Letter: The Problems With GMOs

I was absolutely floored by the condescending tone and false assertions of Kevin Hosey's response ["Raging Hormones," Letters, Sept. 29, 2011] to Frank Cagle's opinion column ["Sterile Corn and Hormonal Cows," Sept. 22, 2011]. Like every other GMO [genetically modified foods] cheerleader, he asserts that there is no downside to this new technology while completely ignoring the very real evidence to the contrary.

Comparing GMOs to plant hybrids, or selective breeding, is like comparing apples to bicycles. Hybrid plants and GMOs are by no means the same thing. Hybrids are made by fairly simple processes, like cutting off male flowers from one plant to pollinate female flowers of another plant. Selective breeding simply involves a farmer saving and using the seeds from his best plants. GMOs, on the other hand, are made in a lab by forcing the DNA of two completely different species together. In the case of Bt corn, the DNA of corn and the DNA of a bacteria which acts as a pesticide. In Bt corn, this bacteria is in hundreds of times the concentration than would be present in an organic plant (not all organic growers use this), which can easily be washed, unlike the genetically modified plant, in which the bacteria/pesticide is infused into its DNA. When a pest eats this newly created corn, it dies (and we're expected to eat this corn?). In a recent study by doctors at Sherbrooke Hospital in Quebec, bacteria from Bt GMO corn was found in 93 percent of 30 expectant mothers, in 80 percent of the umbilical blood of their fetuses, and in 67 percent of the blood of 39 non-pregnant women. The study was accepted by the peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Toxicology for publication. This was found despite assurances from biotech corporations that the pesticide would be destroyed in the gut and pass harmlessly from the body. So much for tilting at windmills.

Mr. Hosey also asserted that no harm has been recorded from the consumption of Bt corn or other GMOs. This is just glib. GMOs and their effects are not tracked, so the assertion that they cause no harm cannot be verified. This is also the first generation of humans fed on these products and it takes years to determine harm. How many years did it take to prove second-hand smoke was harmful? How long did the tobacco industry assert that it was nonsense? The point is, we have no idea how these products will affect the human population, so to be concerned by this is quite rational.

And as far as protection against rootworms: The emergence of Bt-resistant corn rootworm has been widely reported, including by The Wall Street Journal. Farmers growing Bt corn have reported the emergence of the new super-bugs, who, as evolution dictates, have become resistant to the biotech corn and are causing harm to the very crops engineered to resist them. Recent articles in Weed Science show the emergence of super-weeds due the over-use of Roundup in GMO crops. Just do an Internet search for "superweeds" and see how many hits you get. Mr. Hosey did not mention this either. Also, according to Dr. Charles Benbrook of the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center in Idaho, herbicide use has increased by 50 million pounds since the introduction of GMO crops. Most GMO crops are made expressly to tolerate mega-doses of herbicide, mainly Roundup.

GMOs have never been tested for long-term human safety. Biotech companies have refused to allow their seeds to be tested by independent researchers. However, there have been some animal studies that have shown harm from consuming GMOs. In one government-sponsored study in Italy, mice showed immune response, increased levels of interleukins which are present in increased levels in humans with arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. In February of 2007, the UK newspaper The Independent reported a study that showed cancer in lab rats fed GMO potatoes was suppressed by pressure from the biotech industry. And these are just two examples. Scientists who dare to speak out against GMOs face being vilified and having their work criticized by the biotech industry, which stands to lose a lot of money if the tide turns against its new technology.

I would also like to point out that there is no consensus in the scientific community on the safety of GMOs. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets to their patients. Dr. David Suzuki, a geneticist from Canada has been an outspoken critic of the spread of the new technology, as well as physicist Vandana Shiva. The Union of Concerned Scientists have repeatedly voiced their concerns and put out a report called "Failure to Yield" concerning the failure of GMO crops to increase yield as was promised by Monsanto and other biotechs so many years ago.

There are many more issues that we as human beings and as eaters must ask ourselves. I do hope that Metro Pulse readers will do more research on the issues of GMOs. I would also encourage people to read the Country of Origin labels on organic food. I find most of them are marked "Product of USA." And let us not forget the organic farmers we have right here in the Knoxville area, whose products are available at farmer's markets.

One thing is certain: Harmful or not, we have the right to know what is in our food and to decide whether or not we want to eat it. That should take priority over everything, including a company's bottom line.

Amanda Weaver