What is a GMO? Genetic Engineering, Genetically Modified Organism, Transgenic, Labeling not Required, Herbicide and Pesticide Tolerant
A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Because this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as “transgenic” organisms.
In your food! First introduced into the food supply in the mid-1990s, GMOs are now present in the vast majority of processed foods in the US. While they are banned as food ingredients in Europe and elsewhere, the FDA does not even require the labeling of GMOs in food ingredient lists.
Although there have been attempts to increase nutritional benefits or productivity, the two main traits that have been added to date are herbicide tolerance and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. These results have no health benefit, only economic benefit.
(The same corporations that create the genetically modified seeds also manufacture the herbicides and pesticides. They also do the only studies done on the safety of their products. The EPA has done no testing on them.*).
What foods are GM?
Currently commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), corn (88%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash (over 24,000 acres).
Products derived from the above, including oils from all four, soy protein, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup among others. There are also many “invisible ingredients,” derived from GM crops that are not obviously from corn or soy.
What is a gene?
Every plant and animal is made of cells, each of which has a center called a nucleus. Inside every nucleus there are strings of DNA, half of which is normally inherited from the mother and half from the father. Short sequences of DNA are called genes. These genes operate in complex networks that are finely regulated to enable the processes of living organisms to happen in the right place and at the right time.
How is genetic engineering done?
Because living organisms have natural barriers to protect themselves against the introduction of DNA from a different species, genetic engineers must force the DNA from one organism into another. Their methods include:
- Using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA.
- Coating DNA onto tiny metal pellets, and firing it with a special gun into the cells.
- Injecting the new DNA into fertilized eggs with a very fine needle.
- Using electric shocks to create holes in the membrane covering sperm, and then forcing the new DNA into the sperm through these holes.
Is genetic engineering precise?
The technology of genetic engineering is currently very crude. It is not possible to insert a new gene with any accuracy, and the transfer of new genes can disrupt the finely controlled network of DNA in an organism.
Current understanding of the way in which DNA works is extremely limited, and any change to the DNA of an organism at any point can have side effects that are impossible to predict or control. The new gene could, for example, alter chemical reactions within the cell or disturb cell functions. This could lead to instability, the creation of new toxins or allergens, and changes in nutritional value.
But haven’t growers been grafting trees, breeding animals, and hybridizing seeds for years?
Genetic engineering is completely different from traditional breeding and carries unique risks.
In traditional breeding it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but is not possible to mate a pig with a potato or a mouse. Even when species that may seem to be closely related do succeed in breeding, the offspring are usually infertile—a horse, for example, can mate with a donkey, but the offspring (a mule) is sterile.
With genetic engineering, scientists can breach species barriers set up by nature. For example, they have spliced fish genes into tomatoes. The results are plants (or animals) with traits that would be virtually impossible to obtain with natural processes, such as crossbreeding or grafting.
Why should you care?
Genetically modified foods have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. The effects on humans of consuming these new combinations of proteins produced in GMOs are unknown and have not been studied. (Recently the World Health Organization said GMOs are probable carcinogens. This is as strong a statement as they make*)
Crops such as Bt cotton produce pesticides inside the plant. This kills or deters insects, saving the farmer from having to spray pesticides. The plants themselves are toxic, and not just to insects. Farmers in India, who let their sheep graze on Bt cotton plants after the harvest, saw thousands of sheep die!
Herbicide tolerance lets the farmer spray weed-killer directly on the crop without killing it. (Toxic residues remain in foods, animals, and cotton products and subsequently in human fluids*).
Pollen from GM crops can contaminate nearby crops of the same type, except for soy, which does not cross-pollinate. In fact, virtually all heritage varieties of corn in Mexico (the origin of all corn) have been found to have some contamination. Canola and cotton also cross-pollinate. The long-term effects on the environment could be disastrous.
This only scratches the surface of the GMO story. The majority of this came from THE INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE TECHNOLOGY. The * items were added by Hope Raye and have been in numerous publications. More information on the damage that is being done to the environment will follow.