Genetically modified crops are those which have been altered genetically for several reasons. Those reasons might include reducing the maturation time of the plant, increasing nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance, and creating a plant that can withstand diseases, and heavier applications of pesticides and herbicides.
The concerns about these genetically modified crops include the potential human health impacts, including cancers, nutritional problems, allergens, and the transfer of antibiotic resistance markers resulting in antibiotic-resistant diseases.
In addition, there is a great potential for environmental impacts, including the unintended transfer of genetic effects through cross-pollination to native plants, the unknown effects on other organisms (e.g., beneficial insects, soil microbes), and the loss of plant and animal biodiversity.
Here’s a list of the most common genetically modified crops:
- Soybeans which are resistant to herbicides. An herbicide-resistant gene is taken from bacteria and inserted into the soybean plant. In 2010, data from the USDA showed that 93% of soybeans grown in the US were genetically modified soybeans. The USDA’s Economic Research site states that “Processed soybeans are the largest source of protein feed and the second-largest source of vegetable oil in the world.” Note that most commercial dressings and mayonnaise are made with soybean oil.
In 2001, the New York Times carried a story about US soybeans containing some “unexpected DNA” next to its inserted gene, which cast doubts on the biotechnology industry’s assertions that its technology is precise and predictable.
From the NY Times story: “The mysterious DNA was found in the Monsanto Company’s Roundup Ready soybeans by the Belgian government and university scientists, who described their findings in a paper published yesterday in the journal European Food Research and Technology. Greenpeace called yesterday for countries to re-evaluate the regulatory approvals of the soybeans, saying that Monsanto did not know as much as it should about its product. The unknown DNA could possibly affect the safety of the beans, the group said.”
- Corn which is resistant to certain pesticides. The modification makes them tolerant to huge amounts of crop pesticide spray. In this way a farmer can use amounts of pesticides which would normally kill the plant, (and probably you and me) without harming it. USDA data as of 2010 shows that 86% of the corn crop in the US is biotech corn.
Sweet corn is also modified to produce its own insecticide (a toxin to insects, so insect attacks are less likely). The insect-killing gene comes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. (You may know the term “Bt corn”).
In May of 1999, the prestigious journal Nature reported a study written by researchers from Cornell University which reported the fate of Monarch caterpillars placed on plants that were dusted with pollen from GM Bt corn. The corn had been modified to produce an insecticide to kill the European corn borer. The pesticide was not supposed to affect other insects. But it did. More than 44% of the butterfly larvae exposed to the GM corn pollen turned black and died. None of the butterfly larvae exposed to natural corn pollen died.
- Cotton which is pest-resistant. USDA data for 2010 show that about 93% of cotton in the US is genetically modified.
- Hawaiian Papaya which is resistant to the Papaya Ringspot Virus. More than 50% of the papaya crops in the US are modified.
- Tomatoes which are resistant to rot. The genetically modified (GM) tomatoes do not produce the substance that normally causes tomatoes to rot and degrade. The first of these came on the market in 1994. It was called the FlavrSavr. It was taken off the market after the scientist who had created it expressed his concerns about its cancerous effects on television. The resulting public outrage resulted in bans on GM foods at the major fast food chains. Other genetically modified tomatoes contained genes that made them resistant to antibiotics. After concern from doctors and the medical community, tomatoes are now genetically modified in an alternative way.
- Potatoes that are pest-resistant. 10% of the potato crop in the US is modified.
- Rapeseed (Canola) which is resistant to certain pesticides and able to tolerate heavy pesticide crop spray. 75% of the canola/rapeseed crop in the US is modified.
- Sugar cane which is resistant to certain pesticides and able to tolerate heavy pesticide crop spray.
- Sugar beets which are resistant to certain pesticides and able to tolerate heavy pesticide crop sprays.
- Rice which is genetically modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A. Three new genes are implanted: two from daffodils and the third from a bacterium. Wikipedia notes that on August 18, 2006, American exports of rice to Europe were interrupted when much of the U.S. crop was confirmed to be contaminated with unapproved engineered genes, possibly due to accidental cross-pollination with conventional crops. The U.S. government has since declared the rice safe for human consumption, and exports to some countries have since resumed, but in the past years more genetically modified crops have started to cross-pollinate which leaves a problem that is yet to be solved.
