Protecting Our Animals From Genetic Engineering, by Lucy Sharatt
Our companion animals are eating a steady diet of genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered) food. Our dogs and cats, hamsters and guinea pigs, our fish and even our birds, are eating GM food. They don’t know it, and you might not either!
While we don’t know what, if any, health risks there are from eating GM food, new research raises serious questions. In the meantime, the environmental damage from GM crops is clear.
The pet food industry is part of our industrial food system, a system that is environmentally destructive and increasingly risky to our health. The choices we make for our pets can support their health, but also the health of our entire food system.
GM-chart-fridge postcard for web posting
GMOs in Pet Food
In Canada and the US, the main GM crops are corn, canola, and soy. In fact, these three make up 95 percent of all GM crops grown around the world – and almost all of the corn, canola and soy planted in North and South America is now GM. They’re mainly used to feed farm animals and to make processed food ingredients. This means that our pet food is full of GM ingredients, as well as meat from animals fed GM grains.
The meat in pet food is from animals that are fed a steady diet of GM grains. Then there are all the GM corn, canola and soy ingredients. Corn is in dog and cat food. Crushed corn is in a lot of bird food and soy is now used for fish feed. The first two ingredients in a lot of rodent food are corn and soy, and hamster and gerbil food is made with canola oil. Some rabbit food has soybean husks and meal. And little guinea pigs are eating soybean meal and corn in multiple forms.
Are There Health Risks?
With genetic modification, also called genetic engineering, scientists can change organisms at the molecular level by inserting genes or DNA segments from other, completely unrelated, species. This is totally new. Unlike conventional breeding and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering directly transfers genetic material between different species or kingdoms that would never breed in nature.
While scientists can successfully create these new GM organisms (GMOs), there are still major questions about the possible health risks and environmental impacts. This is because the process of moving genes around is very invasive and can have unintended impacts on the rest of the organism. These changes could possibly trigger new allergens or create new toxins. In many cases, we would simply not know where to find any new problems.
A major obstacle to confidence in their safety, is the fact that our government doesn’t do any of its own testing. All GM foods are approved based on science that’s produced by the companies selling the products. All of this science is kept secret by our government, and its not peer-reviewed by independent scientists. On top of all that, there is no mandatory labeling of GM foods in Canada or the US, so there’s no tracking or monitoring of possible health impacts that might occur.
Pigs Harmed by GM Grains
An important 2013 study (Carmen et al) showed that farm animals fed a steady diet of GM grains could be seriously harmed. The study was the first-ever to look at the health of pigs on a diet of mixed GM grains, just like they would eat in reality.
In the study, the GM-fed female pigs had 25 percent heavier uterus on average than non-GM-fed females, a problem that could indicate disease. The pigs fed the GM diet also had a higher level of severe inflammation in their stomachs. This should lead to more study to find out if animals and humans are getting digestive problems from eating GM crops.
There is also common anecdotal evidence from farmers and veterinarians that pigs fed GM soy and corn have reproductive and digestive problems. The study authors mention this, and farmers in Canada have reported similar observations to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. US farmer Howard Vlieger, one of the coordinators of the study, said, “For as long as GM crops have been in the feed supply, we have seen increasing digestive and reproductive problems in animals…In some operations, the livestock death loss is high, and there are unexplained problems including spontaneous abortions, deformities of new-born animals, and an overall listlessness and lack of contentment in the animals.” He also said, “In some cases, animals eating GM crops are very aggressive. This is not surprising, given the scale of stomach irritation and inflammation now documented.”
More Pesticides on GM Food
In addition to possible health risks from eating GM foods themselves, the GM ingredients in human and pet food are grown with a dangerous dose of chemical pesticides.
Eighty-four percent of all the GM crops currently in the ground are genetically modified to be tolerant to specific herbicides, to allow for more sprayings – the weeds will die but the crop plants will live. They are genetically modified to survive sprayings of brand-name herbicides, such as Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, and by 2011, the use of herbicides on GM crops in the US was 24% higher than for non-GM crops.
Even more herbicides will soon be used because Canada and the US have just approved GM soy and corn plants that are tolerant to the older herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba. These GM crops will increase the use of these harmful chemicals.
Corporations made a lot of promises for the benefits of GM foods such as higher nutrition, but these benefits don’t exist yet. Almost all the rest of the GM crops on the market are genetically modified is to be toxic to insects: if pests try to eat these “insect-resistant” crops, they will die. While these GM crops can replace the use of some chemical insecticides, the plant itself now functions like a toxic pesticide.
Finding pet food that doesn’t have GM ingredients is a major feat, but it’s made easier thanks to organic farming and products that are “Non-GMO Project Verified”.
Choosing certified organic food means choosing non-GM because organic farmers don’t use GM seeds or chemical pesticides. Organic farms are inspected to make sure that farmers are following national regulations that prohibit GM and pesticides, and require a whole range of other important environmental practices including animal welfare standards.