By Dr. Mercola
If you're like me, you've probably been asked by many of your friends and relatives why you believe genetically engineered (GE) foods are unsafe. Dr. Judy Carman, one of the few researchers in the world who has carefully and independently evaluated this question, can help you provide answers to your friends and family.
Dr. Carman has degrees in both epidemiology and medicine, specifically in the field of nutritional biochemistry in metabolic regulation in relation to cancer, and her research into GE foods provides compelling evidence for avoiding such foods if you value your health, and want to protect the health of your children as they grow older.
Her background involves both cancer research, and work as a senior epidemiologist in Australian government, investigating outbreaks of disease. She's currently an adjunct associate professor at Flinders University in South Australia, as well as the director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research (IHER).
Independent GMO Researchers Face Many Challenging Hurdles
As one of the few researchers looking into the effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Dr. Carman is no stranger to the many challenges that this kind of research entails. The biotechnology industry has devised a rather clever and sophisticated control system that largely prevents independent research of their products.
"Yes, there are a number of problems for anyone doing research," she notes. "They usually center around getting the money to be able to do the research... But you also need to get the materials to test. In this case, it's the seeds from the genetically modified (GM) plants... But it's very difficult to get GM seeds to test.
If a farmer wants to buy seeds to plant in the field, the farmer has to sign a technology user agreement, which means [he]... is not allowed to do any research on those seeds, and is not allowed to give them to anyone else to do research on either.
You basically have to find some way around that that's legal – and we did, but it took us quite some time. Otherwise, you need to go to the industry to ask, 'Pretty please, can we have some seeds?' We did that as well. The conditions placed upon us getting those seeds were such that we couldn't legitimately try and get the seeds from most companies."
Besides the hurdle of obtaining the GE seeds in question, protected as they are by rigid patent laws, researchers who venture into GMO research must also be prepared to survive the personal and professional discrediting and abuse that comes with the territory.
Truly, anyone who does this kind of research must be close to sainthood, as those who reveal negative findings are figuratively speaking "tarred and feathered" for their efforts. Most must endure being personally attacked and vilified, and many have had their entire career stripped from them in the process.
In the last six years, Dr. Carman has survived six different attempts to have her removed from her various university positions, for example. As she notes later in this interview, she was largely "protected" by the fact that she knew this going into the research, and chose to stop receiving a salary and getting paid for her work.
Funding is another major barrier, of course. Because most of the agricultural universities—the ones that would conduct these studies—obtain their funding from the very companies that make the seeds, they're not interested in research that might jeopardize this lucrative relationship with the industry. In Dr. Carman's case, her team was fortunate enough to obtain the funding for their research from the government of Western Australia.
Why Industry Safety Assessments Rarely Reveal the Truth
Most pigs raised in American piggeries are fed a GE diet these days; typically, a mixture of GE soy and corn. Howard Vlieger, who is the second co-author of the study, had noticed differences in pigs fed a GE diet compared to those given non-GE feed, and he was one of the primary instigators of the investigation. Dr. Carman explains what got them started:
"The two main things he was seeing was an increase in intestinal problems in pigs fed GM feed, particularly an increase in stomach inflammation. He was also seeing things such as a thinning of intestinal walls, and hemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can... bleed out from its bowel within 15 or so minutes.
The other thing he was seeing was a reduced ability to conceive in the sows (female pigs) and higher rates of miscarriage in female pigs fed GM crops. [In] communities in the United States that still use boars to inseminate their sows... he was also seeing a reduction in the number of piglets born."
They decided to take a proper look at these phenomena. Dr. Carman has been an outspoken critic of the protocols used by the genetically modified food industry for their safety assessments, so she was careful about the design of her own study. Generally, industry safety protocols fall into two main camps:
- What the industry calls a "safety assessment" is really nothing more than an animal production study, Dr. Carman notes. Using significant numbers of animals, they feed some the GE crop, and another group gets non-GE feed.
But the outcomes industry researchers look for are typically irrelevant to human health. These studies are basically done to reassure primary livestock producers that if you feed this GM feed to your animals, they will live long enough to get to market and produce a good yield.
