At Best Food Facts, we frequently receive questions about foods grown using genetically-modified organisms. That's why we have several posts focusing on the many angles of concern around the topic. We took those inquiries from consumers like you and developed a five-part video series to tackle the issues. Included in our series are videos on general information, food safety, nutrition, labeling and environmental impacts.
The video below explores food safety issues related to GM foods through a conversation between an Illinois mom and blogger, Betsie Estes, and a plant molecular geneticist, Dr. Sally Mackenzie, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
We’re interested in understanding what additional questions you have for Dr. Sally. Feel free to submit questions below or at http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/food-experts/ask-an-expert.
What did other experts have to say about whether genetically modified crops are dangerous to eat?
Do genetically modified foods cause allergies?
Dr. Bruce Chassy: "All GE crops are subjected to a thorough pre-market safety assessment which includes a systematic analysis of any potential to produce allergies before they come to market. There is no reason to believe that GE crops would give rise to allergies. The claim that they might produce, or have produced allergies, is misleading. There are no valid scientific reports that support this claim."
Do GM foods undergo human safety tests?
Dr. Chassy:"Extensive compositional testing is done to assure that there is no loss of nutrients and no introduction or increase in potentially toxic compounds, anti-nutrients, or allergens. The safety of the new trait introduced into the crop is also carefully tested in the laboratory and in animals. Human safety tests are not used on whole foods because they lack sensitivity – just try to get a human to eat a diet that is 30 percent soybeans or 30 percent corn. Food safety experts, nutritional scientists and toxicologists have developed very effective methods for evaluating the safety of foods that are used for all novel foods and ingredients independent of whether they are GE. FDA concluded in 1980 that whole food studies in humans and animals are not recommended since they are of little value in predicting safety."
Dr. Wayne Parrott: "It turns out there are much better ways to test for safety. Working with humans is difficult: first, we do not have inbred laboratory strains of humans the way we have rats and mice. Getting humans to eat the same meal for days on end is difficulty, and humans have lots of bad habits (ranging from lack of exercise to getting to bed too late) that can throw results off."
How can GMOs be safe if they aren’t natural?
Dr. Martina Newell-McGloughlin: “Biotech products are far safer than other methods that are used to introduce traits and value into crop products. We have been modifying crops for about 10,000 years. And a lot of the older technology is not subject to regulatory review because it is “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). An example of this is RoundUp Ready soybeans (ones that can tolerate pesticides and herbicides). Before being made available to the public, they were subject to 1,800 tests. Some examples of foods in the modern diet that are also considered GRAS include:
- Wheat used for pasta – the technology came from a nuclear research facility after World War II.
- Asian pears – they’ve been irradiated at a facility in Japan
- Barley, used for Irish beer and Scotch whiskey – comes from corn that was irradiated at a nuclear research facility
- Asparagus - all asparagus consumed today is the product of biotechnology”
Dr. Parrott: “It’s not a good idea to assume natural automatically means safe. Salmonella, aflatoxins, botulism, poison ivy, strychnine, arsenic, asbestos and lead are all natural substances that are not safe for humans. Although humans have been modifying their food for centuries, the point is that many extra precautions are used when food is modified by biotechnology. These include an extensive series of laboratory and animal safety studies. In contrast, food produced with other technologies is simply assumed to be safe, and no extra testing is usually required.”
What role does GM food have in the increase of food allergies and attention deficit disorder (ADD) in children?
Dr. Parrott: “There is data from Europe which shows that allergies were on the rise well before the era of GMOs. Furthermore, GMO crops are extensively tested before marketing with a special emphasis to make sure they do not cause allergies. At this point, I cannot think of anything that is uniquely different or uniquely present in GM crops that could be associated with any negative effects on people.”
Dr. Chassy: “None. There is simply no connection between GM crops and the small increase in food allergy that may or may not be occurring – allergists are still arguing among themselves if it is more allergies or more frequent diagnosis. Those who think allergies are increasing have a theory, also unproven, that raising our children in very sanity conditions may be a factor in allergies. The theory goes that since the food allergy immune response is mediated by the parasite immune system, and we don't need that system very much because of improvements in sanitation; the idle system sometimes reacts to foods that it normally wouldn't react to. But that's just one idea, allergists really don't know the reason, but no responsible allergist implicates GM crops. Note that reports of allergies increasing started coming in long before the first GM crops were planted. And GM crops are the only types of crops that are actually carefully studied to make sure they don't cause allergies before they are put on the market, so they are less likely to cause allergies than most foods. The fact is, 90+ percent of food allergies are caused by a few commonly eaten foods: fish, shellfish, milk, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts. Of those, only soybeans (soy products) are planted as a GM crop, so it's hard to see how GM crops would be contributing to allergies. There is no evidence of a connection between GM crops and ADD and no sound scientific reason to think there should be. Rates of ADD are also increasing, but doctors think this is because of growing awareness and higher rates of diagnosis.”
Still have questions? Submit them below or at http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/food-experts/ask-an-expert.