Hawaii Politics

GMOs Do Not Stay Alive In Your Gut

Beach at Mama'sIn Maui County, there is currently a petition being circulated by the SHAKA Movement.  If this petition gains enough signatures, the voters of Maui County will decide if GMO crops should be banned until they can be deemed safe by a “Joint Fact Finding Group”.

In a recent Maui Now article from May 22, 2014, Mark Sheehan (one of 5 residents who started the petition) argues that, “you only have to dig a little bit to understand that GMOs are living organisms that stay alive in your gut; gut bacteria accounts for 70% of your immune system.”

In response to this comment, Peter J. Davies (International Professor of Plant Sciences at Cornell University, previously a resident of Hawaii) sent the following letter:

In Maui Now (May 22nd), with regard to the anti-GMO petition, it was reported that “Sheehan’s argument countered that claim [that the anti-GMO campaign would devastate our county’s fragile agricultural economy] saying, “you only have to dig a little bit to understand that GMOs are living organisms that stay alive in your gut; gut bacteria accounts for 70% of your immune system””.  

This is a surprising comment by a person claiming to have a PhD, as it shows a total ignorance of the biology of food and digestion.  So let’s innumerate the facts:

  • Intestinal bacteria are indeed important for the functioning of the body.  However they treat non-GMO and GMO food in a similar fashion.
  • While food derived from GMO crops is “alive” (unless cooked), the same applies to all food.  Food, GMO or not, does not remain alive when eaten: in the stomach and intestine it is rapidly degraded so that it is no longer “alive”.
  • All food contains DNA and, unless processed, protein as well.  GMO food is no different.
  • The DNA of similar non-GMO and GMO food differs by less than 0.001%.
  • The body is equipped to break down DNA and protein in the intestine, regardless of the source.
  • While a small amount of the added DNA in some GMO foods is derived from natural soil bacteria, people ingest millions of such bacteria daily on their normal or organic food, rendering the additional amount in any GMO food meaningless.
  • There is not a single documented case, in over 17 years of GMO food consumption, where the DNA in the food has transferred to the intestinal bacteria.
  • With regards to GMO papaya, the GMO papaya contains a very small non-viable piece of the DNA of the virus; if you have ever eaten a non-GMO papaya you have almost certainly consumed a thousand times more of the entire virus! 

GMO food has been declared to be as safe as non-GMO food by every major reputable scientific body worldwide, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the advancement of science, the American Medical Association and the European Food Safety Authority, amongst many others.

Peter J. Davies

International Professor of Plant Sciences at Cornell University, previously resident in Hawaii.

The author lectures at Cornell University on the role of gut bacteria in human health and immune system function.

It is best to take the word of an actual expert on a topic over that of an activist.

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