October 15, 2008
Genetic pollution could last longer than nuclear waste and global warming, said Jeffrey Smith, author of “Seeds of Deception,” Monday night at The Forum at UW-Eau Claire’s Zorn Arena.
It would be impossible to recall genetically modified mosquitoes or salmon once they’re released into nature.
Much of the foods we eat – such as soy, corn and canola oil – have been genetically modified to withstand herbicides and pesticides, creating new organisms that never existed before. And they might be causing major health risks, Smith said.
“They put genes from bacteria and viruses into crops,” Smith said.
Scientists have warned of allergens, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems caused by genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration overruled the scientists’ findings and deemed the foods safe, said Smith. In working with scientists, he said he’s identified 65 different health risks related to GMOs.
Lab rats refused to eat genetically modified tomatoes, and squirrels in the wild will choose organic corn over genetically modified crops. Smith calls that phenomenon the “wisdom of animals.” The process of genetically engineering potatoes made lab rats sick in one UK study, causing excessive cell growth, and animals have become sterile or even died after eating genetically modified crops, said Smith.
GMOs might be harmful to humans for many reasons. What scientists intended to change in an organism may not turn out how they expected, Smith said. The protein might be different than they intended, or it might rearrange once it’s in the crop and generations later might mutate into something else.
Early science suggested soil-dwelling toxic bacteria would be destroyed during digestion, but Smith says that’s not true. Tests have shown the bacteria survive digestion, and genes from GMOs might transfer to humans’ gut bacteria and own DNA.
“Long after we stop eating GM foods, we may have visitors that have moved in,” he said.
The effects on humans who consume these kinds of foods is not known. No human clinical trials have ever taken place, but Smith suggested that the increase in genetically modified foods might be connected to a decrease in general health among Americans.
Perhaps autism, diabetes, obesity and cancer have some links to GMOs, Smith said.
But it’s not too late to change habits and eventually the market, Smith told the crowd at Zorn Arena. Europe has taken steps to limit GMOs, and Americans made conscious decisions not to purchase milk with bovine growth hormones, turning around the milk market.
People can use non-GMO shopping guides, buy foods that are organic or carry a non-GMO label, and avoid at-risk ingredients such as packaged meals that include soy, corn and canola products, which also include ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, salad dressings and cooking oils.