How Can the Wealthiest Industrialized Nation be the Sickest?
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The human race is the unwitting participant in a massive science experiment, as presented in this masterful new documentary by Jeffrey Smith. Smith is one of the world's leading authorities on the health dangers of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The film expands on his second book, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.
As a consumer advocate against GE foods, Smith's authority is unrivaled. His meticulous research has documented how biotech companies continue to mislead legislators and safety officials.
The health of the environment in peril. Smith has made this information widely available via his Institute for Responsible Technology website, one of the most comprehensive sources of GE health information on the Internet.
How Can the Wealthiest Industrialized Nation be the Sickest?
Americans get sick more often than Europeans or people from any other industrialized nation. Since the mid-1990s, the number of Americans suffering from at least three chronic illnesses nearly doubled. Life expectancy has decreased and infant mortality has increased. Illnesses once rare are now common, with some approaching epidemic levels. For example:
- Autism now affects one in 88 children (CDC1), compared to one in 25,0002 in the mid-1970s
- Type 2 diabetes rates in the U.S. increased by 176 percent between 1980 and 20103
- Celiac disease is four times more common now than 60 years ago4
- Alzheimer's disease is rising at alarming rates. It's estimated that 5.4 million Americans (one in eight older Americans) now has Alzheimer's disease, and nearly half of those age 85 and older have it; AD rates have doubled since 19805
- New infectious diseases are increasing in number, according to a 2008 study6
In his documentary, Jeffrey Smith makes a convincing argument that one of the primary forces driving these illnesses is America's changing food supply. And one of the most profound changes is genetically engineered food. Proving GE food is causing Americans to be sick is a tall order, but the evidence presented in this film is very compelling and should not be ignored.
Two Types of Genetic Engineering
Genetically engineered food comes from crops that have been altered by mixing and matching genes, usually from genetically modified organisms. They take genes from one species and force them into another species – even between species that have never mated in nature. There are two main types of GE foods:
- Herbicide-tolerant crops: Plants engineered to withstand heavy herbicide spraying without sustaining damage
- Pesticide-producing crops: Plants engineered to produce their own pesticides – so if a bug bites one, its stomach explodes and it dies
The process of genetic engineering is highly imprecise and riddled with unintended consequences. Viruses are typically used to genetically engineer the genes into a new species. Inserting the gene and then cloning it can triggers massive collateral damage – sometimes hundreds to thousands of genetic mutations down the line. The end result is a gene sequence that doesn't exist anywhere in nature. What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty can and does go wrong.
Your Immune System on Attack
Your immune system is a finely tuned system that has evolved over time to differentiate between "normal" and "foreign" matter. When it's working properly, it can distinguish between potential threats circulating in your body that will help you and those that may harm you – and get rid of the latter.
When your immune system sees a gene sequence that's supposed to be "food," but one it's never seen before, it attacks as if it's a foreign invader. Food essentially becomes a toxin. This initiates an inflammatory response, and chronic inflammation is the underlying reason for most chronic disease.
One key site where inflammation occurs is your gut. Gut inflammation is a precursor to all sorts of chronic problems, from heart disease to thyroid dysfunction to arthritis to autoimmune disease – you name it. Since the introduction of GE corn and soy into the American diet in 1996, numerous disorders related to gastrointestinal inflammation have been on the rise.
Engineering Washington Politics
In spite of America's declining health, politicians and health, environmental, and agricultural officials seem to turn a blind eye to all of these concerns. A recent article in the GMO Journal7 addresses the profound influence of biotech lobbying on our political process. The article lists a number of facts showing how companies like Monsanto manipulate Washington to pass laws and regulations wholly in their favor. This includes preventing much-needed legislation to label genetically engineered foods. Thousands of ingredients must be listed on food labels, and yet genetically engineered ingredients, which have never been proven safe, do not need to be specified.
Certainly, it's not because they are proud of their product and convinced of its superiority over conventional or organic products. And it's not because it would be cost prohibitive.
Countless other ingredients and health claims have been added to labels over the years, without sending prices soaring. I'm not sure what it will take to make them grow a conscience and take corrective action on the dangers they've unleashed. As suggested in GMO Journal, it's time to acknowledge this industry is motivated by profit alone, at the expense of everyone and everything else.
