GM crops have spread from cultivated land to the wild in several countries, but they have not previously been found in uncultivated land in the United States.
The scientists behind the discovery say this highlights a lack of proper monitoring and control of GM crops in the United States.
"The extent of the escape is unprecedented," says Cynthia Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who led the research team that found the canola (Brassica napus, also known as rapeseed).
Sagers says the discovery of plants that are resistant to two major herbicides shows that "these feral populations of canola have been part of the landscape for several generations."
It’s a well-known fact that conventionally-grown crops can cross-breed with genetically modified (GM) plants, as pollen easily disperses over large areas by wind, roving wild animals, and insects.
Farmers across the world have experienced this problem, and many have been sued by Monsanto for growing patented crops without paying the requisite licensing fees – despite the fact that the farmer didn’t want the GM crop growing in his field in the first place.
And although nature itself can’t be sued for patent infringement when sprouting seeds created by man, the ramifications of GM plants proliferating unchecked in the wild may have more far-reaching consequences than anyone might suspect.
The fact is, no one knows exactly what might happen when plants with different sets of genetically engineered traits start to mix with conventional- and other GM varieties, as this creates completely unintended hybrids.
These second- and third-generation hybrids may pose additional risks, on top of those already linked to each individual GM variety. Plants could turn into interminable ‘pests’ that can’t be killed; new insects will likely begin to proliferate while others are kept at bay; and unforeseen health hazards may ensue if the plant in question is used in food production.
GM Varieties Cross-Breeding, Creating Newer Unintended Breeds
In the US, over 90 percent of all canola grown is genetically modified, compared to just over 20 percent in the rest of the world.
According to Nature News, the research team discovered two varieties of transgenic canola in the wild, plus a third GM variety that is a cross of the two GM breeds.
One of the transgenic varieties found was Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola, which is engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, and the other was Bayer Crop Science’s Liberty Link canola, which is resistant to gluphosinate.
The third variety contained transgenes from each of these, and is resistant to both types of herbicide.
Private, for-profit companies like Monsanto have unleashed something into nature that will proliferate, cross-breed, and create new plants that we simply do not understand. This is particularly disturbing when it comes to food crops, such as canola, which is used in a vast number of processed food products consumed by millions of people.
The fact that GM crops can infiltrate conventional crops is a concern for any food where GM experimentation is taking place. For example, in 2004, Hawaii reported widespread contamination of papaya crops by GM varieties. Even seed stocks sold as conventional were found to be contaminated, which threatened the existence of organic papaya, and opened farmers up to lawsuits.
These types of transgene contaminations are completely unavoidable once you start growing them out in the open– including the cross-mixing of GM breeds.
Science has recently revealed that the genome (whether plant, animal or human) is not constant and static, which is the scientific base for genetic engineering of plants and animals. This means that you may not necessarily get the results you think you’re going to get when you insert or remove genetic material.
Instead, geneticists have discovered that the genome is remarkably dynamic and changeable, and constantly ‘conversing’ and adapting to the environment. This interaction determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by what and how much, and for how long.
They’ve also found that the genetic material itself has the ability to be changed according to experience, passing it on to subsequent generations.
Why GM Crops are a Threat to Your Health
I believe that aside from common sense, which says it might not be such a good idea to consume toxins in every bite of food (which is what you’re doing when you eat a food that contains built-in pesticide or herbicide), there’s compelling scientific evidence demonstrating that GM foods can cause a number of health problems, and that these health problems may get more and more critical with each passing generation.
I recently interviewed GMO expert Jeffrey Smith on this topic. In that interview, he discussed a recent Russian animal study that illustrates the generational health hazards of a GM diet.
In the second generation, GM soy-fed hamsters had a five-fold higher infant mortality rate, compared the controls.
But it got worse, because nearly all of the third generation hamsters fed GM soy were sterile...
As you may know, genetically modified crops weren’t released until 1996, starting with GM soy, corn and cotton. Modified canola came about a year later.
Humans have much longer life spans than hamsters and other lab animals, so we have not even begun to see the health effects of GM foods on our FIRST generation yet!
We’re still nowhere near seeing the full effects of these potential ramifications in humans, as we’re only about 15 years into it. But if the effects are anything like the effects on numerous types of animals, we could be looking at significant health problems, including sterility on a grand scale as our great-grandchildren grow up...
