GMO's and Genetic Experimentation - Is Your Horse Affected?

Where will it end? Are grains, alfalfa, nutrition, health, life as we know it, and the planet at risk due to modern genetic experimentation?

Do you know what your horse had to eat today? "Of course," you say. "He had grass and alfalfa hay, some sweet feed, a carrot, and a few horse treats." Do you know what you ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today? Perhaps you had fresh strawberries, something with corn, wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, or soy. If so, and if you didn't buy organic, you probably got more than you bargained for - and less. You and your horse both could have ingested GMOs (genetically modified organisms), or Frankenfoods, as they are unaffectionately called. These new biotechnology 'foods' are not of nature's design, and have been man-made from splicing genes of differing species together.

Many processed horse feeds and nutritional products contain corn and soy, and most packaged foods on the grocery store shelves contain ingredients from corn, soy, canola, or cottonseed. All of these, including soy and corn products such as lecithin, soy oil, soy proteins, corn oil, corn syrup and cornstarch - are likely to be genetically engineered (GE). Soy derivatives alone are found in 60 to 70 percent of all processed food. Horse feed is no different - commercial horse feeds contain many of these products as well, as do horse cookies and treats. Currently over 60 percent of the world's GE crops are soybeans, used primarily for animal feed. Corn, again mainly for animal feed, makes up almost 20 percent of all GE crops, while rapeseed, used for animal feed and cooking oil, makes up 5 percent. Wheat is being experimented with, as are potatoes, tomatoes, and strawberries. At least for the moment, there are no genetically engineered oats or barley on the market, and a GE rice crop experiment in Texas in 2001 was terminated. Also, two highly touted GE crops, the Flavr Savr tomato and Monsanto's Bt potato, have been taken off the market. The introduction of a new genetically-modified alfalfa seed called Roundup Ready is now raising concerns, however. (See contacts at end of article to find out more.)

Thousands of food products contain GMOs, and the companies who produce them claim they are great. What does not compute is IF they are so great, why are these products not labeled as containing these wonderful 'foods'? Instead of boasting, nothing is being said and these highly questionable items are still being quietly sneaked into food products without the consumer knowing it. In fact, little was known about their existence until the StarLink episode, when an illegal and likely allergenic variety of Bt corn (corn spliced with GE bacterium, derived from Bacillus thuringiensis) contaminated 10 percent of the US corn crop and forced a billion dollar recall of 300 brand name products, including Kraft Taco Bell shells. Hundreds of Americans reported to the FDA that they had allergic reactions after eating corn products likely containing the StarLink corn, or other Bt varieties. (StarLink had been approved in 1998 for livestock feed, but banned for human consumption because of uncertainties about health effects.) This recall incident brought awareness to the public that they were eating food with genetic material that had never before been part of the human diet, from crops that have not evolved in any natural environment. The incident brought about a demand for increased testing of GMO food and feed worldwide.

How can GE be harmful?

Genetic modification is not traditional breeding. A genetically modified or GE (genetically engineered) organism is a plant, animal or microorganism (such as bacteria) that is created by unnatural means. Genetic modification can involve crossing species that would never occur naturally - for example, strawberries are being genetically paired with arctic fish, to help them resist frost. This disruption of natural genetic order and function could bring about both immediate and long-term, and direct and indirect consequences. Every cell of a genetically engineered product is different from what humans and animals have ever eaten before, and will have different effects. Cross-pollination from GE crops to healthy, natural crops is unavoidable.

While almost no research is conducted on the risks of these products, the USDA spends $180 million a year towards biotechnology research aimed at creating new agricultural products. Assessment research to minimize environmental impacts is critical, and an amendment, strongly supported by farmers and environmentalists, will set aside a meager but better-than-nothing 3 percent of the biotech budget every year for this critical research to which federal regulators must have access.

The possibilities of genetic modification are limitless, and so are the potential hazards. GE plants and animals start life in a laboratory where artificial units of genetic material are randomly (albeit haphazardly) inserted into a host. For instance, a gene has been transferred to soybeans to make them resistant to an herbicide, so that more herbicides can be applied to the plants without it affecting them; wheat is also being tampered with to resist pesticides, and Bt corn contains its own 'pesticide', with antibiotic-resistant marker genes being present in the Bt corn. We and our earth certainly don't need to be exposed to more pesticides, and antibiotic resistance is already a huge problem. In fact, the consumption of Bt corn, with its antibiotic-resistant marker genes, poses a huge threat to health in that it could easily 'combine' with bacteria already present in the mouth, throat, intestines, etc., begetting new virulent strains of super-bacteria, undaunted by antibiotics, as has been indicated by sophisticated studies in Britain and the Netherlands.

