The attempt to concisely discuss GMOs and food safety is daunting. There is so much conflicting information, studies and opinions that it seems impossible to be able to definitively say whether GMOs are safe or not. To quote Greggor Ilagan, one of the nine member County Council in Hawaii,
“it takes so much time to find out what’s true.”
When the GMO bill came up in Hawaii, Ilagan was in a quandary. He promised his constituency he would always vote and take a stand on any issue, but he truly did not know what to do. Every time he tried to research the topic, new questions arose obfuscating the issue further.
There are many studies the non-GMO community pointed to that would indicate GMOs were a health risk: a French researcher that found tumors in rats; a Russian study that showed hamsters lost the ability to reproduce; a study linking GMOs with childhood allergies; disappearing butterflies; sterile seeds – the list goes on.
However, most of the studies that have been cited have also been shown to be wildly flawed and already debunked and, therefore, not worthy of inclusion in the discussion of GMOs.
So, the question remains – is there any evidence of the safety or harm caused by GMOs? It is true that we have been eating foods with genetically modified ingredients for years. Approximately 60-70% of processed foods you buy in the grocery store contain genetically engineered ingredients. The most common GMOs include maize, soybeans, cotton and grapeseed oil.
The US (also the largest producer of GMOs) government’s position remains steadfast – GMOs are perfectly safe and are the “substantial equivalent” of non-GMOs. The EU, however feels differently – they want to avoid GMOs and stick with organic food they feel doesn’t pose a health risk. Their position doesn’t seem to rely on studies but rather avoidance of the possibilities of risks. If non-GMO food is eaten, there are no worries as to whether or not risks exist.
Here is what has become the main crux for me just on the food safety issue: most of the crops presently being modified are one-gene modifications. That means that one gene is being introduced to the crop to bring about a desired result. So far, there is no credible evidence that any of the currently modified crops are unsafe. That is not to say that they are safe. The argument that we’ve been eating these crops for years with no negative results is a false assertion. Because of a lack of any credible studies that study cause and effect, we have no real idea of their safety.
As to allergens, genes that are used are already tested and known to be allergens or not. Usually when a gene is found to be an allergen, it is discarded. However, as happened with Kraft Foods, sometimes it gets by and into the food stream. Case in point, the genetically modified corn that was approved for animal feed. Cry9C is a protein that was injected into the corn (Starlink corn) and was only supposed to be used for feed. However, it was found in the food supply by way of taco shells at Taco Bell – shells that were also sold in the grocery store under the Taco Bell name. There was a wide recall and lawsuits to follow.
So, of course, accidents can happen. So far, all accidents have been benign. But who’s to say the next one will not be? IMHO, with a lack of corporate regulatory oversight and corporate responsibility, the likelihood that something bad will hit the food supply is just an eventuality. After all, it has been shown again and again that corporate profits trump public safety.
The World Health Organization, the Center for Decease Control, the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as other organizations all seem to agree that there are, as yet, no known safety risks with GMOs.
However, there is a letter put together by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility which reads, in part:
“(We) strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is ‘over’.”
One thing I believe that most agree on, we have to take each instance at a time. Every time we change the make up of a food stuff, there needs to be testing and understanding of that gene or protein and the effect of adding it to whatever crop they are changing.
Next week, GMOs and food sustainability…