Food Labeling and GMOs: Why Local Health Practitioners Favor Transparency
Oct 01, 2012 02:52PM
● By Linda Sechrist
This year, more than 1 million Californians—far more than the 500,000 required to force a ballot—signed a petition seeking a referendum on the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) products. The result is Proposition 37—the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. This grassroots ballot initiative has the power, if passed, to ensure truer transparency in the food industry and help end the routine practice of labeling and marketing GE foods—which result in genetically modified organisms, or GMOs—as “natural”. Most importantly, it will allow consumers to exercise their power of choice in the marketplace.
Labeling of GE products has been defeated by legislators in 19 states, but is required in more than 40 countries including Japan, Australia and most of Europe. According to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio, more than 93 percent of Americans want GE foods labeled. In other words, the overwhelming majority of consumers want to know if the foods they are buying contain ingredients derived from lab-created seeds that have been genetically engineered/modified to resist (and sometimes even create their own) toxic pesticides, withstand drought or produce higher yields.
To learn more about the important issue of GE foods and food labeling, Natural Awakenings turned to Collier and Lee County health practitioners for their opinions. We interviewed Miranda Norris, a health coach certified by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition; Dr. Eric Gerken, DC, wellness consultant and owner of Dr. Gerken’s Health Services, in Fort Myers; Sayer Ji, founder of GreenMedInfo.com and manager of For Goodness Sake Organic Marketplace & Café, in Bonita Springs; Dr. John Edwards, DC, owner of Mama’s Chiropractic Clinic, in Cape Coral; Dee Harris, licensed dietician/nutritionist at Perlmutter Health Center, in Naples; and Deborah Post, advanced nurse practitioner and owner of Well Bridges, in Fort Myers.
Norris, who works with parents interested in making good decisions about what to feed their families, is hopeful that California voters will pass Proposition 37 and that other states will follow the example.
“The problem with GMOs is that they don’t require testing, a loophole that seems shortsighted. Without government safety data, we are unwitting, unscientific experiment subjects. We don’t know what’s in the food we buy for ourselves and our growing children,” says Norris, who advises her clients to read labels and pass up “Franken-foods”.
Despite the recent release of results from a study by Stanford University scientists which concluded that there is no more nutrition in organic foods than in commercially grown produce, Norris advises clients to eat organic as much as their budget can afford. “If they are curious about the difference, I suggest they eat only organic produce for three months and then eat a conventionally grown carrot or banana. Most never go back, initially because of the ‘sawdust’ taste and then for all other perceived benefits, such as avoiding GMOS,” advises Norris. She recommends that her clients use the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen–Plus lists on the 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, compiled by the Environmental Working Group and available as a free, downloadable PDF on their website, EWG.org.
The Dirty Dozen-Plus list—apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes, green beans and kale/greens—are the most contaminated items. The Clean 15—onions, sweet corn, pineapple, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, domestic cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon and mushrooms—contain the least pesticide residue.
Dr. Eric Gerken
Gerken, who studied natural sciences and earned a Doctor of Chiropractic degree at Northwestern Health Sciences University, is also a certified traditional naturopath, specializing in biochemistry and anti-aging medicine, as well as a diplomate of the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine. The results of research by a team of scientists at Sherbrooke University Hospital, in Quebec, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, added hard science to Gerkin’s passionate anti-GE opinion. The study found a food toxin produced in insect-resistant crops grown in the U.S. in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn babies, as well as in umbilical cords.
“This study is alarming because it shows that toxins such as Cry1AB—produced in GMO foods patented by the agrichemical industry—can not only survive the digestive tract, but also enter the bloodstream, which disputes the claim made by the industry that GMOs were safe and that this was impossible,” says Gerken. Cry1Ab is used in a strain of corn fed to livestock and has been genetically modified to produce an insecticidal protein.
Another GMO red flag for Gerken is high-fructose corn syrup. “Since 90 percent of our U.S. corn crop is genetically modified, high-fructose corn syrup, which is in nearly every processed food, it is potentially laden with toxins and insecticidal proteins that have the ability to wreak havoc in the intestinal track, where 60 percent of our immune system is located. These proteins can also punch through intestinal walls of the gut to create leaky gut syndrome,” advises Gerken, who points his clients to TrueFoodNow.org, which has a comprehensive Non-GMO Shoppers’ Guide mobile application for iPhone and Android users.
Dr. John Edwards
After reading Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Edwards began educating his patients about how processed foods, dairy and gluten, as well as GMO soy and corn, impact the immune system. Concerned about insecticidal proteins that interact with human proteins and change the genetic response to the food that we eat, he says, “Unfortunately, we don’t have 20 years of research that determines how all these things affect us biologically.”
Edwards enjoys edifying his patients and the public about nutrition and is a participant in a Terry Tempest Williams Student Dialogue at Florida Gulf Coast University this month. “The topic of our panel discussion is Sustainable Food to Nourish the Mind, Body and Soul,” says Edwards, who hosts a monthly Pathways Connect group for community discussions on healthy lifestyles and health care.