Benedikt Haerlin, of Greenpeace, stated:
"Genetic engineering of organisms creates unprecedented and qualitatively new transgenic lifeforms that have not occurred in nature before. The present scientific knowledge about the functionality of DNA, but even more about the dynamics of interaction between organisms, are completely insufficient to assess the possible impacts of the release of such new lifeforms into the environment. Only a portion of all existing organisms is even known today. And our understanding of their interactions is in its infancy. There are no valid concepts nor is there substantial experience to especially assess long-term evolutionary effects of transgenic organisms. While we do not know too much about the possible direct, indirect, cumulative and synergistic effects of GMOs in the environment, we do know that organisms reproduce and adapt to their environments. They are neither stable in their genetic composition nor in their behavior, location, and interaction with the environment. Once released into the environment however we have to assume that GMOs cannot be recalled.

"This leads us to the conclusion that the only responsible way to handle this technology in the foreseeable future is to prevent the release of GMOs into the environment. We derive this conclusion primarily from our assessment of what is not known and want cannot be known and to a much lesser extent from what is and can be known about the possible impacts of GMOs on the environment. The combination of massive uncertainties about possible detrimental effects of GMOs in the environment and the global and long time potential of such possible effects leads us to demand the strictest possible application of the precautionary principle to refrain from releasing GMOs into the environment."

The proof is out there. Corn, whose genes are more readily tampered with genetically, was contaminated with Bt with the intention of making the corn deadly to the corn borer. The problem is, it also kills the Monarch butterfly and beneficial insects. It made people sick too. Rats fed GE potatoes suffered significant damage to their digestive system, immune system, and other vital organs. GE fish became aggressive breeders, nearly wiping out the original species by out-breeding them. GE producers claim that the Bt in their corn is harmless because it is used by organic farmers, but the GE Bt has been genetically altered and is not the same. Also the organic farmers' Bt is used very sparingly because resistance can and will occur with its use, as with any pesticide. It is a win-win situation for the pesticide companies, who are (or who fund) GE manufacturers, and a great threat to the environment, and therefore all life.

How to know what is GMO
It is doubtful that we humans could differentiate GE foods from the real thing. Manufacturers claim these foods are chemically 'substantially equivalent' to conventional foods. However, cattle and other animals have been observed on a number of midwestern farms refusing to eat genetically engineered corn, while conventional corn was readily munched down, including the entire cornstalk.

At present, there is no labeling of GMOs required. Given the possibility of long-term and catastrophic damage, all genetically engineered foods and food products should be clearly labeled as such. That should also include food served by restaurants. However, this is not happening. Unless a product is labeled 'Certified Organic' or 'non-GMO', the risk is great that the product contains GMOs. Reputable food companies have taken it upon themselves to label their products 'non-GMO' since lawmakers have been unable to impose such a ruling on the GMO producers. The fact that the GMO producers have been unwilling to label their products as containing GMOs does indeed raise suspicion.

Thanks to the growing global opposition against GMOs, their production has been thwarted. While farmers in 130 nations are currently producing certified organic crops, only three nations - the US, with 68 percent of the world's GE crops, Argentina with 22 percent, and Canada with 6 percent - are still producing 96 percent of the world's Frankencrops. However, these three nations are finding that that their major overseas customers such as Europe, Japan, and South Korea no longer want to buy GE crops, even for animal feed.

The solutions to all this, of course, are:
-Educate yourself and others about what is going on with our food supply and encourage them to help educate others.
-Get active and demand labeling.
-Buy, eat and feed organic food, and buy from local and regional farmers and companies, rather than the transnational corporations whenever possible. Organic grains, organic cookies and treats, and organic horse foods are readily available, and can be requested at your local feed store or shipped directly to you. It is definitely worth the extra effort.

Though nothing can undo the damage and contamination that have already been done, consumers can protect their future by boycotting possibly-GE-tainted products and buying organic. "Fortunately this is what more and more people are doing every day," states Organic Consumers Association, "not only in the USA but across the world. Farmers in 130 nations are now producing certified organic food for a booming market of organic consumers, making organic the fasting-growing component of world agriculture. Thirty million Americans are now buying organic and the numbers are rising every month. Since September 11, sales of organic and natural food have increased 8 percent."

Things are beginning to look hopeful after all.

For more information:

Organic Consumers Association
6101 Cliff Estate Road
Little Marais, MN 55614
Fax: 218-226-4157

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association. Inc.
Building 1002B, Thoreau Center, The Presidio
PO Box 29135
San Francisco, CA 94129-0135
Fax: 415-561-7796

OCIA International
1001 Y Street, Suite B
Lincoln, NE 68508
Fax: 402-477-4325

PO Box 547
Greenfield, MA 01302
Fax 413-774-6432

Organic Farming Research Foundation
PO Box 440
Santa Cruz, CA 95061
Fax: 831-426-6670

Organic Trade Services
The organic industry portal on the web