Genetically Modified Foods and the Threat to Public Health

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

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The response from Monsanto to a growing threat of insects that the genetically modified crops are susceptible to is to introduce further genetic modifications with RNAi, or RNA interference, perhaps another compartment in their Pandora's Box

In 2014, Monsanto has applied for regulatory approval of corn that is genetically modified to use RNAi to kill western corn rootworm, and a host of other targeted RNAi genetic modifications are awaiting such approvals. Some of the new technology that is exciting the scientists at Monsanto is the use of RNA interference in genetic modification in the form of sprays, with once again assurance that these genetically modifying chemicals have absolutely no chance to cause any harm! These scientists tell journalists that we have been eating RNA for thousands of years and so what's the fuss? OMG! Introducing synthesized and altered RNA into the environment is obviously different from the genetic codes evolved in nature. They also claim that the RNAi degrades quickly and thus cannot harm anything, a claim similar to the lies about Roundup glyphosate herbicide. Monsanto has also applied for RNAi technology to kill a mite that may or may not be the main cause for mass die-offs of honeybees, although the latest research points to viral disease, or another parasite, not this mite, as the problem. These new genetic engineering products are marketed under new company names to evade the Monsanto GMO label, using Beeologies for the RNAi for bee parasitic mites (bioengineered genes introduced into bees via water), and BioDirect for the RNAi spray.

The reason that the parasitic mite may be killing pollinating bees, though, is due to adverse health effects on bees because of pesticides, ironically, and obviously other parasites could thus also be affecting the bees. In 2013, scientists believed that they finally found the main cause for bee Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that could ruin agriculture, since we depend on bees to pollinate most of our food crops. Scientists at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture identified a combination of pesticides and fungicides that are contaminating the pollen that bees collect, and causing a type of immune deficiency in the bee hive. These bees feed on the contaminated pollen and their ability to resist a common parasite called Nosema ceranae is decreased. The scientists noted up to 21 different agricultural chemicals in the contaminated pollen, and identified 8 such chemicals as causative of immune deficiency. The increased use of these fungicides is related to the depletion of the natural biome of the soil by glyphosate herbicides, causing more and more imbalances that create harmful fungi overgrowths. These scientists found that bees that ate this contaminated pollen were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Dennis van Engelsdorp, the lead author on this study, was quoted in an article printed in Quartz online as stating: "There's growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals." The enormous increase in the use of agricultural fungicides is due to the negative effects of glyphosate herbicide on the soil. The Monsanto scientists, though, ignore all this and just fixate on genetic engineering to kill a parasitic mite. Apparently, the scientists are well trained and well paid to narrow their focus to a single issue and task, while ignoring the bigger picture and denying to themselves that what they are doing could be doing harm.

So, a combination of fungicides with pesticides that are increasing in use dramatically due to the problems caused by Roundup and Roundup Ready GMO crops is leading to immune damage to bees that agriculture depends on for pollination. The ubiquitous use of glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup has also resulted in an enormous increase in the need for pesticides. In Europe, regulators banned the use of pesticides with neonicotinoids for two years to protect the bee populations, and a large study in 2015, collected from foraging bees in Massachusetts, indeed found that more than 70 percent of pollen and honey samples contained these neonicotonoid insecticides. The top two producers of these neonicotonoid pesticides, Bayer and Syngenta, are of course fighting a ban, regardless of whether it may save our food crops when the pollinating bees are so depleted that we cannot grow enough food to feed the population. This new research points to a more complex cause than just one type of pesticide, though, killing our bees, and the researchers also noted that pollen from weeds and wildflowers also contained with these chemicals, even though they were not the targets of the pesticides and fungicides. It seemed clear to the researchers that the pesticides and fungicides were drifting onto these wild species away from the crop fields and contaminating pollen to a great degree. Even if proposed buffer zones are created around sprayed crops, the bees will still be affected. Of course, once again, the complexity of this cycle of dysfunctional technology makes it harder to understand, and thus easier to ignore.

The use of glyphosate herbicides, such as Roundup, has contributed greatly to the loss of microbial balance in the soil and the overgrowth of harmful fungi. Since 2007, the use of fungicides for GMO hybrid corn and other GMO crops, and the crops rotated into the fields where these Roundup-Ready GMO crops are grown, has increased dramatically. An article by Jim Isleib, a U.P. Field Crops AoE Educator and Extension Director at Michigan State University, published in the Michigan State University Extension on March 26, 2013, entitled Foliar fungicide use in corn stated that: "the widespread use of glyphosate-tolerant (GMO) soybeans, corn and other crops may be contributing to an increased general reliance on pesticides, with less emphasis on scouting and IPM (integrated pest management) practices." Mr. Isleib stated that these fungicides are now marketed to increase crop yields, not just to counter measurable and specific fungi overgrowths, yet numerous studies show that "the research indicates that even if fungicide applications have the potential to increase corn yield or improve standability in the absence of disease, they may not be profitable." In other words, glyphosate herbicides are depleting the Biome protections in our crop soils, creating foliar fungicide overgrowths, and agressive marketing has led to a large increase in general fungicide use, despite the lack of proof that this practice is even profitable, unless applied to specific foliar fungi problems. The large increase in fungicide use in response to the breakdown in natural Biome protections from overuse of glyphosate herbicides has led to a host of problems, including the destruction of pollination potential, with bee hive Colony Collapse Disorder, threatening our entire agricultural system, increased contamination of food crops with toxic fungicides, and a growing problem with food safety as fungal aflatoxins both affect human health, as well as the health of livestock. Fungal aflatoxins, now increasingly seen in commercial grains, especially those that are stored in large containers, are cancer causing and lead to liver disease with chronic low-level exposure, especially with concurrent hepatitis and/or parasitic infection, and are a significant cause of allergic diseases, identified as the chief cause of peanut allergy.

The National Honeybee Advisory Board was quoted in the New York Times of January 28, 2014, in testimony concerning the Monsanto application for RNAi genetic engineering to combat a specific mite, that "to attempt to use this technology at this current stage of understanding would be more naive than our use of DDT in the 1950s." Obviously, these scientists are also aware of the history of Monsanto. Other genetic modification that target insect pests are the Bt genetic modifications used by Monsanto in genetically modified crops, but some, such as the modification to kill rootworms has already created rootworms that have evolved resistance to this Bt toxin. In addition, two entomologists at the Department of Agriculture warned that RNAi might pose dangers to other insects because some genes are common to to various species. Scientists at the University of Kentucky and the University of Nebraska found that a double-stranded DNA intended to silence a rootworm gene also was found to affect a gene in the ladybug, killing this beneficial insect. Collateral damage may be a problem in this DNAi technology. Besides these potentially harmful RNAi modifications to the staple crops, Monsanto is also developing a spray that would kill Roundup-resistant 'superweeds'. This would increase the use and cost of herbicides, and potentially create other peripheral problems. Just as the pharmaceutical companies created more and more medicines to counteract the side effects of medications, until the United States was using 3 times the pharmaceuticals that other developed nations were using, and the health of the population suffered, Monsanto and Dow appear to be fast-tracking a similar strategy, introducing new chemicals and genetic modifications to correct problems caused by current chemicals and genetic modifications. This appears to be a very bad idea, except for the profits of these companies. While we may find RNAi techniques that do indeed present safe and effective targeting of harmful pests, independent research must guarantee safety and effectiveness before we allow it to be introduced into agriculture.