Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Genetically Modified Food Fight

You'd think I could escape this issue in my daily life, but can I?

When I speak of genetically-modified foods, I am not speaking of the age-old practice of creating hybrids. Rather, I am speaking of the hacking of DNA and insertion of unrelated DNA by biotech scientists. The reasons behind the latter are vast, and all have to do with profit margins, despite any claims to the contrary.

That's just to clarify, in a nutshell.

Can we afford to ignore this issue, or be half-hearted about it? After all, our society is issue-weary, I believe. We've been inundated with the enormity of global crises, natural disasters, famines, grass-roots efforts struggling to survive, Davids of emergency causes dwarfed by the money and litigation of corporate and legislative Goliaths. We're often tired and discouraged as we sit in the shadow of mountains that seem to be immovable.

Well, that's a perception I think the Goliaths want to perpetuate. Often, it's the niggling little irritants, us, that are the squeaky wheel that brings attention to and some consistency to these very important milestone issues...we're in the midst of making history, not at the backside of something unchangeable.

The GMO/GE foods issue has invaded my daily life now, whether I like it or not. I just had a contraband (oh the poor diet) handful of Fritos. Did I eat GM corn, and if I did, where is the testing to show what the risks are? More protected than my rights to know are the rights of BigAg to market these without any truth in labeling standard that would allow ME to decide FOR MYSELF about consuming genetically altered products. Allowing the government to be my "parent" in this way is too Big Brother for me. No, in a free society, I get to decide for myself, and I get to demand transparency in access to knowing my food's ingredients.

I believe this movement perpetuates itself through misinformation, and by perpetuating societal assumptions. We are so quick to be influenced.

We watch very little TV, and are really ignorant of the latest shows...we get no TV reception here, and don't pay for any. When I was in hospice during the my late MIL's illness, I did watch TV for the first time in literally years. My interest in it soon flagged, so accustomed I have become to less noise. Most of the TV "noise" I noticed was in the form of advertisements, and I began to count the number of pharmaceutical ads and such...they predominated. Two such ads most recently featured were promoting High Fructose Corn syrup, and the ads mocked opposition to high fructose corn syrup as an additive in our foods. It was interesting what information the ad excluded, their sole pitch being that "HF corn syrup, in moderation, is no worse for you than sugar." I remember the actor in one of the ads responding to her friend's hesitancy in eating a food with HF corn syrup asking him what his objection to it was. His reply about his health concerns was incoherent, and her response to him was "What, (you object) because it's corn??" It made him seem like he's a dork who doesn't like his vegetables.

Well, in the comparison of high fructose corn syrup with cane sugar, these days neither can escape sobering GM realities. BOTH are mass-produced, mass-utilized as food sweeteners, and among the highest percentage crops altered genetically. And neither are labeled, so you never know if you're getting genetically modified crops in your foods, or not. Read any label and you'll soon find it's hard to find much of anything at the store without high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar as an ingredient.

What further mystifies me is how ignorant a lot of science-related professionals themselves are regarding this issue, and why they so strongly resist objecting to the potential and real health concerns. Whenever this happens, I think it points to nepotism or some unhealthy inter-dependence among healthcare industry and the pharmaceutical/bio-research industries and government monetary "national interests" protecting potential overseas trade. That's an entirely different subject...

I went to the doctor yesterday, for a very basic visit. When I entered the office, I noticed they were promoting a high protein diet program for their overweight patients...the samples were on view in the waiting room, along with a lot of promising literature. The program incorporates high protein drinks/soups/etc along with basic healthy eating, minus a lot of carbs and fat. Being overweight myself, I waited to ask the doctor more about it. The nurse gave me literature on it to read while waiting for the doc, and I looked it over. They've had many patients who've lost weight on the program, so it seems to work. I've been down this road before, though, and I know there's no magic bullet. In the past, I've done dietary things I've lived to regret, one of the foremost being trusting the "experts" during the Fen-Phen days. Those "experts" approved me for the use of Phen-Fen even though I have a heart murmur. I temporarily had stunning results, but never truly knew what I was putting in my body (the testing had not been long-term) and was left with regrets late for being so hasty to compromise my health overall for the promise of instant results. That, and so many other guniea pig situations related to not only weight loss but also infertility treatments, etc in the past has made me a very cautious and slow-to-jump consumer presently. I consider my reluctance wisdom gained at a high price, not shortsightedness.

