5 Myths about GMO & What You Need to Worry About: GMO Part 4

MYTH 1:

Corn

The genetically modified corn uses less pesticides and herbicides

GMO seeds mean you will have more pesticides and herbicides used in the environment.

Reality:
Just the opposite is true. GMO plants have saved farmers in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa billions of dollars the last two decades in those toxic chemicals.  The GMO plants are designed to use less chemicals than other seeds.

What You Should Be Worried About:
While less herbicide is used (weed killer) the weeds are getting resistant to the herbicides currently and new super weeds are being found. Weeds use natural selection (the first type of genetic engineering) so that those weeds that survive the herbicide grow and reproduce.

MYTH 2:

The toxins engineered in the plants, like Bt, are deadly to humans and cannot be washed off.

Reality:
Bt toxin (from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis) has been extensively tested and is not toxic to humans or other animals. In fact, Bt, a toxin made by bacteria, is used widely by organic farmers because it is a natural way to control pests. While some have reported animals that have died in fields of Bt cotton or corn, when autopsies of the animals were done other causes were found. In fact, many deaths from farm animals occur in places all the time- This same Bt toxin has been used to decrease mosquito outbreaks in Africa, to decrease malaria and dengue fever. Other strains of the Bt toxin are being examined for activity against leukemia and breast cancer.

What You Should Be Worried About:
In spite of an impressive array of safety, all toxins have some downside. No matter which pesticide, or how safe, there will collateral damage – Monarch butterflies who feed on milkweed, for example, do not do as well when they are near corn that pollinates with Bt toxin.

As much as science searches for a perfect toxin, this certainly is not it. On the bright side new research into pheromones that are scents that keep pests away are being tested.

MYTH 3:

Monsanto will have a monopoly on seeds and this is bad.

Reality:
Monsanto does sell the most seeds of any of the major seed makers, but does not have a monopoly.  Since the 1940’s farmers have found purchasing seed was easier than raising their own and proprietary seed makers have become an industry.  Monsanto sells 23% of the GM seeds in the US, currently. There are a number of other seed makers that sell GM seeds, as well as non-GMO seed suppliers. Having a number of suppliers insures a more stable market.

What You Should Be Worried About:
Biodiversity is a major issue, and while genetic engineering represents a rapid way to alter crops in case of a major new pest, blight, drought, it is important to have a large seed repository available. GM seeds or not, biodiversity has been rotated out of our crops and is a major issue moving forward. Biodiversity has been an issue for all crops since humans harvested, and continues to be a major issue to our food supply.

MYTH 4:

They engineered tomatoes to withstand cold by putting the gene in from an Arctic fish, which is why tomatoes taste bad.

Fresh Fish

Fresh, wild salmon- not farm raised, and no genes of this fish went into a tomato

Reality:
There is no tomato-fish. While this was an experiment, it never came to market. The reason most tomatoes from the store are mealy is they are picked before they are ripe. They do not ripen as a normal tomato would, and thus have an off taste- especially to those who know what a fresh, garden ripened tomato tastes like.

What You Should Worry About:
Genetically engineered salmon that will be farm raised are coming, and like most farm-raised salmon will have less flavor, less beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and cause more pollution that the wild salmon. Many fish are over-fished and present a danger to our food supply – farm raised fish are not as sustainable as wild fish.

MYTH 5

Animals know better- when given a choice they don’t eat GMO.

Reality:
The photographs of the corn, and others that are circulating are all doctored photographs- they are fake. Humans have very sophisticated taste buds, much more than a squirrel or birds. The photographs have been put up as “proof” when in fact, all studies contradict them. In addition, why is it that they blame GMO for killing some animals, when there are fields adjacent with non-GMO feed.  They get tripped up in their own arguments.

Fake GMO

The has been widely viewed on the internet – and is a doctored experiment.

What You Should Worry About:
If you are eating at a lot of chain restaurants, or a lot of processed foods, you are probably obese, and should be eating more whole foods, plant based diets.  If you like meat, you should be eating meat from specialty farms where they are raised on grass instead of grain.

For more about GMO:
Read part one of our series where we discuss the basis of GMO.

Part two of our series is about Frankenfoods and labeling.

Part three is about allergies and proteins.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.

