Jon comments on the future problems with genetic engineering and a disturbing look at food irradiation
As it turns out, I am less concerned about genetic engineering than I am about food irradiation.
Genetic engineering is already widespread. Today, around 70 percent of all the processed food that you buy in America contains genetically engineered ingredients, including soft drinks, ketchup, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, and corn flakes. But what does this mean?
It’s important to understand that genetic engineering has been going on for thousands of years. All of the different varieties of vegetable seeds, rose bushes, fruits and vegetables that you buy in the supermarket are the result of genetic engineering in the form of crosspollination. And it’s not just plants. Many breeds of cattle, dogs, and cats etc are the result of crossbreeding, all designed to enhance certain traits and suppress others. So what’s different today?
And the answer is that with crosspollination, the limits on what nature allows are much narrower. You can’t crossbreed a tomato with a flounder, for example. Nature doesn’t allow it. Now, however, through the miracle of gene splicing, you can force nature to accept it. But in fact, tomatoes have been grown with flounder genes inserted to keep the tomatoes from freezing.
Is this necessarily bad? No, not necessarily. Just because nature allows something, however, doesn’t make it good. Nature allowed African Bees and Honeybees to crossbreed and produce Killer Bees, and the result wasn’t really that pleasant. On the other hand, some of the results of gene splicing have been positive.
- Cotton that resists boll weevils without pesticides, for example. This produces clean cotton and saves the environment from millions of gallons of pesticides each year.
Don’t get me wrong. There are concerns. Strains of biotech corn have had unintended consequences such as poisoning butterflies, for example. But far and away, the biggest concern is the uncontrollability of the process. Already, scientists are pressing into some very dangerous areas. They are exploring the possibility of using genetically engineered plants to “grow” medicine. The problem is that if this is done, it is virtually guaranteed that at some point these “medicine” crops will escape. And what’s medicine for one person is poison to another. Already, it is virtually impossible to find any soy (organic or otherwise) that has not been tainted by genetically modified soy. Quite simply, it’s impossible to prevent the pollen from being carried on the wind and “infecting” clean fields.
Not to be overly dramatic, but the book/movie Jurassic Park was about this very problem. And as the Jeff Goldblum character keeps saying about the inability to control the spread of new life-forms, “Life will find a way.”
Anyway, quick summary, I think the problems with genetic engineering are more future than present. And besides, if you’re on the Baseline of Health® program you shouldn’t be eating many genetically engineered foods anyway since most of them are used in processed foods.
On the other hand, I am much more concerned about the immediate impact of irradiation on our food supply.
The theory behind irradiation is very simple. Expose food to extremely high doses of radiation, and you kill all living organisms (bacteria, parasites, funguses, etc.) in that food — thus eliminating a major cause of disease and spoilage. Everyone wins. The consumer is “safer” because of the elimination of potentially dangerous contaminants, and the food processor is happier (and wealthier) because he/she no longer loses any product to spoilage. In actuality, it doesn’t quite work like that.
Food is exposed to “hard” irradiation, usually gamma rays from a source like cobalt-80, in doses of 100,000 to 3,000,000 rads. To give you a sense of how high a dose this is, understand that a dose of just 10,000 rads will totally destroy any living tissue. The question is, then, do these high doses of radiation cause any problems. And the answer is yes. At these levels (the 100,000 to 3,000,000 rads used in food irradiation) gamma rays create some very dangerous molecules. They were originally called “radiotoxins” by Russian researchers. Since that word would be frightening to American consumers, the FDA came up with a couple of “softer” terms. They now call the known molecules such as formaldehyde and benzene (both carcinogens) that are created by irradiation “known radiolytic products,” and as for those chemical molecules created by irradiation and that have never before been seen by man, the FDA came up with the equally delightful “unique radiolytic products.”
Now, in addition to destroying all bacteria and parasites and producing radiolytic byproducts, irradiation has the added “benefit” of destroying nutrients — as much as 70% of the Vitamin A, B1and B2 in irradiated milk and about 30% of the Vitamin C. But on top of all of that, irradiation has the wonderful ability to accelerate the growth of aspergillus mold, which produces the most potent natural carcinogens known to man, called aflatoxins.
But this all seems so theoretical. If irradiation is truly dangerous, there would have to be hard evidence available somewhere. And there is!
- In the FDA’s final report approving food radiation, they wrote that when up to 35% of the lab-animal diet was radiated, feeding studies had to be terminated because of premature mortality or morbidity.
- At the University of Illinois, the Department of Medicine fed radiated food to mice. Seventeen percent had to be killed or died because of respiratory problems so severe they couldn’t even move around their cages.
- Researchers at the Medical College of Virginia fed rats radiated beef. All the male rats died of hemorrhagic syndrome in 34 days.
The bottom line is that in approving food irradiation, the FDA started with 441 studies, including the three I just mentioned. They accepted 226 for further review. They then narrowed their criteria and selected only 69 for in-depth review. Of these, the FDA itself reported that 32 of the 69 showed adverse effects, and 37 showed safety problems. Then without explanation, they eliminated all but 5 of the 69 (including every negative study) and said they would base their decision on those 5 alone. Wow! Sure makes you feel confident about the safety of irradiated foods doesn’t it?
So what foods do you have to worry about? Well, pretty much everything. Specifically, foods already approved for irradiation include: fruits, vegetables, wheat, flour, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, peas, pork, and chicken. (Beef has just been approved.)
Well, now that we know what foods are subject to possible irradiation, can’t we just avoid them? Not really. The problem is you don’t know. The FDA requires a label stating a food has been radiated if, and only if, it was radiated as a “whole food” and then is sold unchanged. But, if you process it in any way, if you add any other ingredients to it, it no longer requires a label stating that it (or any of its ingredients) were irradiated. To put it simply, an irradiated orange would require a label; irradiated orange juice would not.
This is very disturbing.
(Much of the information on food irradiation was taken from an interview with Dr. Gary Gibbs in Nutrition & Healing, v2 i5, May 1995, P. 5-6)