Can We Blame Monsanto For Our Defective Kids? (Maui Vision)

Maui Vision: August/September 2012

Author’s note: my suggested title was “What Do You Know about GMOs?”  Apologies to anyone (understandably) offended by the use of the words  “defective kids.”

GMOs or genetically modified organisms are plants and animals whose genetic material has been altered through recombinant DNA technology. In the words of the World Health Organization, GMOs are “organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally[i].”

Genetically modified or biotech foods are those created from genetically modified organisms. Most genetically modified food products are plant-based, the majority being soybean, corn, canola, rice, and cotton seed oil. Other GM crops currently allowed in the U.S. food and feed supply are alfalfa, chicory, cotton, flax, papaya, potato, rice, squash, sugar beet, and tomato. Animal products have also been developed, although there is no indication that any of them are currently on the market for human consumption.

In February 2012, Wal-Mart agreed to carry genetically modified sweet corn grown by the Monsanto Corporation[ii]. Originally, Monsanto promised the corn would only be used for feeding livestock, but is now planning to sell it directly to consumers. Since genetically modified food has been introduced into supermarkets, and the US government does not require identification of these products[iii], there has been much debate as to whether they’re actually safe.

The controversy surrounding the Monsanto created sweet corn is that it contains Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin, which protects the plant by destroying the stomachs of insects. Monsanto, also the makers of Agent Orange, claim that the Bt toxin breaks down before humans can consume it, but activists are not entirely convinced. On their website, sites researching claiming that “rats fed with the GM corn showed organ failure, and the toxin has been detected in the bodies of pregnant women[iv].”

At the same time, most of us have been ingesting Bt toxin for decades, as it’s currently legal for commercial application on corn, potato, tomato and rice crops right up until the moment of harvest. The long-term effects of the Bt toxin-treated products aren’t known. Villagers living near a corn farm utilizing Bt toxin in the Philippines have had significant respiratory, digestive system and skin problems.  Animal researchers have discovered that Bt toxin is active in mammals: it doesn’t breakdown during their digestion process, can adhere to intestinal walls and may threaten human health. On the other hand, the Environment Protection Administration (EPA) determined that Bt toxin is digested in the human stomach, but the tests we carried out in laboratory conditions and the results were not repeatable[v].

Monsanto, the primary purveyor of genetically modified seeds and the makers of Agent Orange, states, “Food derived from genetically-modified (GM) crops is as safe as conventional food. There’s no need to test the safety of DNA introduced into GM crops. Because existing food crops are recognized as safe, the logical starting point for safety assessment of a GM food is to ask ‘what’s different?’ All GM crops are compared to non-GM counterparts in order to determine whether they have similar concentrations of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, amino acids, and other components. Two crops which are alike in all respects are said to be “substantially equivalent[vi].”

“What’s different,” indeed. The reality of GMOs is that we don’t know what we don’t know. There’s no law requiring safety testing for GM foods. The companies that produce them may test voluntarily, and many of them do, but the long-term risks of genetic modification are a total mystery.

On the environmental and economic fronts, opponents believe that GMOs will reduce the diversity of plants and result in the domination of world food production by a few big companies. Ecosystems may be altered as fish are engineered and beneficial insects potentially wiped out along with crop-destroying insects. Genetically modified foods also place a burden on organic farmers, whose crops are sometimes contaminated by GMOs from neighboring farms. They may find it difficult – if not impossible –  to detect contaminants in the seeds they buy. Because genetic combinations that aren’t possible in nature occur in the genetic engineering labs, critics are concerned that altering our food technologically may have far-reaching, as yet undetected, impacts on human health and the environment.

While food and GMO producers and the government work under the assumption that if the original foods were safe, the new product will also be safe, opponents believe that may not necessarily be true. Once an organism is significantly altered, it is difficult to determine the long-ranging impacts on human health and the environment. As much as there is a lack of conclusive evidence implicating the dangers of GMOs, there are also an alarming number of anecdotal facts, particularly where children are concerned.

Genetically modified foods went on the market in 1996[vii]. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control reported that “the number of young people who had a food or digestive allergy increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007[viii].” Because of the unidentified foreign DNA, GMOs may introduce known — or even unknown — allergens into a child’s food. Furthermore, a parent would unlikely be able to identify the cause. There is even concern that when a new gene is introduced into a plant that it is possible to create an entirely new allergen. This may lead to never before seen and unidentifiable allergic reactions in susceptible people, particularly children.

