GMO. Possibly the most hated three letters in the world. At least in the US. GMO. The mere whisper of those letters strikes fear in the hearts and minds of hipsters everywhere. But what is the truth about GMOs?
The Truth is Farmers have been shipping GMO produce to stores not labeled as such. People have been eating genetically modified foods for years without realizing it.
What are GMOs?
GMO foods are those foods that have been genetically modified for one reason or another. For looks, for taste, to make them disease resistant, drought resistant, etc.
Why is GMO a Problem?
It’s not natural. That’s the mantra. Man shouldn’t be messing around with nature. The truth is, man has been messing with nature for as long as man has been cultivating crops.
GMOs and history
There is evidence that the corn we eat was developed by introgression with Zea, or what we now call “Indian corn”.
Ancient corn, or Maze was similar to other grasses. The “ear” was only an inch or so long and only one per stalk. Mixing the genes through cross pollination with another species and selective breeding was the beginning of what we see in the fields today.
Or look at the tomato, which has been cross bred ever since it was first brought to Europe in the 16th century.
Also the potato. From the few varieties brought to Europe from Peru also in the 16th century there are now over 4,000 different types of potato cultivated worldwide.
Natural cross breeding
The anti-GMO crowd will argue that the evolution of corn, the tomato, the potato, and most all other crops is “natural”. It wasn’t done in a laboratory. Intelligent people can argue that taking one type of plant and pollinating it with another variety in order to produce a third isn’t natural. Natural would mean that it happened without human interference.
But it is true that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of GMO is:
“Organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination”. Which distinguishes it from genetic manipulation by selective or cross breeding.
So, cross pollination and selective breeding isn’t technically GMO, but it’s still genetic manipulation.
GMOs are unsafe
“A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to farmers, human health, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment.”
In this article they cite no references to these “studies”. They do, however have a lot of links to help fund themselves.
This is what the “all natural” crowd proclaims, although I cannot find any scientific evidence that genetically modifying any food makes it unsafe (and neither can they). And while it is possible to create an unsafe variety of a plant by genetically modifying it’s DNA, that can also be done with cross breeding. The process itself doesn’t create the unsafe crop, It’s what genes are mixed with what genes. One example is the variety of corn (maize) called “Starlink”. According to this study published in Science Direct:
“The modified plant was engineered with genetic information from Bacillus thuringinesis in order to endow the plant with resistance to certain insects. The inserted gene encodes a protein, called Cry9c, with pesticidal properties, but with an unintended, strong allergenicity. Several cases have been reported of allergic reaction in consumers after consuming the “Starlink” maize.”
It wasn’t the process of genetically modifying the corn that caused the issue, but the bacteria they used to modified the corn.
“The production of unexpected toxins and allergens. Because genetic engineering is a very imprecise technology, the insertion of foreign genes can stimulate the production of unexpected proteins, which may prove toxic or allergenic.”
It seems that statement has since been removed.
The great eggplant raid
In 2011, Greenpeace proudly posted how it sent a ” decontamination unit” to the Philippines to remove genetically modified eggplant crops. This was essentially vandalism and theft of private property.
In their article, they make no statements regarding the safety of these crops, except:
“Safety concerns on Bt eggplant are still unanswered”.
They have no scientific evidence that the genetically engineered crops posed a safety threat. But they did wear hazmat suits, so they must be a danger, they would never do something like that just for the cameras…
(by the way, the crops were engineered to help resist a borer insect. So rather than promoting the development of a crop that can defend itself I guess Greenpeace would rather farmers spray more pesticide on the eggplant.)
Greenpeace and GMO rice
They are similarly targeting rice in Thailand, as this article celebrates. Although as with the eggplant article, they provide no scientific evidence that GMO rice is dangerous or unhealthy, just that:
“The policy also protects Thailand’s thousands-year old rice heritage from the inherent risks carried by genetically-engineered crops, risks that could threaten the future—and diversity—of the country’s treasured rice varieties.“
They never state what “these inherent” risks are.
Scientists against Greenpeace
In 2016, over 100 Nobel Laureates penned a letter to Greenpeace asking them to cease their opposition to GMOs in general and “Golden rice” in particular. Citing: “There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption.” They also referred to their activities as a “crime against humanity”.
Other claims against GMOs
“…recent studies have shown animals fed with GM-containing feed can develop health problems”.
Of course, there is no link to this study.
SlowFood also complains that GMOs are made by “corporations”
Science and GMOs
As stated above, I cannot find any scientific evidence that genetically modifying any food makes it unsafe. Apparently I am not alone. This article from The Perdue University College of Agriculture states:
“There is no data to indicate that consumption of GMOs is bad for human health.”
Or this quote from Science Daily
“…genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are considered safe by an overwhelming majority of scientists”
One more, this one from Cornell University’s Alliance for Science quoting plant biologist Dr. Sarah Evanega:
“Genetically modified organism (GMO) food is safe. In that respect, my stance mirrors the position taken by the National Academies of Sciences and the majority of the world’s scientific community.”
Proving the negative
“In the absence of credible independent long-term feeding studies, the safety of GMOs is unknown”
“Currently, there is no clear and definite proof of the full effects of what GMOs do to the human body.”
It sounds to me that they are saying the same thing the scientists are saying. but they’re taking the stance that since they cannot prove GMO crops are not harmful, they must be harmful.
And I cannot prove there is no Bigfoot, so there must be a Bigfoot.
You cannot prove a negative.
Bottom line on GMOs
There is no scientific evidence that because a food is genetically engineered, it is unsafe.
So for supper I think I’ll have an extra helping of GMO along with a side of gluten.
And let me know when you find Bigfoot.
More to read:
Scientific American – Are You Scared of GMO Foods?
The American Association for the Advancement of Science – Getting it Right on GMOs
The University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources – Science of GMOs