Archive for August, 2011
Questions and Health Concerns
What are genetically engineered (GE) foods?
These are foods created from the insertion of a gene, bacteria or virus from one species into a different species to produce a desired effect, usually resistance to herbicides or insects. The terms genetically modified (GM) and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are typically used interchangeably with GE.
Are they the same as foods from traditional breeding?
No. Traditional breeding between the same or similar species, such as crossing two types of corn or apples, has been done for thousands of years. GE foods, only developed in the past few decades, are created in a lab and are between different species.
What kinds of food are genetically engineered?
There are currently six major foods sold in the U.S. that are typically genetically engineered. These are listed below with the percent that are GE:
Sugar beets 95%
Cotton (Cottonseed oil) 78%
Because most of these are used widely, about two-thirds of processed food contains a GE ingredient. Conversely, the vast majority of raw fruits and vegetables are not GE. Organic foods, by definition, can’t be GE.
Does genetic engineering improve the nutritional quality of foods?
No. There are no GE foods on the market in which nutritional quality is enhanced beyond a non-GE food counterpart.
Is the act of genetic engineering precise?
No. The entire foundation of GE is that the introduction of one foreign gene, bacteria or virus into a plant will activate one protein, producing one desired effect and nothing more. But this ignores basic science – the chances of harmful unintended consequences with GE are substantially increased:[i]
One gene often creates multiple proteins
- The location of the gene often varies, which can affect whether it produces the desired protein or not
- The insertion of the gene can disrupt the genetic blueprint of the plant
- The new gene can either silence other genes that were normally active or activate other genes that were silent
- A promoter (typically a virus) is usually added that helps the gene activate a desired protein. However, it may also activate other proteins that were silent, which could lead to harmful effects on humans.
What evidence of harmful effects are there?
The deadliest incident occurred in the food supplement l-tryptophan, which had been used safely by millions of people as a sleep aid for decades. However, when a Japanese company produced a GE version in the late 1980’s, thousands of people contracted an extremely painful, serious disease, EMS, that killed at least 37 and left thousands with disabilities, including paralysis.[ii] The FDA subsequently removed virtually all l-tryptophan off the market, although only the GE version was linked to EMS.
It’s more difficult to detect harmful conditions such as cancer, birth defects, toxins or allergies, since they have other causes and/or can take longer to develop than EMS. Moreover, the FDA doesn’t require GE foods to be labeled, so most people don’t know they’re consuming them. This makes it virtually impossible to isolate and track them.
However, numerous credible animal studies all over the world have shown disturbing results. For example:
- In Scotland, GE potatoes fed to rats showed lowered nutritional content and suffered damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers and testicles and enlarged intestines[iii]
- In Australia, a harmless gene in a bean engineered into a pea produced immune reactions in mice, indicating allergic reactions and/or toxins[iv]
- In Austria, a government study showed that mice fed GE corn had fewer litters and fewer total offspring[v]
- In France, a study found that GE corn previously thought harmless revealed hormone-dependent diseases and early signs of toxicity in rats[vi]
Harm to animals doesn’t necessarily prove harm to humans. However, it is a definite indication that more studies should be done. This hasn’t happened.
How is safety testing done in the U.S.? Is it adequate?
The FDA is responsible for food safety. However, it doesn’t do any testing on GE food and doesn’t require any independent tests. The only studies done are by the same companies developing the foods and they’re not required to give all their data to the FDA. They only need to declare their studies are adequate and that the GE food is safe. By and large, GE food safety is self-regulated.
The bottom line
Plants can be genetically engineered to be resistant to pests or herbicides. But in the process, there is evidence they may be causing harm to human health as an unintended consequence.
[i] Commoner, Barry, Unraveling the DNA Myth: The Spurious Foundation of Genetic Engineering, Harper’s, Feb. 2002.
