GMO Foods: Dangerous or a Tempest-in-a-Teapot?
There has been a lot of discussion and arguments about GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. Scientists add genes to corn, soybeans, and other plants, usually to protect the crops from insects or herbicides. GMO fans say it makes crops easier to grow and cheaper, thereby feeding more people for less money. Critics, however, worry that GMOs pose an unnatural threat to our health and the environment. They say that GMOs have been linked to depression, allergies, infertility, and even cancer.
It’s interesting to note that GMOs have been in our food supply for over 20 years. Only recently has a controversy developed — nurtured in part by documentaries and experts on television medical programs. About 75 percent of consumers say they are concerned about the safety of the genetically modified foods, according to a New York Times survey. Many states are now requiring labeling of all foods made with GMOs; the European Union already requires labeling, and several countries, including France, have banned the planting of genetically modified crops. So, are GMOs safe — or should you running screaming in the other direction? Here’s some evidence.
- Unless you’ve been eating only foods labeled 100% organic — which must be GMO free — you probably have GMOs in your system now. Roughly 90% of the corn, canola, soybeans, and sugar beets grown in this country have bits of DNA that originally came from a lab.
- Hundreds of studies have found no trouble with GMOs, says Ruth MacDonald, professor and chair of food science at Iowa State University. After looking at more than 130 research projects — including animal studies and searches for known toxins or allergens in GMO foods — even the European Union concluded that there’s nothing especially risky about them.
- Adding genes to crops isn’t any more dangerous than traditional breeding, which farmers have done for thousands of years, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared in 2012. Old methods of modifying crops mixed tens of thousands of genes with unpredictable results. The fact that scientists can now insert a single gene into corn or soybeans shouldn’t raise any new alarms.
Based on this information, there doesn’t appear to be any scientific reason to ban GMO foods to protect your health. However, it is healthy to limit your intake of the processed foods that often contain them. And don’t assume that GMO-free packaged food is necessarily healthy. Organic cookies can still contain too much sugar or salt.