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GMOs and Pharmaceuticals

They call it “pharming.” It’s the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to manufacture pharmaceutical compounds.

Most scientists cheer the effort on, particularly when pharming animals. After all, you can get as much antithrombin (a protein found in human blood plasma and now manufactured into the milk of GMO goats) from a single GMO goat in a year as can be derived from 90,000 blood donations.

When you’re talking about a single, well-protected herd of 200 goats producing the equivalent amounts of pharmaceutical proteins as 18 MILLION blood donations, the risks seem minimal.

After all, the goats are well guarded and sheltered from the outside world.  They’re carefully bred under strict laboratory conditions. The chance of the mutated GMO goat milk making its way into our food supply is almost nil.

But what about other forms of pharming?

Pharming plants poses an altogether different set of risks. Unlike animals, where breeding can be closely monitored, plants tend to breed with the work of the wind, bees, or birds.  Cross-contamination between non-GMO and GMO plants is notoriously hard to prevent, despite the best precautions.

Remember the infamous Prodigene crop contamination incident of 2002?

Since the wind alone can carry corn pollen for miles, it’s not hard to imagine a pharmaceutical-laced GMO corn plant spreading its genes to a nearby cornfield growing corn meant for human consumption. We’d be eating dangerous physician-prescribed pharmaceuticals in our corn flakes and might not even know it.

Drugs currently being manufactured in crops include (but are not limited to):

  • vaccines for cholera, anthrax, plague, influenza, hepatitis C, lymphoma, and others
  • interferon for liver diseases
  • spermicidal antibodies
  • insulin

The go-to report highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of pharming was published by the Union of Concerned Scientists and can be found online here.

If you’re concerned about these sorts of GMOs making their way into your food supply (as I am), please consider this an invitation to join the No-GMO Challenge. Our goal is to help spread the word about GMOs and help the public make informed choices at the supermarket.

This post is part of today’s No-GMO Blog Carnival. If you want to read what other bloggers are saying about GMOs, their dangers, and how to avoid them, go check it out!

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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10 Responses to GMOs and Pharmaceuticals
  1. Vin | NaturalBias.com
    May 19, 2009 | 7:12 am

    Hi Kristen,

    I didn’t realize that GMO crops are being used to produce pharmaceuticals. Although I’m not surprised, it’s pretty scary! I just started reading Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith and just got “The World According to Monsanto” which is supposed to be a really good (and depressing) documentary.

    Too many people still don’t even know what GMO is. Thanks for spreading awareness!

  2. Local Nourishment
    May 19, 2009 | 7:22 am

    We need a multi-pronged approach:

    *Learn about GMOs and spread your knowledge. So many have no idea what’s going on with their food. Blog, twitter, stumble, do whatever you can to get the word out.

    *Refuse to purchase and eat GMO-containing foods and substances (vote with your dollar.) Don’t let the “bigness” of the issue deter you from doing what you can to protect yourself and your family.

    *Get political. Write a letter or make a phone call to your elected officials. They want to hear from you, they want to know you care about this. You don’t need to be an expert, just call to voice your opinion.

    The banning of GMO crops in Europe is catching hold, we can do it here, too.

  3. Alicia Ghio
    May 19, 2009 | 10:07 am

    Maybe I’m behind, but like Vin said above, I had no idea GMO crops were being used to produce pharmaceuticals! Ack!

    I just watched the documentary The World According To Monsanto over the weekend. It’s a must see! Boy did it paint a frightening picture.

    I agree, in that a multi-pronged approach makes sense. Big corporations seem to listen most when things impact their bottom line.

    All I can say is: Keep up the fight!

    Alicia Ghio

    • Randy
      July 6, 2010 | 8:24 pm

      That documentary is from a few years ago. Things have gotten much worse and they are not about to improve. I’ve had a number of tomatos that are coded as “conventionally” grown, when they are obviously GMO!

  4. Jenny @ NourishedKitchen
    May 19, 2009 | 1:00 pm

    That is scary as hell! The very nature of plants is to propagate themselves – to expand. There’s simply no way to keep GM crops like these from cross-pollinating with other crops. In effect,we’re all in danger of being drugged through the mechanisms of “pharming.”

    Jenny @ NourishedKitchen

  5. Sinclair
    May 19, 2009 | 3:26 pm

    Once again, greed is the bottom line. Monsanto greed, pharmaceutical greed, and the attempt to control the entire food market. Food is our basic building block. This is scary, indeed, and people need to realize that when we irreparably harm our food source, it will be the undoing of ourselves. I don’t want Frankenstein’s food and pharmaceuticals. I want REAL food and medicines in moderation that REALLY help CURE ailments. Right now, the pharma is focused on “managing” the ailments created by foodlike substances and side effects to other pharmaceuticals. It is unconscionable and unacceptable.

    Sinclair

  6. KristenM
    May 19, 2009 | 5:41 pm

    Vin & Alicia — This has been happening for a while. The GMO pharma crops are not approved as food, obviously, but the dangers of cross-contamination with our food supply are real. Biotech companies take precautions to prevent cross-contamination, of course, but even the most well-intentioned system still has risk. (Just look at that 2002 story for an example.)

    Local Nourishment — I agree. We need to be attacking GMO crops on every front.

    Jenny — Whenever I think of the consequences of messing with our food supply this way, and the resulting food INSECURITY that results, it terrifies me.

    Sinclair — Very true! Thanks for visiting and joining in the conversation.

  7. Bradley A Harris
    May 28, 2009 | 6:31 pm

    Yes it all comes down to greed. Greed will bring this nation to its knees. It almost happen with the Banking Industry. As ciztens we must have a say in our food and not let GMO (franken foods) into our mainstream food supply. GMO foods are so scary and no one knows for certain waht they really are. I like my food natural and not altered in a lab. We been growing foods for centuries without it coming from a lab.
    Why now.

  8. Randy
    July 6, 2010 | 8:18 pm

    Monsanto opened “Pandora’s Box” decades ago and they will continue poisoning this planet and the people as long as there’s a buck to be made. In case you missed it; Monsanto’s former lawyer and V.P. (Michael Taylor) is in the Whitehouse as “Food Safety Czar”. These people are unstopable. You should all be appalled and VERY afraid of the ramifications of this criminal activity by these global agri-giants!

  9. Bill
    December 25, 2011 | 8:52 pm

    It is NOT just a danger to eat what they are growing to create anthrax, cholera, plague, influenza, hepatitis C, lymphoma, and other vaccines, or for interferon for liver diseases, or for spermicidal antibodies or for insulin, but these crops will be able to cause diseases, destroy sperm, and impact normal insulin, by just blowing in the air.

    The reality is they are growing GENETICALLY ENGINEERED diseases and GENETICALLY ENGINEERED sterilizing agents that will be floating in the air, and enter your body by just breathing.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.