Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Corn: Just Say No, Part III

Corn is in the majority of our processed food and our livestock feed (Part I), it's toxic in and of itself, and as a bi-product it's potentially worse (Part II). Corn allergies are on the rise and that might just be because we're not meant to consume so much of it, if at all. Or maybe, the rise in allergies has more to do with the uncertain amount of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply. GMOs often introduce new and foreign proteins into our diet, proteins that do not normally exist in the food chain. When our body is exposed to a protein that is foreign, it may attack it causing a food allergy to develop.

The biggest problem with genetic tinkering is that it is one massive uncontrolled study. We do not yet know the true health or food security ramifications of having allowed GMOs into our food supply. However, studies are emerging that show GMOs to be a very real health concern:
  • Studies have shown that genetically modified (GM) DNA transferred to gut bacteria in humans after a single meal (1)
  • Rats fed on GM potatoes led to many abnormalities, including gut lesions; damaged immune systems; less developed brains, livers and testicles; enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines; a proliferation of cells in the walls of the stomach and intestine (pre-cancerous indicators); and partial liver atrophy (2)
  • US food derived illnesses have doubled over seven years, coinciding with the introduction of GM foods (3)
  • In the UK, a 50% increase in soy allergies were reported when GM soy imports began (4)
  • The number of people in Russia with marked symptoms of allergies tripled in three years once GMOs began to be traded (5)
Is it any wonder that GM crops are making us sick when they are being genetically modified to contain pesticides inside the seed? Bt corn, or corn modified to contain the soil bacteria, bacillus thuringiensis, was developed to target a specific pest, the corn borer. When the corn borer larvae ingest Bt corn, it binds to the wall of their intestines, damaging the cell membranes in order to make it leaky, thus preventing the insect from doing any damage to the crop (6). This description sounds eerily similar to how food allergies arise in humans: damage to our intestinal wall leads to leaky gut, which then allows food particles and proteins into the blood stream where our immune system mounts an attack on it. Most GM corn ends up as livestock feed, but a good deal of the remainder ends up in our food supply. We are likely ingesting pesticides and foreign proteins every time we eat corn or food with corn bi-product ingredients.

What about organic corn? Organic certification is supposed to guarantee GM free seed, but one of the problems with all GM food is contamination. Contamination happens more often than we know. Non-GM seed occasionally gets mixed with GM seed and ends up in the food supply. GM seeds may blow out of a truck and contaminating a non-GM or organic crop. Cross pollination between non-GM and GM crops is also a very real concern. Studies have found that corn pollen can drift 150km from its original source, possibly further depending on wind conditions (7). Organic certification is unfortunately not fail-safe.

Since there are no laws covering GMOs, food products do not have to be labeled if they contain a GM ingredient. GMOs are already in our food supply and it may well be in more food than we realize. "According to the Grocery Manufacturers of America, an estimated 70-75 percent of products on US grocery shelves may contain GM ingredients." (8)

There are so many more reasons to stand against GMOs, I've covered only the tip of the iceberg with corn. Our family avoids all corn products as much as possible, first and foremost because of the food allergy I have developed to corn, and second because we cannot be assured that the corn we would be eating isn't genetically modified. The other health problems associated with corn simply seal the deal. I believe that petitioning and protesting against GMOs is a start, but until enough of us actively boycott food that is contaminated, such as corn, we will not see a change in labeling practices.

(1) Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused, by Andy Rees, p15
(2) Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused, by Andy Rees, p16
(3) Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused, by Andy Rees, p47
(4) Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused, by Andy Rees, p48
(5) Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused, by Andy Rees, p48
(6) Syngenta, Kernels of Gold: The facts about Bt corn
(8) Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused, by Andy Rees, p17

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