Scientists again find that GMO foods are safe

GMO_labelThe anti-GMO crowd isn’t likely to be swayed by the conclusion of a new report from the National Academy of Sciences: foods made with genetic technology are safe.  GMO crops have been grown in the US and Canada for 20 years.  European farmers do not use GMO crops, so the National Academy of Sciences compared rates of a variety of human diseases between the US/Canada and Europe.  Back in the 1990’s, when GMO foods were first introduced, the fear-mongers warned of disease epidemics caused by these genetically engineered foods. According to their dire predictions, 20+ years later, we should be seeing skyrocketing rates of cancers and other diseases compared to Europe.  In fact the exhaustive 400+ page report, done by scientists, found nothing of the kind:

The committee found no evidence of differences between the data from the United Kingdom and western Europe and the data from the United States and Canada in the long-term pattern of increase or decrease in specific health problems after the introduction of GE foods in the 1990s….Patterns of change in cancer incidence in the United States and Canada are generally similar to those in the United Kingdom and western Europe, where diets contain much lower amounts of food derived from GE crops.

GMO opponents probably smell a conspiracy of Big Government and Big Agriculture and Big Anything Else to cover up the disease epidemic that surely exists.  Their campaign to pursue cumbersome state-by-state food labeling laws for GMO content will certainly go on.  It’s an interesting phenomenon.  Previous to the introduction of genetically engineered plants, the same crowd was all about organic food, claiming organic foods were the path to health purity.  Then large corporations co-opted organic food, and it wasn’t so special and elitist anymore.  Now Wal-Mart and Costco sell organic, and big food companies are churning out organic junk food and soft drinks, which consumers buy because they think ‘organic’ makes chips and soda pop healthy.   Meanwhile plenty of foods now have little ‘non-GMO’ badges, along with the organic badge, the gluten-free badge and so forth.  Does that make the foods safer?  Not according to the National Academy of Sciences, which is run by actual scientists.

Genetically Modified Organism refers to plants and animals bred using gene technology, as opposed to selective breeding, which has been going on for thousands of years.  Humans used selective breeding to increase agricultural output, or just to create plants and animals we like.  For example, without selective breeding, we’d have just 1 or 2 types of dogs.  But over millennia, humans have chosen dogs with particular traits they liked, and bred more dogs for those traits.

21st Century genetic technology is used to insert genes into the DNA of a plant or animal to confer a benefit not normally found in that plant or animal.  Plant gene technology can confer resistance to diseases or insect pests.  Farmers can grow the crop without having to dump tons of pesticides or fungicides on the plants.  Typically the inserted genes come from some other organism, which is what concerns GMO opponents.  They fear that the introduced genes will create unexpected problems, such as the increased rates of cancer and other chronic diseases that were predicted but didn’t pan out.

Contrary to popular misconception, GMOs are not:

  • additives
  • toxins
  • pesticides
  • contaminants

GMO is the actual food source, but where exactly are we likely to find GMO-sourced ingredients in our food supply:

  • Soy: about 94% of the soy crop in the US is GMO.  Soy is the source of countless ingredients, mostly food additives used in small amounts.  Isolated soy protein, used in processed foods or as a protein powder is another use.
  • Sugar Beets: again, around 95% of the US crop is GMO.  The beets are processed and the sugar is purified, which would remove plant tissue that contains the DNA.  Lots of the granulated sugar sold in packages or used in food manufacture would be from sugar beets.
  • Corn: about 90% of corn is GMO, and all of that is used for animal feed or to produce food additives and other industrial products.  Sweet corn used for human consumption is not GMO.  So exposure to GMO corn would be from animals feed it, or from certain food additives.  Again, corn-derived chemicals would be highly purified to remove debris from the plant, where the DNA is.
  • Canola: this is one example of a GMO plant processed into a food.  Canola oil is used in food manufacturing, and you can buy it in bottles at the grocery store.
  • Alfalfa: not consumed by humans, but used for animal feed, so animals who eat it technically contain GMO, although it’s not clear the animals have experienced any ill effects either.

If the anti-GMO people got their way, any food that contained any of the (purified) soy or corn additives or sugar, and animals that ate GMO corn or alfalfa would be branded with the scarlet “GMO”.  Recently a genetically engineered salmon was approved to be raised in fish farms, so that too would be labeled.

If you’re fearful of GMO, there’s an easy way to avoid foods sourced from genetically modified plants and animals: look for “GMO-free” badges, or buy organic, which by definition is not GMO.  Will this guarantee that you won’t get cancer or diabetes or some unusual disease?  Not likely.

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