- In addition, commercial milk producers inject dairy cattle with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) which is a genetically modified hormone created to increase each cow’s milk production. This hormone is present in the milk that comes from these cows. Not only does it sicken the cows in great numbers, but it is also linked to cancer in human beings.
The Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research published a meta-analysis of the impact of rBGH on dairy cattle. Findings indicated a nearly 25% increase in the risk of clinical mastitis (infection of the cow’s udder), a 40% reduction infertility and 55% increased risk of developing clinical signs of lameness.
In looking over this list, it seems to me that just about every one of these genetically modified crops is heavily used in the production of processed food products.
It’s another good reason to choose real, whole foods over processed foods.
Processed products made with genetically modified crops are everywhere. Many are made by the food companies whose names are the most familiar to us – the ones with the glitzy, expensive commercials on TV.
As noted above, mayonnaise is made with soybean oil, as are most commercial salad dressings. You’ll find the results of genetically modified crops in baby foods and infant formula, cereals and breakfast bars, most frozen convenience foods, canned soups and sauces, and snack foods like chips and crackers.
Even the beloved commercial chocolate and candy contain beet sugar from genetically modified crops, and aspartame, the artificial sweetener known as Nutrasweet or Equal is derived from genetically engineered crops.
You may wonder why the federal government supports these crops. Here are a few facts from the USDA ERA website that will open your eyes:
- The farm value of U.S. soybean production in 2008/09 was $29.6 billion, the second-highest value among U.S.-produced crops, trailing only corn.
- The United States grew 39 percent of the world’s corn during the fiscal year 2009, producing 307.4 million metric tons (12.1 billion bushels) which were sold at between $4-$6/bushel. You do the math.
Even Cows Know Better
Jeffrey Smith writes in Seeds of Deception “According to a 1999 Acres USA article, cattle even broke through a fence and walked through a field of Roundup Ready corn to get to a non-GM variety that they ate. The cows left the GM corn untouched.”
This is just one of the stories told by farmers who grow GM corn.
An Iowa farmer named Howard Vlieger reported an interesting story to Jeffery Smith, who included it in Seeds of Deception.
“In 1998, Howard Vlieger harvested both natural corn and a genetically modified Bt variety on his farm in Maurice, Iowa.
Curious about how his cows would react to the pesticide producing Bt corn, he filled one side of his sixteen-foot trough with the Bt and dumped natural corn on the other side. Normally his cows would eat as much corn as was available, never leaving leftovers. But when he let twenty-five of them into the pen, they all congregated on the side of the trough with the natural corn. When it was gone, they nibbled a bit on the Bt, but quickly changed their minds and walked away.
A couple of years later, Vlieger joined a room full of farmers in Ames, Iowa to hear presidential candidate Al Gore. Troubled by Gore’s unquestioning acceptance of GM foods, Vlieger asked Gore to support a recently introduced bill in Congress requiring that GM foods be labeled. Gore replied that scientists said there is no difference between GM and non-GM foods. Vlieger said he respectfully disagreed and described how his cows refused to eat the GM corn. He added, “My cows are smarter than those scientists were.” The room erupted in applause. Gore asked if any other farmers noticed a difference in the way their animals responded to GM food. About twelve to fifteen hands went up.”
More Information on Genetically Modified Crops
- When the Corn Hits the Fan a 1999 special report by Steve Sprinkel in Acres USA (Steve Sprinkel, “When the Corn Hits the Fan,” Acres, U.S.A., September 18, 1999).
- American Agriculture: Wreaking Biological Havoc an article about the transformation in the biotech industry that is threatening our natural seed supply.
- Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating by Jeffrey Smith and Seeds of Deception website
- Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food by Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey
- What’s In Your Milk?: An Exposé of Industry and Government Cover-Up on the Dangers of the Genetically Engineered (rBGH) Milk You’re Drinking by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
- Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston
- Center for Food Safety
- Sickness in the Philippines
- Genetically Modified Crops Implicated in Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder
- The Institute for Responsible Technology. They have a shopping guide to help you avoid buying genetically modified foods here.
- Fox News and the Truth about rBGH
- Millions Against Monsanto campaign from the Organic Consumers Union