What are Genetically Modified foods?
GM foods first appeared on the market in the mid 1990’s, with tomatoes but followed shortly thereafter by soybean, corn, canola and alfalfa. Prior to that GM tobacco had been used for decades. By 2006, GM crops were being planted across 22 countries.
Organic farming groups, organic food outlets and activists are concerned about what GM foods mean for the organic market and our health. Exponents extoll the virtues of GM and for some time there has been little evidence of the effect. Certainly today we are still unaware of what the long-term effects will be.
The research around GM foods
Research is starting to demonstrate what the impact to our health may be…and it doesn’t look promising. Following is a summary of what Jeffery M. Smith, researcher of GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods and author, lectured on in a seminar released by the Institute of Functional Medicine.
According to Smith, there are several key concerns around the effect on our immune systems. Based on animal and human studies there are six key ways that our immune systems may be affected and inflammation occurs:
- Transgene product (Bt)
- Protein changes (peas)
- GM process (new antigens)
- Herbicide residues
- Transferred genes
- Reduced digestive capacity
1. When eating GM foods there may be an inappropriate immune response to the food we eat. Normally a healthy immune system ‘tolerates’ foreign objects (as with the food we eat) but GM food may not be tolerated. If this happens the immune system may launch an attack on it. This has been demonstrated in a mouse study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology on a Bt-toxin (Cry1Ac), similar to what is used in to spray corn crops (Cry1Ab). Exposure to this toxin has been attributed to allergies, asthma, altered consciousness, seizures and more.
2. The GM industry took the genes used in GM kidney beans and transferred them to peas and found harmful consequences occurred. Genes could be mutated, truncated, be read differently or rearranged, resulting in an increased immune response. Some diseases that are related to this type of immune response are allergies, asthma, lupus, chemical sensitivities and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
3. With an alteration in plant DNA composition, there may be an increased risk of carcinogens, anti-nutrients, new allergens and a rise in existing allergies. GM soy has been found to have 7 times higher levels of an allergen that inhibits trypsin (which normally contributes to the digestive process) compared to non-GM soy. A rat study with GM potatoes found that immune response was elevated and the rats developed pre-cancerous cells in the digestive tract and atrophied livers.
4. When using GM crops that are herbicide tolerant, there is an increase in herbicide residues ie Roundup and Liberty, which have antibacterial properties. Symptoms of exposure include eye irritation, nausea, skin rashes, asthma and an increased risk of miscarriage, ADD, Parkinson’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
5. There is a possibility that GM genes may transfer to our gut bacteria or even to our DNA. This was found to occur on the only human study conducted, funded by the UK government.
6. GM foods may also affect digestive capacity through altered gut bacteria and reduced digestive enzymes, which allow more time for the immune system to react.
This provides us with further evidence when making an informed decision on GM foods.
How do I know it’s GM?
Some of us live in countries where labelling of GM foods is not legally required however eating organic and avoiding processed foods may decrease the risk. If you are interested in finding out whether your country grows GM foods click here. For a list of GM foods, click here.