The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

Is Genetically Modified Food Bad for Health?

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Md Nasir Ahmed, a Noah Project reader, has written an informative and well-researched article about GMO’s   I’ve posted it below.  You can also find it at

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, basically it means food made in the laboratory which refers to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicide or improved nutritional content. For example, Plant geneticists can isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance & insert that gene into a different plant. The new genetically-modified plant will gain drought tolerance as well. Not only can genes be transferred from one plant to another, but genes from non-plant organisms also can be used. The best known example of this is the use of B.T., or Bacillus thuringiensis genes in corn and other crops, enabling the corn to produce its own pesticides against insects such as the European corn borer.
GMOs in Agriculture:
GMO foods were first approved for human consumption in the USA in 1995 and by 1999 almost 50 percent of the corn, cotton & soybeans planted in the United States were GM. By the end of 2010, GN crops covered more than 9.8 million square kilometers of land in 29 countries worldwide-one tenth of the world’s farmland!
In China, a seven-year study of farms planting BT cotton demonstrated initial success of the GM crop, with farmers who had planted BT cotton reducing their pesticide use by 70 percent and increasing their earnings by 36 percent. However, after four years, the benefits of BT cotton eroded as populations of insect pests other than bollworm increased, and farmers once again were forced to spray broad-spectrum pesticides. While the problem was not BT-resistant bollworms, it became clear that much more research was needed for communities to realize sustainable and environmentally responsible benefits from planting GM crops.
Risks and Controversies of the use of GMOs
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine after reviewing the literature, has noted that GM foods have not been properly tested for human consumption, and because there is ample evidence of probable harm, it recommends the public to avoid GM foods when possible and asks the members to provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks. Potential health risks to human include the possibility of exposure to new allergens in genetically modified (GM) foods as well as the transfer of antibiotic –resistance genes to gut flora. Horizontal gene transfer of pesticide, herbicide to other organisms would not only put humans at risk, but it would also cause ecological imbalances, allowing previously innocuous plants to grow uncontrolled, thus promoting the spread of disease among both plants and animals.
No Long term studies have ever been done on humans but when we look at the studies that have been done on animals, it’s pretty appalling. A 2007 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Technology showed that rats fed Monsanto’s MON863 corn for more than 90 days began to show “signs of toxicity” in the liver and kidneys.
In 2001, Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov released the results of a study testing the effect of Monsanto’s genetically modified Soy on hamsters. After monitoring three generations over a two year of period, third generation hamsters not only lost the ability to reproduce but began growing hair inside their mouths.
An Australia govt. study published in November 2008 showed that the more GM corn was fed to mice the fewer the babied they had and the smaller the babies were. In Haryanan, India, a team of investigating veterinarians reported that buffalo consuming GM cottonseed suffer from infertility as well as frequent abortions, premature deliveries and prolapsed uteruses. Many adult & young buffalo have also died mysteriously.
Adverse Effects of Transgenic BT foods
In Bangladesh, recently the Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) Brinjal is now the center of the debate. These brinjal were genetically modified to contain toxin produced by bacterial strains of Bacillus thuringiensis to obtain pest resistance & hence the name BT brinjal. There have been a series of scientific reports indicating side effects of transgenic BT corn or potatoes on the animals.
Plant Death Caused by FSB LarvaSource: Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII) (2005)Plant Death Caused by FSB Larva (Source: Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II; ABSPII,2005)
Let’s see how the BT containing foods made side effects on animals:
  1.  The famous BT corn controversy started with a laboratory study by Losey et al. (1999) in which the mortality of monarch larvae was reportedly higher when fed with milkweed (their natural food supply) covered in pollen from transgenic corn than when fed milkweed covered with pollen from regular corn. The report by Losey et al. was followed by another publication (Jesse & Obrycki, 2000) suggesting that natural levels of BT corn pollen in the field were harmful to monarchs.
  2.  In July 2008, Austrian researchers found that feeding rats a diet containing the transgenic corn NK603 x MON810 affected the reproduction of mice that was detected in 3rd and 4th generation in the reproductive assessment by continuous breeding (RACB) study design. Some effects on the kidneys were also observed.
  3.  In November, 2008, Italian researchers concluded that “the consumption of BT MON810 maize” induced alteration in intestinal and peripheral immune response of weaning and old mice.”
  4.  In December 2009, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois et al., studied the rats with feeds of three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world. They observed that it causes hepatorenal toxicity. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system.
  5.  Mice fed potatoes engineered to produce the BT toxin developed abnormal and damaged cells, as well as proliferative cell growth in the lower part of their small intestines (ileum).
So, how can transgenic BT food be considered “safe” when there are so many studies showing adverse effects of BT foods? Some studies have shown adverse effects on 3rd generation at the earliest and that too by Reproductive Assessment by Continuous Breeding (RACB) study design. How can we consider BT brinjal “safe” without proper, multigenerational studies?
Several international scientists have in two letters requested the prime minister not to allow cultivation of untested BT brinjal in Bangladesh. On August 21, David Schubert, professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, sent a letter on the issue to the prime minister, also signed by 11 other scientists.
The signatories include professor Michael Antoniu of gene expression and therapy group at King’s College, London School of Medicine; professor Susan Bardoczu of human nutrition and GMO expert of the rural development of Hungary; former founder-director of centre for cellular and molecular biology in Hyderabad Pushpa M Bhargava; Australian scientist Judy Carman; professor Jack A Heinemann of centre for integrated research in bio-safety at University of Canterbury; world food prize laureate professor Hans R Herren; senior Swiss scientist Angelika Hilbeck; senior lecturer at Auckland University, Robert Mann; protein chemist and professor Arpad Pusztai; and professor Gilles Eric Seralini, from France.
On August 15, David Andow, professor of Insect Ecology of McKnight University, sent the second letter to Prime minister. So we the people from Bangladesh also should raise our voice against the commercialization of harmful BT Brinjal.
As Alexey Surov, a Russian biologist says, “We have no right to use GMOs until we understand the possible adverse effects, not only to ourselves but to future generations as well. We definitely need fully detailed studies to clarify this. Any type of contamination has to be tested before we consume it, and GMO is just one of them.”
References & Recommended Reading:
  1. Phillips, T. (2008) Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Transgenic crops and recombinant DNA technology. Nature Education 1(1).
  2. Jesse, H., & Obrycki, J. Field deposition of Bt transgenic corn pollen: Lethal effects on the monarch butterfly. Oecologia 125, 241–248 (2000).
  3. Losey, J., et al. Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae. Nature 399, 214 (1999).
  4. Velimirov A, Binter C, Zentek J, “Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice”. November 2008.
  5. Finamore A et al. “Intestinal and Peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice”•. J. Agr. Food Chem. 56(23), 11533-11539 (2008)
  6. Joël Spiroux de Vendômois et al., “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health”•, International Journal of Biological Sciences 5(7):706-726 (2009)
  7. Fares NH, El”•Sayed AK, “Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on Endotoxin Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes,”• Natural Toxins 6(6): 219 233 (1998).
  8. Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods by Jeffrey M. Smith

Author: Daniela

I will forever be grateful that I was introduced to the utility and beauty of hand crafted products early in life - from the symbolic motifs sewn into the coarse linen fabric of Croatian traditional wear to the colorful Kilim carpets that decorated the parquet floors in my grandmother's living room. I treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," the smell of the flower stalls in the open air market where my grandmother bought produce early every morning for the day’s meals and the summers spent at my great grandmother's where the village wags would come to gossip over thick, black Turkish coffee in her cool stone kitchen. Someone noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world - one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

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