- The second type of studies done are animal studies to determine if a product is going to harm human health. These are quite rare within the GE industry. Here, a very small number of animals are typically used, who are then given GE feed. Sometimes, however, they may not even feed the animals with the GE crop in question. Instead, they might just use the "active ingredient" or in this case the particular plant protein that has been inserted into the plant.
For example, a small number of animals might receive a GE protein, and the effects of a singular dose are then noted over the course of seven to 14 days. If the animal (usually a rat) doesn't die, all is presumed to be well. Crazy as it seems, this is sometimes the main safety assessment performed by the industry. Even more remarkable, sometimes, the protein tested doesn't even come from the actual GE plant, but rather from the bacteria they genetically engineer to produce what they hope is the same protein. As Dr. Carman notes, this kind of testing is not going to reveal the long-term health outcomes associated with eating the GE food over the course of years, or an entire lifetime.
In Search of Statistical Significance
Dr. Carman's team decided to use pigs instead of rats. Adverse effects have already been observed in pigs raised on GE feed, and the digestive organs in pigs are very similar to those in humans. They also decided to feed them long enough for adverse effects to actually be found. As soon as the piglets were weaned, they were randomly assigned to receive either GE or non-GE feed, and they were fed the same feed for their entire commercial lifespan, which is about five months.
At that point, the now fully mature (and very large) animals were slaughtered according to industry standards. All personnel involved in the study were blinded, including the veterinarians who performed the autopsies at the end of the study, meaning no one knew beforehand which animals were receiving which feed. Two years ago, the first-ever lifetime animal feeding study involving GE corn revealed major health problems, including massive mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage, and early death. That study, led by Gilles-Eric Séralini, also attempted to separate out the effects of glyphosate.
To do so, some rats were given GE corn that had not been sprayed with glyphosate, while others were given conventional GE corn that had been sprayed. Yet another group received glyphosate in water, but no GE feed. All suffered serious health consequences, although the combination of glyphosate and GE corn was the worst.
"In my view, he needed to have more animals to be able to find statistical significance," Dr. Carman says. "That's what we did in the pig study. We made sure that we had large numbers of pigs, so that if there was anything biologically significant happening, we would pick it up in the statistics. We had 168 just-weaned pigs. We split them into two groups: one fed GM feed and the other fed non-GM feed. We had 84 pigs per group. That made quite a lot of difference. We were able to do some more elaborate statistics and actually hunt down some hypotheses within the statistics that we used."
Pig Study Reveals Significant Stomach Inflammation
The sad reality though is that pigs are not just fed one GE crop at a time. As mentioned earlier, they're fed combinations of GE crops, typically GE soy and corn. Dr. Carman used Roundup-ready soy – designed to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, so that the herbicide will only kill surrounding weeds—along with a couple of different GE corn varieties. "We were in effect feeding three GM genes and their protein products to these pigs at the same time," she explains.
This was also done in order to simulate the diet of a typical American who, just like pigs raised in a conventional piggery, will eat a variety of different GE corn crops, not just one specific one at a time.Besides the fact that there are different kinds of GE crops, such as Roundup Ready and Bt, more than 37 percent of the GE crops grown in the US are "stacked" gene crops, meaning they're not just resistant to Roundup, they also have one or two Bt genes in it. So eating foods that have two or more genetically modified genes in it is pretty standard in terms of what you'll find in the typical American diet.
"These pigs were eating the Roundup-ready gene, its protein product, two Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins, and the proteins from the two Bt genes, which are designed to produce insecticidal proteins. I suspect that the reason why we got such strong stomach inflammation was the interaction between the proteins that the animals were eating," she says.
At the end of the study, Dr. Carman's team discovered a significant increase in stomach inflammation in the pigs fed a GE diet. Overall, inflammation levels were 2.6 times higher in GE-fed pigs than those fed a non-GE diet, and male pigs fared worse than the females. While sows were 2.2 times more likely to have severe stomach inflammation on a GE diet, male pigs were four times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation.
"And when I say 'severe,' I'm talking about a stomach that is swollen and cherry red in color over almost the entire surface of the stomach. This is not the sort of stomach that you or I would want to have at all," she says.
