Dr. Oz on Genetically Modified Food

December 7, 2010

Today Dr. Oz did a show titled ‘Dr. Oz Investigates: Genetically Modified Foods’. GMOs have been changed to grow faster, and to resist disease. He wonders whether this practice is safe or not. GMO foods are where they take genetic material from diff sources (ex. a virus, or bacteria) and inject it into the seed, so that a herbicide that would normally kill it, won’t. An example of this is that the FDA is on the brink of approving a “technofish” – a salmon that is genetically engineered to grow to eating weight, in half the time. Some view this as a miracle of science, while others think it’s franken-food. And even if it is a scientific accomplishment, should we be eating it?

Thanks to a revolution in biotechnology, our food system underwent a radical change 20 years ago. Scientists pioneered the art of making super-crops, by taking the DNA of one crop, and splicing it into another. The idea was to make crops that could resist insects, disease, and weed killers, while also growing faster. This meant more crops, and much cheaper food. But what about the quality? Today, 85% of soybeans, corn, sugar beets, and canola – foods we probably eat in some form every single day, are grown from GMO seeds. The vast majority of those seeds come from just one corporation – Monsanto. Most of their seeds have been designed to resist the #1 herbicide in the world (Roundup), which Monsanto also makes.

Today’s experts on the show were: Dr. Pamela Ronald, PhD, Professor of Plant Pathology at UC Davis, and author of Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food – she is an advocate of genetically engineered food; Dr. Michael Hansen, PhD, biologist, ecologist, and Senior Researcher at Consumer’s Union – he has been studying the effect of GMOs on health since they were introduced to market; and Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, and author of Seeds of Deception – he is fighting for mandatory labeling of GMO foods. Hansen and Smith are both opposed to genetically engineered food.

Dr. Oz listed the arguments made by proponents of genetic engineering: creates a cheaper food supply, ability to farm in unfavorable climates, possibility of disease fighting foods, improving the lives of farmers (how?), and less pesticides used. (Even though Hansen said we’ve actually increased the amount of pesticide use by over 330 million lbs!) He then listed the concerns by opponents: endocrine disruptors (Hansen said there is evidence that Roundup may be an endocrine disruptor, and it’s sprayed on EVERYTHING.), organ damage, decreased fertility, increased allergies (Hansen also said genetically engineered salmon they’re trying to get improved has an increased allergenic potential), inducing pesticide resistance.

Smith says the five most common GMO crops are: soy, cottonseed, canola, corn, and sugar beets – most of U.S. sugar comes from these. These five ingredients are in more than 80% of processed foods in U.S. Most of us eat GMOs, and don’t even know it. American farmers have embraced techno-crops, but six European countries have banned them – Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and Luxembourg – because of safety concerns.

Monsanto declined to participate on the show, but did provide a response: “There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans. (Uhhh… really?) So long as the introduced protein is determined safe, food from GM crops determined to be substantially equivalent is not expected to pose any health risks. (Just because something isn’t expected to happen, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen!) Further, it is impossible to design a long-term safety test in humans.” But isn’t that what they’re essentially doing right now? Conducting a safety test on humans? Only we won’t see the true effects till years from now. 

Ronald, an advocate of GMOs, interjected to say that “There has not been a single instance of harm to human health or the environment, using genetically engineered crops”. Uhhhh, who’s pocket is this lady living in?! Smith responded to that by saying she is misleading people. He pointed out that the American Academy of Environmental Medicine says there is so much evidence of harm from animal feeding studies – reproductive disorders, immune system problems, accelerated aging – that they said all doctors in the U.S. should prescribe non-GMO diets to every patient. Smith says “It’s not responsible to feed the products of this infant science to the entire population, or release them into the environment where they can never be recalled”. He does acknowledge that some day it may be safe, but not today – it’s too soon.

Ronald countered by saying the scientific community is perfectly comfortable with genetically engineered crops. (Really? Not from what I’ve been reading!) Hansen says we need more science on these crops, and that in Europe, if you want to bring a GMO onto the market, there’s required safety testing, but that the FDA does not require that here. Smith says in the research he did for his book (with doctors from around the world) Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, they found 65 different risks. He claims it is linked to 1000’s of sick/sterile/dead livestock, 1000’s of toxic/allergic reactions in humans, and damage to virtually every organ/system studied.

Smith says labeling is important, because 9 out of 10 Americans want it. Since GMO food is not labeled, he referenced a website that is a handy tool when making your shopping list (www.nongmoshoppingguide.com). Ronald is opposed to labeling, because she thinks it is misleading. Monsanto gave another statement which said: “Requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence.” How about they let us decide what we think poses a risk for our health?! And, I would have more confidence in them, as a consumer, if they were up front and open, about their practices. But rather, their stance that “there is no value in testing the safety of GMOs on humans”, makes me feel like they have no regard for consumers. And if they are so confident in the safety of their GM seeds, why refuse to appear on the show? Why not come and defend them, and provide evidence of their safety?

Dr. Oz said the bottom line is we vote with our wallet three times a day. He advises that instead of waiting for the data, we decide if these foods are safe for our family, on our own.

Here is a link to this episode of The Dr. Oz Show: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-pt-1

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