Simply speaking, transgenic is a process that transfers some genes in biological organism A to biological organism B, giving B some of the biological traits of A, such as resistance to insects, cold, drought, etc.; or the process that implants genes from bacteria into crops to make the plants produce toxins that will kill insect pests. After this process, the biological organism is referred to as a genetically modified (GM) organism.
GM crop production began in the United States in the early 1990s, and in 1999, it spread to China. In the early stages, transgenic crops seemed to reduce labor costs in weeding and the spraying of pesticides and herbicides. This enabled large-scale cultivation and the creation of giant seed monopolies. It spread rapidly after vigorous promotion by the biotech giants. Yet, these companies’ downplayed the damage GM crops could do to the ecological environment and the potential threat of GM foods on health.
The scientific community has no consensus on the safety of GM foods
Biologists had believed GM foods would be turned into small units in the human body through degeneration and digestion, similar to how traditional non-transgenic food consumption works. There was no distinction made in the safety of GM and non-GM foods. However, recent biological studies have shown that this is far from the truth.
In 2011, Professor Zhang Chenyu and his research team in Nanjing University published an article in Cell Research. They said they had found that plant microRNAs from daily food intake can enter the blood stream, body tissues and organs. In addition, through regulating the expression of the target gene, they can affect physiological functions in the human body. Numerous studies have shown that not all food’s genetic material is dissolved in the stomach and intestines. If some small unit in GM foods were absorbed by the body it could affect physiological functions and have disastrous consequences.
Currently, there is a lack of large-scale independent research into the safety of GM food. Yet some independent studies have pointed out that long-term consumption of GM may pose serious health hazards.
In 1998, Professor Árpád Pusztai from Rowett Research Institute in Scotland announced on television that one of his experimental studies demonstrated that rats fed with GM potatoes developed abnormal organs, had less body and organ weight, and damaged immune systems. These pups’ liver, heart, and brain were much smaller than normal and the immune system was more vulnerable. His paper was later published in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet.
In 2006 , Russian scientist Dr. Irina Ermakova found that, more than half of the pups died in the first three weeks after birth, which is six times the baby mortality of mice fed with non GM soy beans. In addition, the surviving pups grew very slowly. Also, the female mice fed with GM soy beans had more aggression and anxiety symptoms, and some even lost their maternal instinct.
In 2011, a Canadian study found the transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt) toxin in the blood samples of 28 out of 30 pregnant women. It was also discovered that 24 of the women had the toxin in their cord blood. In another non-pregnant group, 27 out of 39 women were found to have the toxins in their blood. Bt toxin is a pesticide residue implanted in cells of Bt GM corn and other crops via GM technology.
In 2012, Australian scientists proved that interspecies GM wheat contains altered proteins and enzyme inhibition mechanism, and the latter may lead to human liver failure, even death.
At present, almost all the research that lead to a harmless conclusion for GM food are those from, or funded by, biotech companies, and the longest study period only lasted 90 days. The lack of independent research in the safety of GM foods is not because scientists are not interested in it, but because it appears that the GM giants are stonewalling it. Scientific American has noted that several of their studies originally approved by the GM giants for print where later forbidden from being published. The GM companies used intellectual property rights to stop publication because they had negative results for GM food. The researchers were threatened with lawsuits if they persisted in publishing the results.
The above mentioned Professor Pusztai was a famous expert in his field. He had published more than 300 papers and 12 books. He was fired by the Rowett Research Institute, where he had worked for 35 years, because he published his research results. His research team was dismissed immediately.
Dr. Irina Ermakova had similar experience. After she reported her findings at a meeting, she was told by her supervisor to stop the experiment and her report was destroyed.
Because of this, most countries are very cautious of using GM food as a staple food. In the US, GM farm produce is usually used as animal feed in industrial material or exported. In 2012, a joint Chinese-American experimental group was exposed for using 24 six-to-eight year old children in Hunan province as subjects to test the effects of GM rice. The experiment was widely condemned by the international community and was immediately stopped.
Transgenics damages the environment
In the campaign to promote GM crops, the GM giants often emphasize the benefits of GM crops on the environment. In reality, it is the opposite. In many countries, GM crops have been found to be harmful to the environment.
Because of excessive use of herbicides, weeds become more and more resistant to the chemicals, consequently, transgenic crops often need several times more chemicals than non-GM crops. Argentina is one of the countries around the world widely growing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans. The use of herbicides has soared to 300 million liters. In the article “Argentina’s Bad Seeds and GMO Crops,” Dr. Mercola describes a dialogue between a neonatal specialist and a filmmaker and it clearly exposes the consequence of excessive usage of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide in Argentina:“…This doctor showed me a chart of two steeply climbing graphs, rising in tandem with each other — one representing the increase in soya plantations over the last 15 years; the other the rise in birth defects across the province during that same time. In the village of Malvinas Argentinas, which is surrounded by soy plantations, the rate of miscarriage is 100 times the national average, courtesy of glyphosate.”
In addition, the modified gene can be passed to genetically related species through hybridization that creates some new troubling species. In the U.S. and Canada, since a number of herbicide-resistant superweeds emerged due to the gene contamination of herbicide resistant GM crops, farmers there had to increase the application rates of herbicides. This vicious cycle has caused great harm to the environment.
Essentially, GM crops are new species introduced into the environment. A large-scale introduction of new species often causes an ecological system to lose its natural balance, which leads to the rupture of the original food chain. There are many lessons of this in history.
Monoculture caused by GM crop industrialization is also a potential threat to the entire web of life. Maintaining biodiversity is an important way to reduce the risk of invasion of epidemic diseases. The 1845 Ireland potato blight caused more than one million people to die of famine, and several million people were forced to emigrate out of Ireland. The reason was that only two potato species were planted in the country, and they were particularly vulnerable to the same disease. In the 1970s, the paddy straw virus occurred in Indonesia and India. Fortunately, one of 6,273 rice varieties was found to be resistant to the virus, and is now widely planted.
The biggest trouble for transgenic crop production is its irreversibility. Those who are in favor of GM cite that the FDA does not ban GM food and so GM food must be safe. However, one has to remember that in the past, there were many drugs and artificial foods passed by FDA inspectors which were later found to be harmful and banned after being used for decades. The most recent example is artificial trans fat. Fortunately, soon after the ban was imposed and the drugs and artificial foods were no longer being consumed, their side effects quickly disappeared. However, it is certainly not the case for transgenics. Due to hybridization contamination, GM crops may pass their modified genes to other plants. It is very difficult to control their spreading. Once genetic changes occur, it is almost impossible to recover. If transgenics are indeed proven to be harmful after decades of growth and consuming of GM foods, it will be an irreparable disaster to humankind.