Turning Healthy Food into Disease Causing Food—The Case of GM Corn

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 In India maize or corn has been traditionally known as a nutritious and tasty food crop grown predominantly on small family farms. It is relished in the form of mainly home baked rotis. In addition corn on cob heated on simmering fire is also a highly enjoyable food, particularly during rainy season.  Similarly maize has been cherished in many cultures and countries for hundreds of years as a food of high nutrition and good taste. So it is sad and tragic to see such a food crop being associated now with several diseases.

In a recent article published in Health Epoch and titled ‘Could You be Reacting to Corn?’ author Melissa Dlane Smith has presented extensive evidence of a host of health problems associated with modern industrial ways of producing and processing maize, particularly in the USA. An important way in which corn has changed in recent times in the USA is that most of the corn here is produced as a GM (genetically modified) crop– modified so that it can tolerate, and therefore be sprayed with, high amounts of chemical herbicides and have its own built-in insecticide.

As this article points out, research on animals points to serious health issues, especially liver and kidney toxicity, from eating GM corn. A study published in Environmental Sciences Europe shared results from the first animal trial examining the long-term effects of exposure to Roundup-tolerant GM corn and the complete Roundup herbicide formulation. The study linked varying levels of both GM corn and Roundup to severe liver and kidney damage in male rats and to mammary tumors in female rats. As per the study results mentioned in this article, female rats showed a twofold to threefold increase in mortality, and deaths were earlier. Increased risk of death and earlier deaths was also evident in the groups of male rats that were fed GM corn.

Apart from presenting such studies, Melissa Smith has presented her own experiences as a health consultant. She writes—“ I had a client who suffered from multi-system symptoms and had been diagnosed with Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome, a systemic immune condition characterized by high levels of eosinophils, a type of white blood cells that are more prone to inflammation. I recommended that she remove GM organisms (GMO) and all corn from her diet, and within just a few months of doing this, her eosinophil counts reached normal levels for the first time in almost 20 years.” She experienced many different health improvements, including remarkable improvements in allergies and asthma.”

In a widely discussed article published in Elle magazine titled “The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn,” writer Caitlin Shetterly described how she had several weird symptoms, including pain radiating throughout her body, rashes, exhaustion, headaches, nausea, and insomnia. An allergist told her he believed she had developed a reaction to GM corn, because changes in the DNA of GM corn can act as allergenic proteins that provoke the overproduction of eosinophils. On doctor’s recommendation when Shetterly  removed all corn from her diet, most of her troubling symptoms went away.

There have been many warnings of dangers of GM corn from reputed scientists. When there was a big controversy over GM food crops in India 17 distinguished scientists from various countries had written to the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh, “It is not a question of if there are disturbances to gene function and biochemistry but to what degree they will be present within any given GM plant. For example, the levels of more than 40 proteins are altered significantly in the commercialized GM MON810 corn compared to equivalent non-GM corn, which included production of a new allergenic protein.

“Numerous animal feeding studies demonstrate negative health impacts of GM feed on kidney, liver, gut, blood cells, blood biochemistry and the immune system.

“Of greatest concern is that studies show negative health effects with GM crops that have already been approved and which have been grown commercially for 10-13 years. This highlights the inadequacy of the original criteria and set of data on the basis of which marketing approval was and is still being granted.”

“Animals fed diets containing Bt corn have shown signs of direct toxicity.

“Independent re-evaluation of Monsanto’s own research on their Bt corn crops shows negative health effects even in short-term (90-day) animal feeding studies.’’

Several scientists studying these issues relating to GM crops met at an international conference in Malaysia on ‘Redefining of Life Sciences’ ( organized by the Third World Network) and issued  the Penang Statement which is very relevant in the context of the issues being discussed here. This statement stated, “Persons with allergies may have legitimate concerns that with genetic engineering, once-familiar foods may be made allergenic. Furthermore, they will not be able to protect themselves if the foods are not labeled to state that they have been produced from genetically engineered organisms. Allergenic effects could be carried with the transgene or be stimulated by imbalances in the chemistry of the host plant or organism.

“Another problem is that field workers or neighbors may develop allergies to insecticidal transgenic crops. For example, a spider venom expressed in sugarcane might block a metabolic pathway only in insects and not in humans, but humans can nevertheless develop serious allergies to some venoms.

“With genetic engineering, familiar foods could become  dangerous or even toxic. Even if the transgene itself is not dangerous or toxic, it could upset complex biochemical network and create new bioactive compounds or change the concentrations of those normally present. In addition, the properties in proteins may change in a new chemical environment because they may fold in new ways.”

Several eminent scientists representing the Independent Science Panel have also warned against the serious threat of contamination by GM crops – “Extensive transgenic contamination has occurred in maize landraces growing in remote regions in Mexico despite an official moratorium that has been in place since 1998. High levels of contamination have since been found in Canada. In a test of 33 samples of certified canola (oilseed rape) seed stocks, 32 were found contaminated. New research shows that transgenic pollen, wind-blown and deposited elsewhere, or fallen directly to the ground, is a major source of transgenic contamination. Contamination is generally acknowledged to be unavoidable, hence there can be no co-existence of transgenic and non-transgenic crops.”

In these circumstances it is very regrettable that the USA authorities have tried to exert pressure on Mexico to purchase GM corn from USA, and the efforts of  Mexico to avoid these high-risk imports should get wide support at the international level. The sovereign right of all countries to protect the health of their citizens by banning GM corn and other GM food/feed/crops as well imports of GM foods should be firmly protected and defended.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.


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