[ii] Crist, William, Toxic L-tryptophan: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Epidemic, 2005, available at http://www.seedsofdeception.com/Public/L-tryptophan/1Introduction/index.cfm.
[iii] Ewen, SW, Pusztai, A, Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine, Lancet, Oct. 16, 1999, 354(9187): 1353-4.
[iv] Prescott, V et al, Transgenic Expression of Bean α-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2005, 53:9023-9030.
[v] For the full study in English, see http://bmgfj.cms.apa.at/cms/site/attachments/3/2/9/CH0810/CMS1226492832306/forschungsbericht_3-2008_letzfassung.pdf
[vi] Seralini, G-E et al, How Subchronic and Chronic Health Effects can be Neglected for GMO’s, Pesticides or Chemicals; International Journal of Biological Sciences, 2009, 5(5): 438-443.
This Fact Sheet is provided by: Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, www.oregonpsr.org.
Written by Chanda Killion Organ
We all have a story…this is ours.
Jake and Carson, were both diagnosed with a disease called Eosinophilic Esophagitis. EoE is an incurable GI disease, where the body actually attacks food. In this “attack” the boys both experienced horrible pain through-out their GI track, and actual damage in the tissue in their esophogus. Food became the enemy.
Jake(now 10) was first diagnosed with EoE right before turning 7yrs old. He had a few food allergies when he was younger, peanuts, tree nuts and eggs(outgrowing wheat). In Oct of 2007 Jake became allergic to just about every food he was eating. He would be doubled over in pain, clutching at his stomach, when he ate. After new allergy tests were performed, we learned he was positive to just about everything. With the pain continuing, we were able to get him into a GI who was treating Carson, at Children’s Hospital. A scope was performed, biopsies taken, and he was also positive for EoE. Since Jake had run out of safe foods to eat, it was decided that inserting a feeding tube into his nose and putting him on a hypo-allergenic formula called Neocate, was absolutely necessary. So Feb 2008, he was admitted to Children’s Hosp, and an NG-tube was placed. He was taken off all-foods at that time, to get his body to stop attacking itself, and allow it to heal. Things went really well, so my May of 2008 he got his G-tube surgically placed. He also got his EoE into remission, which was our absolute goal. Jake still struggled that first year, his asthma was out of control, but by Jan 2009, he was able to start doing food trials, and to this date, he has passed 4 foods.. A food trial consists of eating a food, every day for 2 weeks. If no eos start an “attack”, it’s considered safe. Jake has trialed approx 15-18 foods. We are actually to the point that there is nothing left to trial. Because of his extensive list of food allergies(we lost track at over 40 foods), our trialing has been limited as of late.
Carson(now 7 1/2yrs) was actually diagnosed first with this disease. Right off the bat, Carson struggled with horrible reflux and a milk allergy. Causing me to be very careful with nursing, even cutting milk protein(all dairy) out of my diet. When his reflux didn’t improve at age 2, his GI decided to do a scope to see if anything was going on. They found he had a hiatal hernia, which was causing food and fluid, to shoot back up his esophagus. We chose to have it repaired with surgery, a Nissen Fundoplication. The first 6mths after surgery, Carson was doing fabulous. But quickly started going down hill, and experiencing horrible stomach pain when he ate. Thinking something was wrong with the Nissen, the GI again, scoped him to take a look inside. We lucked out, because this GI had also been aware of a disease called EoE, and he decided to take some biopsies. Carson had some damage to the tissue in his esophogus, and when the biopsies came back positive for EoE, I had no idea what we had in store. With Carson, who was allergic to a handful of foods(milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts) did more allergy testing, adding beef anf pork to the list, and was put on a swallowed steroid called Flovent. He did really good for the next year, and we thought the EoE was gone. But there is no cure as we found, and right before age 5, his symptoms came back worse then before. We struggled at this point. We tried more Flovent, it didn’t work. We did more allergy testing, pulling the top 7 allergens in addition(leaving wheat)…we added corn, turkey, chicken, and even did a new steroid medication called Beudesonide Slurry. He scoped clean on the steroids, but his symptoms kept getting worse and worse. Now at age 7, we decided to take the same course of treatment as we did with Jake. And in Oct 2010, we removed all foods from Carson’s diet, and he attempted to drink the same formula that Jake got through his tube. Struggling to drink enough of this rancid tasting formula, in Dec 2010 Carson was admitted and an NG-tube was placed in his nose. We saw immediate improvement, and it was decided to go ahead with G-tube placement. We are hoping since Carson doesn’t have the amount of allergies to mess with(he now tests negative to all but milk and tree nuts) that he will be able to trial more foods. Not all EOS(Eosinophils) triggers are allergens though. So that is why it is so important to test and trial each food as you go. To build a safe diet in hope of keeping the EOS as bay.
