Should GMO Labeling Be Required For All Food Ingredients?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Environment and Health, Food and Health, Issues

When Is GMO Not GMO?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

GMO-freeI’m probably going to get lots of hate mail for this week’s “Health Tips from the Professor” because I’m finally going to tackle the GMO controversy.

You see, the GMO controversy is very much like Washington politics. On one side of the aisle, you have the people who are absolutely convinced that anything GMO is terrible. On the other side of the aisle, you have people who are absolutely convinced that there are no problems with GMO foods. And both sides are convinced that their opponents have absolutely nothing of intelligence to say on the topic.

So almost anything I say about GMO is bound to offend somebody. But nobody ever accused me of being timid, so let’s get started.

What Are The Health Risks Of Genetically Modified Foods?

I’m going to start with the supposed health risks of GMO foods because that’s my area of greatest expertise, and I’m going to evaluate those health risks from the viewpoint of a card-carrying biochemist. I’ve seen the scary pictures and alarming statements posted on many anti-GMO web sites, but objective evidence that genetically modified foods are harmful to humans is underwhelming at present.

Modifications to DNA And Health Risks

Let’s start at the beginning. Genetic modification occurs in the DNA, and on that basis GMO foods have some potential, but yet unproven, risks. Let me give you an example:

  • Some genetically modified foods carry genes for naturally occurring pesticides so that if bugs try to eat the leaves of those plants they will die.
  • When we eat foods occasionally small pieces of their DNA will find their way into our intestinal track.
  • We have bacteria in our intestinal tracts that excel at picking up small pieces of DNA and inserting them into their genome.
  • So it is theoretically possible that those bacteria might start producing in our intestines the same pesticides produced by the genetically modified foods we ate.

It is an interesting idea, but to my knowledge one that has not yet been shown to have actually occurred in a human being.

Modifications to Proteins And Health Risks

A more likely risk comes from the proteins contained in genetically modified foods:

  • Genetic modifications in the DNA result in the production of modified proteins, so GMO foods, GMO protein powders and foods made from GMO protein sources can be a source of unsuspected food allergies.
  • Unfortunately, food allergies, especially those from genetically modified protein sources, are very difficult to quantify, so we have no good data on how big a problem this actually is.

However, it would be very surprising if there weren’t some individuals with food allergies to genetically modified proteins.

When Is GMO Not GMO?

Many of the GMO opponents take it one step further and want to label as GMO any food or supplement that contains any ingredient made from a genetically modified food. This is where the science is clearly on the other side of the aisle. With respect to purified sugars, purified oils, vitamins and other purified nutrients obtained from foods there is no difference between GMO and non-GMO because these purified nutrients contain neither DNA nor protein.

 Should GMO Labeling Be Required For All Food Ingredients?

For the most part, it isn’t even possible for most manufacturers to produce foods or supplements with all non-GMO ingredients. When the whole GMO issue first entered public awareness the food industry was guided by the science. It made good business sense for them to create a capacity, a pipeline if you will, to make sure that non-GMO protein sources were available to meet the market demand for companies that wanted to make non-GMO protein products for this new GMO-adverse market.

But, nobody anticipated the emotional demand for non-GMO sugars, oils and the like. There was no scientific basis for that demand, so none of the suppliers created the capacity to meet that demand. Currently there is only enough of those kinds of non-GMO ingredients to meet the needs of the bit players in the market. There simply aren’t enough of those ingredients to satisfy the requirements of any manufacturer who deals in the mass market. That, for example, is the reason big players in the market lobbied against the recent California and Washington State propositions that would have required a food product to be labeled GMO if any ingredient in the food was GMO.

Genetically Modified Foods And The Environment

Now that I have managed to alienate almost everyone, I should point out that there are some non-health issues around GMO foods.

  • The biggest issue is that many of the genetically modified foods contain modifications that make them resistant to herbicides, and that encourages overuse of those herbicides with the resultant pollution of air, soil, and water.
  • Another concern is that the increasing reliance on genetically modified food crops is leading to a decrease in the genetic diversity of those crops, which could make them more susceptible to a new virus or pest in the future. This is a theoretical concern, but there is historical precedence for believing that it could happen.
  • Finally, laws that prevent subsistent farmers from saving their own seed for next season’s planting is a major concern in Third World countries. But, that is more an issue of corporate greed than it is of genetic modification.

The Bottom Line:

What is the take-home lesson for you?

