March 8, 2011

052 Genetically Modified Food [8 March 2010]

The safety of genetically engineered or genetically modified (GM) foods is highly controversial. Is it the savior of mankind destined to feed a starving world? or a technological menace opening a Pandora’s box of unknown problems?

The agri-food companies like Monsanto and most scientists working in the field believe that the increased yields and resistance to disease are a boon to an overpopulated world facing starvation. They assure us that there is no difference in the quality or safety of the food from these animals or crops compared to traditionally developed varieties. They decry the public’s concerns as based on ignorance and paranoia.

The opponents of GM food have several concerns. One is that safety of the food has not been adequately tested and suspect unfavorable results have been ignored. Some of these are:
• increased allergies to GM varieties of soy and other foods
• malformed testicles and infertility in GM soy fed mice and rats
• infertility in pigs fed a GM corn variety
• allergic and flu like symptoms in Indian farm workers exposed to Bt cotton containing a pesticide-producing gene from a soil bacteria, and many deaths of animals eating Bt cotton and Bt corn
• genes from Bt corn and soy products transferred to bacteria in the human gut causing these bacteria to start producing pesticide

Others question the advantage of GM crops on purely economical grounds. One of the advantages of GM crops is supposed to be a reduction in pesticide use. Herbicide use in the USA has significantly increased since the introduction of GM crops in 1996. And the GM crops contain a higher residue of pesticides.

A serious disadvantage is the tendency to contaminate other fields. The European ban on Canadian flax is the result of such contamination. Organic certification generally has a zero tolerance for GMO contamination and the introduction of GM canola quickly killed the Canadian organic canola industry. The introduction of GM wheat would likely do the same for the small but thriving organic wheat sector. Another disadvantage is the dependence of the farmer on the company for both seed and chemical.

My take on the controversy is that each genetic modification needs to be assessed on its own merit rather than embracing or rejecting all GM foods as a whole. I don’t believe that enough safety studies have been done and question the economic benefits in many situations. Learn more at

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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