This month, the group will screen the film, Bitter Seeds, about the pressure Third World nations face to adopt GMOs. The documentary raises questions about the human cost of genetically modified (GM) agriculture and the future of how food is grown.
Harris, who favors Proposition 37, says her goal is to clean up her clients’ diets, reduce their total health risk and improve their chances of achieving and maintaining better health. This goal includes reducing GE food consumption. When advising patients about the health hazards of these foods, Harris frequently meets with resistance. “People complain that organic foods are more expensive, so, like Miranda Norris, I suggest that at a minimum, they follow the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list, try to shop at farmers’ markets, Food & Thought 100% Organic Farm Market or Trader Joe’s,” she advises.
Ji is resistant to GE foods for several reasons. “Roundup [Monsanto’s patented herbicide, commonly used on GE crops] contains glyphosate, which is a powerful endocrine disrupter. Even exceedingly small amounts are capable of mimicking and/or disrupting hormonal pathways, cell receptor sites and cell signaling,” he explains. “Research culled from the National Library of Medicine links glyphosate to 17 adverse pharmacological actions, including carcinogenicity, genotoxicity and neurotoxicity.”
Ji points to recent research published in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry that discovered glyphosate in 41 percent of 140 groundwater samples taken from Catalonia, Spain. “This proves that the herbicide does not break down rapidly and does accumulate in the environment, despite the manufacturer’s claims. Significant environmental exposures to humans using the water are inevitable,” says Ji.
Post also favors Proposition 37. In her public presentations on GE foods at Food & Thought, Post cautions about avoiding them when possible. She regularly refers her audience to Mercola.com, a good resource for up-to-date, informational articles on health.
Most alarming to Post are the results of a study by Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov, which determined that hamsters fed Monsanto GE soy for two years became infertile in the third generation. “When I think of the 7.4 million women that have used infertility services, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I wonder if there isn’t a link, considering that 90 percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are GM crops,” says Post.
“Although my presentation is focused on GE and human health, I’m just as concerned about our diminishing bee populations, because these insects pollinate crops. Although we don’t hear about it in the U.S., Poland formally acknowledged the link between Monsanto’s GE corn and the colony collapse disorder (CCD) that’s been devastating bees around the world,” says Post.
Post cites a German study in which bees were released in a genetically engineered canola field and then fed the canola pollen to younger bees. Scientists discovered that the bacteria in the guts of the young bees took on the traits of the canola’s modified genes, proving that GMO DNA in pollen can be transferred to bees though their digestive system.
Taking issue with the Stanford University study, Post references a 1936 quote taken directly from the Congressional Record of the 74th Congress, Second Session: “The alarming fact is that foods (fruits, vegetables and grains) now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us—no matter how much of them we eat.”
“I find it very hard to believe that conventionally grown food is equal to food grown organically, especially if Congress declared that our soil didn’t contain enough minerals back in 1936,” she says. “It’s even harder to imagine that organic produce, grown and harvested from someone’s backyard, doesn’t contain more vitamins and minerals that are so essential to our health.
“It’s my opinion that these study results were conveniently released so close to when California voters go to the polls,” she continues. “Opponents of Proposition 37, including many ‘natural’ food companies, have poured $25 million in ad campaigns to defeat it,” emphasizes Post, who adds that she is also hopeful that other states will follow California’s example.
If California voters pass Proposition 37 when they head to the polls on November 6, the impact will be felt across the nation—California is the eighth largest economy in the world. Mark A. Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Wisconsin that promotes economic justice for family-scale farming, says the vote is critical: “Just as we’ve observed in Europe, where labeling of food containing GMOs is mandatory, we fully expect that when given a choice, consumers will choose organic or non-GMO products.”
Post agrees, offering a simple summation: “I’m in favor of passing Proposition 37 because I want to read labels, so that I can limit my exposure to what I can control about my health.”
Dr. John Edwards, Mama’s Chiropractic Clinic, 3046 Del Prado Blvd. S., Cape Coral; 239-549-6262. MamasChiropractic.com.
Dr. Eric Gerken, Dr. Gerken’s Health Services, 8801 College Pkwy., Ste. 2, Ft. Myers; 239-415-1122. DrGerkensHealthSpa.com.
Dee Harris, Perlmutter Health Center, 800 Goodlette Rd. N., Ste. 70, Naples; 239-649-7400. PerlHealth.com.
Miranda Norris, Miranda’s Art of Living, Naples; 239-206-3390. MirandasArtOfLiving.com.
Deborah Post, Well Bridges, 17595 S. Tamiami Trail, Ste. 108-14, Fort Myers; 239-481-5600. DebPost.com.
For more information about Proposition 37 and GMOs, see "Food Fight" brief.