The Real Frankenstein This Halloween

Health Alert 33

It’s Halloween. We are reminded of the enduring popularity of Frankenstein’s monster. In recent years, genetic manipulation threatens to create monsters Mary Shelly could never have imagined. In fact, these unnatural Frankenstein Freaks could already be lurking in your refrigerator.

These monsters take the form of tomatoes, ears of corn, strawberries, or rice. These seemingly normal foods can be a hodgepodge of genetic material. The USDA estimates that 70% of processed foods in the United States contain genetically modified organisms (GMO).

* Frankenstein in Your Fridge*

The Flavr Savr tomato was the first genetically engineered product sold to the U.S. public. The Flavr Savr made its appearance in 1994. It was genetically modified to stay fresh longer than a regular tomato.

Biotechnology didn’t stop with tomatoes. Genetically engineered ingredients can be found in sport drinks, cake mix, baby food, frozen dinners, cola, hamburger buns, cereal, and just about every other food category.

With modern technology, genetic material from different species can be combined. Some strawberries and tomatoes contain genetic material from fish. Gene sequences from an arctic fish have been transferred into the tomatoes and strawberries to make them more resistant to frost.

The nutritional content of food can also be enhanced with genetics. Rice has been genetically modified to contain higher levels of Vitamin A, zinc, and iron. The purpose is to prevent diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies in countries where the main source of food is rice.

* The US leads the biggest experiment of all time *

The United States is one of the only countries that readily accepts the production and distribution of GMO. The FDA holds the position that genetically altered organisms are safe. GMO are treated as any other food.

Here are the FDA’s policies on GMO:

• No mandatory pre-market safety testing of GMO

• Does not require foods to be labeled as GMO

• Takes the position that genetic engineering is no different than breeding

• Requires a letter of notification 120 days prior to marketing GMO

But not everyone likes the idea of eating genetically altered food. I am concerned that GMO may contain new strains of bacteria, allergens, and toxins. Once put into nature, the genetics of these organisms cannot be recalled.

Europe has encountered public opposition to the distribution of genetically altered food. The European Parliament has voted to strengthen current labeling laws for genetically altered foods.

I believe that genetically altered food is a genie that can’t be put in back in the bottle. The potential benefit is too alluring. Profits in this industry are some of the biggest the world has ever seen. And some genetically bastardized organisms have already spread around the world.

But you should be able to decide whether you want to buy and eat genetically modified foods. There is no current requirement in the U.S. for GMO’s to be labeled as such. We are all already eating them, like it or not. But some manufacturers of products that do not contain genetically modified ingredients are now labeling foods as “non-GMO”.

You can also call the manufacturer of your favorite foods and ask if they contain GMO. A fairly comprehensive list of non-GMO and GMO foods can be found at

In the classic story, Frankenstein’s monster turned out to be a good guy underneath those scars and bolts. GMO’s may one day help end world hunger. But the threat of science escaping the lab and running amok over nature has never been so real. At the very least, it requires our awareness and vigilance.

Al Sears, MD