Are GMOs Vegan?
What Are GMOs? Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs), also called Genetically-Engineered Organisms (GEOs) or Frankenfoods, are novel biological organisms created using recombinant DNA technology. These transgenic chimeras are created by inserting foreign DNA into the existing DNA structures of plants, animals, and other living organisms. GMOs are present in approximately 70% of the food available at retail markets in the U.S. The GMOs approved and offered for human consumption in the U.S. include: Corn and all corn derivatives (corn oil, HFCS, maltodextrin, etc.), Soy and all soy derivatives (soybean oil, soy protein isolate, soy lecithin, etc.), Cotton and all cotton derivatives (oil, fabric), Canola (oil), Sugar Beets (sugar), Papaya (very few), Squash (very few). Upwards of 80% of corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola, grown in North America is genetically-engineered (GE). This means that if a product has corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, or beet sugar in it – and is not organic or labelled non-gmo – it’s probably GE. Potatoes, tomatoes, wheat, rice, sweet potato, cassava, salmon, pigs, goats, trees, mice and numerous other organisms have been or are being engineered. GE salmon is awaiting approval for human consumption right now.
Why Do We Engineer Organisms? There are many purported reasons for developing genetically-engineered food crops. Ending world hunger is one of them. But any semi-informed person knows we grow enough food to feed everyone on the planet and more right now, and the real reasons anyone is starving are political. Other purported reasons for creating franken-foods are to make them more nutritious, to increase crop yields, to reduce the use of pesticides, or to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs. However, none of the GMOs proffered thus far have been developed to do anything but manufacture pesticides, or resist herbicides which are sold by the same companies developing the GMOs. The real reason GMOs exist is to make multi-national corporations – corporations that have been profiting from the destruction of humans’ and other animals’ lives and the ruination of the environment for a hundred years – richer, at the expense of, well, humans and other animals, and the environment.
Who Is Responsible? Most of the GMOs produced come from the same people who brought you Agent Orange and DDT: Monsanto. Monsanto also gave us the GMO rBST, also called rBGH or by the brand name Posilac. rBST is a growth hormone given to dairy cows to raise milk production. In Monsanto’s own words, the “use of Posilac has been associated with increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus…digestive disorders…enlarged hocks and lesions (lacerations, enlargements, calluses) of the knee…” But biotech is big business and there are many other players. Because of the deep-pockets and heavy-handed lobbying of these corporations, safety testing of GMOs has not been credibly carried-out. Thanks to the revolving doors in government and bribery of congress, GM foods are “generally recognized as safe” through “substantial equivalence” and are not required to be labelled as being different from non-transgenic foods. (Learn about GRAS) Monsanto carried out it’s own studies, without independent peer-approval, and submitted them as evidence of the safety of their product. Convenient.
What Does GMO Corn and Soy Have To Do With Non-Human Animals? Of the little safety testing that has been done on existing GMOs, either by biotech corporations or independently, most has been done on non-human animals. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) non-human animal testing is morally unnacceptable and 2) testing on non-humans to learn about humans is bad science. It tells us nothing about humans. Even scientists advocating for safety-testing GMOs on animals admit it tells us nothing. Just because a mouse or chimp reacts a certain way to a substance doesn’t mean this data can be extrapolated to humans. Most novel biotech products and processes are tested on non-human animals. Often the new product is non-human animals. Remember, these biotech companies aren’t just in the food business. They develop medicines, vaccines, industrial agents, chemical agents, etc. Human DNA has been spliced with non-human animal DNA to try and develop a working non-human animal model for human vaccines, among other things.
Cows, steer, sheep, pigs, and other non-human animals are (ab)used by these companies for cloning research, and now these cloned animals are entering the food supply. Goats have been engineered to produce drugs and spider-silk in their milk. Rabbits, pigs, mice and other non-human animals have been engineered to fluoresce, or glow in the dark. These companies work with a host of toxic chemicals and are required by the FDA to test novel drugs and other products on non-human animals before they are approved. Many of these tests are done by third-party labs, including Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). From Sourcewatch: “HLS is among the world’s largest contract research laboratories. It operates two facilities in England and one in East Millstone, NJ. At any one time there are 70,000 animals imprisoned within these 3 facilities including dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, rabbits, fish, mice and farm animals. HLS kills approximately 180,000 dogs, cats rats, rabbits, pigs, and primates (marmosets, macaques, and wild-caught baboons) every year in tests for household cleaners, pesticides, weedkillers, cosmetics, food additives and industrial chemicals. HLS kills an average 500 animals each day for tests “only reliable 5-25% of the time”, one HLS record contends.” Other tests on non-human animals are done after-the-fact – independent studies conducted using non-human animals – to expose the [human] health risks associated with eating GMOs. While the efforts are laudable, the methods are laughable. Testing on non-human animals will only tell us about non-human animals. If we want to know if GMOs are safe for humans, we need to test on humans. (Note: Although nothing about humans can be gleaned from testing on non-human animals, logic will tell you that if a mouse shows no ill-effect from non-GMO corn, and shows ill-effect from GMO corn, that corn is not “substantially equivalent” and should not be “generally recognized as safe”. Hamsters born sterile and with fur in their mouths after the grandmother and mother eat GMO corn does not bode well for the safety of GMOs, or the safety of the hamsters.)
