Best Food Facts recently received a question from Greg Shute on our YouTube video, What Do You Want to Know About GMO Food? GMO Safety. Greg asked, "Why do my children have food alleries and why have food allergies reached epidemic levels since GMO foods have been introduced to our food supply? Could it be that our bodies do NOT digest them just as unmodified foods and that a significant proportion of the population is now having their bodies view many of the foods as foreign substances? Why is Europe not seeing the numbers of food allergies that the USA is seeing?"
To answer these questions, we reached out to Dr. Stephen Taylor, Professor, Food Science & Technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Dr. Stephen Taylor
Why do my children have food allergies?
Dr. Stephen Taylor: "If children are thought to have developed food allergies, clinical diagnostic confirmation from an allergist should be sought. Children develop food allergies because their immune systems react inappropriately to specific foods and develop IgE antibodies against specific proteins from those foods. Interaction between the IgE antibodies and those proteins elicit the allergic response. Food allergy development in children is more common than in adults because many new foods are being introduced into the young child’s diet."
Why have food allergies reached epidemic levels since GMO foods have been introduced to our food supply?
Dr. Stephen Taylor: "The prevalence of food allergies in children has increased considerably over the past 20 years. While this increase is partially coincident with the introduction of GMO foods into the American marketplace, the increasing prevalence of food allergies in children actually began 5-7 years before the introduction of GMOs. Furthermore, 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. Corn allergy is and always has been rarely identified. Soybeans are among the most commonly allergenic foods but no evidence exists to suggest that the prevalence of the soybean allergy has increased over the past 20 years."
Could it be that our bodies do NOT digest them just as unmodified foods and that a significant proportion of the population is now having their bodies view many of the foods as foreign substances?
Dr. Stephen Taylor: "The digestibility of the novel proteins introduced into GM soy and corn has been assessed and they are very rapidly digested. No evidence exists that GM soy and corn are harder to digest than conventionally bred soy and corn."
Why is Europe not seeing the numbers of food allergies that the USA is seeing?
Dr. Stephen Taylor: "Europe, at least northern Europe, is seeing the exact same increased prevalence of food allergies as encountered in the USA even though GMOs are largely banned from their marketplaces. The prevalence of food allergies in some southern European countries e.g. Greece and in the eastern European countries is lower than in northern Europe (Germany, Netherlands, France, Denmark, etc.). Currently, this difference in prevalence is well documented but not yet explained."
Note: In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration approved genetically modified apples and potatoes, but these varieties won't likely be commercially available until 2016.
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View our five-part video series focused on genetically modified food:
Are GMOs Safe?
Are GMOs Harmful to the Environment?
Are GM Foods Nutritionally Different?