Sign up for Your
FREE Subscription
Your First Name:
Your E-mail:

Are GMO Foods Safe to Eat?


ARE GMO Foods Safe To Eat?

Many people don't even know what a "GMO food" is, much less whether or not such food is safe to eat. GMO stand for "Genetically Modified Organism," and the truth is that you are almost certainly already eating GMO foods without knowing it because there are no label requirements for manufacturers and growers to list GMO's in food. Since these foods are already in our daily food supply, shouldn't we understand something about the "pros" and "cons" of their use? Let's take a look at what "GMO" is all about.

Genetically Modified Organisms are plants or animals that have been "genetically engineered" to contain genes from an entirely different plant or animal. The resulting organism is called transgenic or GMO (genetically modified organism). Genetic engineering is different than traditional cross breeding, where genes can only be exchanged between two closely-related species. In genetic engineering, genes from completely different species are inserted into each other. For example, scientists in Taiwan have inserted jellyfish genes into pigs in order to make them glow in the dark.(1) My pondering: why do we need "glow in the dark" pigs?

The Extent of GMO Foods in the U.S. Food Supply

It is legal for farmers in the U.S. and a very few other countries such as Argentina to produce and sell GMO foods for human and animal consumption without making mention of this on the label. In other places including Europe and Japan, GMO foods are banned until adequate testing confirms that they are safe for human consumption and for the environment. Currently, approximately 70% of all processed foods in American supermarkets contain GMO ingredients.(2) Genetically engineered foods that have been approved for consumption and are already in current use include alfalfa, cherry tomatoes, chicory, corn, cotton, flax, papaya, potato, rapeseed (canola), rice, soybeans, squash, sugar beets, and tomatoes.(3)

Why Manufacturers Favor GMO Foods

On the "pro" side of the GMO question, manufacturers argue that genetically modified crops can be bred to resist disease or damage from chemicals, thus making harvests more stable. Most genetically engineered crops grown today are bred to be resistant to herbicides
and /or pesticides so they can withstand the rigors of weed killer without being killed. Proponents claim that genetically engineered crops use fewer pesticides, but in reality GE plants often require more chemicals than non-GE crops.(4) The reason this occurs is because weeds grow resistant to pesticides, requiring higher levels of weed killer to subdue them. Because the GMO food-crops are resistant to higher doses of herbicides, the higher doses acan safely be used without killing the food plants. Naturally, this exposes the food crops to higher levels of chemicals, but because the GMO crops are resistant, they are not killed. Instead, they wind up in the grocery store, often containing significantly higher levels of the chemical toxins they have been bred to withstand.(5)

This resistance of GMO plants to chemical toxins works so well that some GMO crops are actually classified as pesticides. For example, the New Leaf Potato was genetically engineered to produce Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxin in order to kill any pests that attempted to eat it. This potato was designated as a pesticide and as such was regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates food. Safety testing for these potatoes was not as strict as with food because EPA regulations had never anticipated that people would intentionally consume pesticides as food. These GMO "not intended as food" potatoes did in fact make it into grocery stores (they have since been taken off grocery store shelves), but this case underscores how GMO foods whose safety is unknown can make it into our "protected" food supply. (6) Most of the GMO produce is approved for human consumption, even without your knowledge of what it is or that you are eating it.

Potential Dangers of GMO Foods

One of the biggest concerns over GMO foods is simply that their safety has not been tested. The science of genetic engineering is relatively new, and we simply do not know what effects can result from putting DNA of one species into another species. The practice might prove to be safe. On the other hand, we may be creating incredibly dangerous "Franken Foods" and "Franken animals," the long-range effects of which are entirely unknown and little-studied at this point. Opponents to genetic engineering state that GE foods must be proven safe before they are sold to the public because their safety has not yet been proven, and I must agree. Potential problems that could arise with genetic engineering include:

  • Allergic reactions. There are two main concerns regarding allergic reactions. The first is with known allergens. For example, if genes from peanuts were inserted into another commonly consumed food such as tomatoes, and considering that these GMO modifications are not required to be labeled, a person with a known peanut allergy could no longer deliberately avoid peanut-containing foods. Some people have such severe reactions to particular foods that the allergy can be life-threatening.

The second concern is the possibility of creating new allergies. The new combinations of genes and traits have the potential to create allergic reactions that have never existed before.

  • Antibiotic resistance. Most GMO food contains antibiotic resistant "marker genes" that help producers track the transfer of genetic material to the host plant or animal. We already know that many GMO foods can be bred to be resistant to toxic chemicals, bacteria and viruses. Will genetically engineered foods which are bacteria-resistant increase human resistance to antibiotics when consumed? We don't know, but having seen the rise of "Super Bugs" (bacteria which are resistant to all known antibiotics because of the overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics) gives us serious cause for concern.
  • Nutritional degradation. Genetic engineering can change the nutritional value of food, and this has not been studied as to whether such changes may improve nutrition or seriously degrade the nutritional composition of foods.(7)
  • Environmental damage. Insects, birds and wind can carry genetically altered pollen to far away locations, pollinating plants and randomly creating new species that would carry on the genetic modifications. Until more is known, we could be creating a "Pandora's box" of genetic mutations. (I'm feeling the plot of a seriously scary movie in here somewhere).
  • Super-weeds. GE crops can cross-pollinate with weeds, potentially creating super weeds that could become difficult if not impossible to control.
  • Irreversible Gene mutations. Scientists don't yet know if the forced insertion of one gene into another gene could destabilize the entire organism, and encourage mutations and abnormalities. Likewise, no one knows if or how eating mutated food could affect people’s own DNA.

