Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods and the Link to Allergies - Part 2

I've struggled with writing this post. I'm not a scientist, doctor or other type of medical or allergy specialist. I'm just a mom that's spent the last 6 1/2 years trying to learn everything I can about my daughter's peanut allergy.

Information regarding the link between genetically modified foods and allergies is not only hard for me to fully comprehend, but it's even harder to put those thoughts together in a post without simply cutting and pasting from other resources.  I'm going to try hard not to, but here's credit in advance to the articles I'm referring to to write this post.  Here goes.

In it's simplest form, GM food is food that has had genes from other plants, bacteria and viruses inserted into it's genetic structure. This in turn creates a new protein that may/may not have been present before which may/may not trigger an allergic reaction.

It's considered inhumane to test these newly formed proteins in GM foods on humans prior to releasing it into our food supply.  I find it ironic that it is considered okay to put it on our grocery store shelves in the form of a processed food ingredient and then wait to see what happens. Because it takes humans eating a food several times before the protein causes us to be allergic, there is really no good way to then go back and see if a particular engineered food is the culprit.

I'm going to use GM soybeans as an example of why there is a possible link between GM foods and allergies simply because that's the one used by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) in their article, "Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies".  There are plenty of examples with other GM crops like corn, cottonseed, sugar beets, canola, Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini and crook neck squash.

The GM soybean was created in the U.S. in 1996 by using a bacteria that formed a new protein that's never before been consumed by a human. Scientist must run all newly formed proteins through an International database comparing it's amino sequence with amino sequences that have been known to trigger allergic reactions.  If known allergens are found to be present, it is required that either additional testing be performed or that the GM crop not be released. In the case of the GM soybean, there were sections of a protein that are identical to known allergens, but the crop was released prior to the creation of the database.

For us dealing specifically with peanut allergies, there is at least one known protein in natural soybeans that has a cross-reactivity with peanut allergies.  Whether genetically modified soybeans might increase that chance of cross-reactivity remains to be seen.  It's certainly coincidence that the number of peanut allergies has doubled in the years following the introduction of GM soybeans.

According to the OCA, another study verified that GM soybeans contain a unique, unexpected protein, not found in non-GM soy controls.  Scientist tested that protein and determined that it reacted with the IgE antibody which is responsible for allergic reactions. "The fact that the unique protein created by GM soy  interacted with IgE suggests that it might also trigger allergies."

Using a question posed from the article "Ah-tchoo!: Do Genetically Modified Foods Cause Allergies" written on emagazine.com, if you are allergic to fish and you eat a tomato that has been genetically modified with genes from a fish, is it then possible that you would then react as if you'd eaten fish?  According to that article by OCA, it is.  The OCA article gives this example. In the mid 1990's, there was an attempt to produce healthier soybeans by using a gene from Brazil nuts.  Blood tests from people with allergies to Brazil nuts showed an allergic reaction to this new soybean.  This was one case where the product never went to market.

While there is really no concrete evidence here in the U.S. to prove a link between GM foods and allergies as well as other health dangers, there have been limited studies in other countries. Funny how those same countries both restrict the use of GM crops grown as well as require imported GM food from the U.S. to be labeled accordingly.  By the way, why aren't GM foods tested in the U.S.?  According to that article in emagazine.com, the FDA (Richard Herndon, an FDA spokesperson) says that it doesn't subject GM foods to the same testing as, for example, a new chemical additive, because new gene introductions do not "materially change the composition" of food.  "FDA has no basis for concluding that bio-engineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding."

I hope all of this information has at least got you thinking about a possible link between food allergies and genetically modified foods.  I urge you to continue to do your own research about all of the possible health risks with eating these types of foods as well as to follow the links in the posts and read the reference articles in their entirety.   Also, here's a link to a past post I wrote about avoiding GM foods.  There's more information in that post on health hazards as well as tips to avoid GM foods.

Author Note:  I just found an Organic Soy Scorecard on The Cornucopia Institute's website.  It rates companies on their organic soy production.

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