The Dr. Oz Show recently discussed the issue of Genetically Modified (GM) foods and one of the scientists who appeared on the program does not feel the issue received balanced treatment. Dr. Alison L. Van Eenennaam specializes in Animal Genomics and Biotechnology at the University of California-Davis. We spoke with her about her appearance on the Dr. Oz show, what the issues are around GM foods and whether they're safe.
Dr. Alison L. Van Eenennaam
Here's the segment from Dr. Oz
What are your thoughts on the treatment the Dr. Oz show gave the GMO issue?
Dr. Alison L. Van Eenennaam: It was very one-sided – the vast wealth of scientific literature that contradicts almost every point made by the guests included a lot of unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence and opinion not backed up by scientific literature or any evidence beyond the assertions made.
Jeffrey Smith, an author who has been very critical of GM foods, also appeared on the program. He was very concerned about the impact of GM foods on our health. Shouldn't we pay attention to these claims?
Dr. Alison L. Van Eenennaam: Let’s use one of his claims as an example. He claims there has been an increase in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), reflux, (amongst other diseases) in the U.S. since the introduction of GM foods and that taking people off GM foods clears up these problems.
Let’s just look at IBD as a case in point. This graph appears in “Genetic Roulette” – Mr. Smith’s movie.
Even a cursory look at the literature shows IBD started increasing in the 1930s (the graphic doesn't show the entire trend line) – 50 years before GM ingredients appeared in the U.S. diet. How do these facts line up with Mr. Smith’s contention that IBD is affected by GMOs? We don’t know where his data comes from because a source is not cited. And there is no explanation for why the graph mysteriously stops in 2004. Promoting this type of inflammatory information when there is no evidence of cause and effect, and no support in the medical literature, would seem to me to violate medical ethics.
Interestingly, and importantly, a study at Hungary’s Semmelweis University shows an increase in IBD continues in Europe where GM foods have been banned.
Note: Another Best Food Facts expert, Dr. Bruce Chassy, Professor Emeritus, Department of Food Science & Nutrition, University of Illinois, was also asked to appear on the Dr. Oz Show, but was unable. In response to his interactions with the producers, he was compelled to write a letter to them to express displeasure with Jeffrey Smith’s appearance on the show. Read the letter here.
What is your advice for people who are having trouble making up their mind on whether GM foods are safe?
Dr. Alison L. Van Eenennaam: Here is a list of professional scientific and/or medical bodies with a positive opinion of the safety of GMOs:
- The U.S. National Research Council
- U.S. National Academy of Sciences
- The American Medical Association
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- American Society for Plant Biology
- World Health Organization
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
- Royal Society (London)
- Brazil National Academy of Science
- Chinese National Academy of Science
- Indian National Academy of Science
- Mexican Academy of Science
- Third World Academy of Sciences
If people want to avoid GM foods they do have that choice – they can buy organic or GMO-free products that are widely available in the marketplace. Voluntary labeling options exist in the market today and provide consumer choice. If voluntary labeling provides people who do not want to eat GM foods with that option, what is the rationale for making the rest of the food supply chain (that considers GM food to be safe) carry the cost of mandatory labeling? Mandatory labeling should be reserved for food safety issues and for correctly identifying material differences in the nutrient content of the food.