My doc visit went well....until...

the end, when the doc was wrapping things up. She was congenial, worked with me, helped me update things that needed updating. Then I asked the Forbidden Question...."what's in the protein supplements?"

She said I could pick up an ingredient list at the front desk. I asked if the primary protein in the supplements was soy, and she said yes.

I have a condition that soy aggravates due to its effect on estrogen, and I mentioned this to her. Her face began to contort. "Well, I think most of that is just a lot of hype," she said. "I think the point is to lose weight and a lot of people like to make more of the estrogen connection and soy than they should."

OK, that's not exactly giving me scientific reasons why, but then I made the major mistake, and asked,

"my additional concern is that soy is one of the highest percentage genetically-modified foods, and I'm cautious about wanting to consume things that are genetically-modified."

At this point, it was like I had kicked her. Her lightning reaction was to become downright sarcastic and almost hostile. She went from congenial to actually sneering! She stood up, looked at me like "YOU aren't the doctor, and YOU know nothing at all about your body," and said "Yes, soy is mostly GM these days. I guess you also have a problem with roses? Roses are genetically-modified. It's completely natural."

And she looked at me with disdain. I said, "I am meaning something different...I understand roses are hybrids and hybrids occur both naturally and through man-made means. But by GM I'm meaning products whose DNA were hacked into and unrelated DNA inserted into by means nature can never accomplish." She snorted and walked out of the room, and I heard her in the other room going off about it to one of the nurses.

Whew, helpful to hostile in mere seconds! It didn't upset me that she supports GM foods, though I would have reason to disagree -- it upset me that she believes DNA-bio-hacking is the same thing as cross pollinating a red rose with a white one, and produces plants as natural as roses. It also bothers me she is giving misinformation to a patient who is wanting to be cautious for health reasons, rather than the other way around...if I were in there asking about the viability of a product KNOWN to have some risks, she'd run an arsenal of tests, look at my health history and genetic predispositions, and make a cautious decision based on benefits vs risks, acknowledging that there ARE risks.

Whew :)

This issue is not going away.

And I'm still going to opt for REAL food vs. engineered anything. I'm tired of our being unwitting guinea pigs for others' gain. You can always find a statistic to back up anything. 50 years ago, doctors were promoting cigarettes as a healthy thing to smoke. I'm not about regulating people's choices of what they eat, or's a free country. I AM about giving them all the facts so they can make informed choices.

Here's some of the latest on the GM issue -- from the Organic Consumers site:

The Food and Drug Administration released a "draft guidance" document on September 18th that outlines the regulatory approval process for Genetically Engineered (GE) animals. To date, the process has not been transparent, and maintains that GE animals, like their plant counterparts, do not need to be labeled. Food derived from GE animals will not be labeled and represents a huge risk for human health and the environment.

Full article at

If we think this is an issue that's harmless, here's a reminder that there is a lot of money and lobbying behind this issue that is striving to silence the folks who openly question and ask for the facts:

Gently and consistently, we must insist on honesty in labeling and on protection of our rights to decide for ourselves, as citizens, whether we want GMOs. We can NOT hand this decision over to the government to decide for us, because if we do, they will.

And they'll continue to convince us that GM soy is as "natural" as growing a pink rose.


Kathie said...

Oy, such a mess we've gotten ourselves into and every where I turn these days I see different kinds of messes but it seems they all go back to greed...

Will you continue to go to that doctor? That kind of thing tends to make me look for someone else.

Christina said...

Well, I think you already know how I stand gmo foods!!!! I am too tired for a soap box today! I am still trying to find space in the fridge for the eggs..... ((((hugs)))

The Kramer Family said...

Amen sister! I recently wrote about the exact same HFCS commercials on my blog.......ridiculous.

There are tons of GMO foods (potatoes, tomatoes, rice, soy, corn, etc) that our government allows, yet know one is aware of this issue.

Thank God you have educated yourself about this. Otherwise, you'd have just taken the doc's word for it- probably like all of her other patients.

Europe has adopted the GMO food labeling and I think we should as well. We have a right to know. But, in the meantime, I will stick to eating organic corn and soy products.

Thanks for articulating this topic well!

Carla said...

You are my hero, Robbyn! Good for you for standing your ground and not being intimidated by her because "SHE is the Doctor!" It's YOUR body! Congratulations on keeping your cool and responding with intelligent, knowledgeable answers.

I think that 1)at our age, we DO know our bodies somewhat better than our doctors do, and 2) those of us who read your blog (& others like it) are informed enough about nutrition, food additives, etc., to carry on a conversation with our health care providers concerning our own health. We must insist on and expect to be treated with respect during those conversations.

