I’m really, truly not sure where all of the hatred for genetically modified organisms has come from. I’m all for people questioning what the government does, but seriously! Do some research. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that GMOs are harmful to humans, soil, the environment, etc. In fact, most of the evidence is to the contrary. Just to make sure I was on the right track, I did the research. Here we go.
Let’s first go over the difference between GMOs and conventionally grown products. GMOs have 1 or a few well-characterized (known, defined) genes fused into their genome. These genes can be from any species, usually bacteria or viruses. Conventional methods use genetic manipulation, not modification, to accomplish similar goals. Think of a German shepherd. These dogs have been selectively bred over many years to produce the desired traits of loyalty, intelligence, and herding. Selective breeding is used in every single crop you can imagine. Breeders force things to happen genetically. This can also introduce new genes, but they are always within species.
When the plant genetics are engineered in GMOs, the new genes are reviewed for unintended consequences. These products go through three government organizations (not all US) that are specifically designed to test GMOs for undesirable effects on humans, soil, environment, and insect biodiversity. Conventionally grown products that have been genetically manipulated do not have to go through any of these agencies to test for safety. They are assumed to be safe because they are “natural.” So far, the only proven harmful chemicals to humans from crops have been from conventionally grown crops that have been manipulated. For example, a strain of celery grown conventionally was shown to have a higher than normal concentration of psoralens which is a chemical that deters insects. The farmers were excited about the prospect of having insect resistant crops, but soon came to realize that the excess psoralens was giving everyone rashes. If this strain of celery would’ve gone through the process of being determined safe, this wouldn’t have happened (1).
The current controversies surrounding GMOs right now are as follows:
1. Whether genetically engineered (GE) foods should be labeled
2. The effect of GE foods on health and the environment
3. The effect on pesticide resistance
4. Impact on agricultural finance
5. The role of GE products on feeding the world
I want to talk about number 1 after I’ve made my point.
The most successful genetic modification of crops so far has been the addition of genes that produce toxic proteins from soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) (2). These proteins are toxic to common insect predators, but do no damage to humans or other non-target wildlife (3). Another great thing about the toxins is that they are present inside the plant tissues. Topical pesticides have contained Bt proteins for decades, but the proteins never killed pests already inside the plant. Since it has been long established that Bt proteins do not hurt humans, scientists were given the go-ahead to genetically modify corn and soy with Bt proteins (4). Another benefit of this modification is that insecticide use has gone down by 8% per planted acre of Bt crops. This has also lead to increased yield and increased profits for farmers (5). Even further, since the Bt proteins only kill target organisms, other insects have been allowed to thrive without being destroyed by broader insecticides. A study of 42 plots of land was conducted and various insects were collected to a result that there were 23% more insect species in Bt corn fields and 71% more insect species in Bt cotton fields than conventionally grown and sprayed corn and cotton (6).
Another prime example is the viral resistant papaya. Pretty much all papayas are genetically modified to resist papaya ringspot virus (PRSV). Here is where GMO haters get on the industry for treating papayas like tobacco. Tobacco had a common virus, as well. The similarity is that both viruses were treated with an internal vaccine. Two difference vaccines for two different viruses (7). This has nothing to do with the detrimental health effects of tobacco. So basically, all papayas have a very mild strain of the virus inside them the same way we all have a mild strain of measles or influenza in us from vaccines. Without this vaccine, it would be nearly impossible to grow papayas at all because the virus is so widespread (7).
I have one more example of a GMO that hasn’t been released just yet but looks promising. It is called “golden rice.” Rice is a staple crop grown in over 100 countries, and Vitamin A deficiency is a real public health problem in over 100 countries. Carotenoids, the compounds that give yellow and orange vegetables their color, can be used to make vitamin A within the body. Scientists have incorporated a gene from the yellow daffodil flower and two genes from bacteria to create golden rice (8). The second generation of golden rice has been shown in human feeding studies to have the proper balance of carotenoids to create vitamin A, even in children (9). An 8 oz cup of golden rice has enough vitamin A for 50-60% of RDA for vitamin A (10). The purpose of golden rice was not to make an extra profit. People already buy rice. The purpose was purely humanitarian in nature.