Even though Jake and Carson suffer from this terrible disease. Both boys try their hardest to just be normal kids. Jake has continued to play flag football, and just recently, finished up his 2nd season of tackle. He also has played baseball and just recently, basketball. He loves BMX bike racing, rock wall climbing, and just about anything “physical”. Carson has done flag football, baseball and is very interested in signing up for golf. Both boys attend public school and just enjoying running around being boys.
Everyone has a story. And this is ours. To find out more about Eosinophilic diseases, visit www.apfed.org for more information. We also made a youtube video of EOS Awareness.
Please watch this and share it with those that you love.
American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders
Cancer is everyone’s story
My brother, your mother, a beloved politician
By: Michael Madigan as originally seen in the Winnipeg Free Press Edition
BRISBANE — Cancer is like an unprovoked assault — a sharp slap across the face from a stranger who disappears into the crowd, leaving you with a feeling of cold horror.
I don’t have it. My brother, Anthony Gerard Madigan, does and he probably won’t see his 49th Christmas, which is a far more cold and horrific prospect than the aforementioned slap.
One moment he’s a robust 47-year-old. The next he’s an old man or the equivalent of one given his sudden and, to me, still strangely inexplicable proximity to death.
In a column designed to bring news from Australia, it may appear self-indulgent to burden readers with a personal tragedy.
But cancer is the original multinational, with a branch in every country, refusing to recognize boundaries as it leaps cultures and datelines with effortless ease.
This week it claimed Canada’s own Jack Layton, aged just 61, head of the New Democrat Party. Mr. Layton’s death robbed him of potentially the most fulfilling period of his life, and it robbed the nation of an Opposition leader who promised to bring a fresh perspective to the national debate.
In Australia, it claimed much-loved journalist David Nason, who was just 57, and whose still youthful face peered out from the pages of the national broadsheet The Australian this week as colleagues across the country eulogized him.
Cancer is everyone’s story. If it hasn’t touched your life yet, it will if you’re fortunate enough to live beyond a few decades.
You, your child, your dad, your spouse, your friend, your favourite nephew is suddenly faced with a sinister internal disorder as a group of formerly well-behaved bodily cells behave like a band of drunken soldiers.
They grow in strength and bravado until they turn savagely on nearby tissue, and suddenly you’re sitting ashen-faced at one of those grim family gatherings where bad news is announced, to be digested with the sandwiches and tea.
Cancer still slithers through the world largely unmolested by modern medical science, growing more robust as old colleagues like diphtheria and cholera fall by the wayside.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare tells us breast cancer is the most common form in women but, in this sun-splashed country, melanoma is also on the rise.
It’s been projected that by next year, melanoma will have overtaken lung cancer as the third most common cancer for men. For women, the most common cancers in 2011 are projected to be breast cancer followed by colorectal, melanoma and lung.
For men, it will be prostate cancer followed by colorectal, melanoma and lung.
My brother appears to be in the minority but he’s covered at least two bases at once with both liver and pancreatic cancer.
He started his working life as a diesel fitter and rode the global mining boom to riches through his 20s and 30s, working in the Middle East, central Australia and Asia.