To see the results for yourself, visit GMOJudyCarman.org. The uterus was also 25 percent heavier in sows fed GE feed. Both of these findings were biologically and statistically significant. In their paper, Dr. Carman et.al. discuss the disease states this kind of uterine enlargement might represent.
"The two main things that we were looking at here and the two main things that Howard Vlieger flagged as a problem—as things that he was seeing in livestock, particularly in pigs—were both things we found statistical significance for: (1) digestive health problems, particularly inflammation in the stomach, and also (2) reproductive issues. In this case, we've found this increased uterus weight," she says.
Can We Put the Genie Back in the Bottle?
I sincerely believe that if you expose people to genetically engineered foods for a long enough time, we're going to see dramatic increases in disease. My own efforts are all geared toward reducing the number of people affected. And my recommendation is clear: avoid GE foods, and for as long as such foods are not required to be labeled, avoid them by purchasing organic foods. Without labeling, that's the only real workaround at your disposal.
As noted by Dr. Carman, the chemical technology industry is NOT doing a good enough job ensuring safety before putting their genetically altered products into the food system. Unfortunately, hundreds of millions have already been exposed. And without knowing it, they've fed GE foods of highly questionable safety to their children, day in and day out, perhaps for years already.
Have GE crops contributed to the increased chronic disease burden in the US, especially in children? While the industry says "no way," I believe the evidence suggests otherwise. We have to remember that humans live around 80 years, and this gigantic GE food experiment only began in earnest less than 20 years old ago—even less if you start counting from when GMOs became really prevalent in processed foods. Hence, we may be decades away from tabulating the human casualties. This is why long-term safety studies on animals are so critical, as rats and pigs have far shorter lifespans than humans.
Silencing Scientific Dissent
Dr. Carman's research, as well as Seralini's, really suggests we need to exercise the precautionary principle and avoid these foods. Needless to say, however, the chemical technology companies that created these crops are in the business of protecting and expanding business, not voluntarily shutting themselves down, and they've proven they're willing to go to great lengths to protect profits. Ruining a researcher's reputation and livelihood is nothing in the big scheme of things to a multinational giant like Monsanto.
The Corbett Report above discusses some of the less-than-honorable methods used by industry to silence dissenters—especially scientists whose research doesn't jibe with preconceived industry decisions. The list of victims—researchers who published research detrimental to the industry's bottom line—is long, and growing.
As mentioned earlier, the findings from Séralini's lifetime feeding study, which was published in Elsevier's peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, were an absolute bombshell. The study was, and still is, among the best evidence of the toxic effects of GE foods. Of utmost importance, Séralini's study showed that the major onslaught of diseases really set in during the 13th month of the experiment, strongly suggesting that industry-funded studies have simply been too short for problems to be detected. Consider this: if 24 months of a rat's life equates to about 80 years of your child's, the 13-month mark would be somewhere in your child's early to mid-40s.
The industry immediately went on the offensive. Then, in what appears to have been a last ditch effort to get rid of this stubbornly incriminating study, the publisher (Elsevier) simply retracted it, for no other reason than its findings were deemed to be inconclusive. The thing is, inconclusiveness of findings is not a valid ground for retraction1... Elsevier's actions caused a major backlash, and has undoubtedly opened more than a few eyes to the reality of censorship of "unwanted" research. Even the National Institutes for Health (NIH) scolded Elsevier in an editorial2 titled: "Inconclusive Findings: Now You See Them, Now You Don't!"
Harassment, Par for the Course
Another poster child for researchers harassed to their wits' end is Tyrone Hayes,3 whose Atrazine research turned his life into a paranoid nightmare. Rachael Aviv told his story in a February 10 article in The New Yorker.4 In the late 1990s, Hayes conducted experiments on the herbicide for its maker, Syngenta. As reported by Aviv:
"...when Hayes discovered that Atrazine might impede the sexual development of frogs, his dealings with Syngenta became strained, and, in November, 2000, he ended his relationship with the company. Hayes continued studying Atrazine on his own, and soon he became convinced that Syngenta representatives were following him to conferences around the world. He worried that the company was orchestrating a campaign to destroy his reputation."
