Do GMOs Have Side Effects on Unborn Children or Pregnant Women?

This post continues our series focused on GMOs for the month of August 2011. To read see all related posts in the series, click here.

When new research says, “93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their umbilical cord blood samples contained a pesticide implanted in GMO corn,” it’s no wonder there’s concern – especially from moms. But, the study’s Canadian researchers concluded that more studies are necessary to clarify what, if any, risk this represents. For those who have seen the study, published in Reproductive Toxicology, that doesn’t prevent the anxiety caused by information like this. As such, it has been featured by online sourcesmajor newspapers and bloggers alike. With all the varying perspectives on the research, we went straight to the experts to get the facts.

Best Food Facts engaged Dr. Peggy Lemaux from the University of California at Berkley to dig deeper into the subject in an effort to better understand the study from a  scientist’s perspective. “It seems that research like this comes out almost continuously, but each must be looked at critically and evaluated for scientific accuracy,” said Lemaux.

What is your connection to this study?

Dr. Lemaux:

“I was not involved in this study, but have reviewed what I consider to be other scientifically credible information – sources, like Biofortified, Dr. David Tribe and, to me, one of the most important in this debate, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, FSANZ.

What does FSANZ have to say about the study?

Dr. Lemaux:

FSANZ noted that the researchers should have done a thorough examination of each woman’s diet, since they were trying to make a nutritional connection. ( But they did not. Their explanation of pesticide levels in umbilical cord samples being quite highly linked only to consumption only of biotech crops/foods is one that raises questions.

Based on other studies where researchers examined foods produced using biotechnology, it is surprising these researchers did not consider that the Bt protein, the pesticide, detected in the blood, could have come from a source other than biotech foods. For example, things like sprays that are regularly used by backyard and organic gardeners.  That is important to their conclusions because only a minor percent of commercial biotech corn contains the specific Bt tested for by their assay and most of that corn is used for animal feed.

The most important point FSANZ raises is that there are analytical weaknesses in the conclusions made by these researchers, The researchers’ use of an inappropriate assay for blood samples that has been shown in other reports in the scientific literature not to be suitable for measuring that pesticide in blood. Because of the seriousness of their claims, the research needs to be repeated by others and its implications analyzed properly. At this point, however, their conclusions are not definitive.

Image: “heart of gold” by Leo Grubler is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.