Even from a pro-non-human-animal-testing welfarist perspective, these biotech companies’ practices are ethically dubious. From PubMed.gov: “The public discussion on the introduction of agro-genetic engineering focuses mainly on economical, ecological and human health aspects. The fact is neglected that laboratory animals must suffer before either humans or the environment are affected. However, numerous animal experiments are conducted for toxicity testing and authorisation of genetically modified plants in the European Union. These are ethically questionable, because death and suffering of the animals [sic] for purely commercial purposes are accepted. Therefore, recent political initiatives to further increase animal testing for GMO crops must be regarded highly critically. Based on concrete examples this article demonstrates that animal experiments, on principle, cannot provide the expected protection of users and consumers despite all efforts to standardise, optimise or extend them.”
Who Else Has Addressed This? The Vegan Society, creators of the word “vegan” and certifiers of Vegan Society-approved non-human animal-free products bearing the Sunflower Logo, have adopted this policy concerning GMOs in light of the use of non-human animals in the production of GMOs: “In keeping with its vegan ethic, the Vegan Society is totally against the use of animal genes or animal substances in the development and production of GMOs. The Vegan Society believes that all foods that contain, may contain, or have involved GMOs should be clearly labelled. In addition any product must also meet the Society’s Criteria for Vegan Food. Products carrying the Society’s trademark can contain GMOs, but must be clearly labelled and comply with the definition above.” Also: “The development and/or manufacture of the product, and where applicable its ingredients, must not involve, or have involved, testing of any sort on animals conducted at the initiative of the manufacturer or on its behalf, or by parties over whom the manufacturer has effective control.” As far as we can tell, the Vegan Society is the only mainstream vegan organization which has stated a policy regarding GMOs publicly.
What Does It All Mean? Many vegans choose to refrain from buying cosmetics or bath products that have been tested on non-human animals. Many of those same vegans regularly choose to support companies which use GMOs, which have been tested on non-human animals, and are developed by the same companies that make the same cosmetic or bath products that many vegans refrain from using. This is logically inconsistent. GMOs are NOT VEGAN! If we choose to abstain from consuming products tested on non-human animals, we must choose to abstain from consuming products containing genetically-engineered organisms.
What Else? Besides the fact that GMOs are about as vegan as Spam, hand in hand with the testing carried out on animals are the resulting safety issues concerning GMOs – issues every eater, not just vegans – should be concerned about. Here is a list demonstrating both points: 1) that existing GMOs have been, and continue to be tested on animals, and 2) that evidence shows that GMOs are extremely hazardous to the animals being tested, including humans! From nongmoproject.org:
•Rats fed GM tomatoes developed stomach ulcerations
•Liver, pancreas and testes function was disturbed in mice fed GM soya
•GM peas caused allergic reactions in mice
•Rats fed GM oilseed rape developed enlarged livers, often a sign of toxicity
•GM potatoes fed to rats caused excessive growth of the lining of the gut similar to a pre-cancerous condition
•Rats fed insecticide-producing GM maize grew more slowly, suffered problems with liver and kidney function, and showed higher levels of certain fats in their blood
•Rats fed GM insecticide-producing maize over three generations suffered damage to liver and kidneys and showed alterations in blood biochemistry
•Old and young mice fed with GM insecticide-producing maize showed a marked disturbance in immune system cell populations and in biochemical activity
•Mice fed GM insecticide-producing maize over four generations showed a buildup of abnormal structural changes in various organs (liver, spleen, pancreas), major changes in the pattern of gene function in the gut, reflecting disturbances in the chemistry of this organ system (e.g. in cholesterol production, protein production and breakdown), and, most significantly, reduced fertility
•Mice fed GM soya over their entire lifetime (24 months) showed more acute signs of ageing in their liver
•Rabbits fed GM soya showed enzyme function disturbances in kidney and heart
• Sheep fed Bt insecticide-producing GM maize over three generations showed disturbances in the functioning of the digestive system of ewes and in the liver and pancreas of their lambs
• GM DNA was found to survive processing and to be detectable in the digestive tract of sheep fed GM feed. This raises the possibility that antibiotic resistance and Bt insecticide genes can move into gut bacteria, a process known as horizontal gene transfer. Horizontal gene transfer can lead to antibiotic resistant disease-causing bacteria (“superbugs”) and may lead to Bt insecticide being produced in the gut with potentially harmful consequences. For years, regulators and the biotech industry claimed that horizontal gene transfer would not occur with GM DNA, but this research challenges this claim
• GM DNA in feed is taken up by the animal’s organs. Small amounts of GM DNA appear in the milk and meat that people eat. The effects on the health of the animals and the people who eat them have not been researched.
