The debate over GMOs—genetically modified organisms—has been raging for the past few years. Many people are concerned that consuming GMOs may have long-term health risks and that GMOs were released before they were fully evaluated for human safety.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. The research on GMOs has become highly politicized, and the studies used most frequently to attack GMOs are often highly flawed and funded by groups that are opposed to GMOs. As an example, a series of French studies purportedly showed that consumption of GMOs caused large tumors in lab rats. These studies have since been discredited, as the strain of rats used in the studies were specifically bred to develop cancer as they aged and very few animals were included in the studies.
More recently, opponents of GMOs have raised the concern that GMOs are linked to increased incidence of allergies because they introduce new proteins into foods. A well-documented case showed that when Brazil nuts were modified with soy proteins, people with confirmed soy allergies reacted to the GMO nuts. Since then, numerous research groups have looked at the so-called transferability of allergens through GMOs foods and have found that the proteins do not transfer. Research is still ongoing.
Another criticism of GMOs is that consumers are unaware when they are eating GMOs. By some estimates, GMO ingredients are present in up to 80 percent of processed foods in the United States. Currently, there are no labeling laws in the United States regarding GMOs, but the large retailer Whole Foods has announced that, over the next few years, all foods sold in Whole Foods will be GMO labeled. Regulation of GMOs is much tighter in Europe, where GMO foods have to undergo extensive safety testing before being approved for widespread consumption.
The lack of long-term study
It’s important to note that most public health agencies in the United States and the World Health Organization have all come out in support of GMOs. Organizations that are on record supporting GMOs include the Food and Drug Administration, the American Health Association, the Royal Society of Medicine (UK), the European Commission, the Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, The National Academy of Sciences (US), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among others.
Currently, no long-term studies have showed negative consequences on human health from eating GMOs, but research is continuing on this important topic.
- Int J Biol Sci
- 2009 Dec 10;5(7):706-26.A comparison of the effects of three GM corn varieties on mammalian health
- de Vendômois JS, Roullier F, Cellier D, Séralini GE.
Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans (New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 334, No 11, pp 688-692, 1996)
- Carman, Howard R
- Vlieger, Larry J
- Ver Steeg, Verlyn E
- , Sneller, Garth W
- Robinson, Catherine A
- Clinch-Jones, Julie I
- Haynes, John W
- A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet
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