Similarly, in December 2009, the CDC reported that rates of autism were as high as 12 cases per 1,000 children. That’s compared to a national rate of 1 per 2,000 children prior to the 1980s, and 6 per 1,000 children in the 1990s[ix]. Although perhaps just coincidence, increased Autism rates coincide perfectly with the introduction of GM food.  There are also other disorders which have been on the rise since the introduction of GM food that may be induced from a “leaky gut syndrome” including a huge increase and severity in allergic reactions to food substances, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and debilitating syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.   The rate of chronic health conditions among children in the United States increased from 12.8% in 1994 to 26.6% in 2006, particularly for asthma, obesity, and behavior and learning problems[x].

Another interesting point of comparison involves reviewing the autism statistics of those countries that do not consume or clearly label genetically modified food products.  Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumer Association wrote “there are almost no GMOs in Europe, because under EU law, as demanded by consumers, all foods containing GMOs or GMO ingredients must be labeled. Consumers have the freedom to choose or not to consume GMOs, while farmers, food processors, and retailers have (at least legally) the right to lace foods with GMOs, as long as they are labeled[xi].”

A 2009 comparison of the prevalence of autism in other countries showed autism in France was four times lower than the US. In Iceland rates were found to be seven times lower. Finally, in Denmark, another country with mandatory labeling requirements, the autism rates were 14 times lower than the in US[xii].

When GMOs hit shelves in the mid-1990s, they were also included in infant formulas (a list that currently includes Enfamil, Isomil, Similac, Carnation and even Gerber products) and most processed foods. Again, these baby formulas and foods are not labeled, and the effects of GMO foods in pregnancy, in utero, and in infancy are entirely unknown.

There has been only one human study on GMOs.  The gene inserted into GMO soy makes its own insecticide. During the case study, the insecticide was found in the gut bacteria of volunteers eating GMO soy.  The conclusion was the gene “taught” their gut bacteria to make insecticide[xiii]. What effect might this have on a developing fetus or small child? No one knows.

Awareness is the first step. Although there is no conclusive evidence either way, it is clear that childhood allergy and autism rates have been on a steep increase since the introduction of GMOs into the American food supply. The only way to avoid genetically modified products is to buy only organic foods, but even that’s no guarantee. Some genetically altered pollen could make its way into an organic field and the resulting produce could wind up being harvested and sold as organic.

Moreover, because of the  massive use of genetically engineered ingredients in the food supply, it is currently impossible for even companies like Whole Foods to avoid GMOs in conventional or “natural” products. As a result, many food products sold at natural grocery or health food stores contain unidentified genetically engineered ingredients, even when the retailers would prefer otherwise.  In other words, unless it’s organic – and even, potentially, if it is[xiv] – be aware your processed food probably contains GMOs.

Whether referred to as genetically modified, biotech, transgenic or even “frankenfoods”, GMOs are a daunting and even intimidating topic because we don’t really know the long term consequences. Whether conspiracy theory or fact, GMOs may be harmless or they may be damaging our food supply and our health in long-term and irreversible ways we haven’t yet detected.


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[i] World Health Organization. (Internet). 2002. Foods derived from modern technology: 20 questions on genetically modified foods. Available from:

[ii] Natural News (Internet) 2012. Monsanto’s Bt GMO corn to be sold at Wal-Mart with no indication it is genetically modified.

[iii] Cornell University. (Internet) 2010. The Role of Government in the Labeling of GM Food

[iv] Monsanto corn: coming soon to a Wal-mart near you. (Internet) 2012.

[v] Disadvantages Of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Toxin in Genetically Modified Foods (Internet) 2009.

[vi] Monsanto (Internet). 2012. Food Safety.

[vii] Wikipedia (Internet). 2012. Genetically Modified Food.

[viii][viii] CDC (internet). 2008. CDC Study Finds 3 Million U.S. Children have Food or Digestive Allergies.

[ix] Time. (Internet) 2009. Autism Numbers Are Rising. The Question is Why?,8599,1948842,00.html#ixzz209b3mvPq

[x] Van Cleave J, Gortmaker SL, Perrin JM Dynamics of obesity and chronic health conditions among children and youth. JAMA. 2010;303:623-30.

[xi] USDA recommends “coexistence” with Monsanto: we say hell no. (Internet) 2010.

[xii] Autism and vaccines around the world: Vaccine schedules, autism rates, and under 5 mortality. 2009.

[xiii] Netherwood et al. (2004). “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract”. Nature Biotechnology 22 (2): 204–9.

[xiv] Truth is Treason (Internet) 2011. Whole Foods Admits Its Organic Foods Contain GMOs, Tries to Play Victim – Hayden’s Note.