How Safe Are GMOs for Your Family? Know the Latest Research

The foods you choose to feed your family are important elements of maintaining your family’s health and wellness.

One food decision you may have considered is if you want to use foods that include GMOs (genetically modified organisms). GMO commonly refers to plants or animals created using genetic engineering (GE) or by using traditional plant or animal breeding techniques that result in a plant or animal that wouldn’t normally occur in nature.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about the safety of genetically engineered crops and animals.

Farmers have used traditional genetic modification techniques for thousands of years. The first direct transfer of DNA from one organism to another and the creation of the first recombinant DNA took place in the early 1970s. That marked the beginning of genetically engineered organisms, or GMOs.

But new technologies in genetic engineering are now blurring the lines between GE and conventional breeding. That makes the differences less clear than ever.

New Research Says GMOs Are Safe

Now a new study by the advisory group the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine lays out the results of its analysis of the safety of GMOs. In its 400 page report, the group says there is reasonable evidence that genetically engineered crops are safe for humans and animals to eat.

They found that GMOs have not caused an increase in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illness, kidney disease, autism or allergies. The organizations also found that genetically engineered crops appear to cause no harm to our environment.

The National Academies are private, nonprofit organizations set up by Congress to give advice on issues related to science, technology and medicine. For this analysis, 50 scientists, researchers and experts reviewed more than 900 studies covering the years since genetically engineered crops were first introduced.

How Is Genetic Engineering Used?

The most common use of GE is to give plants more pest resistance or a higher tolerance for certain herbicides. The higher tolerance allows farmers to kill more weeds without harming their crops. Another area of GE that’s gaining popularity is the development of more drought tolerance in crops.

The National Academies’ group noted there are only 12 genetically modified commercial crops grown worldwide. The most common genetically engineered crops are soybeans, corn, sugar beets, canola and cotton. Other crops using GE are alfalfa, papaya and small amounts of zucchini, yellow summer squash, apples and potatoes.

In 2015, 99% of sugar beets, 94% of soybeans, 94% of cotton and 92% of feed corn grown in the U.S. were genetically engineered to be either herbicide or pest resistant, or in some cases both.

Globally, genetically engineered crops are reportedly planted on 12% of all cropland. Europe has been slower to adopt the technology than the U.S.

How Did the Group Make Its Determinations?

The group published its results in the report, “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects.” To determine GMOs’ safety for human consumption, the group compared disease reports from the U.S. and Canada (where the public has consumed genetically engineered crops since the mid-1990s) with those in the United Kingdom and western Europe where genetically engineered crops have not been widely consumed.

Researchers found no long-term affects on the rates of specific health problems after farmers and food producers introduced GE foods in the U.S. and Canada. They found no human health risk differences related to genetically engineered foods compared to foods made from conventionally bred crops.

The researchers found no correlation between consuming genetically engineered foods and the rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Some conditions, such as celiac disease (an intolerance of gluten in foods) and autism spectrum disorder in children, saw similar growth rates in both the U.K. and the U.S.

Environmental and Economic Factors

Beyond food safety, the researchers studied how genetically engineered crops affected the environment. They found no conclusive evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between genetically engineered crops and environmental problems.

A 2010 report from the National Academies found genetic engineering had provided economic and environmental benefits to American Farmers.

Differing Perspectives

Critics of the study noted that there may have been industry influence. After the researchers and scientists completed the analysis, a committee of 20 wrote the report. None work for biotechnology companies such as DuPont or Monsanto, but some members have been involved in genetically engineered crop development and may have been consultants for biotech companies.

What’s Next?

To address concerns about GMOs, the National Academies’ report has some suggestions for the regulation of genetically engineered foods. They recommend a tiered process for regulating new crop varieties. They suggest the process should focus on a plant’s characteristics rather than its development process. New plant varieties that may pose risks should be carefully tested, regardless of whether GE was used or not.

Of course the decision to use GMOs or not is each consumer’s personal choice, but moving forward, with new technologies the choices may not be as clear.

Meet the Author

Brooke Moersfelder, RD CD is a registered dietitian at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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