Updated: May 22, 2019
GMOs are genetically modified organisms; their DNA has been altered to promote their survival in harsher conditions such as increased use of pesticides. The FDA has approved the safety of GMOs on the basis that they are not significantly genetically different than non-GMO products. Companies that produce GMOs have conducted their own studies on the safety of these foods, however they were altered to force safe conclusions. GMOs have been found to create several problems in animals such as proliferative cell growth in the intestines of rats, higher rates of dead livestock, and damage to majority of their organs ("State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods","GMO education"). These foods are not safe for consumption as they pose a risk to consumers by promoting disease as well as resistance to treatment for diseases; organic foods that are free of pesticides are a better option ("GMOs and Cancer")
In the mid-1990s, genetically modified organisms were commercialized and subsequently banned by Europe and other countries ("GMO education"). In the United States, 90% or more of soy, cotton, canola, and sugar beets are genetically modified; 88% of corn and more than 50% of Hawaiian papaya are genetically modified. Everyone has to eat to survive, it is not a simple task to avoid processed food given that the FDA does not require companies to label foods containing GMOs ("GMO education"). There is a group of GMOs called “Roundup Ready” meaning they are resistant to the herbicide Roundup; with resistance comes increased application of the herbicide due to increasing resistance among weeds as well ("GMOs and Cancer"). Soy, corn, and sugar beets belong to this group of GMOs, and the Roundup Ready corn have been shown to have increased levels of putrescine and cadaverine. An increase in cancer and allergies has been linked to these chemicals, and holes are created in cell walls by the bt-toxin produced from altered DNA in genetically modified corn ("GMOs and Cancer"). Bt-toxin has also been reported to be linked to thousands of sheep dying in India ("GMO education"). In United States more than 95% of the 9 billion pounds of food-producing livestock are fed genetically modified feed (LaJeunesse, 2015). This is very concerning because these health risks apply to majority of consumers in the United States. Glyphosate is another dangerous chemical that is used on GMO soy and corn fields, it damages the DNA, promotes leaky gut, it is an antibiotic, and breaks down into sarcosine and formaldehyde ("GMOs and Cancer") This class 2A carcinogen is an active ingredient in Roundup herbicide.
In animal studies there has been widespread damage to the animal after consuming GMOs. Proliferative cell growth, which is a precursor to cancer, was observed in the stomach and intestine walls of rats who consumed genetically modified potatoes that produced insecticide ("State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods") When eating potatoes that produced bt-toxin, they displayed abnormal and damaged cells as well. Many of their negative observations were reversed when the rats went back to a non-GMO diet. FDA scientists have expressed concern before about the possibility of genetically modified DNA spontaneously being transferred to the DNA consumers have in their digestive tract. One study did find that the herbicide tolerant gene in genetically modified soybeans successfully transferred to a human gut bacteria, and continued to function inside the consumer. They also worry that the toxins from the genetically modified feed livestock receive will build up in their products such as milk and eggs, then transferred to consumers. To keep up with the increase in herbicide resistant weeds, many countries have increased their cap on these chemicals by up to 50 times ("State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods"). To skirt the regulations of the FDA, companies have manipulated their studies to promote the safety of genetically modified organisms. According to Smith (2013) , “To show that pasteurization destroyed bovine growth hormone in milk from cows treated with rbGH, scientists pasteurized the milk 120 times longer than normal. Unable to destroy more than 19%, they then spiked the milk with a huge amount of the hormone and repeated the long pasteurization, destroying 90%.103 (The FDA reported that pasteurization destroys 90% of the hormone.” Independent studies are essential to verifying the safety of these food products as the FDA has not shown effective regulation of the food industry.
When introducing a new gene to the DNA of a crop, it isn’t as simple as cut and paste. After the gene is introduced it has been shown to alter other parts of the DNA. There are about hundreds or thousands of other alterations that result in the makeup of the plant. Scientists have found that up to 5% of natural genes changed how they expressed proteins, and there was a 2-4% different between the genetically modified organism and the natural parent after a single gene insertion. Once the FDA labeled GMOs as “Generally Recognized as Safe”, they didn’t require any additional testing of the commercialized product. FDA scientists were not fully aware of the damaging effects of GMOs but they did report that the unexpected changes in DNA can result in higher concentrations of plant toxicants than they expected ("State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods").
Choosing organic foods and locally grown foods are a better option than commercialized produce. The increase in the consumption of processed foods correlates with an increase in cancer as well as allergies. New proteins are introduced to the food supply due to GMOs, allergies develop as an immune response to a foreign body in the human body. Because GMOs contain foreign genes often from bacteria, there will be recognized by the body as foreign. Many GMOs have antibiotic resistance markers which release enzymes that degrade antibiotics; this increases the consumers antibiotic resistance potentially making it harder to fight disease (Young, 2015). Great Britain saw their soy allergies drastically increase by 50% each year after the introduction of genetically modified soy to their diet ("State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods"). The United States experienced a double in peanut allergies in the first five years of consuming genetically modified soy. Organic foods do not use synthetic pesticides such as Roundup, and they are not genetically modified ("GMOs and Cancer"). This skirts the risk of the new proteins,and herbicide resistant genes from interacting with consumers DNA - as well as the elevated risk for proliferating cell growth, a precursor for cancer.
Studies have pointed out risks associated with the consumption of genetically modified foods. During independent studied they have shown to cause great damage to the health of laboratory animals, as well as produce damaging products such as formaldehyde. GMOs may be an important link in the increase of various types of cancer in the United States as shown by the drastic increase in cell growth in laboratory mice consuming genetically modified foods. Eating organic foods which are free of pesticides as well is an impactful way in reversing the lasting negative effects of processed foods. The FDA and government will need to make a great effort in correcting this issue as majority of the commercialized food ingredients such as corn, and sugar beets are genetically modified.
LaJeunesse, Sara (2015). The Science of GMOs. Ag Science Magazine (Summer 2015). Retrieved May 6, 2018, from http://agsci.psu.edu/magazine/articles/2015/spring-summer/the-science-of-gmos
Young, Sandra (2015). GMO and the Nutritional Content of Food. The Discovery Eye Foundation. Retrieved May 6, 2018, from http://discoveryeye.org/gmo-and-nutritional-content-of-food/
Smith, Jeremy (n.d). GMO Education. Institute for Responsible Technology. Retrieved 6 May 2018, from https://responsibletechnology.org/gmo-education/
Smith, Jeremy (n.d). GMOs and Cancer. Institute for Responsible Technology. Retrieved 6 May 2018, from https://responsibletechnology.org/gmos-and-cancer/
Smith, Jeremy (2013). State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods. Institute for Responsible Technology. Retrieved 6 May 2018, from https://responsibletechnology.org/state-of-science/