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Human Health or Environment: Is There a Bigger Risk from GMOs?

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The worldwide March Against Monsanto that saw more than 2 million people gather in more than 50 countries made it clear: genetically modified foods are losing credibility, fast. There is no shortage of the reasons why; from farmers' rights to toxic pesticide use, and the health risks, people want the biotech industry out of their meals.

Here in the U.S., the numbers are nothing short of staggering: more than 70 percent of processed and fast foods contain GMOs. The majority of some of our biggest crops and most prolific ingredients: corn, soy, canola, sugar, alfalfa (for livestock animals) and cotton are now genetically modified. And where GMOs go, toxic pesticides and herbicides are right behind.

While millions gathered around the world to make their voices heard about GMOs, the debate over their safety still rages on. The industry and their (paid) scientists suggest there are no human health risks. They cite advancing technology as capable of combating the known environmental issues, such as the superbugs and superweeds that have become resistant to pesticide and herbicide applications. But it's simply too soon to tell how long that can last before further resistance develops.

One of the earliest promotional tactics used to sell glyphosate (Monsanto's Roundup) was that it was safe from leaching into waterways due to its unique ability to bind with soil particles. But between 1992 and 2007, Roundup, and similar herbicides, increased in use by more than eight times in the US. Its use has been connected with damaged soil and superweeds—plants developing a resistance to glyphosate applications—requiring heavier and more frequent applications. Monsanto and Dow Chemical both currently have new GMO soybeans up for USDA approval. The new strains are resistant to dicamba and 2,4-D—stronger herbicides than glyphosate (2,4-D was used in the defoliant, Agent Orange). In a startling response, the USDA said it would delay the approval process in order to assess the environmental viability of the newly developed seeds. While approval is still likely, it seems even USDA scientists are recognizing that spraying more chemicals may not be the answer to pervasive resistance.

Swim several thousand miles due east and you'll land in Europe, where, after the cleansing the swim will offer your system, you'll find yourself less at risk of exposure to some of these pesticides and herbicides, thanks to strict rulings on growing and selling GMOs throughout the EU. Recently, a most impressive victory came when EU officials banned another group of pesticides for a minimum of two years: neocotinoid pesticides are believed to be one of the main culprits behind a 30 percent annual decrease in bee populations since 2007. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently articulated his concerns over the issue, citing "undisputed evidence" that there's a connection. He even warned of a potential global war as a result of the coming 'beepocalypse.' Bees play a crucial role in our food system. Considerable losses could devastate food supplies and exacerbate hunger issues.

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From the Organic Authority Files

And then there's you and me. Our children. Our grandchildren.

Exposure to pesticides and herbicides (even those bred into GMO seeds themselves) has been linked to hosts of health issues including organ damage, neurological and developmental issues, infertility, obesity, cancer, autism, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Health studies done on GMOs in the US are hard to come by, mainly due to the patent rights companies like Monsanto have. They'll approve the use of their seeds for studies done by their own scientists, but few others are granted that same opportunity.

Still, work is being done on the effects of GMOs to humans. Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology have connected the dots between GMOs (and the herbicides and pesticides used) to the growing number of digestive disorders now commonplace in the US. In the past 30 years, cases of food allergies, celiac disease, leaky gut syndrome, Crohn's disease and more, have all spiked dramatically right along with sales of GMO seeds.

A closer look at the effects of GMOs, pesticides and herbicides reveals a pattern: what happens to the soil, the pests and the humans who eat GMOs, are quite similar: damage to the soil is equal to damaged digestive tracts and gut flora. (This goes for livestock animals who eat enormous amounts of GMO grains, seeds and hay.) And what effects our external environment, ultimately impacts our health as well. Even if science was able to prove that there are no inherent human risks in eating GMOs, the damage to the planet will cause its own issues: we can't drink contaminated water, or lose a significant portion of our food to bee deaths for very long. If pests and weeds are becoming resistant to pesticide and herbicide applications, what's going on in the body after we eat those some chemicals?

The GMO discussion is continuing to take center stage. It's relevance clearly goes beyond whether or not a corporation has the right to patent life. It's a discussion about whether the technology is permanently changing the face of the planet, and, ultimately, the survival of the human race.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Occupy Monsanto

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