Should We be Concerned about Genetic Modification of Our Food?

Beyond the Science

I’ve only mentioned a few concerns related to GMOs: rogue proteins, insufficient safety studies and the possible dangers of related herbicidal products. There are certainly many more issues to consider, especially because each GE product is unique and should be treated as such. This is not a case where genetic engineering is either all good or all bad. Genetic engineering has had a positive impact in certain fields, such as in the medical field where bacteria have been engineered to produce human insulin for diabetics. Yet, the necessity and value of its use in the food industry has still not been validated.

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Beyond the scientific concerns, however, there are moral concerns. Monsanto, one of the largest agricultural biotechnology companies in the business of producing GE products lies at the heart of many of these concerns. The use of genetic engineering allows a company to patent a seed product, thereby controlling its use and prohibiting the common practice of seed collection from the previous year’s harvest. Patenting a seed or plant is in itself is questionable, yet what is even more alarming are the lawsuits that have been and are taking place over seed saving. In some of these lawsuits it has been found that seed dealers have forged farmers’ signatures on technology agreements and that many farmers were simply unaware that they were not allowed to continue the common practice of seed saving.(3) Prohibiting seed saving ties the farmer to Monsanto and requires them to continually purchase new seed each year which significantly increases a farmer’s expenses.

Confounding the situation is the matter of seed contamination which has become an ever increasing problem. Traditional seed stocks of corn, soy and canola have been found to be contaminated from 50-83% with GE content.(3) If a farmer uses contaminated seed stock and GE plants are found on his property, he or she may very well be held liable for patent infringement.

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There is also much concern on the political side. As mentioned previously, before a GE crop can be released on the market it must also be approved by the FDA – a process that often goes exceedingly smoothly. Similar to the conflicts of interest found in GMO industry studies, conflicts of interest can also be found in the political realm. Over the years, a multitude of Monsanto employees or associates have become FDA employees. One of the most recent connections is Michael Taylor – the current FDA deputy commissioner for foods.(8) Taylor began his career in 1976 as a staff attorney at the FDA and then moved to King & Spaulding, where he represented Monsanto.(8) Taylor returned to the FDA in 1991 as deputy commissioner for policy and played a large part in preventing the labeling of milk from cows treated with bovine growth hormone (a Monsanto product).(8) In 1994, Taylor moved to the USDA and then back to Monsanto as vice president for public policy.(7) Taylor is well known to be in support of GE technology.(8)

Unfortunately, this is not a unique story. Margaret Miller moved from a Monsanto chemical lab supervisor to deputy director in the FDA.(10) Linda Fisher moved from Monsanto vice president of government and public affairs to deputy administrator of the EPA.(10) Lidia Watrud moved from manager of new technologies at Monsanto to positions in the USDA and EPA.(10) Roger Beachy moved from director of Monsanto’s Danforth Center to director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.(10) This is far from a comprehensive list. One can’t help but wonder exactly how much influence Monsanto has had and currently has over our government food regulatory agencies.

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Aside from these moral and political concerns, all of the research that has been accomplished regarding genetic engineering has still not adequately proven the safety of GE foods. Though industry studies claim safety and many independent studies question such assertions, the truth is still unknown as the long-term human study is currently in progress on an unknowing population. Given our history of introducing novel chemicals such as DDT, asbestos and PBDE before the adverse health effects were determined, caution should be our guide. The benefits of GMOs do not outweigh the possible risks. Roundup ready crops are not solving world hunger or improving human nutrition, but rather are only making GMO companies more wealthy. We should learn from our past and let not greed control our motivations, lest we be prepared for it to destroy our health.

Dr. Dennis received his naturopathic medical degree from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. He is a licensed naturopathic physician in the state of Oregon and is an associate naturopathic physician at Namaste Natural Healing Center, Inc in Portland, Oregon where he practices family medicine and primary care.  More about Dr. Lee Dennis, ND at www.drleedennis.com

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