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What’s the Fuss About GMOs?

What’s the Fuss About GMOs?
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By Kitt Walsh

As I approach my sixth decade, I find I am very aware that I have less time to care about every cause that crosses my desk, fills my Inbox or asks for a donation. But the frequency and volume has been turned up enough on one issue that I decided to find out what I need to know about a topic burning up the internet and news: Genetically Modified Organisms Foods (GMOs).

Apparently, according to recent polls I am not alone in my basic ignorance of the issue. One-third of Americans share my lack of knowledge on the subject of GMOs. What they may be doing to our bodies or for the world’s underfed populations was worth looking into, so if you too need some basic understanding of this important issue, here is what I found:

In 1998, the Flavr Savr tomato made an appearance in our local supermarkets and the age of genetically modified foods was upon us. But even though we have been eating such foods for years, the clamor about them has only gotten louder—much louder—recently.

So what is the big deal?

Specific genes inserted into genetically modified plants (to avoid crop damage from insects and disease and to increase yield and shelf life) have anti-GMO advocates nervous that such genes can create toxic effects or flat out kill someone who say has a peanut allergy and consumes a crop not knowing it now contains a nut gene.

On the anti-GMO side of the argument, the protestors explain that GMOs are created in a lab, by inserting a gene from one organism into another unrelated organism, producing plants and animals that would never occur in nature. No long-term safety studies have been done on humans, but animal studies link the consumption of GMOs to an increase in allergies, kidney and liver disease, ADHD, cancer, infertility, chronic immune disorders and more.

They are particularly worried that 84 percent of GMO crops have been engineered specifically to resist Roundup, a popular herbicide and other toxic chemicals.

Anti-GMO organization the Organic Consumers Association explain their fears this way, an excerpt from a suggested letter they ask supporters to send to their Congressional representatives:

Just last month, the World Health Organization found that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is “probably” a human carcinogen.  The overwhelming majority of GMOs grown in the United States are genetically engineered specifically to resist glyphosate, and the use of the weed killer has skyrocketed in the last 20 years with the rise of GMOs.

GMO farming has intensified the need to use ever more powerful and potent pesticide and herbicide chemicals to combat a growing array of chemical-resistant bugs and weeds. These chemicals, including glyphosate, not only wind up in our food and our bodies, but in the soil and in nearby rivers, streams and lakes. These chemicals are literally poisoning our food and our environment.

Advocates of GMO foods argue that animal studies showing GMO damage cited by the anti-GMO groups are overstated and based on small studies with little evidence to back up the alarming claims. The study most often referred to is Arpad Pusztai’s 1999 study, cited in the journal Lancet that says GMO potatoes which were expressing a protein thickener from a snowdrop flower had caused problems in rat’s GI tracts. Pusztai’s whipped up the controversy further when he went on television and said he thought “human beings were being used as guinea pigs.

While it turned out that the potatoes used in the study weren’t developed to be eaten by humans (they were developed to be poisonous to insects), it did alert the public that GMO foods had the potential to be dangerous.

Studies by the dozen followed (Google “Anti-GM groups+reports” and you’ll be inundated. Groups like Say No to GMOs, Institute for Responsible Technology and GM Watch keep a running record of reports, but pro-GMO groups say these studies are all based on secondary reports, not primary science, and there aren’t enough reports proving that GMO food is in any way dangerous for humans to consume. They say that after 17 years in our supermarkets, GMO foods have never proven to be unsafe.

Pro-GMO sites like Academics Review and AgBioWorld and scientists like Dr. Nina Federoff and University of Florida Professor of Plant Biology Kevin Folta offers arguments to back up their view that GMO foods are in fact safe and may help feed the world.

Critics however will not stop until GMO food production stops. While working towards that day, they are insisting that presidential candidates support labeling of all GMO foods and back a bill H.R. 913 (S.511) the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, a bill that would create a federal labeling standard for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The bill was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D–Ore.).

There is also a global march being organized—A March Against Monsanto Day–on Mary 23rd (Monsanto is the producer of the herbicide Roundup) to learn more about this global event, visit http://www.march-against-monsanto.com/events/.

The Feed the World project also launched this month with unique glyphosate test for the general public. The project with specific focus on women and children in the USA is offering the first ever validated public LC/MS/MS glyphosate testing for urine, water and soon breast milk.

The testing method sponsored by Feed The World will allow the general public to find out with certainty what levels of glyphosate are found in their bodies and in their tap water. The group is hoping the results increase the pressure on the EPA and other regulators to take serious action on glyphosate-based herbicides, and potentially ban glyphosate. If you are interested in being tested, visit http://feedtheworld.info/glyphosate-testing-test-yourself/.

The Feed The World project also includes a Women and Children’s Bill of Rights that will be presented to the U.S. Senate in October calling for a phasing-out and total ban on the sales of glyphosate-based herbicides before the end of 2018.

For now, most groups are pushing for labeling and the issue has overwhelming public support. Over 90 percent of Americans, including 89 percent of Republicans and 93 percent of Democrats, support mandatory GMO labeling laws. More than 60 countries have either banned or established a labeling system for GMOs. Advocates believe it is time for the United States to follow suit. After my scratch-the-surface investigation, I tend to agree.

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