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Latest Comments

  1. Cathy Wilson, PhD says:

    Plant Scientists. My credentials PhD Plant molecular genetics, 20+ years plant breeder in vegetable and agronomic crops; #1 got this one right, A comment on the “watch out for”: All herbicides, if overused, will result in selection for resistant weeds. Doesn’t matter about herbicide resistant genes in crops, wether there by biotechnology or conventional plant breeding, it is how the farmer uses an herbicide that results in resistant weeds. Production Ag 101 teaches farmers they need to use a different herbicide with a different mode of chemical action every herbicide application. So weeds that escape one herbicide will be killed by a different mode of action in the next herbicide and will not have the chance to reproduce “resistant or tolerant” offspring. The problem is farmers are cutting corners like everyone else to save time and money. They get bulk discounts when they buy a lot of one item. If a herbicide is cheep, safe to man and environment, easy to purchase and highly effective, why use anything else? ….The wise sustainable farmer does not cut this corner because it will result in resistant weeds. I’ll comment on other Myths later.

  2. Ariel Poliandri says:

    I always enjoy you well-balanced posts. You are really doing service to reason.
    Have just one quibble:
    How come that farm-raised salmon are not sustainable? It is counterintuitive that just predating wild salmon is more sustainable than salmon grown by humans for humans.

  3. thedoc says:

    Because the ecologic damage done by farmed salmon is unsustainable to the environment. Because if you foster wild salmon, by not over-fishing, you allow an important part of the ecosystem, and that is quite sustainable. Finally, farm raised just doesn’t taste the same- and that does not sustain my palate

  4. Cathy Wilson, PhD says:

    Myth 2: Got this one right too! Terry you are doing a great job! one little correction about pheromones, they attract insects. They are used to attract pests into traps as a control measure or sometimes they attract a natural parasite or predator of the pest. Then nature takes care of the problem. Pheromones are powerful natural chemicals, a little goes a long way.

    Another natural chemical that is powerful are pyrethrins. These are organic compounds produced by chrysanthemums cinerariifolium. They act as a neurotoxin on insects, but they are very safe for humans, and breakdown quickly in light and are not metabolized by plants. These are so effective and safe they can be used on organic crops and they are replacing organophosphates and organochloride insecticides.

  5. Cathy Wilson, PhD says:

    Myth3: Terry, your are right here too. Monsanto is not the devil, they employee a lot of research scientist trying to develop superior crops that can meet the productivity needs in the next 30 years for a population of 8 million on less farmable land on this planet. The international seed industry has seven BIG players, Syngenta (Swiss-American), Bayer (German), Dow Agri Science (American), Limagrain (French), and KWS (German) and Monsanto (American). The nationalities are fuzzy because they all license each others technology to make their own products.

    Biodiversity is an issue, but in the US the USDA has repositories for seed, called seedbanks, where scientists and collectors can send a 4 oz. seed sample to be held for the future. I work with scientists at the USDA National Cereal Grain Collection in Aberdeen, ID. There are many international seed banks maintained by government and non-government groups to save genetic diversity. Some of the breeders of wheat have made interspecific crosses with wild relatives of wheat from these collections to find resistance to cereal nematodes.

    The Risk is the lack of funding for these initiatives because of the cuts the federal government is making in Agricultural research budgets. The sequester cut USDA_ARS (Agricultural Research Services) budges 10% but USDA took a 30% cut two years ago and put a freeze on all hiring, cut 300 research scientist postions and closed 12 research station.
    No Agricultural research=no food in 2030. The US feeds much of the world.

  6. Cathy Wilson, PhD says:

    myth4: I agree that farm raised salmon, better know at the fish counter as “Atlantic” salmon even though they have neve been near the Atlantic let alone in it, don’t taste as good. The USDA-ARS has a trout breeding program: “For four generations two year classes of rainbow trout have been selected for growth when fed a diet that contains no fish meal and only protein from plant sources.” Wonder how those fish tast? This may be a more sustainable feed for fish farms. Its the fish meal feed that comes from the ocean fishing industry that is connected to the environmental issues of over fishing, but then it is a good use of the fishy left overs.
    http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=21906

  7. Fiona Aleksoska says:

    My husband is an agronomist and we have talked a lot about GMO’s. The problem i have with them is that they can cross breed with wild species and that can upset the local ecosystems.
    At my husbands work, for example, they practice field rotation and when ever there has previously been a GMO crop in the field it keeps coming back up through the new crop in the field and it cannot be killed with herbicide. It’s not wanted there and it’s murder to get rid of.
    Another problem is that some GMO’s are designed to be resistant to certain pests/fungus/mold resulting in less spraying of pesticides. But life mutates to overcome this barrier so you end up with a new variety of pests which the plants are no longer resistant to and therefor they need to be more heavily sprayed which defeats the purpose. The pesticides are very bad for the environment and agricultural workers working with pesticides have a higher risk of cancer. Pesticides are highly toxic chemicals which are hazardous to work with, hazardous to ingest an hazardous to the environment. I really worry about my husband going to work every day in the field and i don’t want to feed my family with pesticide sprayed fruit and veg. The pesticides penetrate inside the cells of the plants, they cannot just be washed off. I worry about the long term health risks.

