Despite the recent recession, it’s great to see that demand for high-welfare, sustainable meats, dairy products, and eggs continues to grow. As the public wakes up to the negative impacts of intensive farming, they’re looking for food labels that provide real assurances that the food they buy is healthful, and produced with animal welfare and the environment in mind. Many different businesses have now set up programs to offer consumers certain assurances about the food they buy. It goes without saying that the many different labels offered by food businesses vary enormously in terms of their scope and operation. However, most of the claims are centered on claims that farmers are using humane, sustainable farming practices, or that animals are fed a strictly controlled diet, or that medications or hormones are restricted or even prohibited. Since it’s impossible for each of us to go out and check the farms ourselves, we effectively take it on face value that the food label we choose to support really does deliver the benefits that it promises.
New peer-reviewed research suggests that eating genetically modified (GM) maize – and drinking water containing permitted levels of RoundUp herbicide – may cause tumors, premature death and other serious health problems.
Published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, the study is the first to examine the potential long-term effects of exposure to GM food and the world’s best-selling herbicide, RoundUp. Researchers at the University of Caen fed groups of male and female rats a diet of Monsanto’s GM maize and water containing glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) at levels permitted in the U.S. water supply over a two-year period. The researchers claim that rats fed a GM diet, and exposed to RoundUp in their water, developed tumors and damage to their livers and kidneys and died much earlier than those fed a normal diet. Groups of rats were fed RoundUp resistant GM maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in their water). According to the research, around 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females exposed to GM maize and RoundUp died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group.
It is important to note that the length of this trial – over two years – is far longer than any previous research undertaken in this area. As the authors state, several studies consisting of 90-day rat feeding trials have been conducted by the biotech industry and these have formed the basis of the regulatory approval of GM crops for human consumption. But as rats can live for two years or more (700+ days), some scientists have long highlighted the limitations of these short-term trials, as well as the lack of any truly independent studies.
Commentators have been quick to denounce the lead author of the research – Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini – as “anti-GM” on the basis that he has previously published work which raises safety concerns about GM. And I must admit that, as the day progressed, the orchestrated media campaign surrounding the publication of the study became ever-more apparent, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in the wider press. Nevertheless, as with all peer-reviewed research, I will digest the science carefully – particularly as 85 percent of all maize sown in the U.S. is GM, and 70 percent of all the processed foods on the supermarket shelves now contain unlabeled GM ingredients.
And that is the one clear issue that has arisen from the media furor. The fact is that most parents have no easy way to protect their children from this potential new risk – perceived or otherwise. Without any form of GM labeling on most of our food there is no easy way to for us to decide whether or not we feed this stuff to our families on a day-to-day basis. Combined with the fact that there is little – if any – truly independent scientific analysis of the food safety and environmental impacts of GM crops, it’s fair to say that most of us are already playing roulette with our health whether we like it or not.