Of course there are many more examples, but they are all in this reference (2), and I have no need to go over each one. However, it has been scientifically shown over and over that GMOs boost agricultural sustainability, lower the amount of insecticide used, improved soil quality (11, 12), and increase the biodiversity of invertebrate wildlife in crop fields (13).
There are also a lot of issues with the patenting of GMOs. I’m sure this will follow the way of gene patenting and be outlawed so that everyone can have access to GMOs. Everyone can have access now with royalty and patent fees to the creator, but that will soon be outlawed I would hope.
Before I ended my research, I looked all over the internet for a reliable article against GMOs. I found 1, yes 1! article that had any peer reviewed references at all (14). This article is laughable in it’s credibility. It makes outrageous claims with no references at all, and most of the references it does have are not peer reviewed or from some agency no one has heard of. The first 8 references were personal opinion single author books (which are not peer reviewed.) I went to PubMed and read the very first peer reviewed article on the list. This was a study on genetically modified soy and whether or not it had more allergic affect than conventionally grown soy. Skin tests of 49 subjects for both types of soy showed 14 patients with positive skin tests for allergy: 14 total showed an allergy, 8 to both types, 5 to the conventional, and 1 to the GMO (15). They had used this article to say that GM soy had a new allergen. IN ONE PERSON! It took away the allergen in five people! I guess they thought no one would check their sources.
Hey, I’m all for scientific skepticism. Look things up, do some reading. But don’t take every little piece of propaganda seriously. The article I mentioned actually said that GMOs reduce crop yield. That is their whole point! Immediately, I knew what I was reading was garbage. But a lot of people don’t. This is why I’m ok with the US not having GMO labeling laws. People freak out over the littlest things and don’t do any sound research on it.
Now, I’m all for food safety, but until I see any reasonable evidence stating that these foods are bad for me, I’m eating them, and I encourage you to do the same.
1. Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health, and National Research Council (Editors), 2004 Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects.National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
2. Pamela Ronald. Plant Genetics, Sustainable Agriculture and Global Food Security. Genetics May 1, 2011 vol. 188 no. 111-20.
3. Mendelsohn M., Kough J., Vaituzis Z., Matthews K., 2003 Are Bt crops safe? Nature Biotechnol. 21: 1003–1009.
4. EUROPEAN FOOD SAFETY AUTHORITY 2004
5. Fernandez-Cornejo J., Caswell M., 2006 The first decade of genetically engineered crops in the United States, pp. 1–30 in Economic Information Bulletin, edited by United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. USDA, Washington, DC.
6. Marvier M., McCreedy C., Regetz J., Kareiva P., 2007 A meta-analysis of effects of Bt cotton and maize on nontarget invertebrates. Science 316: 1475–1477.
7. Tripathi S., Suzuki J., Gonsalves D., 2006 Development of genetically engineered resistant papaya for papaya ringspot virus in a timely manner: a comprehensive and successful approach, pp. 197–240 in Methods in Molecular Biology, Vol. 354: Plant–Pathogen Interactions: Methods and Protocols, edited by P. C. Ronald. Humana Press,Totowa, NJ.
8. Ye X., Al-Babili S., Kloti A., Zhang J., Lucca P., et al., 2000 Engineering the provitamin A (beta-carotene) biosynthetic pathway into (carotenoid-free) rice endosperm.Science 287: 303–305.
9. Stein A. J., Sachdev H. P. S., Qaim M., 2006 Potential impact and cost-effectiveness of Golden Rice. Nat. Biotechnol. 24: 1200–1201
10.Tang G., Qin J., Dolnikowski G. G., Russell R. M., Grusack M. A., 2009 Golden Rice is an effective source of Vitamin A. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 89: 1776–1783.
11. Huang J., Hu R., Rozelle S., Pray C., 2005 Insect-resistant GM rice in farmers’ fields: assessing productivity and health effects in China. Science 308: 688–690.
12. Qaim M., Zilberman D., 2003 Yield effects of genetically modified crops in developing countries. Science 299: 900–902.
13. Cattaneo M. G., Yafuso C., Schmidt C., Huang C.-Y., Rahman M., et al., 2006 Farm-scale evaluation of the impacts of transgenic cotton on biodiversity, pesticide use and yield. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103: 7571–7576.
15. Yum HY, Lee SY, Lee KE, Sohn MH, Kim KE. Genetically modified and wild soybeans: an immunologic comparison. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2005 May-Jun;26(3):210-6.