Genetic Mutation On A Plate – Why You Should Say No To GMO

GMO you ask? GMO is an abbreviation for Genetically Modified Organisms or “foods”.

The introduction of GMOs into mainstream food supplies worldwide, including in Australia, has been kept relatively quiet so it’s not surprising if you aren’t up to date on the dangers of the modified produce being put on your plate.

The recent publicity surrounding Proposition 37 in America, calling for mandatory labeling of many GMO products has created quite a stir, as companies involved in the production of Genetically Modified (GM) foods fight against this new regulation.


Here are the facts you need to know about Genetically Modified foods:

The How

Most GM crops are made by inserting DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants into a plant. This is done in order to get the plant to produce its own pesticide proteins, or make it more resistant to herbicide chemicals, or both.

Plants that make their own insecticides, such as Bt-toxin, are protected from insects. However, in contrast to non-GMO plants that are sprayed with pesticides, the pesticide residues cannot be washed off GM plants as they are produced throughout the plant tissue.

Herbicide-tolerant plant crops are designed to survive heavier herbicide sprays without dying, also possibly leading to higher residues of herbicides in food.



The Why

Genetically modified crops are marketed for the following perceived benefits: being less expensive, able to withstand unfavourable weather conditions, providing higher nutritional value, having longer shelf life and greater resistance to insects and viruses in comparison to non-GM foods.


Vested Interests

Similar to pharmaceuticals, the genes inserted into GM crops are protected by patents, so they become the commercial property of biotech corporations that produce and/or sell them.

Wherever the seeds of GMOs land, even in non-GM crops where they may be spread via natural processes such as pollination, weather or transport spills, the crop farmer must pay royalties to patent-holders for possessing the genes.

Disturbingly, genetic modification of foods provides the opportunity for biotech companies to monopolise the world food market via their control over the distribution of GM seeds.


The Regulations, Or Lack Thereof

GM versions of soya bean, canola, corn, potato, sugar beet and cotton have been approved for sale in Australia by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).


Labelling laws do not cover foods that are made from animals fed with GM feed such as meat, milk, eggs and honey, foods that are highly refined, eg. cooking oils, sugars and starches, or foods that are prepared at bakeries, restaurants and takeaways.

These laws also exclude foods ‘unintentionally’ contaminated by up to one per cent per ingredient, that are made with processing aids or food additives using GM microbes, or that contain GM flavours present at less than one per cent.

In what some may consider a neglectful policy, FSANZ doesn’t commission any of their own scientific studies on GM products allowed onto the commercial market. Rather, they rely on the corporations producing the GMOs to supply them with safety data.

In other words, the corporations producing GMOs are allowed to produce biased results and design their research studies in a way that avoids uncovering any potential dangers of their products.


The Health and Environmental Effects of GMOs

Health wise, the potentially harmful effects of GMOs on humans are difficult to clinically prove, as not many human GMO feeding studies exist.

Furthermore, the majority of industry-funded studies are limited to a 90 day trial duration or even less. This means that the long term safety of GM food ingestion has not yet been established. 

The evidence that does exist at present is concerning, with preliminary trials showing:

  • It is possible for the DNA of GMOs to persist in the gastrointestinal tract and actually transfer to our intestinal bacteria, which also have DNA. This could potentially lead to the development of antibiotic resistant super bugs in our bodies, or worse, have similar effects in the body as the GMO DNA does in plants. (Kleter 2005)
  • Toxic metabolites of herbicides used on herbicide tolerant GMOs have also been found to transfer from pregnant womens’ digestive tracts to placental blood and foetuses. This shows that humans cannot properly metabolise and eliminate some toxins associated with GMOs, and that they may cause serious perinatal complications. (Aris 2011)
  • A recent research review analysing 19 animal feeding studies involving GM soybean and corn, found that liver and kidney problems were a common occurrence in animals after only 90 days on a GMO diet. Heart, spleen, blood cell and reproductive problems as a result of a GM diet were other concerns revealed in the review. (Seralin 2011)

In fact, the authors of this review concluded that, “it is unacceptable to submit 500 million Europeans and several billions of consumers worldwide to the new pesticide GM-derived foods or feed… especially since there is growing evidence of concern”

If these detrimental effects occur after only three months, we can only imagine what the impact of longer-term ingestion of GM foods on our health would be.


Environmentally, GM crops raise a number of concerns, here are just a few:

  • GM crops contain self-replicating genetically modified genes. Once they are released into the environment, with the potential of also spreading to non-GM crops, they cannot be recovered or ‘recalled’.
  • Pollen from a herbicide resistant GMOs may cross with a compatible weed and introduce resistance in the weed.
  • Herbicide resistant crop plants may emerge in a following season and be difficult to control, leading to the use of more agricultural chemicals.
  • Insects might develop resistance to insecticides made in GM plants (e.g. Bt cotton). These insecticides may also harm and kill wildlife not intended to be affected, thereby disrupting natural ecosystems and food chains.
  • GM crops may cause harm to soil biota (microorganisms), thus harming nutrient cycling and reduce the nutritional value of plants.
  • GMOs may produce unexpected toxins, allergens or teratogens (substance that causes foetal malformations) leading to wide-ranging human health problems and poor digestion of GM foods.


How to Avoid GM Foods

Apart from the safety, ethical, scientific and social reasons to avoid GMOs, common sense tells us that genetic modification is just not natural!

Taking a whole foods approach to health, the maximum benefit of any plant or herb is obtained by eating the whole thing, not isolating singular constituents or interfering with its genetic makeup.


Follow the following guidelines to limit your exposure to GMOs:

1. Avoid the following products, as GMOs are widely present in: breads, pastries, snack foods, baked products, oils- especially canola oil, fried foods, confectionary, soft drinks, and sausage skins.

2. Read food labels. Although labeling of GM products is not mandatory on all products, some product labels will indicate whether they contain GMOs, or are free of GM products.

3. Go Organic to drastically reduce your intake of agricultural chemicals and GMOs. Organic meats are becoming a must, as livestock can retain pesticide residues from GM feed and go on to develop chronic diseases linked to GMOs. And really, who would want to eat physiologically modified animals after long-term GMO ingestion?

The health benefits of Organic foods extend far beyond just avoiding GMOs- more on this next week!


Further Reading: 



Arisa et al. 2011, Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada, Reproductive Toxicology

Kleter et al. 2005, Health Considerations Regarding Horizontal Transfer of Microbial Transgenes Present in Genetically Modified Crops, Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology

Millis 2006, Genetically Modified Organisms paper prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra

Public Health Association of Australia 2007, Genetically Modified Foods,

Seralin et al. 2011, Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements, Environmental Sciences Europe