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

One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.

 

sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.

 

Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

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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