By, Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH.
We have been eating these foods for years, and the government has approved them. The vast majority of food American’s eat today – even baby formula – contains GMOs. Aren’t they safe?
Not likely. There are many reasons to be seriously concerned about the safety of eating Genetically Modified (GM) food. To truly understand why, we need to look at both the GM seeds themselves, and the herbicides sprayed on them – most often, Monsanto’s RoundUp.
The prolific use of RoundUp on GM food raises chilling concerns. Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported the findings of an article published in the journal Entropy. The article was a lengthy compilation of research to date on glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp.
It seems very likely that glyphosate interferes with the body’s first line of defense against dangerous chemicals. The enzymes of the cytochrome P450 system are crucial to the first step in breaking down unwanted substances in the body. Glyphosate has been found to affect several P450 enzymes. This would interfere not only with the body’s handling of hormones and vitamins, but also with our ability to deal with a tremendous variety of environmental toxicants.
The use of RoundUp has been increasing at a tremendous pace, due in large part to the increase in genetically modified crops. The use of herbicides on GM crops has grown from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011.
What about the GM seeds themselves? The company that makes genetically modified seeds (Monsanto) claims they have been proven safe by research. Yet, proponents of GM labeling say research studies raise concerns. Who is right?
The first thing to understand is that scientific studies themselves don’t actually prove anything. You may remember this from high school science: when designing a study, you put forth a hypothesis, and design an experiment that will support or not support your hypothesis. Over time, we come to suspect that the hypotheses that have been supported repeatedly are likely to be correct, while those that don’t seem to get much support are likely incorrect.
So when Monsanto fed its GM corn or soy to rats for 90 days and showed no change in weight, appearance of organs, and behavior, it could say that research results were consistent with safety. It could not say that the foods were proven safe. That would be wishful thinking and just unscientific.
When Prof. Séralini’s team reanalyzed Monsanto’s study results and found changes in kidney and liver function, it raised concerns about harm. Their analysis was consistent with the hypothesis that GM seeds are harmful.
It would be most useful to take several hundred people and control their diet for a couple of decades. We might then get results that will provide very powerful information concerning safety or danger associated with GM foods. But you can see that this experiment will not occur.
It may take decades to settle the science. However, we have enough information to arrive at a common sense conclusion about why it is safer to avoid eating GM food, and especially, why it is important to avoid feeding GM food to our children.
Simply put, food is more than just calories. We know that people with low levels of vitamins and minerals get more diseases. We understand how these nutrients underpin basic body biochemistry, and how biochemistry is linked to DNA repair, or to immunological or neurological functioning. So the task at hand is to get enough nutrients.
Given that many diseases are on the rise – Type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, asthma, food allergies, ADHD and autism – the task is actually to get as many nutrients as possible, and to avoid toxic substances. Just in case.
Three major food crops are genetically engineered: soy, canola and corn. These are mostly fed to factory-farmed animals (cattle, pigs, chickens) or turned into processed products such as high fructose corn syrup and a variety of food additives. Our government actively subsidizes these three crops. Thus foods derived from them represent relatively inexpensive calories.
Where are the nutrients, though? As Michael Pollan would say, they are in “real” food, mostly plants. Wild-caught salmon is the only salmon with a beneficial omega fatty acid profile; GM salmon will result in more disease. Corn and soybean oils are terribly unhealthy due to their omega-6 fatty acid content, and most canola oil is full of glyphosate. Corn and soy products are also full of glyphosate, and the animals eating them may have had inadequate capacity for getting rid of pollutants, since glyphosate in their feed likely interfered with their cytochrome P450 enzymes.
In conclusion, GM foods, and meat and dairy from animals fed GM plants, have no role to play in a prudent healthy diet.
Let’s label them and make meaningful decisions about our diet. Let’s feed our kids the healthiest food we can afford.
Until they are labeled, how do we avoid GMOs? Check out this guide:
Support farmers’ markets where you can ask questions, and if buying food that comes in a package, look for the Non GMO Project Label:
Myrto Angela Ashe MD, MPH, a member of the MOMS Advocating Sustainability Advisory Committee, practices functional medicine in Mill Valley, CA. She specializes in stubborn, or persistent medical issues that haven’t resolved with other approaches, or seem to require the ongoing use of medication. Dr. Ashe studied undergraduate neurobiology and graduated from the McGill University Faculty of Medicine in 1987. She completed a residency in Family Medicine at Brown University in 1990 and attended UC Berkeley School of Public Health where she obtained a masters in pubic health through the Preventive Medicine Residency. She has faithfully board certified and re-certified in family medicine since 1990.
You can learn more about Dr. Ashe and read her blog at http://www.unconventionalmedicine.net/.