•Human volunteers fed a single GM soya bean meal showed that GM DNA can survive processing and is detectable in the digestive tract. There was evidence of horizontal gene transfer to gut bacteria. Horizontal gene transfer of antibiotic resistance and Bt insecticide genes from GM foods into gut bacteria is an extremely serious issue. This is because the modified gut bacteria could become resistant to antibiotics or become factories for Bt insecticide. While Bt in its natural form has been safely used for years as an insecticide in farming, Bt toxin genetically engineered into plant crops has been found to have potential ill health effects on laboratory animals
•In the late 1980s, a food supplement produced using GM bacteria was toxic, initially killing 37 Americans and making more than 5,000 others seriously ill.
Several experimental GM food products (not commercialised) were found to be harmful:
•People allergic to Brazil nuts had allergic reactions to soya beans modified with a Brazil nut gene42
•The GM process itself can cause harmful effects. GM potatoes caused toxic reactions in multiple organ systems. GM peas caused a 2-fold allergic reaction – the GM protein was allergenic and stimulated an allergic reaction to other food components. This raises the question of whether GM foods cause an increase in allergies to other substances.
There are also environmental issues such as cross-contamination, cross-pollination or evolved-tolerance resulting in “superweeds”, increased herbicide use, decreased yield, soil contamination…the list goes on and on. For a full background on the myriad concerns of GMOs go.
The bottom line is: there is substantial evidence that consuming GMOs supports – and relies on – non-human animal cruelty; that GMOs are hazardous to humans, other animals, and the environment; and that removal of these products from market is necessary to ensure public safety until safety can be assessed using scientifically sound methods, i.e., no non-human animal testing. If we are committed to empowering ourselves to make compassionate and healthful decisions about who and what practices we support, we will avoid GMOs whenever possible.
Go Vegan – If you’re not already, go vegan. GMOs are mainly used as non-human animal feed in the U.S., so refraining from supporting the inherent cruelty involved in using animals as resources is also the best way to avoid supporting GMOs. Two carrots with one chop.
Buy Organic – Buying organic is the easiest way to avoid GMOs. Even non-GMO produce can have GM corn-based wax, such as peppers and apples. Vitamins used to enrich non-organic foods are most likely GM, also. Things we wouldn’t think of like (non-organic white) vinegar, maltodextrin, or vegetable capsules for vitamin supplements are mostly made from GM crops. And that cotton shirt, or those denim jeans? It’s GM unless it’s organic.
Look For Products Labelled “Non-GMO” – Many companies label their products “Non-GMO”. Some aren’t labeled but a quick e-mail, call, or internet search will probably be helpful.
Grow Your Own Food – Growing your own food has numerous individually-and socially-empowering benefits, including knowing where your food comes from and how it was grown. Biotech companies own an increasing share of organic seed companies, though, so source the seeds properly.
GMOs are quite ubiquitous these days, so completely avoiding them is near impossible. But with a little due diligence, most of the GMOs available can be avoided. It’s also important to call or write the companies using GM products and tell them our concerns. If consumer pressure can get the high-fructose corn syrup out of major ketchup brands, we can pressure the companies we support to use products that aren’t tested on animals, harmful to our health, or ecologically destructive.
In a system that puts profits before people, we vote with our dollars, and we need to pay attention to what – and who – we’re voting for.
Our Mothers told us when we were kids, but we need to remember as adults: Don’t take food from strangers!
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ReadBy Jeffrey Smith
Peaceful Creativity + Peaceful Diet + Peaceful Economy + Peaceful Interaction + Peaceful Living
The Peaceful Planet
It’s Time For Change