Two years ago, his work on Atrazine provided the scientific basis for two class-action lawsuits brought against Syngenta by 23 US municipalities, accusing the chemical technology company of contaminating drinking water and "concealing Atrazine's true dangerous nature." Documents unearthed during these legal proceedings revealed that Hayes' suspicions were true—Syngenta had indeed been studying him as deeply as he'd been studying their toxic herbicide for the past 15 years.
What follows reaches a level of creepy that no one should ever have to endure—least of all a scientist who's working to learn and share the truth about a widely used agricultural chemical that has the power to affect all of us, and our ecology. Aviv writes:
"Syngenta's public-relations team had drafted a list of four goals. The first was 'discredit Hayes.' In a spiral-bound notebook, Syngenta's communications manager, Sherry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his initials, wrote that the company could 'prevent citing of TH data by revealing him as noncredible...' Syngenta looked for ways to 'exploit Hayes' faults/problems.' 'If TH involved in scandal, enviros will drop him,' Ford wrote. She observed that Hayes 'grew up in world (S.C.) that wouldn't accept him,' 'needs adulation,' 'doesn't sleep,' was 'scarred for life.' She wrote, 'What's motivating Hayes?—basic question.'"
Who Will You Listen to: Big Money, or a Researcher Working Next to Free?
Indeed, what could possibly motivate anyone to undertake work that is bound to alienate them from their peers, smear their personal and professional reputation, and perhaps even ruin their financial future? In Dr. Carman's case, it was a passion for the truth. And a deep concern for her fellow man—your children and unborn grandchildren included. She is a magnificent role model for all of us as she sacrificed her income and endured professional abuse for the sake of the truth.
She was savvy enough to understand the risks of such an undertaking. She knew that people in this field tend to be fired from their jobs once they publish negative findings. Publicly shamed and out of work, many of these scientists are prevented from doing any further research. To circumvent this possibility, Dr. Carman took some proactive steps to ensure that backlash wouldn't force her to discontinue her work.
"Early on, it became obvious that there was really no money. You couldn't go to a funding organization and ask for money to be able to do research in this area. I was concerned about the possibility of bad health effects occurring in people. I decided that I needed to go looking. I needed to do some proper animal studies to see if there were any adverse effects occurring in animals that might translate into people.
I realized I needed to leave paid employment to be able to do it. I'm actually unfunded in this work. At the age of 45, I had enough investment income to be able to do work on this area basically for free, and on very little money. I've been poor now for quite a few years. But it became imperative for me to look; I had a burning question about whether it was safe for people to eat GMO's or not...
Most people would probably choose to look after their families [rather] than to continue on with the research. Not only is it very hard to get money to be able to do the research, but you have to be able to survive the abuse you get afterwards, and the threats to your livelihood afterwards. In fact, a lot of people who work in this area are people who are retired from paid employment, because once again, they can't be threatened with losing their livelihood."
Follow the Money...
Ever since the introduction of genetically engineered seeds about 20 years ago, the market for these chemical-dependent crops have spawned a multibillion dollar industry. Funding for the development of more varieties of GE crop varieties has come primarily from the privately-owned pesticide industry itself. Over the last 15 years, conflicts of interest within science have exponentially increased, and at this point, it's blatantly obvious that financial conflicts of interest play a major role when it comes to what research is done; what gets published, and what doesn't.
Virtually all of the research done on GMOs is performed by the industry itself or scientists funded by them either directly or indirectly through grants to the agricultural universities. The results, therefore, are predictable. Few are those who have both the right qualifications and the willingness to "bear the cross," as it were, that seems to come standard when you're investigating GMOs as an independent researcher.
My sincere gratitude goes to Dr. Carman for her personal sacrifices to get this all-important work done. Without such research, we'd remain clueless as to what these foods might be doing to us in the long term. With it, we can make far more educated guesses about the real ramifications of this massive, unannounced human experiment, and decide for ourselves if we really want to partake in it or not. My recommendation? Avoid it, as best as you can.