Skip to main content
Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
 
No. of Recommendations: 10
Throughout this post GMO refers to any genetically modified organism (usually a vegetable crop) that is intended to either be consumed by the public, or used for purposes such as fuel production.

The issues of GMO, from my observations, can be divided into 2 areas: Environmental / health related issues (what I will call hard-science issues), and socio-economic issues (what I will call soft-science issues). This post deals with the hard-science issues.

I have selected a few statements to base my discussion on. My intent in writing this was to gain knowledge for myself, and hopefully spread some to others.

GMO are poisonous to humans.

To confirm or refute this statement, we have to define poisonous. I will use the first definition from dictionary.com: "Capable of harming or killing by or as if by poison; toxic or venomous. "

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=poisonous

So, are GMO capable of causing injury, illness, or death? Let us investigate. My first clue is the case of Starlink corn. This is a GMO version of corn that produces a more active toxin than its natural cousin. The toxin has allergenic properties (it is a poison). The good news is that Starlink corn was NOT approved for human consumption. The bad news is that from what I can tell, contamination of food-grade corn with the Starlink variety was widespread and TOLERATED (indeed, the definition of "GMO-free" corn means a mere 1-5% contamination rate). Any actual acute or chronic toxic effects on humans consuming this corn are unknown to me (but if you have a link or reference to an actual case of Starlink toxicity in humans, PLEASE post it or send it to me for investigation). So the answer is yes but no. Yes, GMO foods can be poisonous (that is the POINT of certain modifications). But no, I could not find a single case of toxicity in humans (in fact, 28 people who were suspected victims turned out to show no significant allergic response. In another study done by the CDC, 51 people presented with allergic reactions but CDC concluded that none were attributable to poison corn)

Starlink corn, today, is no longer available for sale as seeds. But the Starlink story is a convincing argument that contamination of food supply with toxic GMO products is not only possible, but possibly unavoidable. And as some posters here are eager to point out, it is NOT POSSIBLE to show that there will be no ill effects of GMO in food supply. It is ONLY POSSIBLE to gather more data, slowly and cautiously. The larger the data pool, the more safely we can say that GMO are safe to consume, or the more easily say they are not.

I did find quite a few references to l-tryptophan. This is an amino acid used by the body to create several neurotransmitters. Several people (less than 10 IIRC) became ill and died from ingesting l-tryptophan produced from GM technology. However, this is an area I am very familiar with, and there was never any conclusive evidence to show if tryptophan was the cause of death, or if it was caused by impurities in the production process (and we many never know either, because tryptophan is all but banned now. It could be an effective and cheap depression treatment and as such will likely never be legalized in the USA because of the immense profitability of Prozac and friends. Welcome to America, we're fighting a War on Drugs).


GMO are poisonous to other animals

I found a link, listed in my references, which summarizes several animal experiments with GMO, namely rats eating GM tomato products. The results showed no toxicity, but the experiments were arguably flawed (the link explains why), therefore their data inconclusive.

What I could NOT find was a single study that showed conclusively any toxicity in animals whatsoever (if you know of such a study, please send it to me).

Again the bottom line is that there is no data to suggest any toxicity in animals. And again, it is IMPOSSIBLE to rule out animal toxicity entirely. Only increasing experience and research will allow us to be more comfortable in saying GMO are non-toxic to non-humans


GMO could wipe out their natural relatives (or have permanently bad effects on the soil)

This is, of course, another statement that we can't possibly confirm or refute without real-world data. However, the wiping-out of indigenous species by alien species is hardly a new occurrence. It occurs naturally also. Pike fish and ice plant are two examples that come immediately to mind. The Argentinean ant invasion and spread of "killer bees" are clear animal examples.

And may I suggest that it is possible to produce GMO products with safety features, for instance: plants that produce sterile seeds; plants that produce no pollen (must be pollinated by a natural relative); plants that are dependant on certain nutrients or minerals (provided by specially treated water); plants that have sensitivities to certain kinds of radiation. These would not eliminate the risk of extinctions or the spread of GM genes, but could be important control features. The point I am trying to make is that it need not be the case that these things are released once and forever, with no hope of control.



CONCLUSIONS
It is NOT possible to prove conclusively that GMO are safe for consumption. It is only possible to gather more and more data points in an attempt to see the bigger picture.

It IS possible to prove that GMO are NOT safe, but my research turned up no such proof.

It IS possible to prove that food-grade contamination with non-food-grade GMO can and does occur, and in fact this seems to be the accepted and tolerated case.

Modern technology has presented us with new, novel ways of combining organisms. Yes, humans have practiced genetic engineering for thousands of years. But until recently, our engineering was limited to natural combinations of genes. Nature, to the best of my knowledge, has never merged a corn plant with a rat gene, or whatever. But mankind can now do this sort of thing. I am not suggesting we ban this practice, just because it's not natural. LOTS of modern scientific wonders are not natural. However, extreme caution is called for. A mentor of mine once said, "There are fast electricians and old electricians, but never both at the same time." The same caution should be given to this new science.

Finally, it is my opinion that even if we want to, we CAN NOT stop GMO research, anymore than we could stop the first human autopsies, Dalton's Atomic Theory, air and space exploration, chemical exploration, cloning, or ANY OTHER scientific exploration. You can ban, outlaw, drive underground, persecute, make it taboo, make it unsafe, make it dirty, but you CAN NOT prevent human ingenuity. Nor would you want to, IMNSHO. The ultimate decider of this issue will likely be the market that buys these new products -- or does not. Which brings us to the soft-science issues. But that is another post.



useful links

more data and less biased than the greenpeace site:
http://www.bwf.org/bk/pamayanan/gmoquestions.html

An excellent general reference:
http://www.colostate.edu/programs/lifesciences/TransgenicCrops/

on Starlink corn toxicity:
http://www.afaa.com.au/pdf/18-StarLink.pdf

Starlink technical info:
http://www.foe.org/safefood/billtestimony.html

CDC report on Starlink:
http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehhe/Cry9cReport/

on possible health-risks. Includes some animal studies:
http://www.biotech-info.net/pusztai_article.html
Print the post  

Announcements

What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.