(This is the second installment of a three-part series about the potential risks of foods containing genetically modified ingredients)

Genetically modified crops, and products containing genetically modified ingredients, may pose health, safety and other potential risks that far outweigh the purported benefits. A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is the result of a laboratory process where genes are taken from one species and inserted into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic.

It is difficult to assess the safety of GM foods on human health because the studies required to do so do not exist. However, studies conducted on animals demonstrate that consuming GMOs poses various health risks. These include sterility, infertility, increased allergic reactions, weakened immune systems, enlarged internal organs, and pre-cancerous cell growth.

A report by the US Centers for Disease Control shows that food-related illnesses increased 2- to 10-fold in the years between 1994 (just before GMO food was commercialized) and 1997. Is there a link with GMO food? No one knows for sure because studies on humans have not been conducted. Sadly, since government allows GMOs into the food supply, we are unwitting test subjects.

GMOs have been in the food supply for over twenty years, so you may have already experienced some of the effects. Taking just one example, consider the relationship between GMOs and allergic reactions. The process of genetic engineering routinely results in proteins being introduced into the food supply from organisms that have never been consumed as food. Since virtually all known food allergens are proteins, it’s likely that many of these new proteins are causing reactions that haven’t yet been traced to their origin. In fact, studies have found that the number of people experiencing allergic reactions has doubled, and in some cases tripled, over the past twenty years.

On the environmental front, a 1996 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists listed three broad categories of potential environmental risks associated with GM crops. First, the engineered crops themselves could become weeds or create new weeds through cross pollination with wild plants. Second, crops engineered to produce certain traits could mutate into new or different traits with unforeseen risks and potentially to spread to other organisms. Third, GMO crops could cause disruption to their respective ecosystems by causing sickness among animals that eat them or by threatening crop diversity. The risks are many and impossible to predict due to the delicate interrelationships between plants and animals.

An example is the case of a genetically modified variety of cotton called bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as Bt cotton. Chinese farmers grow large amounts of this crop, which is engineered to create its own pesticide. Over a relatively short period, pests that used to pose only a minor problem developed resistance to this pesticide. Their population exploded to 12 times their pre-GMO numbers. As a result, new and stronger pesticides need to be developed. Other studies on Bt cotton show that pesticide use has increased 13-fold since the crop was introduced in India. A similar event occurs with weeds that develop resistance to industry herbicides. More and stronger herbicides are needed for weed control, and stronger herbicides are needed to combat new “superweeds.” This poisoning of our food supply is unconscionable and must stop.

Every day, new studies and observational accounts from around the world point to the potential health and environmental risks of growing and eating genetically modified organisms. I urge you to learn more about this issue. The more informed we are, the more effective we can be at protecting our environment, our health and the well being of our family and community.