Frankenfood: Gambling with Our Lives
We and our plant food sources have co-existed and coevolved over the last umpteen millennia. During the last few millennia things started to change as humans began to develop methods of agriculture to ensure and even out the flow of crops and thus lessen our dependence on herds of roaming game and the chance encounter with the odd carrot, potato or apple.
In the 1800’s, Gregor Johann Mendel the Austrian scientist and Augustinian friar played with pea plants in his garden, cross pollinating them and recording the results; Lord William George Spencer Cavendish the founder of the Royal Orchid society, relished in creating new orchid flowers. In 1982 Monsanto scientists became the first to genetically modify a plant cell, with the laudable goal of making the plants more disease resistant, grow bigger and faster and take a bite out of world hunger.
Then through a process of mergers and spin-offs between 1997 and 2002, Monsanto made the transition from chemical giant, making pesticides by the train load, to biotech giant. Unfortunately, the term “disease resistant plants” is but a euphemism for; “contains and makes its own pesticides”. When bugs chow down on this now genetically modified (GM) plant (often referred to as a genetically modified organism, GMO), the toxin from the plant splits open their stomach and kills them dead. The idea that we consume that same toxic pesticide in every bite may not be an appetizing idea, but is it something worse? The biotech companies insist that the pesticide, called Bt-toxin, has a history of safe use, which it does. Organic farmers, for example, have used solutions containing the natural form of Bt-toxin—produced from Bacillus thuringiensis (hence Bt) bacteria—as a method of natural insect control. The problem occurs when you take a bacterial toxin, that usually breaks down quickly and is normally non-toxic, to us creative humans, and genetically engineer it into the DNA structure of what used to be corn, but is now often referred to as Frankenfood. Frankenfood is created when you mix genes from different types of organisms (in this case plants and bacteria) together, hope for the best and test it out by feeding it to the world. Sure bugs are smart enough to stay away from it, but what’s it doing to us or the livestock that we feed it to? And is this “progress”?
Well, there are at least three issues of safety related to these GM plants. The first issue has to do with active Bt-toxin in our system, is that “safe”? According to John M. Burns, in a paper apparently published by Monsanto but no longer available on their website entitled “13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002,” December 17, 2002, he reportedly showed that by feeding rats Bt-Corn for only 1 week, lesions (areas of damage) could be seen on their liver. Several other articles then followed with similar findings … safe?
The second issue is, that when you change the genetics of something you change the types of proteins that it makes, which is the whole idea behind changing the genetics to start with. You’re trying to make something new and hopefully “better”. As it turns out there have been several large-scale reports that the new proteins that are made in GM corn, for example, are highly allergenic, which means that they can trigger bad allergic reactions. Moreover, there are reports that suggest that that these new GMO proteins, which we have not had the benefit of co-evolving with, can highly sensitize some people to all kinds of new and unrelated allergies … better?
The third, and most “interesting” GMO issue is this; when you change the genetics you change the (RNA and MicroRNA) molecules that transmute the DNA genetic code information into structural and functional proteins. Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is made up of a chain of components called nucleotides. Each nucleotide consists of a nucleobase, a ribose sugar, and a phosphate group. Some RNA molecules play an active role in cells by catalyzing biological reactions, sensing and communicating responses to cellular signals or controlling gene expression. Controlling gene expression means affecting how and what proteins are made including those that turn genes on and off including the genes related to various diseases. Very short RNA sequences of approximately 22 nucleotides in length were first discovered in the early 1990s and are called MicroRNAs. Research shows that these tiny molecules from common plant crops, such as rice and cabbage, can be found in the blood and tissues of humans and other plant-eating mammals, according to a study published in Cell Research, and ARE STILL ACTIVE! You really are what you eat! One microRNA in particular, MIR168a, which is highly concentrated in rice, was found to inhibit a protein that helps removes low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the bad cholesterol) from the blood thus increasing the incidence of atherosclerotic heart disease. This suggests that MicroRNAs can not only influence gene expression across kingdoms but can also impact proteins that affect disease processes. Since these MicroRNAs can affect our ability to heal and respond to various diseases, what other abilities of ours can these things affect?
To help you identify these Frankenfoods, there is now an iPhone app to help you shop wisely and avoid most known GMO foods called: http://itunes.apple.com/app/ shopnogmo/id393454798?mt=8