He once told me he and colleagues built a D9 bulldozer in a remote village in Papua New Guinea — slowly creating the massive machine from parts airlifted in daily while locals gazed on in respectful awe of their God-like talents.
At 47, he was overseeing the maintenance of a heavy earthmoving mining fleet in Indonesia, living the good life in a beachside compound with his wife and three kids in a house with servants and drivers.
But global adventuring had left a legacy. Somewhere in his travels, he’d picked up hepatitis C and didn’t even know it. Hep C is a precursor to both liver and pancreatic cancer.
In January 2010, he had a mild earache and a funny feeling in the tummy and decided to fly to Singapore for a quick checkup, only to be told cancer could kill him in as little as four months.
He was on a flight back to Queensland within 24 hours. My sister and I met him at the airport and drove immediately to the home of family patriarch Paul, an accomplished neurosurgeon who for 30 years has been the first port of call for any Madigan suffering ailments ranging from a cut finger to bowel cancer.
And there, on the verandah as cousin Paul and his newly accredited doctor daughter, Katie, gazed helplessly at the test results, the brutal reality crystallized in my mind. There’s no umpire, no court of appeal, no bargaining position — cancer holds all the cards.
But, with Paul’s help, Tony decided to hit back anyway. His namesake is Tony Madigan, a once-famous Australian boxer who fought Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in the 1960s Olympics in Rome but lost on points.
Tony fought like the boxer for the following 12 months and with chemotherapy in his corner appeared to be another world champion.
Chemo worked like some magical elixir — a gift from the sorcerers of medical science. Only eight months ago, after spending Christmas with him and his family, I looked at him almost enviously as he strolled around his beachside apartment.
Lean, tanned, wearing a casual shirt and jeans, the beery miner — what you Canadians might call a roughneck — appeared to have been transformed into something you might also call preppy. He could have been casually swinging a tennis racquet with a sweater tied around his neck.
“This bloke will outlive me,” I thought as he set out to return to light duties at his company’s head office in the Western Australian capital, Perth, where he established his family in one of the two homes he owns there, and stepped up the chemo.
Chemo, I’ve now learned, is a bit like a powerful army that can send the invading cancer scuttling off to the hills in apparent defeat.
But cancer has been around a lot longer than an antineoplastic drug. It eyes off its opponent, regroups, reloads and returns to the battlefield with vengeance in its heart.
Four weeks ago, Tony was told to go home from his most recent trip to hospital and put himself in the hands of a palliative care team. He’d lost on points. There was, as doctors say gently, “nothing more to be done.”
But there is. Tony gets on with life even as he arranges his own funeral, cheerfully complaining about the cost. He talks to his sister on the phone, writes a letter to his elderly and distraught parents, thanking them for his wonderful life, makes provisions for his family and stoically refuses the temptations of self-pity.
Gentle queries about any suffering he’s undergoing bring just one admission — he feels guilt for causing such grief to the many people who love him. “I know it’s strange, it’s totally irrational, but it’s still there,” he tells me as we talk about growing up on a sugar-cane farm in North Queensland, riding bikes and swimming in creeks.
In these situations hope is like a fragrance always lingering in the air, and the wisest counsel is to be realistic about what it offers but never let it go.
“Christmas!” I said when I last flew over to Perth to see him. “We won’t say goodbye, we’ll say ‘see you at Christmas.’ ”
But, as he now reminds me on the phone, he’s in no position to make plans, not even for something only four months out.
“I can’t make any promises Mick — I can’t say I’ll still be here at Christmas.”
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press Edition
Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia.
Last week, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Nina Federoff, in which she declared “Engineered Foods for All” and listed the industry-funded scientific reasons for mandating these foods onto the public.
But the article failed to disclose that according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Nina Federoff is also listed as the sole inventor on a patent filed for one of the first genetically engineered organisms. The article further failed to disclose if the patent has been used or licensed by other organizations, institutions or corporations in the years since it was filed in 1984.
