Commercially, GE (GMO) foods first made an appearance early in the 1990s with the discovery of ‘chymosin’, a substitute for an essential enzyme used to make cheese. Chymosin is now used to make more than half the cheeses produced in the US.
By 1993, Monsanto had introduced a GE product called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) which is injected into dairy cows to increase milk production even though there has long been a glut of milk on the market.
rBGH is also known as BST (Posilac Bovine Somatotropin), the shortened form of rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin).
When BST was approved by the FDA, it sparked the first major GE food controversy with activists claiming that milk from these cows contained high levels of Insulin growth factor-1 considered to be a potent tumor promoter.
Today, more than 50% of all dairy cows in the US receive injections of BST; and milk from these cows is mixed with other milk. causing all milk and milk products to be tainted.
In 1989, there were several deaths attributed to L-tryptophan, a food supplement genetically engineered by a Japanese manufacturer. However, because the company was destroyed along with the evidence, the FDA could not rule out that GE was the cause and, to this day, there is still that speculation; but nothing can be proven.
Since L-tryptophan was associated with food supplements, it was pulled off the market faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. Drugs and food crops, it appears, are not subjected to the same swift action.
In 1994, the FDA approved the first whole GE food. The Flavr Savr tomato was a creation of Calgene, a US company which developed it to increase vine and shelf life by 90%. However, it proved to be too costly to produce and was pulled from the market. Besides that, lab mice would not touch it.
In 1996, Monsanto introduced soybeans, which are now the most widely grown GE crop. Roundup Ready soybeans have been genetically altered to make them resistant to Roundup herbicide. This means that when the soy plant is doused with Roundup, it will survive, while the weeds near them will die.
These soybeans have this unique ability because of the insertion of a bacterial gene found by Monsanto scientists “thriving in a chemical waste pond near one of the company’s Roundup production plants” (Roseboro et al).
Genetically engineered soybeans are routinely mixed with conventionally grown soybeans. To top it all off, weeds are becoming resistant to the Roundup herbicides.
According to the Institute for Science in Society, the consumption of GE foods could be the cause for the almost ten-fold increase in food-related illnesses in the US between 1994 and 1999, since the majority of these illnesses and food-related deaths were determined to be caused by unknown agents.
Food allergies have sky-rocketed during the same time period. Whether all these problems can be laid at the feet of GE foods cannot be determined because there are no reliable tests or studies that have been developed.
GE manufacturers are counting on this to get their products out before the crunch comes. From the onset, Monsanto’s plan has been to influence governments so that they can corner the marketplace quickly before resistance can stop them.
In fact, one biotech consultant later said, “The hope of the industry is that over time, the market is so flooded that there’s nothing you can do about it – you just sort of surrender.”
Although the strategy has worked in America, other countries are becoming wiser. It is long past time when all nations must stand up and do what is right for their people.
Every year now n the US, up to 20,000 new food products are introduced. Almost all of them can be sold without first contacting the FDA.
The only time the law requires testing of a new food is when it contains an additive that is not known or “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). Since the system of evaluating new foods has been in place for more than 50 years, the new GE foods do not fit into the established system.
As of 2004, more than 50 GE crops in the US have FDA approval. These include the following:
- Corn (15 varieties) – These make up about 40% of the total corn crops grown in the US. GE corn is routinely mixed with conventionally grown corn. Every day, millions of people consume breakfast cereals and a host of other processed foods containing GE corn derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Add this to the fact that the EPA has approved more than 175 Bt microbial formulations as pesticides on fruits, vegetables, orchards, and ornamental plants. There are some thirty subspecies of Bt, and each strain makes its own unique toxic crystals. One such strain kills moths and butterflies (the lepidopterans); another kills flies and mosquitoes (the dipterans); and still another kills bettles (the coleopterans). However, Bt can also be rendered safe for organic farmers to use.
