The USA is the main supporters of GE crops. There, there four main genetically engineered or genetically modified crops. Soybeans, Corn, Wheat, and Cotton.
Because labeling of GE crops is still in question and therefore not done except by the health food industry, these crops eventually find their way into processed foods where the labeling of all contents does not have to take place.
This, in and of itself, is a huge problem, especially for those with food allergies. Consumers are also angry that they have not been given the choice of knowing what is going into their food.
Because of rampant and varied food allergies in recent years, especially with corn and soy products, consumers must know every item that goes into what they are eating or risk severe consequences.
Introducing genes into a totally different species of food can cause allergies in those never suspecting that their particular allergen can now be found in a before-tolerated food.
Nuts, for example, have been introduced into soybeans and could cause allergic reactions in people eating the soybeans and are allergic to nuts.
Presently, GE plants are resistant to only one kind of chemical at a time. GE soybeans, for instance, are resistant to glyphosate and would be killed by an application of another type of herbicide.
Glufosinate herbicide will kill Roundup Ready soybeans. It is sold under the brand name of Liberty or Ignite. The best selling weed killer in the world is Roundup and accounts for at least 40% of Monsanto’s profits.
To alter plants genetically, molecular biologists remove one or more genes from the DNA of other organisms and recombine them into the DNA of the plant they want to alter. By adding these new genes, genetic engineers hope the plant will express the traits associated with the genes.
For example, genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (commonly written as Bt) were planted into the DNA of corn in order to kill the corn borer, thereby allowing the plant to produce its own pesticide. However, a study conducted at Ohio State University found that the Bt gene has the potential to migrate to weeds and strengthen them.
Sunflowers were also studied, revealing that they could crossbreed with nearby weedy relatives, making the already hardy plant even tougher.
To create Bt corn, the desired gene segment was first isolated and removed from the DNA of the bacterium. Then, it was assembled into a sequence or a ‘package’ of genes needed to ensure that they would work in the corn’s DNA.
One of the genes is called a promoter, which turns on the new gene so it will express the desired trait. The promoter comes from a powerful virus called CMV (Cauliflower Mosaic Virus).
Another gene is an antibiotic resistant marker that flags which corn cells have assimilated the gene package after it is transferred. Finally, the terminator gene is added to turn off the new gene. Scientists, and consumers alike, trust that all these genes will work as anticipated.
Transferring the gene package into corn cells requires powerful methods. Genetic engineers have developed two: a gene gun (which literally blasts the genes through the cell walls), and a bacterium that invades a cell with the foreign genes.
After a gene transfer, corn genes are attached at different points in the DNA. Since this is a random placement, scientists have no control over where the GE genes end up.
To identify which genes have been accepted by the corn cells, scientists add the antibiotic marker so that it will kill all cells except those with the marker gene, making it antibiotic resistant. The transformed cells will develop into mature corn plants that will contain the pest-killing bacterium genes in every cell.
It was developed with the idea that plant breeders will grow the plants over many generations to ensure the engineered trait is stable and continues to be expressed as desired.
While GE corn accounts for more than 30% of all the corn grown in the US, GE-contamination is an increasing problem for organic and conventional growers alike.
For example, in just one season, a 100-year-old heirloom corn variety was nearly wiped out in Mount Vernon, Iowa, because of drifting pollen from a nearby Bt cornfield. If something like this can happen in just one season despite every precaution, imagine the environmental consequences on a larger scale.
In addition, GE StarLink corn, grown mainly in Iowa and Nebraska, was on just 1% of corn acreage in the US in 2000, yet it managed to contaminate 25% of the total corn harvest.
The first inkling North Americans had that GE corn might be a problem came in the year 2000 when it was discovered that taco shells were indeed found to contain an unapproved GE corn called StarLink. This led to a multi-million dollar recall. Testing revealed that several products contained the StarLink corn that was not approved for human consumption because of concerns that it causes allergic reactions.
The most severe reaction was reported by a Florida optomotrist who said he suffered anaphylactic shock with hives covering 90% of his body. StarLink corn had entered the food chain because its developer, Aventis CropScience, failed to inform farmers of the need to segregate StarLink from other corn and to use it as animal feed only.
Another incident happened in Mexico. In a 2001 issue of Nature magazine, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley described how genes from GE corn contaminated native corn varieties in Oaxaca, Mexico. This was particularly disturbing for two reasons.
One, this meant that contamination was found thousands of miles from where the GE corn crops had been grown. Secondly, it meant that GE corn was threatening the center of biological diversity for corn.
Naturally, this raised the ire of the biotechnology industry who claimed the study was flawed and tried to discredit the two researchers, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist. Later research conducted by the Mexican government and the Mexican National Insitute of Ecology confirmed the presence of genetically engineered DNA in the corn varieties.
For example, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Dow AgroSciences eliminated funding for research on gene transfer to weeds shortly after the researcher, Allison Snow of Ohio State University, published her findings.
Other scientists have been discredited and/or lost their jobs. Ignacio Chapela was refused tenure by the University of California after his discovery of the GE contamination in Mexico’s native corn varieties.
These are just two examples, from a growing mountain of them, of the industry’s attempts to squelch the truth.
