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Report: Americans Eat Their Body Weight in GM Foods

Environmental Working Group reveals troubling stats about prevelance of GMOs in American diet

Common Dreams staff

Report finds that genetically modified foods consume the American diet. (Photo by BASF - The Chemical Company via Flickr)

Every year, Americans consume their body weight—and more—in genetically modified foods, says a new analysis by the Environmental Working Group. The analysis found that people eat an estimated 193 pounds of genetically engineered food each year; and the average weight of a typical american, 179 pounds.

EWG, a not for profit that uses public information to protect public health and the environment, based their findings on U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2011 data on per capita consumption of the four primary foods commonly directed from genetically engineered crops: sugar, corn-based sweeteners, salad oil and “corn products.”

EWG reports:

USDA data shows that "95 percent of the sugar beets, 93 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. […] 79 percent of the salad oil consumed in the U.S. is soybean oil, and 55 percent of the sugar comes from sugar beets."

From these figures, EWG calculated that the average American annually consumes genetically engineered foods in these quantities: 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil and 29 pounds of corn-based products, for a total of 193 pounds.

Shocking as that is, the report says that this amount is both an underestimate and a growing figure. There is a long list of foods with potential genetic engineering that were not included like canola oil, cottonseed oil, papaya, yellow squash, other soy products, and genetically engineered animal feed that people consume indirectly; there is an even longer list of foods, over 30, that are currently being tested in field trials.

The analysis went on to point out that some populations, namely children and hispanic americans, are likely to consume "even more than their share" of GM foods. Hispanics tend to eat "2-to-3 times more corn flour than people of other ethnicities", and—not surprisingly—children consume more sugars and corn flour per pound of their body weight than adults (ahem, Halloween). 

The troubling take-away is that there have been "no long-term health studies have been done on consumption of GMOs." According to EWG, "the government isn’t doing this kind of research and is not requiring it of the food industry. It isn’t even making it possible for independent scientists to do it, since under the law, those who hold patents on genetically engineered food get to decide in most cases what testing can – and cannot – be conducted."

In July, food safety non-profit, Earth Open Source issued a report on the dangers of GMOs, "GMO Myths and Truths." This study was unusual because it was neither corporate-funded nor was it "authored not by the usual food activists and environmentalists, but by two well known genetic engineers with help from an investigative reporter." Some of their findings related to human health and safety include:

*GM foods have not been adequately safety tested. There has been no long term research, and the few short term studies have been inadequate. In many cases proprietary restrictions put in place by biotech companies like Monsanto have prevented independent research by scientists not connected to the corporations which are making claims about their safety.

*Animal studies of the effects of GM foods have disclosed clear signs of toxicity– notably disturbances in liver and kidney function and immune responses.

*Over half of GM crops are engineered to withstand application of Monsanto’s best selling Roundup. Contrary to the company’s claims Roundup is not safe at the levels it is being use, but has been found to be associated with miscarriage, birth defects, neurological development problems, DNA damage, and certain types of cancer. A public health crisis has occurred in GM soy-producing regions of South America, where people exposed to spraying with Roundup and other agrochemicals report escalating rates of birth defects and cancer.

*There is insufficient evidence that the BT toxin engineered into the plant structure of corn and cotton (whose seeds are used in food oil production) is safe for human consumption. Bt crops have been found to have toxic effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials. These toxins have also been found circulating in the blood of pregnant women in Canada and in the blood supply to their fetuses.

Though it seems we are a ways out from both regulation of GMOs and testing of its long-term effects, in California consumers are being given the opportunity to demand labeling on all GM foods with Proposition 37. Of this important legislative step, author and food activist Michael Pollan writes hopefully:

Already, Prop 37 has ignited precisely the kind of debate — about the risks and benefits of genetically modified food; about transparency and the consumer’s right to know that Monsanto and its allies have managed to stifle in Washington for nearly two decades. If Prop 37 passes, and the polls suggest its chances are good, then that debate will most likely go national and a new political dynamic will be set in motion.

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