Hesperian Health Guides
GE Foods and Health
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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 13: The False Promise of Genetically Engineered Foods > GE Foods and Health
Some of the health effects of GE foods are known because people have become sick from eating them. Other health problems are suspected but not yet proven.
Government agencies in the United States and other countries that develop GE crops have refused to test their possible health effects. Corporations that develop these crops do everything possible so their crops will not be tested. GE crops and the foods made from them are often not labeled, and are mixed with ordinary crops and foods. All this makes it difficult to know if a GE food is dangerous or if someone has become sick from eating GE crops.
Health problems from GE crops
To know for certain what the health effects of GE crops are will require many years of study. Scientists have already done some studies that show GE crops probably do cause health problems:
Foods made from GE crops contain things that have never been eaten before. This may cause people’s bodies to have bad reactions to these foods. Because we cannot know in advance what substances in GE crops will cause allergies, people may become allergic to many of the foods they commonly eat.
Increased pesticide poisoning
Most GE crops grow well only when large amounts of chemicals are added. Some GE seeds have even been designed to contain pesticides. Limited use of some pesticides may benefit farmers. But using too much leads to more pesticide poisonings of both people and the environment.
Cancer and organ damage
Animals fed GE potatoes and tomatoes had changes in their stomachs that could lead to cancer, damage to the kidneys and other organs, and poor brain development. But when GE foods are not tested or labeled, it is almost impossible for doctors to know if a person’s cancer or organ damage is caused by GE foods.
Resistance to antibiotics
Some GE foods include genes resistant to antibiotics as a result of genetic engineering. Some scientists believe when people eat foods containing these genes, antibiotic resistance in bacteria will be created in the stomach. Then, if that person needs to take antibiotic medicine to solve a health problem, the medicine may no longer work.
Golden rice in AsiaAround the world, millions of people suffer from blindness caused by a lack of Vitamin A in their diets. As a solution to this problem, a new kind of GE rice containing Vitamin A was developed and named Golden Rice. The company that makes Golden Rice plans to sell it to farmers all over Asia where rice is the main food, and where blindness from a lack of Vitamin A is a serious problem. The company hopes farmers will grow Golden Rice instead of traditional varieties of rice.
However, Golden Rice will not prevent people from going blind. The blindness Golden Rice is trying to cure is not caused only by a lack of Vitamin A. It is caused by the lack of a sufficient variety of healthy foods that naturally contain Vitamin A. Even if a person eats Golden Rice, the Vitamin A will not nourish them unless there are enough nutrients from other foods eaten at the same time.
Instead of trying technical solutions like GE rice to prevent blindness and other problems of widespread hunger, it would be better to improve food security. Because the inventors of Golden Rice did not challenge the real problems of poverty and malnutrition, they will not prevent people from going blind. </div>
A better way to end problems from poor nutrition
Golden Rice is an example of trying to solve a social problem — blindness due to poverty and malnutrition — with a technical solution: genetically engineered crops. But there is another solution.
There are large amounts of Vitamin A in fresh fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, and other foods. (See a general health book such as Where There Is No Doctor for information on good nutrition.) Green vegetables used to grow wild in rice paddies and farmer’s fields until the increased use of herbicides killed them.
In the country of Bangladesh, people organized to plant home gardens to make sure that children have enough nutritious food. With the help of an organization called Helen Keller International, people planted 600,000 home gardens to help prevent blindness and other health problems from malnutrition. Home gardens are one way to improve nutrition and food security without looking for expensive technical solutions such as GE food, which may not work anyway.