It has also been found that the gene flow from GE canola and corn to organic crops has resulted in enormous economic losses to organic farmers.
For this reason, organic canola is no longer grown in Canada.
GE testing can be expensive, costing $300 or more for just one test. To make sure a crop does not have GE contamination, a farmer may have to spend as much as $1500 to have his $4000 crop examined.
Once again, the onus is on the organic farmer and not on the GE growers and companies who refuse to show any of the responsibility they promise to farmers when encouraging them to use their seed in the first place.
Since such environmental concerns are not going to go away but only increase, and since research highlighting the risks of GE crops goes against the grain (so to speak) of political and corporate agendas, it must be up to the consumer to become informed and refuse to buy such products or even allow them to be grown in their country.
Genetically engineered soybeans were first approved for commercial sales to farmers for the 1996 growing season. Licensed by Monsanto, this new technology supposedly was to enable the farmers to control weeds by applying the herbicide glyphosate (“Roundup”) directly onto the growing soybean plants.
When sales of these “Roundup Ready” soybeans first began in early 1996, Monsanto surprised farmers by requiring them to sign contracts agreeing not to save their seeds for planting the next year. The practice of saving seed for replanting – known as “brown bagging”-had been entirely legal for non-patented seeds and practiced by as many as one third of US soybean farmers.
Monsanto not only insisted that farmers must buy new seeds every season, but that Monsanto must be allowed to inspect farmers’ fields several times a year. Despite angering many, the condition was accepted by a large number of farmers who planted the soybeans that first year.
Genetically engineered, herbicide resistant varieties of soybeans are widely grown in the US, amounting to 81% of the 2003 crop. US soybeans are genetically engineered to be resistant to an herbicide, usually glyphosate (aka Roundup).
Soybean-derived ingredients are present in a wide array of processed foods from soybean oil, soy flour, soy lecithin, to some nutritional supplements like protein extracts and vitamin E. Soy and soy derivatives are used in more than 60% of processed foods in the US. GE soy is mixed with natural soy and is not labeled as such.
Allergies to soybeans jumped by 50% in just one year – between 1999 and 2000. This propelled soybeans to the number one place in the top ten list of allergens for the first time in seventeen years of testing.
The soybeans that were tested came from the US and, therefore, contained a significant percentage of the GE Roundup Ready variety.
The trypsin inhibitor, a substance found in natural soy, is known to be a major allergen and is at least 27% higher in the GE varieties.
In addition, a study conducted by the Center for Ethics and Toxics and published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that the levels of phytoestrogens in GE soybeans were 12-14% LESS than those in conventionally grown soybeans.
Soy and Corn:
These two crops alone form the basis for nearly all processed foods. The various forms they take come under such obvious names as soy flour, soy protein, soy lecithin, corn meal, and corn syrup.
However, they can also be found in such unsuspecting names as textured vegetable protein, dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose, citric acid, and lactic acid. Then there are the soy or corn oils.
For each type of food, there is usually a brand that is not genetically altered; but, to be sure, the label needs to state that in such terms as ‘non-GE’, ‘non-GMO’, or ‘certified organic’.
Unless otherwise stated, foods that usually contain GE soy or corn derivatives include: infant formulas, salad dressings, bread, cereal, hamburgers and hotdogs, margarines, mayonnaise, crackers, cookies, chocolate, candy, fried foods, chips, veggie burgers, meat substitutes, ice cream, frozen yogurt, tofu, tamari and soy sauces, soy cheese, tomato sauce, protein powders, baking powder, alcohol, vanilla, powdered sugar, peanut butter, enriched flour, and pasta – to name a few. Non-food items include: cosmetics, soaps, detergents, shampoos, and bubble baths.
Most oils and margarines used in processed foods and restaurants in North America are made from soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed.
Substantial portions of each of the four crops are GE and mixed together with non-GE counterparts before being pressed into oil. Soy oil alone comprises 80% of the total oil consumed.
Organic raisin producers in California have had to start using coconut oil instead of soy oil to coat their raisins, and Australian growers have had to do the same with their fruits because of GE contamination in soy oil.
Therefore, unless the oil specifically says ‘non-GMO’ or ‘Organic’, it is probably genetically modified if made from these four grains.
Canadian farmers are noticing that herbicide-resistant weeds are becoming a problem. In the Province of Manitoba, three GE varieties of Canola cross-pollinated with a weed, making it triple herbicide-resistant.
Canola actually has an interesting history. It is derived from rapeseed, which is normally toxic; but scientists changed the rapeseed plant through mutagenesis, a technique that involves subjecting the plant to radiation in order to promote DNA mutations. (Note that this is not the same process as food irridation, used to kill microorganisms).
After exposing the rapeseed to radiation, scientists studied the resulting grain varieties and identified one that produced LESS of the toxin. It was named ‘canola’ after Canada where the variety was primarily grown.
Mutagenesis does not involve inserting genes into the DNA. Advocates insist that it simply accelerates the normal process of mutation. Others are suspicious of mutagenesis in general and of canola in particular.
This is another topic separate from gene insertion, however. Therefore, to be sure and if you must, use only the brand of canola that says ‘organic or ‘non-GMO’.