Because patents are instruments for the commercial protection of these products and prevent independent safety and efficacy evaluations, we felt the article was remiss in failing to disclose this information. Furthermore, although protocols are in place to ask questions about the allergy-causing possibilities of these genetically engineered foods, there has been no test that offers definitive answers.
So when our friend Anna Lappe’ wrote a well-documented response to the mandate of genetically engineered food for all, we asked Anna if we could cross post her article here. And thankfully, she said yes.
So for all of you who reached out after reading last week’s New York Times, we invite you to read the insightful piece below by Anna Lappe’ which first appeared on Civil Eats.
With all due respect, Nina Federoff’s New York Times op-ed reads like it was written two decades ago, when the jury was still out about the potential of the biotech industry to reduce hunger, increase nutritional quality in foods, and decrease agriculture’s reliance on toxic chemicals and other expensive inputs that most of the world’s farmers can’t afford.
With more than 15 years of commercialized GMOs behind us, we know not to believe these promises any longer.
Around the world, from the Government Office for Science in the U.K. to the National Research Council in the United States to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., there is consensus: In order to address the roots of hunger today and build a food system that will feed humanity into the future, we must invest in “sustainable intensification”—not expensive GMO technology that threatens biodiversity, has never proven its superiority, even in yields, and locks us into dependence on fossil fuels, fossil water, and agrochemicals.
By definition, sustainable intensification means producing abundant food while reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment. Water pollution from pesticide run-off and soil degradation from synthetic fertilizer use are just two examples of the costs of industrial agriculture. And, mind you, nearly all of the GMO crops planted today rely on synthetic fertilizer and pesticides.
Sustainable farming has many other co-benefits as well, including improving the natural environment by increasing soil carbon content, protecting watersheds and biodiversity, and decreasing the human health risks from exposures to toxic chemicals. In its policymaker’s guide to sustainable intensification, the FAO states clearly that the “present paradigm” in agriculture—of which Federoff’s beloved GMOs play a starring role—“cannot meet the challenges of the new millennium.”
So while we hear from GMO proponents about the wonders of these crops, the proof is in the fields.According to the FAO, sustainable practices have helped to “reduce crops’ water needs by 30 percent and the energy costs of production by up to 60 percent.” In one of the largest studies [PDF] of ecological farming, in 57 countries, researchers found an average yield increase of 80 percent. In East African countries, yields shot up 128 percent.
What about the specific claims that GMOs confer much-desired benefits: nutritional improvements, drought resilience, or fewer pesticides?
A much-touted effort in Kenya to develop a genetically engineered virus-resistant sweet potato failed after 10 years, millions of dollars, and countless hours of effort. Not only did it fail, butresearchers in Uganda [PDF] have developed varieties of sweet potatoes resistant to the same virus and with greater levels of beta carotene (aitamin A)—not with genetic engineering, but with conventional breeding.
Federoff boasts that GMOs reduce pesticide usage, but an analysis of 13 years of commercialized GMOs in the United States actually found a dramatic increase in the volume of herbicides used on these crops that swamped the relatively small reduction in insecticide use attributable to GMO corn and cotton during that same period. On the other hand, an FAO ecological farming program in six countries in West Africa helped farmers reduce chemical pesticide use as much as 92 percent while increasing their net value of production by as much as 61 percent.
Perhaps most gravely, Federoff’s message that GMOs are the key to addressing our planet’s food needs ignores the political and economic context of agricultural interventions.
What’s unique to sustainable interventions is that they build farmer and community capacity and strengthen social networks. “Social capital”—as development wonks would say—is created. In a study of sustainable farming projects involving 10 million farmers across the African continent, researchers found that adopting sustainable intensification techniques not only upped production significantly, but, more importantly, increased the overall wealth of farming communities, encouraged women’s participation and education, and built strong social bonds that have helped these communities strengthen their economies and continue to learn, develop, and adapt their farming practices.
