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The chemical in question is chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide that was banned for residential use in 2001, but still remains a go-to chemical in nonorganic farming. It kills bugs by disrupting brain function and could be doing the same in America's children.

Source:
http://www.rodale.com/pesticides-health-effects

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The City of Berkeley, the Environmental Working Group and the Pesticide Action Network along with eight other activist groups, sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture over the agency’s approval of a statewide “pest management” plan that allows pesticide spraying on schools, organic farms and residential yards, including aerial spraying over homes in rural areas. Regulators approved the program despite receiving over 30,000 public comment letters calling for a less toxic approach that would protect the vitality and resilience of the state’s food system and the economic interests of organic farmers.

The plan, approved Dec. 24 as part of the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Environmental Impact Report, allows dangerous chemicals to be used anywhere in the state, any time into an indefinite future, without an option for affected communities to stop the spray. The state can also approve new pesticide treatments and treatment sites behind closed doors without public scrutiny or notice.

The program allows the state to use a range of 79 pesticides, many of which are carcinogenic or linked to birth defects, reproductive harm and are toxic to honey bees, butterflies, fish and birds. The list of pesticides include: chlorpyrifos, which is banned in Europe and has recently been linked to Autism. It presents hazards to workers and drinking water; the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, which is toxic to honeybees; the deadly, ozone-depleting fumigant methyl bromide, which is being phased out because of an international treaty; and chloropicrin, which causes genetic damage. The pesticide plan was passed despite the California Department of Pesticide Regulation announcement that strict new standards for chloropicrin were necessary because of the threat it poses to public health.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda Superior Court, outlines numerous ways the spray plan violates state environmental laws, including failure to notify the public of future pesticide spraying and failure to analyze the impacts of the pesticides on human and environmental health, including harm to infants and contamination of drinking water.

A recent California-based study has uncovered a strong link between pesticides and autism. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during participants pregnancies. The data revealed pregnant women who live in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides are applied experience a 66 percent increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay.

“We mapped where our study participants lived during pregnancy and around the time of birth. In California, pesticide applicators must report what they’re applying, where they’re applying it, dates when the applications were made and how much was applied,” Hertz-Picciotto said. “What we saw were several classes of pesticides more commonly applied near residences of mothers whose children developed autism or had delayed cognitive or other skills.”

The study indicates that women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible. Different classes of pesticides had different effects. Organophosphates, particularly chlorpyrifos applications during the second trimester, were associated with an elevated risk of autism. Pyrethroids were moderately associated with autism, and carbamates were associated with developmental delay.

Approximately 200 million pounds of pesticides are applied in California each year. Chlorpyrifos, the pesticide most strongly linked to autism is applied to crops across the United States.

Researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto cautions that we should find ways to reduce pesticide exposure, especially for pregnant women and young children. “We need to open up a dialogue about how this can be done, at both a societal and individual level,” she says.