  8. Fiona Aleksoska says:

    Just to add, i don’t buy into conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. I’v read a lot about pesticides and a bit about GMO’s. I know how to filter out misinformation and to recognize what web sites are credible. I’m very skeptical. I’m not just being paranoid about this. Also, we live in the Republic Of Macedonia and they have no safety standards here. They are spraying the pesticides by plain over the fields while the workers are in the fields without any masks or anything on!

  9. Dr Simpson says:

    Cross breeding and genetic translation occurs in nature- not just with GMO. Yes GMO is resistant to herbicides – but they can be tilled. And yes, you can get resistant pests and weeds – and they will happen, we are always trying to stay ahead of them. But less pesticides are used with GMO crops – thank you so much for your comments

  10. Fiona Aleksoska says:

    I understand about genetic translation, natural selection and cross breeding. But I’m not sure that it is ethical to manually preform this, to take genes from completely different species which would not be able to cross naturally. I think it could potentially be bad for the environment because we are introducing something man made into the environment which has the potential to negatively effect the local eco systems. For example, by competing with local species and wiping them out, and by interfering with the whole biodiversity. I think it can artificially upset nature in a negative way, and i don’t think that is ethical. But so does pesticides, I don’t like them either. There are other ways of doing things. Selective breeding is a more natural way of producing resistant varieties, and there are organic pesticide options. Large scale mono-cultures promote pesticide use and are more damaging to the environment. Small scale farming allows for more organic methods to be used and is more supportive of the local environments.

    I know feeding the masses is a problem and GMO’s can potentially help with this. But i don’t think it’s the only option we have. I think we can choose more environmentally supportive farming methods which do not have such a grate impact on our environments and the diverse species which live within them. We should be focusing on protecting what we have, not making it worse. We already do enough of that, with global warming ect.

  11. Dan says:

    Yeah… regarding Myth #3 “Monsanto sells 23% of the GM seeds in the US”… you’re completely wrong on that.

    According to Monsanto’s 2013 report:

    “By 2010, Monsanto’s traits were present in 95 percent of
    the U.S. GE corn seed market and 89 percent of the U.S.
    GE cotton seed market.82 The acreage on which Monsanto’s GE crop traits are
    grown has increased from a total of 3 million acres in 1996 to 282.3 million acres worldwide and 151.4 million acres in the United States in 2009.

    Roughly 382 million acres in the United States are used for crop production,
    so that means that Monsanto’s products constitute
    approximately 40 percent of all crop acres in the country.
    Monsanto’s research and development surpasses other
    companies, as it holds six times as many permits for
    field trials of biotech seeds as any other company in the
    United States.”

    If you don’t call that a monoploly (or a soon-to-be monopoly), then you’re either in denial or have invested in Monsanto stock and are purposely trying to downplay their dominance (and damage).

  12. Dr Simpson says:

    First- Monsanto has not had a 2013 report yet. Second “traits” are not the same of seeds- and the report I gave for seeds was fully referenced. So- when you have so many other seed companies out there- that is not the definition of a monopoly. Besides, farmers can buy anywhere they like- so if someone has a better seed they can buy it. You wish to limit who can sell what?

  13. Adryenn Ashley says:

    Bt Toxin IS a problem in humans. It is designed to activate in an alkaline environment, so those who feast on McDonalds and have a highly acidic diet have no trouble with it. But the healthy people, the people who understand that cancer cannot survive in an alkaline environment and do their best to move their ph in that direction, those people DO have a problem with the toxin. So while the intention was to not endanger humans, it has.

  14. Dr Simpson says:

    First- if you think the alkaline environment is bad for cells, then you have been mislead. I’ve grown cancer cells in the lab for years- and they grow better than normal human cells in an alkaline environment. Second, where you get it is designed to do that- I don’t know, because that is not how the toxin works

  15. Marlisle Carlton says:

    The comment about animals not tasting their food is a bunch of crap. Our dog gets fed Tony’s butcher grass feed beef or his free range chicken. I have attempted to feed her the Walmart cheap chicken, she smells it and walks away. The chicken full of antibiotics and god knows what , obviously isn’t fit for a dog. So who’s to say these animals are not smelling something off with these plants. Their sense of smell is far superior to ours. And again this food is not fit for a dog….

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