How do you like your cereal – with a little bit of milk and DNA?
The newest and latest claims made by the anti-GMO crowd have surfaced lately in relation to cereal, namely Froot Loops. According to GMO Free USA, consumers need to be careful when purchasing their favorite fruity breakfast food:
In 2013, GMO Free USA sent a sample of Froot Loops to a certified lab to test for the presence of GMO material. The quantitative PCR test verified, by DNA analysis, that 100% of the corn in the Froot Loops was GMO, containing DNA sequences known to be present in insecticide producing Bt and Roundup Ready corn. The soy contained DNA sequences known to be present in Roundup Ready GMO soy.
The article then goes on to lay out the allegedly terrible consequences of glyphosate and the growing body of “scientific” evidence showing glyphosate is supposedly dangerous. They conclude that folks should boycott Kellogg’s products because the company continues to use GMO corn and soybeans. Of course, they finish by asking for a donation to help them spread this information.
(They also make a lot of other ridiculous and false claims that I have addressed in other articles and parts of my blog. Use the search at the top of the page to find them.)
Here’s the problem – GMO Free USA either lacks a fundamental understanding of how Round-Up Ready crops work, or they’re purposely deceiving folks (I’ll let you decide that answer…).
Also, let’s not forget that when Kellogg’s was approached by these people to remove GMOs from their product, Kellogg’s basically told them to take a flying leap. Unlike General Mills, Kellogg’s didn’t bow down to these people. Is it any wonder now that their products are being scrutinized with less than credible “science?” I think not.
Let’s break down the problems with these claims one by one…
Most cereal is made with GMOs, but that’s okay!
First, most cereal is made using field corn, not sweet corn. Yes, it makes a really big difference. Most consumers are probably familiar with sweet corn, because they’ve actually eaten it or have seen it in the grocery store. Sweet corn is sweeter, picked when the kernels are still moist, and usually eaten fresh. Field corn is not sweet, has a tougher texture, and is usually harvested once the corn itself has dried out. (To learn about more of the differences, check out this website.)
Field corn, which is the type of corn processed for cereals, is the largest crop produced in the United States, with 95 million acres being planted in 2013. Out of all that acreage, about 90% of the field corn produced is genetically engineered corn. GMO field corn has been modified in either one of two ways. First, the corn may be modified to be resistant to certain herbicides, particularly Round-Up and its active ingredient glyphosate. Second, the corn may be modified to produce the Bt protein. Let’s dig into how these work…
First, let’s on Round-Up Ready crops. In general, these crops, including corn and soybeans, have been modified so that the herbicide Round-Up (with its active ingredient glyphosate) can be applied to the plants and they are not harmed by it. Glyphosate works like this:
Glyphosate is a small molecule that inhibits an enzyme, 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), which catalyzes an essential step in the biosynthesis of the amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. By denying rapidly growing plants these amino acids, it is able to rapidly inhibit growth of plants onto which it has been sprayed.
(Source: Science 2.0) Now, normally applying glyphosate to a non-modified corn plant would cause this EPSPS enzyme to quit working and the corn would also die. However, Round-Up Ready varieties have been changed so they can use other mechanisms for processing these enzymes. Just like in humans, the genetically engineered crops are able to catalyze these amino acids without the EPSPS enzyme. The plants are not actually producing anything new, just utilizing a different way to get those necessary amino acids. Therefore, applying glyphosate to them doesn’t harm them (nor does it harm humans).
Second, the field corn can be modified to produce the Bt protein, which cannot be digested by certain insects. It probably won’t surprise anyone that one of corn’s biggest enemies are certain kinds of worms. If you’ve ever opened up an ear of sweet corn and found a worm, you probably noticed that the worm can destroy a significant portion of the crop. The same is true with field corn. Thankfully, some very specific types of worms are unable to digest the Bt protein. So, when the bug starts to dig into that yummy field corn, it also takes a bite of those proteins, which will kill it.
The good news is that human beings are not worms, or insects, and we are perfectly capable of digesting the Bt protein safely. It won’t hurt you. In fact, organic farmers have been using the Bt protein against pests for a long time. If you want to learn more, I suggest reading this article where I explained this process in more detail.
Genetically engineered crops do NOT produce herbicides.
This is a
scare tactic common misconception spread by people that are opposed to the use of GMOs, including GMO Free USA. Their claims regarding Froot Loops suggests that because these gene modifications are in the plants, they plants are somehow producing insecticides or herbicides.
This is false.
As I already explained, neither the Round-Up Ready modification nor the Bt trait cause the plants to produce a herbicide, as suggested by GMO Free’s article. Rather, the only thing these plants produce is a Bt protein that you and I are perfectly capable of eating and digesting without any problems (unless, of course, you are actually an insect).
But what about this other claim that eating Froot Loops mean you’re actually eating the DNA of these modified plants? Well, truthfully, even if you are eating plant DNA it doesn’t really matter. Horizontal gene transfer is this absurd idea that if you eat DNA, that DNA can then transfer into your blood stream and change your own DNA. This is not exactly a credible idea. However, even if it is and even if the two modifications are ending up in our stomach, there is no indication that it is dangerous. Again, your human body is capable of digesting proteins and you already don’t use the EPSPS enzymes to catalyze certain amino acids.
I’ll also mention that if you’re worried about glyphosate or Round-Up (or any pesticides for that matter) showing up in your food there really is no need to worry. The EPA and FDA have a handle on this matter. For a full explanation, check out my past articles here and here. The GMO Free USA article actually admits it did not test for the presence of glyphosate, only that they want to add that to their testing.
In the meantime, these types of straw man arguments and false claims are not new or original to GMO Free USA or their Froot Loop claims. Many so-called studies have been conducted, few of them being credible or scientific, showing that there are risks with genetically modified crops. (I have debunked some of them. You can find them here, here, and here.) In reality, all credible studies of GMOs have shown that they are safe.
Genetically engineered crops are safe. Seriously.
The bottom line is that you should not be worried about eating cereal, or any food, that contains genetically engineered crops. Scientific study after study after study has come to the same conclusion: GMOs are safe for human consumption.
In fact, there has never been a single scientific study showing that GMOs are harmful to humans or the environment. Not one.
Furthermore, for the last 18 years and through multiple generations, we have been feeding livestock in the United States trillions of meals worth of GMO feed. There has never been a single documented case showing that livestock are hurt by the genetically engineered feed. That’s pretty conclusive data.
And, thus, another scare tactic by the anti-GMO crowd has been debunked.