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Youth At Risk: Why Gm Foods Are More Dangerous For Children

By Jeffrey M. Smith

Changes in nutrition have a greater impact on the structure and functioning of young, fast-growing bodies. More of young people’s food is converted to build organs and tissues, whereas adults convert more to energy and store this as fat.

The U.K. Royal Society warns that genetic modification “could lead to unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional state of foods” and recommended that potential health effects of GM foods be rigorously researched before being fed to pregnant or breastfeeding women and babies. Epidemiologist Eric Brunner writes that “small changes to the nutritional content might have effects on infant bowel function.”

Children are more susceptible to problems. Children are three to four times more prone to allergies than adults and “are at highest risk of death from food allergy,” according to a 2002 report commissioned by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. Infants below 2 years old have the highest incidence of reactions, especially to new allergens encountered in the diet. Even tiny amounts of allergens can sometimes cause reactions. One reason for this sensitivity, according to the EPA, is that “An immature gut or permeable mucosal epithelium is more likely to allow a higher degree of macromolecular transport and access to the immune system than the intact barrier of a normal mature gut…. The immune system must also be of sufficient maturity…. Both systems appear to be functioning optimally by age three to five.”

According to the Royal Society of Canada, “The potentially widespread use of GM food products as food additives and staple foods, including use in baby foods, may lead to earlier introduction of these novel proteins to susceptible infants either directly or via the presence of the maternally ingested proteins in breast milk.”

The U.K. Royal Society suggests that “post-marketing surveillance should be part of the overall safety strategy for allergies, especially of high-risk groups such as infants,” but acknowledged that it is not clear “whether such monitoring is feasible for GM food.”

Children can react to much smaller doses of toxins than adults. Exposure to hormones or endocrine disruptors may also severely affect normal development. And children who are prone to infections may be severely impacted if antibiotics lose their effectiveness due to antibiotic-resistant genes in GM food and the overuse of antibiotics in cows treated with rbGH (genetically engineered bovine growth hormone).

Children have a high exposure to GMOs. Children consume a large amount of products that may be genetically engineered. They eat a higher percentage of corn in their diet compared to adults, and allergic children often rely on corn as a source of protein. Mothers using cornstarch as a talc substitute on their children’s skin might also expose them via inhalation. Infants are sometimes reared on soy infant formula. The Royal Society writes that “Infant formulas, in particular, are consumed as a single food over extended periods of time by those who are especially vulnerable” and “should be investigated most rigorously.” Among the potential side effects are changes in soy’s natural estrogen mimickers, which may influence sexual development.

Children also consume a disproportionately large amount of milk. In the United States and elsewhere, dairy products may come from cows treated with rbGH. The milk contains increased amounts of hormones and antibiotics and an altered nutritional content. According to a discussion paper on the public health implications of rbGH published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, an “infant would be exposed to a dose of IGF-1 which was 12.5 times the recommended minimum.” Samuel Epstein, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and an expert on the health effects of rbGH, says that risks of high exposure to IGF-1 are “of particular concern…to infants and children in view of their high susceptibility to cancer-causing products and chemicals.” He also suggests that regular exposure might promote “premature growth stimulation in infants, [and] gynecomastia [development of abnormally large breasts on males] in young children.”

“Swapping genes between organisms can produce unknown toxic effects and allergies that are most likely to affect children.” — VYVYAN HOWARD, EXPERT IN INFANT TOXICO-PATHOLOGY AT LIVERPOOL UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, UNITED KINGDOM

Safety assessments ignore children. An FAO/WHO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/ World Health Organization) task force on GM food says, “Attention should be paid to the particular physiological characteristics and metabolic requirements of specific population subgroups, such as infants [and] children.” In practice, GM safety assessments ignore them. In fact, industry-funded studies often use mature animals instead of the more sensitive young ones, in order to mask results.

Biologist David Schubert warns, “Since children are the most likely to be adversely affected by toxins and other dietary problems, if the GM food is given to them without proper testing, they will be the experimental animals. If there are problems, we will probably never know because the cause will not be traceable and many diseases take a very long time to develop.”