- Tomatoes (6 varieties)
- Cotton (5 varieties) – These hold 70% of the total cotton crops grown in the US and are mixed with conventionally grown cotton.
- Rape Oilseed (5 varieties)
- Canola (5 varieties) – These hold 60% of the canola crops grown in Canada and are mixed with conventionally grown canola.
- Soybeans (3 varieties) – See above.
- Potatoes (4 varieties)
- Sugar Beets (2 varieties)
- Squash (2 varieties)
- Tobacco (used to make Quest cigarettes)
Of these, only corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola are widely grown in American agriculture, and many are either no longer sold because of market rejection (potato, sugar beets, flax, and tomatoes), or have never been grown (rice).
An estimated 60-75% of the processed foods sold in retail food stores and restaurants contain ingredients that come from GE crops. Even more is found in processed foods when they are further refined into vitamins and oils. In spite of little research, GE foods are a regular part of the North American diet.
- 80% of the soy, 70% of the cotton, and 40% of the corn planted in the US are GE, as is 60% of the total canola crops in Canada .(All contribute to the highest percentage of the cooking oil used.)
- 70% of the processed foods contain derivates of the GE soy and corn crops, which are further processed for inclusion in such other items as food ingredients, cooking agents, food additives, enzymes, and vitamins – and none have to be labeled as such.
- 60-75% of the processed foods sold in retail food stores and restaurants contain ingredients that come from GE crops.
- 75% of these crops are engineered to withstand deadly applications of herbicide, 17% produce their own insecticide, and 8% are engineered to do both.
- Dairy products are made with milk from many sources, and if not labeled ‘organic’ or ‘non-GMO’, or ‘made without hormones’, likely contain milk from cows injected with rbGH. In addition, non-organic dairy farms typically use GE feed.
- Honey can be produced from GE crops.
- Vitamins can be made from GE products: for example, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from corn and vitamin E from soy; vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12 may also be derived from GMOs unless otherwise stated; vitamins D and K may have ‘carriers’ derived from GE corn sources (starch, glucose, and maltodextrin). These vitamins are found in supplements and are also used to fortify processed foods. Organic foods fortified with vitamins are not allowed to use ingredients derived from GMOs. ‘Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)’, a common flavor enhancer, is derived from corn and soy. In addition, it often contains MSG.
- Vanillin and xanthan gum can also be GE.
- Enzymes are usually made from GE bacteria and fungi and used in a wide variety of processed foods. These do not have to be labeled, either. As mentioned before, one of the more common enzymes is chymosin, used in making hard cheeses. In the past, that was the job of rennet; but since 1990, more than 70% of the US cheeses now use the GE chymosin. Organic cheeses do not use it.
Enzymes derived from GE organisms include the following:
- Alpha-acetolactate decarboxylase (removes bitter substances from beer)
- Alpha-amylase (converts starch to simple sugars)
- Beta-glucanase (improves beer filtration)
- Catalase (reduces food deterioration, especially egg-based products)
- Chymosin (clots milk protein to make cheese)
- Cyclodextrin-glucosyl transferase (modifies starch and sugar)
- Glucose isomerase (converts glucose to fructose)
- Glucose oxidase (reduces food deterioration, especially egg-based products)
- Lipase (modifies oil and fats)
- Maltogenic amylase (slows bread staling)
- Pectinesterase (improves fruit juice clarity)
- Protease (improves bread dough structure)
- Pullulanse (converts starch to simple sugars)
- Xylanase or hemicellulase (enhances bread dough rising)
Although people are relying on the ‘non-GMO’ label, be forewarned that it may not necessarily mean what it says.
Since there are no regulations governing this, it may mean various things to each manufacturer. For instance, it may mean there are no ingredients from GE crops, but may contain GE dairy or processing agents.
However, most do not contain anything connected to the GE process and will state that in a number of ways on the label.
Having said all that, a zero tolerance is neither practical nor possible to guarantee these days. A good non-GMO shopping guide can be seen on this website.