GMO Report Disproves FDA's Safety Claims
There is a significant compilation of scientific evidence that casts serious doubt on the claims made by industry and government officials about the safety of GE foods. Consider a recent report by The Atlantic.8
The authors of the report "GMO Myths and Truths"9 took a science-based approach to evaluating the available research, arriving at the conclusion that most of the scientific evidence regarding safety and increased yield potential do not at all support the claims. In fact, the evidence demonstrates the claims for genetically engineered foods are not just wildly overblown – they simply aren't true.
Not only are GE foods less nutritious than non-GE foods, they pose distinct health risks, are inadequately regulated, harm the environment and farmers, and are a poor solution to world hunger.
The authors of this critical report include Michael Antoniou, PhD, who heads the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King's College at London School of Medicine in the UK. He's a 28-year veteran of genetic engineering technology who has himself invented a number of gene expression biotechnologies; and John Fagan, PhD, a leading authority on food sustainability, biosafety, and GE testing. If you want to get a comprehensive understanding of genetically engineered foods, I strongly recommend reading this report.
Tinkering with the Genetics of Your Food… What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Bt toxin, produced by Monsanto's genetically engineered Bt corn, is a great example of what can go wrong. Bt corn was introduced to the food supply in the mid-1990s.
One of the stated purposes of GE crops is to make it easier for farmers to control weeds and insects. Toward this end, genetic engineers capitalized on a type of soil bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt), whose toxin kills insects. They took the gene from the bacteria that produce the toxin and forced it into corn and cotton, so that the plants would do the killing. Every single cell in Bt corn, soy and cotton produces Bt toxin.
When Bt corn was approved, both Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assured everyone that the Bt toxin produced by these plants would hurt only insects.
They claimed Bt-toxin would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system, so it would not have any impact at all. However, such was not the case. Doctors at Quebec's Sherbrooke University Hospital were shocked to find the toxin circulating in the blood of 93 percent of the pregnant women, 80 percent of their babies' umbilical blood, and 67 percent of the non-pregnant women they tested.10 Clearly, Bt toxin is not destroyed in your GI tract.
Is Your Food Turning Your Gut Into a Pesticide Factory?
Many of the health problems now linked with Bt crops have risen exponentially since their introduction to the market. The fact that the toxin is flowing through your bloodstream and passing from pregnant women to their babies is a strong warning that Bt crops cannot be considered harmless. Additionally, government-sponsored research in Italy11 showed a wide range of problematic responses in mice fed Bt corn, including multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple forms of cancer.
A study in February 2012 demonstrates that Bt toxin does break open the little pores in human cells, so it could potentially cause the same problem in your gut as it does for the insects it kills.
Consuming Bt corn or soy could potentially cause gut permeability ("leaky gut"), which can predispose you to all sorts of health problems.
Your gut is the frontline of your immune system. When your gut lining is too permeable, or "leaky," larger bits of food can pass directly into your blood, undigested, triggering food allergies and intolerances. Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of leaky gut and dysbiosis (imbalance in natural flora, which is critical for their health).
Studies also suggests eating Bt corn might actually turn your intestinal flora into a "living pesticide factory," essentially manufacturing Bt-toxin from within your digestive system on a continuous basis. For decades now, people have been eating these frankenfoods, and allergies have been on the rise. In fact, five million children now suffer from food allergies...
Making Milk Toxic: rBGH
Bt corn is not the only GE food for which there is evidence of trouble. Consider what we've learned about bovine growth hormone, or rBGH.
GE bovine growth hormone (aka Posilac, rBGH, or rBST) is engineered by inserting cow genes into E. coli bacteria, in order to make the bacteria produce a hormone that revs up cows' metabolism, thereby stimulating increased milk production. However, rBGH increases the cows' IGF-1 levels (a hormone called insulin-like growth factor), which has been linked with cancer, and this hormone is passed on in the milk. Premenopausal women with high IGF-1 are seven times more likely to develop breast cancer, and men with increased IGF-1 have a higher risk for cancer of the prostate.
There is strong evidence rBGH increases women's risk for milk duct tissue cancer, which is one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. Rates of milk duct tissue cancer have risen by 50 to 60 percent. Even the dairy cows suffer from 16 different health problems when given rBGH.
Could Glyphosate be Leading the Human Race Over a Cliff?
Genetically engineered foods appear to be causing problems that transfer up the food chain. Micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc can be reduced by as much as 80 to 90 percent in GE plants. Animals and livestock given GE feed are becoming nutrient deficient, weak and sick. When we consume the nutrient-depleted plants and animals, we become weak and sick ourselves. Furthermore, there is evidence this problem may be working its way up the food chain – deficiencies that are well documented.
