Released in 2004, I think this was the first documentary I watched which explored the complex issues regarding the safety and science of GMO foods. This was during the second year of my Science Degree in Nutrition at the University of British Columbia. I had already studied biochemistry, biology, and genetics enough to know that there is something inherently wrong with tampering with the genetic sequence of the foods we are eating.
There are approximately 20,000 genes in the human genome. Genes contain the instructions for making different proteins in the body. It was originally assumed that each gene coded for one specific protein. However, since the number of different proteins we have in our body is closer to 100,000-500,000 it means that each gene codes for more than one protein.
"It seems to be a matter of five or six proteins, on average, from one gene." says Victor A. McKusick, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
There is no way to fully predict or understand what the outcomes will be of cutting up and inserting foreign genes into the genetic code of plants and animals. How will we know what genes and proteins will be affected? How will we know what other proteins will be created in addition to the one they inserted? There are just too many variables to assume we can fully understand all the outcomes.
To add to this complexity is the fact that we have a whole ecosystem of rapidly reproducing bacteria that live inside our digestive tract. There are actually more bacteria in the intestines than we have cells in the entire body. What happens when these fragments of foreign genes from the GMO food we eat gets inserted into these bacteria?
Now let's take a closer look at what some of these GMO crops contain:
1) Plants inserted with a gene that codes for an insecticidal protein. This means the plant is producing an insecticide right inside of its cells, so when an insect tries to eat the plant it will die. And yet this is supposed to be safe for us to eat because it is in such small amounts? Well what happens when this is in over 80% of the food we eat? Have they ever tested the accumulated effects of this high rate of consumption?
2) Plants inserted with a gene that codes for a protein that makes the plant more resistant to pesticides and herbicides. Now, the farmer can spray as much as they like without killing the GMO crop, just all the weeds, insects, and the whole ecosystem that lives in the soil. Now we are left with "food" covered in pesticide residue, one of the most common being glyphosate.
It is not just the pesticide residue and insecticide-producing gene we have to be concerned about when food is grown this way, it actually creates a situation where the plant now contains less vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
What we call antioxidants are actually part of the plant's immune system, and when a plant it grown with all these synthetic fertilizers and man-made chemicals they never get to use their immune system - less immune system stimulation = less antioxidants.
I've only really touched on a small portion of the issues here. To learn more, I encourage you to watch The Future of Food:
"The Future of Food distills the complex technology and consumer issues surrounding major changes in the food system today -- genetically engineered foods, patenting, and the corporatization of food -- into terms the average person can understand. It empowers consumers to realize the consequences of their food choices on our future."
For practical steps to take to avoid purchasing GMO foods and how to identify if a product contains GMO ingredients I offer 'How to Shop GMO-Free' Grocery Store Tours as well as a video about what ingredients to watch out for which is included as bonus material in the 21 Day Vibrant Health Program.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist, college instructor, and raw food educator.