Hooray for you!! said...

Hostility is so hard to deal with when trying to express concern for someone's health and well being, isn't it? I am often surprised by the passion with which some people defend prepackaged foods like Easy Mac or commercial potato chips or other things I consider toxic.

I admire you for sticking to your guns (so to speak) and trying to educate others on the dangers of these GMO foods.

Blessings to you, my friend.


Robbyn said...

Sure is, Kathie. I'm not sure about the doc...I don't usually go to docs much anyway, and I'm in the market for a good naturopath. Never have gone that route, so I'll be checking carefully. At present, I'm pay-as-you-go and trying to just cover the basics of routine things getting checked out :)

Christina, What're you going to do with all those eggs? Sounds like good blog material! :)

I can't wait to do some more catching up with my reading, and your blog is certainly on that list...I SO love what you and your husband are building (pastured animals, organic, etc) and applaud you! I'm so put out with the whole corn syrup issue and how seemingly ignorant our average man/woman on the street is about what goes into our foods. Did you know there are ALREADY GM meats being eaten, without any labeling requirements? It's bad enough they slipped GMs into the food stream "legally" anyway, but to not even allow the public to KNOW when something's GM or not is unfathomable (and unjust if you ask me) Double Argghhhh! I'm delighted you're writing about it on your site...I know a lot of the wonderful folks I've met here also write about them on their sites, such as Christina, above. We really need to consistently get the information out there so people KNOW what their choices are, and be consistent in voicing our real concerns to our legislators. I truly believe we can change this so that it has to be labeled, but Monsanto and the bi-techhies are hoping it will all just blow over without any accountability. We must insist on accountability.

thank you :) I'm just plain ol' me, but thank you for the encouragement. I'd like to encourage anyone to think for themselves. It doesnt mean that doctors' training is useless or unimportant, but it is limited to a particular set of ideologies and disciplines, and there are SO many more out there that have valid uses,, doctors and health care professionals who should view their services as such...SERVICE to people who need them. I understand the mainstream medical community oftentimes has a great deal of skepticism toward anything considered alternative or holistic (remember when they were the primary opponents of vitamin and mineral supplements etc back in the day?)...I'm just stunned that they are so hand-in-hand with the biotech industry and invested to the core in issues that only 20 years ago were considered ethically questionable. But there I am on the soapbox again... :)

You're one of the great women who are actually putting your concerns into action and buying locally and making your own foods...and THAT is far ahead of what I've been able to do so far..(but we're slowly making the changes)..and I admire you! By the way, I left a comment on your blog recently but have had limited time here online. I'd love to contact can email me at

Killi said...

I read a few books by a doctor turned author. He was more or less put out of doctoring for questioning the tactics of the pharmaceutical companies to get doctors to prescribe their products, regardless of whether the drugs would help the patient or not. He did this in print in a newspaper column.

I can't afford animal feed without GMO's ~ they sneak them into the ingredients & yet Ireland is supposed to be GMO free...

AnnJo said...

Robbyn, your doctor should not have been so dismissive of your concerns, even though I tend to agree with her that those concerns are lacking in a solid scientific basis.

Throughout human history, people have gotten caught up in fads, scares, enthusiasms and phobias. I read a book about 20 years ago, written about 150 years ago, that impressed me greatly. It was called "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," and I think the author was McKay or Mackley or something like that. It gave historic examples, from witch hunts to the tulip bulb craze and many more, of how the human effort to make better sense of the world, one of our unique and most wonderful qualities, can go wildly astray.

The current fears of food safety remind me a lot of that book. But the job of a good scientist is not to ridicule those fears but try to help the questioner in her effort to understand. I hope your doctor was just having a bad day.

The Country Experience said...

Whoa! There is a doctor who does not like to have an intelligent, questioning patient who wants to take an active role in the care of their bodies.

She could have handled the matter so differently and kept you as a patient. Instead she showed that she doesn't want you to take an active interest in and responsibility for your own health, not to mention that she has clearly been "educated" by those with a financial interest in her point of view versus doing her own research into the matter.

It's only been in the past few months that I've learned about HFCS but both of us have cut as much of it out of our food intake as possible. It is startling the range of products it is in. We switched to organic ketchup because of the HFCS yet a side benefit is how much of a richer taste the organic product has. No HFCS and a better taste? Count me in!

I'm so disgusted over the whole issue, and don't get me started on a few others.....