Are GMO Foods Safe?

By David Pinzon PhD
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With the growing number of GMO crops in the market, do you worry that what you think is good for your body may no longer be? You are not alone.

Like any parent, when I had my kids, I spent a lot of time determining which foods are good for my family and which are not. Like many parents, I slowly introduced one new food at a time, just in case they had a negative reaction. I also made sure they were getting the healthiest, freshest foods I could provide.

In that sense, I am like every other parent. What makes me a little different from many other parents, however, is that I’m also a scientist who works in agriculture. Because I am a parent, I want to make the best, safest choices possible for my children. Because I am a scientist, I have peace of mind that they are just that. As such, I have absolutely no hesitation in feeding them GMO crops. Here’s why:

  • Control: With GMO food, scientists are taking beneficial genetic material from one organism and adding it to the other. The great advantage of GMOs compared with any other breeding techniques is that, with GMOs, scientists know exactly what changes occurred in the DNA, so it is a very precise technique.

As an example, with GMO papaya, scientists introduced a piece of DNA from the virus that was affecting the fruit, in order to help the plant protect itself. As scientists know exactly what is being introduced into the plant, they can determine if it has any known or unknown effect on those who eat it. You can be reassured that what you are eating has been thoroughly investigated for any adverse effects, and nothing has been left to chance.

Another example of the control that scientists have in bringing beneficial traits to plants — traits that allow them to combat disease and pests, and thrive — is Bt corn. With this crop, scientists introduced genetic material that allows the plant to control the worms that can kill it, meaning reduced pesticide use, without compromising on plant health. In bringing this crop to market, scientists were able to demonstrate that the new protein that is present in the plant did not have any negative effect on human or animal health.

  • Safety: GMOs are among the most-studied organisms in agricultural science and there is a huge amount of evidence that tells us they are safe. In a 2016 report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stated that, “genetically engineered (GE) crops are no different from conventional crops in terms of their risks to human health and the environment.” This means GMOs do not pose any additional risk for your health than with the alternate counterpart.  This study is very comprehensive, using data from more than 900 sources over two decades, so it is well worth checking out.
  • Allergy confidence: According to the US FDA, GMOs are no more likely to cause an allergic or toxic reaction than traditionally bred plants. As I mentioned earlier, when genetic traits are introduced into plants, scientists evaluate whether any new material could be allergenic or toxic when consumed. It pays to note, though, that if, for example, you are allergic to soy, you would still be allergic to GMO soy. On the other hand, if you are not allergic, you will not be allergic to GMO soy.

So, we know that GMOs are safe, but, they could, in fact, offer us more than just a safe, nutritious food choice. With GMOs, we have the ability to actually remove allergens from our food. In fact, scientists in the U.S. and Great Britain are already working on safer peanuts, and gluten-free wheat. Imagine what a difference that would make to the lives of allergy sufferers.

With GMOs, eliminating the things that can make us sick is a very real possibility. Without the specter of allergies, we can potentially add more fruits and vegetables into our diet, and that, to my mind, is a wonderful thing.