With food allergies on the rise, there's no shortage of concern about what is causing them. Best Food Facts reader, John, had a very specific question about allergies related to genetically modified food, after reading our post on GMOs and Food Allergies. The expert from that post stated "...the food allergies that have increased the most, including peanut, tree nut, egg and milk allergies, are foods that are not GMO. The primary GMO foods in the U.S. are soybeans and corn."
John asked: "Chickens and cows are often fed GM corn and soy - how will they show up in eggs and milk?"
To answer that question, we reached out to two experts -
- Sally Mackenzie, PhD
- Ralph and Alice Raikes Professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
- Denneal Jamison McClung, PhD
- Associate Director - Biotechnology Program, Lecturer in Plant Biology in the College of Biological Sciences, University of California-Davis
“First, it’s important to note that genetically modified crops have been in the American food supply for over 15 years and there has never been a single food allergy associated with the particular proteins that are introduced by GM. Not one. This is not surprising, however, because genetic engineering regulations in the U.S. require that such tests be conducted before the product is ever on the market. Food allergy tests are not difficult; they are a standardized technology applied regularly in development of GM products.
“To explain genetic modification, it simply introduces a new protein to the plant. Proteins are digested and the amino acids (from the proteins) are absorbed into the digestive system. So, there is virtually no way that the GM protein would ever be recognizable by the human system after it has passed through the chicken or cow that ate the GM corn or soybeans. If the protein is not a human allergen in its intact state, there is no reasonable way that it would become an allergen after ingestion by a cow.
“Lastly, science has shown us that GM products are not dangerous; there is no evidence of their being dangerous for human or animal health in the many, many years of testing that have been involved. I know of no reasonable and respected scientist in the U.S. or Europe with expertise in GMO technology who believes GM products to be unsafe for human health.”
“It’s a good question. The nutritional composition of GM crops approved for food and feed have been well-characterized. Through many animal feeding studies, GM feed has not been found to cause physiological or other changes in animals. The allergen content and nutritional profile of milk, meat and eggs obtained from animals consuming GM feed will not be different from animals consuming comparable conventional feed.
“Why not? Well, the digestive tracts of animals break down nucleic acids (genes) and proteins into biological building blocks (nucleotides and amino acids), whether these molecules are derived from GM or conventional feed. Movement of whole GM nucleic acids and proteins from GM feed into the milk, meat and eggs of animals that eat GM feed is not physiologically possible.”
If you have a question for the experts, please let us know!
Do you think GM food should be labeled?