GMOs – the good, the bad, the ugly. PART 2

The first genetically modified organism (GMO) crop, the Flavr Savr tomato, was approved by the FDA in 1994. Since then, genetically modified varieties of corn, soya, sugar beets and canola have become common local crops in Canada. (Interestingly, due to weak harvests and costly shipping methods, the genetically engineered tomato was deemed unprofitable and discontinued). In addition to locally produced crops, genetically engineered varieties of cottonseed oil, papaya, squash and milk products are imported from the USA into Canada daily. In a mere 20 years, GMO ingredients have made their way into an estimated 70% of packaged foods available in the U.S. and Canadian grocery stores. Now apples, potatoes and wheat are all in the lineup for approval. If GMOs are increasingly making their way into our grocery stores I think it’s fair to say we should have a better understanding of the subject.

 Why were GMOs created?

It was said that GMOs were created for two main reasons.
-       To increase the famers yield to feed the growing population
-       To reduce the cost of food

How so? Well what if a plant that had a tremendous trait quality, such as it’s nutrient profile, it’s ability to be transported, stored, or it’s great flavor quality, but along with that, it also had a problem with disease susceptibility. This would pose an issue. When incorporated into the DNA of an organism, genetically modified genes modify the traits of the entire organism. Therefore, by adding one gene, you could potentially solve a problem of disease susceptibility. In something like an apple tree, this might save 50 years of breeding time through cross-hybridization by being able to add that one single gene.

An example of this is the genetically modified (GM) papaya; it was developed to be resistant to a papaya virus for which there is no chemical defense. The GMO papaya has within it the gene in it that forms an immune-type defense mechanism. This way the papaya plant becomes virus resistant. 

Another example of the potential benefit of genetically modified crops is “Golden Rice”.  Vitamin A deficiency is a major global issue and responsible for up to 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness each year in impoverished countries.  The good news is that dietary supplementation of vitamin A can virtually eliminate this issue. In 2001, “Golden Rice” was created as a means to deliver vitamin A to those in need.  
This science is absolutely amazing, however the questions that need to be answered are…what is the health risk/benefit ratio and overall cost of such programs to the nations receiving them??

Another major factor behind the creation of GMOs was that they would make agriculture more sustainable, reduce pesticide use, help meet the challenges of climate change, provide more nutritious foods, and make farming easier and more profitable. This sounds great but is it true? So far the research is unclear.

To achieve some of these goals, the genetically modified (GM) crops on the market today are specifically aimed at an increased level of protection through the introduction of disease resistance genes or increasing the plants tolerance towards herbicides. This is achieved by incorporating a toxin or virus gene into the DNA of the food crop.

Do GMOs help solve world hunger?

When first introduced, GMO crops were said to be the answer to world hunger. The argument was that by developing pesticide and herbicide resistant crops, farmers would be able to increase their yields and decrease their costs. This has not proven to be the case. Instead, groups state that the annual purchasing of patented GMO seeds and expensive chemicals has not allowed farmers to increase their yield or decrease their costs like anticipated. Since the seeds are patented, they must be re-purchased every year, which adds to the cost of delivering the product. 

Those against the use of GMO seeds point at the real problems around world hunger is actually not a lack of food, but lack of access to it due to poverty and lack of access to land to grow it on.

Does the use of GMOs decrease pesticide use?

The theory behind the chemical resistance GM seed is that by making the crop inherently resistant to the pesticides and herbicides used, the farmer can eliminate weeds and bugs by spraying the entire field without concern of damaging the crops.

As an unintended result, widespread applications of these chemicals have caused bugs and weeds to become increasingly resistant, thus resulting in the increase use of chemicals. More spraying means more costs for the farmers, more damage to the environment (compromised soil quality) and more overall health concerns.

Interestingly, it also means more product purchased from the seed producer. Remember, the companies that develop and patent the pesticides and herbicides are the same companies that develop and patent the GMO seeds. According to sources, Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world and owns about 86% of GMO seeds planted globally. It is also the parent of Roundup…the most widely used pesticide. Do you see a conflict of interest here?

Brief timeline of Monsanto’s history:
1901 – produced artificial sweetener
1929 – produced PCBs (now banned as chemical carcinogens)
1940’s – produced Styrofoam
1945 – manufactures toxic agricultural chemicals later used in Agent Orange (Vietnam War)
1945 – produces DDT
1976 – introduces Roundup (chemical herbicide still used today)
1984 – pays millions to Vietnam War veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange
1994 – introduces Cow growth hormone to increase milk production despite health concerns. The Canadian government later accuses Monsanto of bribe attempts to get the product to Canadian farms.
1996 – introduces Roundup Ready soybeans (these produce their own pesticide)

Groups are now very concerned about having a few chemical companies having a high level of control over global seed markets. It’s proven that sustainable agriculture and biodiversity benefit most from the use of a rich variety of crops. These groups fear that as a result of the interest of the chemical industry in seed markets, the range of varieties used by farmers may be reduced mainly to GM (genetically modified) crops. The exclusive use of herbicide-tolerant GM crops would also make the farmer dependent on these specific chemicals. Should we be concerned by the fact that chemical companies may own the agriculture industry?

What is the potential impact, if any, on our health?

For me, this was the real question and truthfully, the science is still out. 

