In a recent test of pork chop and ground-pork samples from six U.S. cities, Consumer Reports found low levels of ractopamine in almost one-fifth of the 240 pork products analyzed, as well as a range of other nasties – including several strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Ractopamine is a growth promoter drug. It is widely used on intensive livestock farms in the U.S. because it increases the rate of weight gain and carcass leanness in pigs, cattle and turkey. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the U.S. pig herd is fed the drug every year. Of course, the drug doesn’t come without its costs.
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.