In an interview with Acres USA (titled “A Toxic Technology”), Claire Robinson, editor at GMWatch and co-author of the book ‘GMO Myths and Truths’, discusses the adverse health effects associated with genetically modified (GM) crops.
In her book, Robinson and her co-authors use scientific and other documented evidence to dispute and disprove claims that GM crops offer higher yields and better nutrition, are safe for health and the environment, reduce agrochemical use, and are needed to feed the world’s growing population. The evidence presented in ‘GMO Myths and Truths’ points to the many hazards, risks, and limitations of genetic engineering technology.
In this blog post, we summarise some of the key points made by Claire on this controversial topic.
The categories of differences between genetically modified and conventional foods
The two main types of GM crops available today are Bt insecticidal crops and herbicide-tolerant crops:
- Bt insecticidal crops: You’re consuming an insecticidal toxin that has never been tested for toxicity to humans. Animal feeding studies have shown an effect on the mammalian immune system.
- Herbicide-tolerant crops: Engineered to tolerate glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen. Low amounts of this herbicide have been shown to cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats.
Another important difference between GM crops and non-GM crops is that genetic engineering causes major changes in the crop’s genome, which means that we are facing a complete unknown. We could even be creating unexpected toxins or allergens.
We have to ask ourselves: could today’s increases in food allergies be related to GM crop consumption? A growing number of health professionals are prescribing non-GMO diets to their patients for that reason, and are seeing some positive results.
GM crops are not acute toxins; therefore studies aren’t accurate
Robinson points out that many studies on the effects of animals (usually lab rats) consuming GM food are simply too short. She argues that a valid study would need to “produce a huge amount of evidence, and also follow those animals throughout their whole lifetimes before you could conclude that an effect is not relevant or biologically significant.”
This “kind of deception” has often been used to dismiss adverse effects from the GM diet. Yet these short studies on small populations are not going to show dramatic effects because GM crops are not acute toxins. Robinson compares GM food to cigarettes: “You don’t smoke one or two cigarettes and fall down dead. It takes time.”
But do GMOs have higher yields?
Robinson says that there is no evidence that any GM crop consistently increases yields. “Even the USDA and the National Academies of Science concluded that there was no evidence that GM crops actually increased yields,” she said. In some cases, operational yields may increase, meaning that the farmer doesn’t lose as much of their crop to pests. However, pests are becoming increasingly resistant to the Bt toxins found in Bt crops.
Genetic modification is engineered to protect crops affected by pests and weeds. But pests and weeds only become a problem when the crops aren’t healthy in the first place – read more on this topic here.
Robinson believes that is it sustainable farming methods and modern agroecology – not GM crops – that are the best paths for feeding the world’s current and future populations.
Robinson said: “What we need to create are resilient, high-yielding, sustainable agricultural systems, rather than trying to genetically tweak crops to give us what we want. We need to look at the system as a whole, look after the soil, use practices like crop rotation in order to minimise pests and weeds, and pay attention to the things that organic and sustainable farmers have been focusing on for decades and already know about.”
Zylem promotes sustainable agriculture by focusing on improving soil health. Get in touch to find out more about the healthy way to feed the world in the long-term: https://www.zylemsa.co.za/contact-us/.
Interested in reading Robinson’s full interview? Visit Acres USA to purchase a back issue and read the original article along with other interesting content.