Genetic pollution cannot simply be "cleaned up." Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination that can be removed from the environment, genetically engineered organisms cannot simply be "recalled" or "cleaned" by a SuperFund.

How to Avoid GMO Foods

Until more is known --- or until ANYTHING is known --- about the safety of GMO foods, those who want to steer clear of GMO-containing foods can do so by following these steps:

  • Look for foods labeled GMO-free. Today, almost all major brands have GMO ingredients. Foods that are GMO-free go out of their way to say so on the label. features a shoppers guide to brands that are GMO-free.
  • Buy organic foods. USDA regulations governing organic food do not permit genetically-modified fruits and vegetables, and organic meats cannot come from animals that were fed GMO crops. Eating organic is a much surer way to avoid GMO foods. Better yet, buying local organic foods further reduces the likelihood of GMO contamination.
  • Grow your own! Raise a portion of your vegetables at home. You can grow 10 vegetables in a 4'x4' plot using the easy micro garden system that I talked about last week. Sprouts are easy to grow indoors. Consider raising a few chickens (a simple "chicken tractor" allows even city-folk to harvest their own eggs, and chickens make a great "bio-organic composting machine." "Pigs with wings," we call them).

GMO "Factoids"

  • 4 countries have 99% of the world’s GE acreage, they include: US (68%), Argentina (22%), Canada (6%), China (3%) (8)
  • Over 75% of US-grown soybeans in 2003 were bioengineered.(9)
  • Herbicide tolerant GE crops have created weed resistance, causing pesticide use to increase by 70 million pounds between 1996 and 2003.(10)

My Ten Cents Worth on GMO Foods

The unsuspecting public (that's you and I, folks!) are continually acting as guinea pigs for everything from foods and drugs to environmental chemicals and cosmetics. AND SO FAR, THE TRACK RECORDS OF THE SAFETY OF THESE ITEMS DOES NOT FAVOR THE PUBLIC. Personally, I don't like being forced to "test" the safety of every new chemical, drug and "technique" that Big Industry dreams up without my consent. Isn't this what, ostensibly, the FDA, the USDA, the EPA and other government-acronymed groups (GAG's) are supposed to be protecting us from? Yet you and I are still exposed to hazardous chemicals and techniques that are "approved" before their safety is truly verified. I don't know about you, but I'm not happy about this.

I take good care of myself. Why should I let the government use me as a test subject for so many potentially dangerous chemicals and now (perhaps even worse), gene-splicing experiments? Until I have proof that me, the honeybees (11) and the environment are safe from GMO crops, I'm going to stay as far away from them as I can. I believe we should be more circumspect about what we are creating, and the safety of same, before we unleash genetically modified organisms on an unsuspecting public.

1.) Hogg, Chris, “Taiwan breeds green-glowing pigs.” BBC News, January 12, 2006.
2.) California Department of Food and Agriculture. “A Food Foresight Analysis of Agricultural Biotechnology: A Report to the Legislature,” January 1, 2003.
3.) Center for Food Safety, “The Hidden Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods.” Food Safety Review, Spring 2000.
4.) Benbrook, Charles M., “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Eight Years,” BioTech InfoNet, November 2003.
5.) Ibid.
6.) U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Biotechnology Consultation, Note to the File, BNF No. 000033, March 25th, 1996.
7.) Center for Food Safety, “The Hidden Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods.” Food Safety Review, Spring 2000.
8.) Union of Concerned Scientists. “Genetically Engineered Foods Allowed on the Market” February 16, 2006 (accessed August 1, 2006).
9.) California Department of Food and Agriculture. A Food Foresight Analysis of Agricultural Biotechnology: A Report to the Legislature. January 1, 2003.
10.) Ibid.
Where the H#!l are The HoneyBees? HealthBeat News, 03/29/07.

Inside HealthBeat

Meet Our Team
Contact Us
Readers Rants


DISCLAIMER: Consuming the information provided in HealthBeat may cause reduced side-effects, increased knowledge, improved health and well-being and the potential for enhanced common-sense. Use at your own risk. These statements have not been evaluated or blessed by the FDA, The Big Drug Companies, or Big Medicine and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. None of the suggestions made herein are intended to take the place of your personal physician, shaman, chiropractor or other healthcare provider. Please be aware that statements made herein could result in a loss of profits to the FDA, Big Pharma and Big Medicine and should be used cautiously with this in mind. These statements contain no appreciable amounts of calories, carbohydrates, sodium or cholesterol and are certified to be free of all trans-fats.