Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

March 25, 2017


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Are you eating GM foods?

There is no such thing as genetically modified oats. But that didn’t stop General Mills from slapping “not made with GM ingredients” onto the label of its original-flavoured Cheerios.

Now that General Mills has picked up on the marketing potential of being GMO-free, it may be time we understand more about the genetic background of fresh produce we eat – all those fruits and veggies that make up our weekly staples.

What are GM foods?

Health Canada defines genetic modification as the “intentional manipulation of the gene structure of a plant.”1 This could involve cross-breeding, mutagenesis and genetic engineering.2

Plant breeding vs. GM

Traditional methods of plant breeding can change genes through selection. The resulting genetic material was already present within a species. Modern lab methods allow us to insert foreign genes.

Are they safe?

Before a GM seed can be planted, it must undergo a rigorous approval process that can take up to 10 years. This is similar to the testing a drug undergoes before approval. The molecular structure of the new food is evaluated, then its nutritional composition is compared to that of its traditional counterpart. Finally, the possibility of it being toxic or allergenic is evaluated.3 These regulations are based on international standards that include recommendation by the WHO and the Codex Alimentarius.

Does Health Canada require labelling?

Currently companies make voluntary declarations regarding the presence or absence of GM ingredients in a food.3 It’s possible to tell if a fruit or veggie is GM by its UPC bar code. The bar code of conventionally produced produce starts with 3 or 4 and contains three other numbers, organic food starts with a 9, and GM produce starts with an 8 and followed by four numbers.4

Expect to see more voluntary labelling on store shelves. But in the same way that companies plaster the claim “contains no cholesterol” on foods that never contained cholesterol in the first place, this is likely to cause more confusion than actual better health.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


Showing 3 comments

  1. On February 18, 2014, Dr John Cocker said:
    One way to test a new product would be to give it to 200 million people every day for ten years, then see what happens. If no one gets ill, or has side effects, I think we could assume the product is safe. This is exactly what has happened with GM food. After the usual testing, we have all been eating GM foods for years. It will never satisfy the "I'm against anything new" crowd. These people were demonstrating against the wheel, when it was invented. People are living longer, and the cancer rate is down. Could we find something else to protest?
  2. On February 18, 2014, Gillian Arsenault said:
    Um, can't find any studies looking at long term studies in humans and can't say I'm impressed by the animal studies either - e.g., Joël Spiroux de Vendômois et al. Debate on GMOs Health Risks after Statistical Findings in Regulatory Tests Int J Biol Sci. 2010; 6(6): 590–598. Abstract We summarize the major points of international debate on health risk studies for the main commercialized edible GMOs. These GMOs are soy, maize and oilseed rape designed to contain new pesticide residues since they have been modified to be herbicide-tolerant (mostly to Roundup) or to produce mutated Bt toxins. The debated alimentary chronic risks may come from unpredictable insertional mutagenesis effects, metabolic effects, or from the new pesticide residues. The most detailed regulatory tests on the GMOs are three-month long feeding trials of laboratory rats, which are biochemically assessed. The tests are not compulsory, and are not independently conducted. The test data and the corresponding results are kept in secret by the companies. Our previous analyses of regulatory raw data at these levels, taking the representative examples of three GM maize NK 603, MON 810, and MON 863 led us to conclude that hepatorenal toxicities were possible, and that longer testing was necessary. Our study was criticized by the company developing the GMOs in question and the regulatory bodies, mainly on the divergent biological interpretations of statistically significant biochemical and physiological effects. We present the scientific reasons for the crucially different biological interpretations and also highlight the shortcomings in the experimental protocols designed by the company. The debate implies an enormous responsibility towards public health and is essential due to nonexistent traceability or epidemiological studies in the GMO-producing countries.
  3. On February 20, 2014, Paul Pollak said:
    There is no a priori reason to expect that GMO food is toxic to humans. However, allowing GMO patents to put the means of seed production in the hands of a limited number of corporations is toxic to the human race. It reduces innate biodiversity, creating a highly controlled monoculture ripe for disaster. It turns farmers into share croppers working for the company store to make annual purchases of expensive seeds and chemicals. It is no better a pest-control strategy than expecting penicillin to wipe out infectious disease. In the long run, expensive BT cotton has proven ineffective against the adaptability of pests, and has restricted access to the wild-type cotton species that farmers could afford to grow, even with losses from pests. Can we expect any other outcome for "herbicide-ready" GMO crops? Weeds and pests evolve quickly! Big Argo is putting family soy farms out of business with aggressive legal campaigns against those who buck the system by trying to harvest non-GMO seed crops instead of dutifully buying their GMO seeds + toxic herbicides every year. Once GMO products have taken over, we won't have to worry about human toxicity because the people dying of famine when GMO crops fail won't be living long enough. Capitalist ideology should be defending the natural competition of biodiversity and family farms, not promoting monopolies of GMO monoculture. Soylent Green was never proven toxic to humans, but it did produce a very profitable monopoly, good for a few, but not for the human race.

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