It should be stated, that there are many reviews and individual studies that conclude GMOs are safe and beneficial. Unfortunately, science does not exist in a vacuum. Meaning, to truly determine the outcome of a study the study itself would have to be independent and free of all influences, including monetary. Having GMO research conducted by the companies that own the GMO seeds is like the “research” done in the 1960’s funded by the tobacco companies that deemed cigarette smoking to be safe!

The GM food industry will state that GM crops are an extension of natural breeding and therefore, do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops. If that’s the case then shouldn’t we have the right to know if what we are eating has been genetically modified? Concerns have been raised about possible effects on stomach bacteria and resistance to antibiotics, as well as GMOs role in allergic reactions. Independent studies are coming out now showing increased risk due to digestion of the actual pesticides being used on and found in the GMO corn.

Another huge concern is that there are different guidelines used for direct GMO human consumption versus farm animal GMO consumption! Now let’s consider this simple equation…(Farm animal) + (GMO feed not intended for human consumption) = ingestion of farm animal by human.

How does this make sense?!?

I wonder if GMO’s will share a similar story as trans-fats? If you recall, trans-fats were created for products to be cheaper, stored easier, and have a longer shelf life - while the consumer was told there were no adverse health risks associated with there use. Years later, after much needed independent research, it was revealed that trans-fats were in fact toxic and the underlying cause to heart disease. These trans-fats are now banned in most countries around the world. It seems as if we constantly being thrown into a global “food experiment”. It makes you ask the question, why is our food so easily able to be tampered with for monetary gain? Who is determining whether our food is safe? Who is looking out for us?

Did You Know – In Canada, a food product labeled as “natural” is allowed to have GMO ingredients.

We also need to understand more about the impact of GMOs on other plants and animals. One’s hope is that the governments will be forced to label GMO products until proper research is conducted so we as consumers have a choice to make. However, this precedent has not yet been established. Moreover, most countries do not even have regulating bodies to determine the national safety of GMO products, let alone labeling practices.

The reality is that it would take years, if not generations, to conduct the proper studies from independent sources to determine the long-term health effect, if any, of these newly created food sources. The topic of whether GMOs are safe for consumption will continue to be a very complex debate. For this reason, most developed nations have policies requiring mandatory labeling of GMO foods at the very least, and some have issued bans on GMO food production and imports. In Canada, we currently do not.

* Currently, in the United States former Monsanto individuals in the senate are moving to kill the GMO labeling bill that would require mandatory labeling of GMO products state by state. As of today, only Vermont has successfully passed a mandatory labeling bill. 

How is Canada approaching the GMO issue compared to the rest of the world?

To summarize, Canada’s stance on the GMO issue…is weak. Over 20 years of polling has consistently shown that 80% of Canadians want GMO foods labeled, however there is no national law to date. Europe has definitely led the way by restricting GMO in their food and agriculture until proper testing is done. In fact, even Russia and China are moving faster to labeling GMO products than North America is.

Did You Know - Heinz makes non-GMO ketchup to adhere to European food laws, but in North America we can only purchase the GMO version.

In 2010, the corn developed by Monsanto had eight genetically engineered traits, six that allow it to ward off insects and two to make it resistant to weed-killing chemicals. Canada approved the corn without specifically assessing it for human health or environmental risk claiming that the isolated traits had already been cleared in other crop seeds. Here in lies the problem. We don't really know the unintended consequences of genetically engineered foods or their combined effects.

Conversely, there are companies protecting their consumers and in the eyes of some, “risking” their profits by being at the forefront of this debate. For example, Campbell’s Soup will become the first major food company to begin disclosing the presence of genetically engineered ingredients like corn, soy and sugar beets in its products. The company is taking the step as big food corporations face increasing pressure from the public to be more open about their use of such ingredients.

General Mills now produces non-GMO Cheerios, and Tropicana has put labels on some products verifying that they contain no genetically engineered components.

Whole Foods Markets, announced that as of 2018 it would require all products sold in its stores to have labels disclosing the presence of ingredients from genetically altered crops.


We are often unaware that the foods we choose everyday contain GMO ingredients.
I wrote this blog in the hopes that we would all be more aware with what is currently happening with our food. As I have stated, we do not fully know the long-term impacts of GMOs in our diets. Until then, we need to continue to learn, and make educated decisions about what we choose to support.

It is this basic ‘right to choice’ that is behind the growing efforts to have GMO foods labeled. While environmental and food advocates lobby for labeling, other groups, like The Non-GMO Project have created a voluntary non-GMO certification to facilitate consumer information. They believe that all consumers, whether they purchase organic or conventional foods, deserve transparency and have a right to choose whether they want to consume GMOs.

The Future…

Imagine yourself walking into a grocery store to by an apple. You have two choices. The apple on the left is simply labeled as an “apple”. The apple on the right is labeled as “genetically modified to contain self-producing pesticide, sprayed with herbicides, and untested for health concerns”.

Which apple would you buy?

To learn more, check out this link:

Dr. Craig McNamee

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1)      World Health Organization (WHO). 20 questions on genetically modified foods. 2002. Available at:

2)      Friends of the Earth Who benefits from GM crops? An industry built on myths. Amsterdam, The Netherlands; 2014.

3)      Kaskey J. Modified crop plantings fall in industrialized nations. Bloomberg. Published February 13, 2014.

4) Chief EU scientist backs damning report urging GMO “rethink.” 2013. Available at:

7)      Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


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