I'm a little embarrassed to admit it--this one flew completely under my radar for far too long. While I am constantly reading the latest buzz in the paleo-bloggo-sphere, I paid little heed to any discussions on GMOs. I figured, let the USA sort it out, and we'll soon follow.
Because we Canadians do that.
I know, eh, how could I be so ignorant? Well, at a recent Toronto Paleo Meetup (our End Of Year Holiday Meetup), in the middle of an unrelated discussion, I had asked why organic produce really meant so much to so many, when nutritionally-speaking, locally bought was far more important? And the answer was....GMOs.
Which made me wonder; why did I have such a blind spot for GMOs? And what the heck are GMOs anyways?
Wow, did that ever open a can of worms. And a lot of reading. Followed by more reading.
Don't confuse GMOs with plant hybridization or selective breeding. Creating a new hybrid plant or plant food involves cross-pollinating or cross-breeding similar plants/species and this has been done for thousands of years (really!) Genetic modification, on the other hand, means altering the thing in question on a molecular level. Someone somewhere has taken a splice of this thing in a petri dish and added or removed genes to create a whole new thing. They are adding foreign objects to our foods on a molecular level, making them...well...foreign objects, which are no longer food, as far as our bodies are concerned. It is possible that our bodies can no longer identify this new object as a food source at all. It is also possible that this new thing ISN'T a food source at all. It is simply a thing. Not a food, but a filler item just like the "cellulose" they put in bread (which is actually wood shavings--generally harmless but indigestible fibers that add bulk very cheaply, but also reduce the nutritional breakdown of the food even further than the grains themselves, if you can get past the fact that its a grain-based product to begin with, and therefore "crap" as far as we paleo advocates are already concerned).
In some cases, these GMOs are very harmful things. Like how they insert pesticides (the Bt toxin) into corn, on that molecular level, so the pesticide exists all through the grain rather than just on the surface. This pesticide-saturated corn causes insects stomachs to explode, as it is actually MEANT to do to repel them from eating it. If it does that to tiny little insect stomachs, how can it not cause damage to our stomachs when we eat vastly larger quantities of it than the insects do? Are we really so incredibly genetically different from insects that we think this poison won't affect us?
Has that got you thinking? Well, if it did that to insects, look at what it's doing to lab rats on this YouTube video, below....
GMO, Global Alert
Now, don't get me wrong. In the medical field, genetic modification has done good things so I'm not going to take my stand on all GMOs across the board. Insulin is produced from genetic modification. So is human growth hormone. GMOs allowed us to produce a "blue" rose, and blue carnations--certainly nothing the world really needed, but something of beauty to look at, still.
Did you know that Canada is the 3rd largest producer of GMOs? This, according to Environment Canada, in reference to crops and fish (here). It is not something we should be proud of.
These things always start out with all the right intentions. Take Enviropig for example. Created by the University of Guelph, Eviropig was created to need less feed, particularly phosphorus supplementation. The desire was to have them absorb the phosphorus better from the grains they eat (and therefore poop less of it out) because pigs produce high-phosphorus-content poop which runs off into the watershed, which causes duckweed overgrowth in our waters, which chokes out the fish in the rivers and lakes. The pigs were meant to be an environmentally-friendly foodstuff and to solve a worldwide farm-related pollution problem. But the patent for the pigs is owned by Ontario Pork and they recently pulled the plug on the project. As far back as April, 2012, the University was looking for new funding for their project after Ontario Pork turned their back on them (article here), but according to a Huffington Post article on Dec. 11, (here), those pigs were quietly euthanized, ending any possibility of later discovering what that level of genetic tampering actually did to the quality of the meat they produced. Ontario Pork is claiming that now that the ability to do this has been proven, it's job is done and any continued research should be taken over by private organizations from this point. But is that really what happened? Or did GMOs suddenly become too hot a topic for Ontario Pork to want their name attached to it?
Who knows what eating high-phosporus-content pork does to us? Some things are better off just left alone, I say. There must be a better way to solve the problem. I'm curious what the phosphorus content of a grassfed, pastured pig looks like when compared alongside a grain-fed pig. Would a pig not be able to absorb the phosporus better from grass, a natural food source, than grain? Who knows. I'm not a scientist. I'm just sayin'. And by the way, they're also experimenting with cows that produce milk that is bio-identical to human breast milk, for women who cannot breastfeed. But that totally overlooks all the other benefits of breastfeeding, like colustrum, the boost infants get from their mother's immune system, and the mother's gut bacteria, both of which are critical to long-term good health in infants. Hmmm. Kind-of like trying to treat hemophilia with a band-aid, isn't it?
Certainly, there is a place for GMOs. It's called gene therapy, and it has huge implications in stem cell therapy, cancer research, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy.
I think that the issue that bothers me most is not the crossing of things like tomatoes and shellfish (though for those with allergies it might definitely be)--its the crossing of food things with non-food things like pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics inserted into the plants. I may not always support organic produce or worry about my pesticide exposure from the foods I eat, but this kind of tampering brings it to a new level of awareness and concern for me.
The initial idea behind each and every GMO is an altruistic one, I know. Mosquitoes unleashed into the population with a lethal gene that kills any mosquitoes with malaria might help avoid the 1M deaths/year from malaria, but what will a severely reduced mosquito population do to the bird population? What will ingesting thousands of mosquitoes with a lethal gene in them do to those birds? What will happen to the tens of thousands of acres of farmland where BT toxin-corn is being grown, as year after year bits of the plants fall off and decompose into the earth and the toxin becomes completely saturated into the soil? What strange chemical will we THEN have to add to the soil to negate the effects of the decomposed BT toxin? Where does it end?
A shortage of proof that something is harmful does not mean it is good for us. It means that we need to slow down and study things further, and we need to regulate what we can and cannot be allowed to do with everything around us. I'm not talking about how we don't have the right to play God--that's a whole discussion unto itself. And I don't think anyone would try to prevent using GMOs for cancer research, treating Parkinson's, ALS or other medical studies. I'm talking about glow in the dark cats, scorpion-toxic cabbage, silk-milk goats, low-flatulence cows and so many other idiotic strangeness. Surely, our resources are better spent elsewhere.
Seeing as how I'm no scientist and I barely scratched the surface on this whole GMO thing, here are a few more good site links on GMOs to keep you reading.....