Will Genetically Modified Foods Make You Sick?

Two new government studies, published within days of each other, point to disturbing health hazards of genetically modified foods.
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Two new government studies, published within days of each other, point to disturbing health hazards of genetically modified (GM) foods.

On November 13th, a study by the Italian National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition showed how GM corn caused significant immune system changes in mice, related to allergic and inflammatory responses. The corn, sold by Monsanto, contains a gene that produces the toxic "Bt" pesticide in every cell--and in every bite. The results raise the question whether this toxin (or some other unpredictable change in the GM corn) might be contributing to the rise in allergies or other immune disorders in North America.

The second study provokes the equally compelling question, are GM foods the missing link to decreasing fertility? The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety commissioned one of the very few long-term feeding studies on GM corn, released last week. The University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna fed GM Monsanto's GM corn to mice, which were then mated. In the third and fourth litters, there was a reduction in the number of size of rat pups (statistically significant). Similarly, in mice fed GM corn for four successive generations (from original mice parents to their great grandchildren), the size and number of offspring was less than those compared to non-GM fed mice (trend only, not yet statistically significant).

These studies should strike a major blow to biotech advocates who claim that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe. They should--but similar results in other studies and reports have so far been unable to dislodge the GMO safety myth and get them off our plates. Consider some of the evidence related to reproductive problems: Offspring of Russian rats fed GM soy showed a five-fold increase in mortality, lower birth weights, and the inability to reproduce. Italian male mice fed GM soy had damaged young sperm cells. The embryo offspring of GM soy-fed mice (also Italian) had altered DNA functioning. Several farmers reported sterility or fertility problems among American pigs and cows fed on GM corn varieties. Additionally, over the last two months, investigators have documented fertility problems among Indian buffaloes, cows, and goats fed GM cottonseed products, including abortions and premature births.

There is also evidence that the Bt crops cause allergic and toxic reactions. The GM cotton engineered to produce the Bt toxin, for example, is linked to thousands of deaths among sheep, buffaloes, and other livestock, and to widespread allergic reactions by Indian farm workers handling the plants. Monsanto's own Bt corn study showed toxic reactions in rats, and their corn is linked to mysterious deaths of cows, and to disease among people breathing the corn's pollen.

Whenever these studies or reports surfaced, scientists should have charged in to conduct intense follow-up research. Instead, the funding--to find and expose the cause of the problem--often mysteriously dries up; scientists are transferred, threatened or fired, and the health risk link to GMOs is vehemently denied.

Take the Russian rat study above, conducted by Irina Ermakova, a senior scientist at the Russian National Academy of Sciences. After we presented GMO health risk info at the EU Parliament in June 2007, she told me about the backlash that occurred after doing her study. Samples were stolen from her lab, documents were burnt on her desk, and her boss, under pressure from his boss, ordered her to cease all future research on GMOs. One of her colleagues tried to comfort her by saying, "Maybe GM soy will solve the human overpopulation problem." She wasn't comforted.

Unless we want to wait until more studies are done, risking allergies and immune dysfunction, infertility, infant mortality, or poorer health inherited by the next generation, we will have to opt out of the GM food experiment. Without required labels, it isn't simple. But our Campaign for Healthier Eating in America offers Non-GMO Shopping Guides that make it much easier, go to www.HealthierEating.org.

You might want to pass it on to those planning to have children, or wanting to stay healthy.

Jeffrey M. Smith is the author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods from Chelsea Green Publishing. Smith worked at a GMO detection laboratory, founded the Institute for Responsible Technology, and currently lives in Iowa—surrounded by genetically modified corn and soybeans. For more information, visit Chelsea Green.

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