Dawn Muenchrath/the Gauntlet

What’s on your dinner plate?

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Food can have a powerful impact on our health. A diet change can, in some cases, eliminate or reverse the symptoms of disease. It is time we begin to choose our diet as carefully as we choose our clothes. Canola, corn, lentils, potatoes, tomatoes, soybeans and wheat are just a few genetically modified foods grown in Canada, with additional GM imports. Unfortunately, the Canadian government does not keep track of what GM foods are being grown, how much is produced or even where it is produced. 

Many of these GM foods are herbicide- and pest-resistant. Monsanto, an agrichemical and biotechnology company, manufactures a variety of pest-resistant corn. This corn contains genetic material from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria, which produces a toxin that kills pests. Traditionally, the toxin was sprayed on crops in order to kill insects like rootworms. 

Since the spray has been deemed safe by regulators, Monsanto researchers concluded that having the toxin directly produced by the corn would not negatively affect humans. However, studies are proving them wrong. The toxin produced in modified corn is significantly more concentrated than the spray and can’t be washed off or biodegraded before human consumption. 

The toxin attaches to receptors in the gut of insects, causing organ degradation and death. Monsanto claims vehemently that the toxin is broken down completely by mammalian digestion and is therefore safe for human consumption, but several studies suggest otherwise. The first lifelong rat-feeding study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology this year found that rats fed GM corn developed cancers, tumors and organ failure. Other studies conducted by biotech companies have shown mortality in animals fed Bacillus thuringiensis corn. Bt corn is not only dangerous to mice and cattle, but is potentially dangerous to humans. 

When exposed to Bt corn pollen in 2003, 51 residents on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines sought medical attention. The residents were stricken with fever, vomiting, headaches, respiratory difficulties and abdominal pain. Terje Traavik, a doctor who studied the blood of the sick locals exposed to the corn pollen, found specific antibodies to the Bt toxin. Traavik said the results were enough to challenge Monsanto’s claims that the toxin does not show up in the pollen of GM plants and that the toxin is non-allergenic. 

Many of the sick locals remained ill for three years and five unexplained deaths also occurred on the island. A report for the Institute of Science in Society, by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, details the severity of this case and the damage to human health linked to Bt corn.

In a 2011 Reproductive Toxicology study by Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc, the Bt toxin was found in the blood of more than 80 per cent of women tested, including pregnant women and their fetuses. 

In 2009, a Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto corn product called Smartstax skirted food safety assessments and was approved for human consumption. This corn contains eight different GM traits that have already been tested and approved separately. As a result, Health Canada felt that by combining all eight traits, no new assessment would be needed. Similar to how combining different drugs can produce unwanted side effects, combining these traits may also cause problems. 

This blatant disregard for public safety should outrage Canadians — both the moral and scientific integrity of these biotech companies should be questioned. Independent studies should be conducted to confirm the results biotech comanies report in their own studies. 

Syngenta, another biotech company that produces Bt corn, conducted a bovine feeding study in 1996. Four cows died two days after ingesting the corn. Syngenta immediately cancelled the study and attempted to cover up the results. 

Do we want to be fed a toxin with the potency to kill cattle within days? 

Currently, Monsanto owns 90 per cent of all GM crops in the world. We can’t support companies that completely disregard the health of customers. Nor do we want to be known as the generation that chose to risk our health and that of our children purely for the profit of a few corporations. 

GM foods may pose significant danger to our health and well being. As consumers, we should demand to know what we are eating and educate ourselves on the risks of GM foods.