From a health perspective:

  • Genetically modified proteins are likely to be a food allergy risk for some people, but we have no good data on how many people are affected by this kind of food allergy
  • Genetically modified DNA is a theoretical concern because of the ability of intestinal bacteria to pick up pieces of DNA, but we have no evidence at present that this has actually ever caused a problem in people.
  • With respect to sugars, oils, and other nutrients extracted from foods it makes no difference whether the food was GMO or non-GMO

From an environmental perspective:

  • Genetic modifications leading to herbicide resistance are a significant environmental concern because it encourages overuse of herbicides.
  • Lack of genetic diversity from the overuse of GMO food crops is a theoretical concern, but one with historical precedence.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (10)

  • Janet Hawken

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    1. If a GMO food is offensive to bugs and pests, is there a logical deduction that it could also be offensive to digestive bacteria and thus offer inferior nutrition?
    2. Or could it be viewed as a new food to the system with the same consequences that arise when we introduce a new food, maybe too soon, to a baby’s diet?
    3. If you grow a GMO olive tree, is it possible that the resulting oil has a chemistry change (ie, smell, taste, color, consistency, bio- availability) from the original variety?

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

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      Dear Janet,
      Good points. Here are my comments:
      1) Being offensive to bugs & pests does not equate to being offensive to intestinal bacteria, so the nutritional value is probably equal. In some cases the nutritional quality is actually better because the plant has been engineered to produce more of selected nutrients. However, as I said in my article, food allergies to altered proteins are likely, and that could affect utilization of the food.
      2) That’s also a valid point with respect to whole foods because of the altered proteins – again, food allergies are the concern.
      3) In general oils are highly purified before they are added to foods so GMO is generally not a concern. However, some ‘organic” brands pride themselves on using unpurified ingredients. That would be a theoretical concern if the ingredient were on purified and contained traces of altered proteins. I suspect, however, that the protein content of something like raw, unprocessed olive oil would be so low that it would be unlikely to be a problem.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • harry

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    thank goodness for a voice of sanity in GMO … we have to realize that all plant life, in fact all life period was genetically modified .. that’s the process of evolution. nature modifies things so they survive but it takes a long time to do that.

    the genetic code is constantly changing even in your own family and in your own garden . but we have become familiar with the things we have and have learned what we can tolerate and what we cant. anything new goes against that comfort zone and becomes suspect.

    some people go overboard with worry and create illusions of horror. well that seems to be a protective mechanism that’s instinctive . maybe a good thing if its paired with sensible science .

    of course those that don’t understand the science will often suspect it .. those in such fields have learned to trust advice from those that have knowledge, but with reservations, their theories must be born out in practice …

    if they say it wont hurt you and it doesn’t then we can look at a much bigger picture. in order to feed an ever increasing world population we have to maximize and perfect how we do it while reducing waste .. its a matter of us being a little out of our comfort zone in order to prevent others from something at least more important than comfort.

    there should always be checks and balance but attacks on a science should first look to the facts and those that understand them ..

    this is a good article by such a person .. bravo .. a good combination of science and caution .. no enemies here.

    Reply

    • Sandy Abrams

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      As far as being able to feed more people, it turns out that not only do the yields get smaller, but farmers are now using a lot more pesticides than they did before planting GMO crops.

      Reply

      • Dr. Steve Chaney

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        Dear Sandy,

        I agree. The environmental impact of increased pesticide use is clearly the most concerning impact of GMO foods.

        Dr. Chaney

        Reply

  • Dave

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    Thanks for a more balanced view than we normally see.

    I am much more wary of PMO – Politically modified – foods. Think about being without eggs and avacodos. Those were once very bad boys. Now they ‘re good for us, in moderation like most things.

    Once bureaucrats take a stance, change is very hard.

    Reply

  • Sandy Abrams

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    I will still opt out of GMO foods ,to the extent possible,because as you say, the evidence against them is sketchy but that being said, the evidence for them is not that strong.

    Some may well not have a long term negative effect on animals and humans that eat them, but I would say to err on the side of safety and wait until the proponents have all their I’s dotted and T’s crossed.

    It could easily turn out that by the time they do that, the risks will be much higher than they thought, and if we take their word for the safety and eat them, it will be too late…the damage will be done.

    More and more information about the harm being done is coming out and I don’t have the scientific expertise to evaluate all of them but I have seen some reports that appear to be very reputable showing harm to butterflies and pigs.

    When it comes to what I put in my body, if it says it is good for me, it better not be bad for me too.

    I just think it is smart to say make them prove it and not make me the guinea pig.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

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      Dear Sandy,

      I totally agree when it comes to the topic of GMO foods. My point was that purified ingredients such as fats, sugar & vitamins that are isolated from GMO foods are chemically & molecularly identical to the same purified ingredients isolated from non-GMO foods. Labeling laws that require purified ingredients to be labeled GMO are not scientifically defensible.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Frank M. Painter, D.C.

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    Hi Dr. Steve!