In a world rocked with volatile markets, a volatile climate, and diminishing natural resources, we need to turn our attention to investing in the proven sustainable intensification techniques that create resilient communities, not to the still-hollow promises of GMO promoters.
Anna Lappé is a national bestselling author, sustainable food advocate, and mom. The founding principal of the Small Planet Institute and Small Planet Fund, her latest book is Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It. Anna is also the co-author of Hope’s Edge, with her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, and Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, with Bryant Terry.
Written by Robyn O’Brien
Have you heard of Double Impact? I hadn’t either, but they are working to make the world a healthier place. And all you have to do is one thing. Pretty simple, right? And even better, they’re supporting world-changing charities like Healthy Child Healthy World and have companies like Clean Well giving away prizes if you do.
Because the truth is that when it comes to creating the change we want to see in the world, none of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.
So when they came to me, asking for three ideas that would help people make healthier food choices with the end goal of a healthy planet, I was in because it sounded like a fun way to make a difference.
But I need your help. If you had to choose just one thing to do to help clean up the food supply from the three choices listed below, what would it be? Here’s a link where you can vote www.doubleimpact.com/g4g and the choices are detailed below.
Go Organic with Your Dairy: Did you know that our dairy cows are now injected with artificial growth hormones, routinely fed pharmaceutical drugs and given genetically engineered corn that is actually labeled as an insecticide by the EPA in their livestock feed? When I learned this, I thought, “How do I opt out of this “Dirty Dairy”?” And thankfully, by going organic with your milk, cheese and yogurt, you can, because by law, the production of organic dairy does not allow for the routine use of these things.
Cut the Artificial Colors: Our food manufacturers (you know, the Big Ones that make packaged goods, sports drinks, sodas, mac and cheese and cereal bars) have already pulled artificial colors from the products they make for eaters in other countries, due to consumer demand and health concerns (a lot of them are made out of petrochemicals and have been linked hyperactivity and cancer). If we want them to reformulate our products here in the US, too, then we’re going to have to send a message with the dollars that we spend in the grocery store. So instead of fluorescent mac and cheese, grab a bag of noodles and grate some parmesan on it. Nix the tubes of blue yogurt and add some berries, granola or even chocolate chips to some white yogurt. Instead of bright orange chips, look for pretzels. Remember, this is about progress not perfection, so try not to make “the perfect” the enemy of “the good”!
Opt Out of Genetically Modified Foods: In the 1990s, the biotech industry got into food production. Who knew, right? None of us, really, because the new agrichemical ingredients that they created in their laboratories and then inserted into our corn and soybeans didn’t require labeling here in the US.
So despite the fact that countries around the world said that they weren’t going to run this experiment on their populations due to concerns that these foods and novel proteins might trigger allergies among other things, we introduced them into the American food supply – without labels or any long term human trials conducted to have deemed them safe.
In other words, while countries around the world were given the right to choose and labels were put onto these foods, when they were introduced fifteen years ago, we weren’t. Want to opt out of this experiment? It’s easy.
Since two of the top genetically engineered crops are corn and soy that have been engineered to either produce their own insecticides or to withstand increasing doses of toxic weed killer, in order to opt out of the agrichemicals that now occupy a significant place in our food supply, either choose to look for labels that say “Non-GMO” or “USDA Organic” because by law, these products are not allowed to contain these new insecticide producing and weed killer tolerant proteins.
All three choices matter, but since most of us are operating with limited time and limited budgets, if you had to choose one thing, which would you choose? Cast your vote here => www.doubleimpact.com/g4g
Just by voting in Double Impact’s poll, not only are you participating in the change, but your vote also inspires a ripple of change! Because every vote helps support charities like Healthy Child Healthy World that are working to make the world a safer place for our children.
Pretty great, right?
Don’t forget to vote! www.doubleimpact.com/g4g