Not surprisingly, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup,which was introduced in 1972, is being found in high concentrations in the GI tracts of livestock, and in air, rain, and groundwater samples. Crops are being genetically engineered as "Roundup Ready" so they can withstand massive spraying with the toxic chemical chelator. Monsanto has long claimed Roundup is safe and environmentally friendly, but recent studies show it does not readily break down in the environment.
Glyphosate has been linked to more than 20 adverse health effects, including birth defects, infertility and cancer.
Glyphosate is a chelator and kills weeds by making important mineral nutrients unavailable to the plants, thus weakening their defenses and making them more susceptible to diseases in the soil. If glyphosate builds up in your body, it can contribute to vital mineral imbalances and definiteness... By carelessly dousing our food crops in glyphosate, your children and grandchildren and even your great-grandchildren could be inheriting a whole host of problems.
Animal studies show strong evidence that the massive use of chemical chelators like glyphosate are contributing to impaired reproductive capacity. Human infertility rates are rising and are at a record highand fertility clinics are popping up everywhere to meet the need. Among livestock, there is an epidemic of infertility and miscarriage.
And many studies show glyphosate is genotoxic (causes birth defects).
Children of workers on soybean farms sprayed with Roundup have shown a 70-fold increase in birth defects. Laboratory animals fed Roundup Ready soy develop serious reproductive disorders, including sperm damage, uterine damage, and testicular changes. In one study, half of the baby rats whose mothers were fed GE soy died within three weeks. The babies were also smaller and infertile. In a study yet to be published, rat testicles turned blue, and by the third generation, the rats were sterile. Some even had hair growing inside their mouths!
Yet the industry continues to sweep findings such as these under the rug.
Today's high autism rates could be an unfortunate effect of GE foods. Changes seen in the GI tracts of autistic children are consistent with those seen in the GI tracts of animals given GE feed. Autism spectrum disorders have risen rapidly since GE foods were introduced. We can't rule out the possibility that GE foods are contributing or even driving today's autism epidemic.
The good news is that some of the damaging effects of GE foods appear to be reversible. Parents of autistic children report positive changes in their physical and mental symptoms after removing all GE foods from their diets. And farmers report livestock animals displaying health problems from GE feed quickly improve when their feed is switched to non-GE.
California Ballot Initiative Could Be the Tipping Point for GE Foods
California is going to bat for the entire country, if not the world. Labeling bills have been introduced in 19 states, but none have gotten past Monsanto's weighty lobbying power, until now. An initiative that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients is on the November 6 ballot in California. If California voters pass this initiative, it will likely be the beginning of the end for Monsanto and genetically engineered food in the United States.
Removing GE foods from the market is probably not as difficult as you might think. You, the consumer, control the market. When consumers stop buying GE foods because they can clearly identify them by their labels, manufacturers will simply have to discontinue production for economic reasons. And it doesn't take an enormous market share. Jeffrey Smith predicts five percent is all that's required to take us to the tipping point, which is what happened in Europe when GE labeling laws took effect.
Clues for Avoiding GE Foods
In the meantime, there are some measures you can take to make sure the foods you select are not genetically engineered. There are nine primary GE food crops, but their derivatives are in over 70 percent of supermarket foods, particularly processed foods. GE ingredients can hide. For example, every can of soda containing high fructose corn syrup most likely contains GE corn. Make sure none of the following are on your grocery list, unless they are USDA certified organic:
Soy Cottonseed Corn Canola Oil Hawaiian papaya Alfalfa Sugar from sugar beets Some varieties of zucchini Crookneck squash
Avoid any product containing aspartame, which is derived from a GE organism. And avoid any milk product that may have rBGH. I recommend consuming only raw, organic milk products you've obtained from a trustworthy local dairy farmer.
The Institute for Responsible Technology has put together a helpful Non-GMO Shopping Guide you can download and print. They even have an iPhone app.
By buying organic, you will dramatically reduce your exposure to pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, as those are used on nearly all GE crops. When shopping locally, know your local farmers. Many are too small to afford official certification, but many still adhere to organic, sustainable practices. The only way to determine how your food is raised is to check them out, meeting the farmer face to face if possible. Yes, it does take time but is worth it if you are really concerned about your family's health.