    Because I write for a living, I usually avoid reading your materials, so that my work does not sound (or become) derivative. Since I won’t be writing about GMOs as a stand-alone concept, I enjoyed your article, although I’d like to see proof that “purified” GMO sugars, oils etc. are treated by the human body like their natural (evolutionary) counterparts.

    Synthetic nutrients supposedly *look* the same as natural analogs, but the human body absorbs less of them, and selectively excretes them more quickly.

    That leads me to *believe* that structural similarity (as science is currently capable of determining) is NOT the whole picture. JMHO.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

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      Dear Dr. Painter,

      This is a common misconception. There are sometimes differences between synthetic (chemically made) and natural nutrients. Those differences have to do with differences in orientation of chemical substituents around a carbon bond. However, GMO and non-GMO nutrients are made naturally by the same enzymatic process, so their structure and orientation is identical. There is no way for the body to distinguish between them.

      The genetic modifications involve proteins other than the ones used to make the nutrients, usually proteins involving resistance to herbicides, insects or plant diseases. Once you have purified the nutrients, all of the genetically modified DNA and proteins are removed. What is left is chemically and biologically identical from GMO and non-GMO sources.

      D. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Posted April 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Wake Up Each Morning Pain Free

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

how to choose the right pillow without headachesThe way you sleep is often a key to discovering the cause of headaches and more. If you wake up with neck pain, a headache, or you suffer from ringing in your ears, dizziness, or ear pain, there is a good possibility that it may be caused by the way you are sleeping. Your pillow may be the culprit.  But if you need to know how to choose the right pillow for you, it’s easy.   It just takes a little “investigation.”

 

How to Choose the Right Pillow if You Sleep On Your Side

Your head, neck, and spine need to always stay in a nice straight line, just as it is when you are standing up, but that takes a little thought and understanding of the way you sleep.  So, get comfy in your bed and then notice how your head is resting.

how to choose the right pillow to sleep painfreeIf you sleep on your side, your pillow needs to be just the right size, so your head doesn’t point down toward the mattress (your pillow is too soft) or up to the ceiling (your pillow is too thick). Either of these positions will make the muscles on the side of your neck stay in the contracted position for hours and pull your vertebrae in that direction, especially when you try to turn over to your other side.

Your SCM Muscle May Cause Serious Problems

You also need to notice if you turn your head a bit, especially if you are turning into your pillow or turning your head up toward away from your pillow. In either of these two cases you will be causing your sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) to be held shortened for hours.

Your SCM originates on your collarbone and inserts into the bone behind your ear.  When it contracts you turn your head to the opposite side. However, if the muscle is tight (for example, when you’ve held your head turned toward one side for an extended period of time) and then you bring your head back so you are facing forward, the tight muscle will pull on the bone behind your ear and cause havoc.

The symptoms for a tight SCM are tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, loss of equilibrium, ear pain, headaches, pain in the eye and around the skull, pain at the top of the head, and even pain in the throat. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that it’s rare that this muscle is considered when a medical professional is searching for the cause of your symptoms.

These are the things to know when considering how to choose the right pillow if you sleep on your side.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Back

how to choose the right pillow for sleeping on your backIf you sleep on your back, your head should be on the mattress (not propped up with a pillow) and you should have a tiny support (like a folded washcloth) under your neck.  Or, you can have a wedge pillow that starts at your mid-back and gently raises your entire trunk and head up while still allowing your head and back to be in a straight line.

It’s always a challenge for people who toss and turn during the night, sometimes on their side and sometimes on their back.  The best thing I’ve found for this situation is to have the pillow below shoulder level so when you turn on your side your shoulder will automatically slide to the edge of the pillow while still supporting your head properly, and when you turn onto your back, the pillow will start at shoulder level so your head and neck are supported, but your head is being pushed in a way that causes your chin to move down to your chest.

hip pain causes and treatment pain freeIt’s tricky, but I can personally attest to the fact that it will work.  I can always tell when I’ve had my head tilted (I toss and turn during the night) because I will wake with a headache. When that happens I’m grateful that I know how to self-treat the muscles of my neck and shoulders so the headache is eliminated quickly.  If you already have Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living,  you can self-treat all your neck and shoulder muscles to release the tension.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, this is the one position that is so bad that it behooves you to force yourself to change your position. Your head is turned to the side and held still for hours, putting a severe strain on all your cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae. Not only will this cause headaches, tinnitus, and a list of other pains, but it can cause problems down your entire spine. It can also impinge on the nerves that pass through the vertebrae on their way to your organs.

If you do sleep that way, let me know and I’ll give you some suggestions that work to change your habit of sleeping. It takes time and energy, but the results are worth the effort.

In every case, the way you sleep may cause neck pain that won’t go away until the pillow situation is resolved.

Now you should know how to choose the right pillow for the way you sleep.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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