By Rhonda Gruska
At the end of March, I asked a longtime Northern California holistic nutrition and cooking educator if he had received his COVID-19 immunizations, as he is 65+. He responded, I will if I have to and won’t if I can exercise free choice. I’m not afraid of the vaccine, but don’t like the thought of more and more imposed vaccines. Herd immunity enables us to adapt especially when we are well. Vax don’t eliminate exposure and transmission. Safety and strengthening innate immunity are more powerful than vax in lowering hospitalization and mortality.
A week later, he sent a YouTube link and the message Very congruent with our approach! The word our referenced a wellness related educational private nonprofit he kicked off prior to the pandemic. Curious to learn more about his reasoning for not getting vaccinated, particularly given my interests in healthful cooking and eating, I sat down to watch the video.
The format was a Q&A featuring Zach Bush, MD, who specializes in Internal Medicine and has become prominent on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hour long back and forth touched on numerous subjects, such as his divorce, the microbiome, and politics, with COVID sandwiched somewhere in between.
When asked what he thought about the COVID-19 vaccine, he replied that tens of millions of consumers in the United States are all reaching for non-GMO products with everybody bending over backwards to get only organic and now they’re lining up for a vaccine that directly genetically modify their children. In a matter of minutes, this doctor discourages people from getting vaccinated by comparing it to eating genetically engineered (GE) ingredients (more popularly known as GMOs). He then refers to COVID-19 immunizations as the first step towards a genetic modification program.
As someone who avoids consuming GMO ingredients and eats nearly all organic, I was horrified. Currently, the majority of GMO ingredients in our food (in the form of vegetable oils and sugars) are produced with crops grown from Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® seeds containing Bt toxin, an insecticidal toxin tolerant to the pesticide glyphosate. By eating non-GMO, I protect myself from a double whammy; the Bt toxin inherent in GMO seeds that is expressed in the plant, and the glyphosate laden Roundup® that is sprayed on these crops. I also send a message to companies that spent millions of dollars defeating California’s mandatory GMO labeling initiative that I support the right to know what is in my food. Eating organic, I contribute to stemming the tide of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and soil erosion while supporting organic farmers who replace petrochemicals with crop rotation, resilient varieties of plants, compost, beneficial insects, and other sustainable farming techniques.
My concerns about GMO ingredients were validated by two scientists: UCB Graduate and Molecular Geneticist, Belinda Martineau, who was the Principal Scientist at the Davis Bio-tech company Calgene, which commercialized the first GE crop, and UCR Graduate, Entomologist and Capay Valley sheep rancher and cotton breeder, Sally Fox. Both have an extensive and impressive knowledge base regarding the genetic engineering of plants and their work inspired me to learn more about Monsanto’s genetically engineering seeds with a pesticide, thereby creating a market for patented seeds, while at the same time boosting flagging sales of Roundup®. My experience in Davis, a town I jokingly refer to as Monsantoville based on our experience owning an organic restaurant in the huge shadow cast by the ivory tower of a renowned agricultural university; in addition to the knowledge that capitalism and the U.S. regulatory system for GMO food products have let Americans down, may have predisposed me to agree with Zach Bush, MD. However, similar to wanting to know what is in my food, I like to do my homework in other areas too.
As a Slow Food adherent, both personally and professionally for nearly forty years, in addition to being a true believer in the healing power of holistic health practices and practitioners ability to treat many illnesses, comparing COVID-19 vaccines to eating GMO ingredients is like to comparing apples to oranges, or perhaps even rutabagas. There is no scientific equivalency between eating GMO ingredients and getting a COVID-19 vaccine, with one exception: neither of these scientific feats of plant and medical genetic engineering will alter your DNA.
Furthermore, unlike pesticides that harm our physiological well-being, in addition to the health of animals and the planet, medically engineered spike proteins protect us from COVID-19 by mimicking the body‘s natural process when one is exposed to the virus. As Science Journals Research Editor Valda Vinta describes it, each viral particle is coated in proteins, referred to as its “spike” proteins. The tip of each one looks deceptively like a normal, human signaling molecule, so a healthy cell binds to the tip as usual. That’s its last mistake. The virus then snaps the top off its spike, plunges the remainder through the surface of the cell, and injects its RNA. Now it can use the cell to make millions of copies of itself, which eventually burst out, leaving the cell for dead. As devious as the spike may be, it’s also an excellent target for vaccines. The current vaccines teach immune cells to recognize the spike protein, so that it can be bound and neutralized before it impales our cells.
If only our food was tested as well as vaccines! Unfortunately for eaters, the EPA rubber stamped Monsanto’s scientific claims that Roundup Ready® seed was safe, would increase crop yields, help to feed the world, reduce pesticide use, etc. Monsanto even went so far as to ask for and receive exemption from normal pesticide tolerance testing. This is a very different scenario than the FDA recognizing the urgent need for safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and utilizing its various authorities and expertise to facilitate the expeditious development and availability of vaccines that have met the agency’s rigorous and science-based standards for quality, safety, and effectiveness.
On the other hand, resembling snake oil salesmen of the latter half of the 19th century, Zach Bush, MD, and other lesser known players hanging on his coattails have taken a page out of the Monsanto play book, creating market opportunities during a pandemic to sell themselves, their consulting services, and nutritional products, etc. Irrespective of over 600,000 deaths in the U.S. and a more contagious variant on the rise, Zach Bush, MD, with no medical expertise in epidemiology or virology, and certainly no bona fides in genetic engineering, continues to monetize his brand, while discouraging people from getting free and effective vaccines.
If you are vaccine hesitant because you eat organic and lean alternative medicine, I hope this article assists you with seeing through the false analogies proliferating on social media. If you feel like GE foods are safe to eat because a UCD professor tells you there is scientific consensus that they are, please consider the comparison of apples to oranges, or perhaps even rutabagas!
Rhonda Gruska moved to Berkeley a little over three years ago after living in Davis for nearly twenty-five years. She and her chef spouse, Tony, met at UC Davis and have worked together in the areas of food, politics, and food politics since the early nineties.