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GMOs — A Toxic Plume to Rival Your Worst Fears

We have addressed before the threats posed by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food production system. We say “in the food production system” rather than “in food,” because these GMOs, once introduced into the environment, may have effects far beyond a particular genetically modified food and whether or not we eat it.

In a striking analogy, GMO researcher and activist Jeffrey Smith compares the spread of genetically modified material to BP’s massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. As he points out, as devastating as the leak was, it could eventually be capped. In time physical and biological processes will break down the pollutants, however devastating a toll on wildlife is wreaked along the way. By contrast, genetic pollution not only spreads from one organism to another but, by definition, carries its own self-perpetuating mechanism. No new oil is being produced in Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez spill, and oil that does leave the ecosystem, as opposed to being trapped there, has moved a step toward degradation. GMOs, on the other hand, will continue to reproduce themselves and disperse until the time of their individual extinction or the end of life on Earth, whichever comes first.

Many maps of the prevalence of GM agriculture throughout the world are tied to national boundaries, since policies on GMOs are often set nationally. While useful for knowing where to apply pressure at the national level, such maps have two inherent flaws:

  • Global versions are less likely to account for local resistance to GM agriculture, struggles which may take place on the level of state or province, or as in Vermont, township by township.
  • Even more fatally, such maps fail to account for biology not generally respecting national boundaries — as Smith remarks in another context, dispersing bacteria don’t always read the signs.

One source of current (and apparently updated) dispersal data uses circular representations, good insofar as they break the connection of dispersion with national boundaries, more closely approximating how GMOs spread in nature.

To this, add the knowledge that GM agriculture acreage has increased by 10% just in the last year. Go ahead; try to visualize that. You will see a metastasizing growth at least as scary as the “plumes” from the BP oil leak or the crippled Japanese nuclear plants.

As noted, this plague of mutant foods and related organisms not only spreads beyond its theoretical boundaries, but reproduces itself throughout foreseeable time. Much of the discussion about the spread of genetically modified material focuses on plants and how their seeds and pollen are made for dispersal into all corners. Missing from any sources we were able to find online is projection of how intended dispersal of GMOs and the inevitable contamination of adjacent crops are affected by Earth’s patterns of wind and weather.

Transgenic animals are also part of the agenda of giant biotech. The latest issue to arise in the U.S. is the pending introduction of transgenic salmon. In the short term, if you are buying salmon, you probably already know that Pacific salmon, wild-caught, remains the gold standard for nutritional value and relative freedom from pollutants. For now, the new Frankenfish proposal covers only so-called “Atlantic” salmon—essentially all of which is already farmed (including regular infusion of antibiotics and dyeing its gray flesh to resemble natural salmon), and arrives at your butcher or fishmonger offering less protein per pound, along with more of the wrong kinds of fat—i.e., not the omega-3s valued in fish oil. (Hint: Practically all canned salmon is wild-caught and immediately canned at sea.)

Already on the market, of course, are dairy products from cows treated with rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone (it’s the recombinant part that involves genetic tinkering). In several ways the introduction of this genetically engineered hormone encapsulates the dangers of GMOs and of runaway corporatism.

Recombinant BGH is a direct threat to human health, according to the European authorities who banned it, because it increases Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) in milk, posing a cancer risk increase of up to sevenfold. Some of you will be familiar with use of IGF-1 for therapeutic purposes; without going deeper into endocrine chemistry than we are qualified to do, we’ll note that hormones are both powerful and wide in their reach, and the idea of introducing any hormonal modification into the general diet—particularly in this case as a matter of increasing yield and thus profit without regard to human health—is virtually impossible to justify by any scientific or ethical criterion. Other direct risks, including contamination of our gut flora, are detailed on Smith’s site.

Apart from direct threats, rBGH illustrates the kind of cascading effect such deep-level tinkering can have. The fiddled hormone makes cows lame and increases udder inflammation, which in turn invites infection—which are, of course, treated with increasing levels of antibiotics. It is a system practically designed to breed antibiotic- resistant bacteria. So what arrives in the store? Milk contaminated not only with the artificial hormone and elevated IGF-1, but with pus from dairy cattle’s attempts to fight infection, plus the residue of veterinary- and industrial-strength doses of antibiotics.

This massive, uncontrolled experiment on human health comes to you courtesy of a long tradition: American industries and the government agencies that supposedly regulate them are connected by a revolving door of careerism. In particular, Michael R. Taylor, former lawyer for and officer of one of the largest agri-giants, a global megacorporation that seeks to own the planet’s agriculture, manages to get periodically appointed to positions at the Food and Drug Administration—he’s back there now, overseeing food safety. During his tenure from 1991-1994 he quashed all scientific opposition to approving use of rBGH in the food supply.

Consumers and producers familiar with this history may not have much hope for protection from any protective agency, certainly not at the federal level. Information, however, may be available through local agricultural extension programs, which may or may not have bought into the federal-corporate agenda. Knowledge is probably your best ally in self-protection. We note also that both official and activist information sites on the web have been built with open-source tools. If there is a struggle or incursion going on in your area, you may be able to connect to or emulate online databases for other concerned citizens.

Sources and Resources

Non-GMO Shopping Guide is just what it says.

Mike Adams interviews Jeffrey Smith for Smith quickly and lucidly lays out the range of currently known dangers from GMOs.

Food activist John Robbins gives more detail on the particular risks of rBGH, with research references, and expands on the sordid political history of its approval.


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