The fact that the US is completely unwilling to implement the precautionary principle with regards to GM foods is incomprehensible in light of the findings we already have from animal studies.
Additionally, some 800 genetically engineered food applications have been submitted to the USDA, but not one single environmental impact statement has been prepared!
So not only are human health ramifications ignored, but the entire eco system is being jeopardized.
Health Effects of GM Foods
I strongly believe that one of the most obvious clues about the danger of GMO foods is that animals virtually never opt to eat a GM food if conventional food is available. Many times they will avoid GM food to the point of starvation – a clear indication that they have an intuitive sense of the danger inherent with this food.
Many people are unaware of the fact that no safety study has ever proved that GM foods are safe for consumption. Studies have, however, linked GM foods to:
- Food allergies
- Damage to your immune system
In a 2007 article published on the Institute for Responsible Technology’s web site, Jeffrey Smith also points out several animal studies that show a number of different GM foods appear to cause liver damage.
Your liver is a main detoxifier in your body, so liver damage can indicate that your toxic load is simply too great. In his article Smith includes the following study results (for full references, please see the original article):
- The livers of rats fed Roundup Ready canola were 12–16 percent heavier, possibly due to liver disease or inflammation
- Rats fed GNA lectin potatoes had smaller and partially atrophied livers
- Rats fed Monsanto’s Mon 863 corn, engineered to produce Bt-toxin, had liver lesions and other indications of toxicity
- Rabbits fed GM soy showed altered enzyme production in their livers as well as higher metabolic activity
- Microscopic analysis of the livers of mice fed Roundup Ready soybeans revealed altered gene expression and structural and functional changes. Many of these changes reversed after the mice diet was switched to non-GM soy, indicating that GM soy was the culprit. The findings, according to molecular geneticist Michael Antoniou, PhD, “are not random and must reflect some ‘insult’ on the liver by the GM soy”
With all the evidence against them, why are these products still on the market?
Because there’s big money to be made – these seeds are all patented and must be purchased anew each season -- and because it’s difficult to link health problems directly to them, in large part because many of the side effects happen over time – it may even take generations before certain health outcomes become apparent. So there’s plenty of room for denial.
Only time will reveal, as Jeffrey Smith points out in this excellent video, the extent of the unforeseen and surprising illnesses caused by GM foods.
The question is, are you willing to ‘wait and see,’ which equates to playing Russian Roulette with your grandchildren, and great-grandchildren’s, health?
If you’re still unconvinced, I highly recommend you read through Smith’s ten-part Huffington Post series on GM foods. It’s a great read, loaded with valuable information.
How to Avoid GM Food
There are currently eight major GM food crops on the market, so memorizing this list will help you avoid any and all food products that might contain GMO’s:
- Cottonseed (used in vegetable cooking oils)
- Canola (canola oil)
- Sugar from sugar beets
- Hawaiian papaya
- Some varieties of zucchini
- Crookneck squash
You’ll also want to avoid any kind of derivative of these, such as high fructose corn syrup, for example.
Depending on where you live within the European Union, you may also have to contend with the recently approved AmFlora potato, designed by BASF, which contains a gene that produces an enzyme which can confer resistance to several antibiotics. The European Commission approved the commercial growing of the GM potato in early March of this year, despite widespread protests, and concerns raised by the EU’s pharmaceutical regulator.
Part of the potato is also allowed to be used in cattle feed, and the meat will not need to be labeled as GM.
Your best bet to avoid genetically modified foods is to take advantage of local sources of organic foods as often as you can. Remember, some 75 percent of processed foods contain GM ingredients, so you’ll want to avoid as many processed foods as possible.
MUST HAVE Copy of Non-GMO Shopping Guide
The easiest way to avoid ending up with GM foods in your shopping cart is to do some pre-planning using this free non-GMO shopping guide. The Institute for Responsible Technology has also created a free iPhone application that is available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
The shopping guide lists the various derivatives of each crop to be avoided, and even better, it lists hundreds of brand products in 22 food categories that are non-GMO, so if you’re still buying processed foods, at least you can easily select a brand that does not use genetically modified ingredients.