What is a GMO? Well all the people that are absolutely against it from Jimmy Kimmel’s farmer’s market video can’t tell you. A GMO is a genetically modified organism. Basically, a small amount of DNA that encodes for a specific resistance to pests, bacteria or viruses is inserted into the DNA of foods to reduce the use of pesticides/antibiotics and make the foods commercially more available. In the past, a small mutation in the DNA of a plant could cause the plant to have a natural resistance to a virus/bacteria/pest. In other words, that pathogen no longer has the ability to infect that particular plant so the plant survives. When a GMO is created, the gene that encodes for the resistance (that mutated naturally in other plants) is integrated into a new plant’s DNA. Now the new plant is also resistant to that pathogen. The same technology used to create GMOs (recombinant DNA technology) is being used to create bacteria to biodegrade plastics and trash. Research is also being done to produce vaccines using that very same technique. So what is the benefit of producing GMO crops in the first place?
- To reduce the need for herbicides and pesticides; the GMOs are already resistant to the pathogens so no external chemicals are needed to kill them off.
- To reduce the use of fossil fuels because they require less plowing.
- To increase the amount of nutrients certain foods can provide. Golden rice was created to combat vitamin A deficiency in poor countries, a deficiency that killed 670,000 children each year.
- To increase the amount of food available to third world countries. GMO crops can be produced at a fraction of the cost of organic (non-GMO) crops because they are naturally resistant to infecting pathogens.
Do I think GMOs are healthy? Well I would not consider them a ‘superfood’ that reaps with health benefits. However, I do believe that they are NOT harmful to humans. I also believe they are healthy in the sense that they are the reason we can feed so many people on the planet today and can increase the vitamin and mineral consumption to third world countries who would not receive it otherwise.
Many people are against GMOs for health reasons that science can shut down. I have outlined a few of the most popular myths about GMOs below and why the hype is just not true.
1. GMOs are “unnatural”
We are speeding up the process of evolution by forcing a change in DNA instead of letting it happen by itself. Why is this unnatural? We have evolved as humans with the brain capacity to do this. Isn’t that Darwinism (a “natural” phenomena) at its finest? We have been modifying DNA in our crops since farming began. The plants that survived the best (usually due to resistance of a pathogen) would be used to replant for the next year… thus selecting for the best DNA. Creating GMOs is doing the same thing except now we have the technology to do it faster. Also, I would have to argue that something being “unnatural” is an invalid argument as to why it is bad for humans. I would consider open heart surgery “unnatural” but that does not mean we should not use it to save lives.
2. GMOs contain toxins that are harmful to humans
A study was published entitled “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada“. The study concluded that Bt Protein Cry1Ab was found in maternal and fetal blood after exposure to GMOs. After this was published, people ran with the idea that this protein is found in GMOs and is toxic to humans. Well, that protein is found in GMOs in very small amounts, but it is also used widely as a pesticide in organic (non-GMO) farming. In order for it to be detected in human blood from GMOs alone, the women would have to had eaten several kilos of GMO corn. The funny part is that this protein is not harmful to humans. We do not even have a receptor for that protein; pests have the receptor and that is why it is used as a pesticide in the first place. So basically, saying that Pt Protein Cry1Ab is toxic to humans is like saying “chocolate is harmful to dogs; therefore humans should not eat chocolate.”
3. The modified DNA can be transferred to humans
Once again, a study entitled “Complete Genes May Pass from Food to Human Blood” was misinterpreted and people ran with it. Basically, the conclusion was that whole genes from our food (all food, not just GMOs) can be detected in our blood plasma. The key word being plasma. Yes GMO DNA can be detected in our blood, but it certainly does not integrate into our own DNA. This study is not limited to GMOs. All food that we eat will pass on whole genes into our blood for a short amount of time. That does not mean we are going to integrate our food DNA into our own DNA. Do not worry, if you eat a banana, you will not turn into a banana.
4. GMOs can lead to gluten intolerance.
I could not find a single scientific article suggesting this claim.
5. GMOs can cause cancer
A study was published (and then retracted due to its biased and inconclusive methods) showing that rats who ate GMO foods developed tumors while the rats who consumed a non-GMO diet did not. Later it was found out that the rats used were predisposed to get tumors. Another study entitled “Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors” concluded that glyphosphate can cause breast cancer. Well the reality is that glyphosphate is NOT present in GMOs. It is a pesticide used on GMO as well as non-GMO plants. Even more, further studies done suggest that glyphosphate cannot be considered a cancer causing agent.
6. GMOs cause Autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
Again, I could not find a single scientific article suggesting this claim.
7. The Safety of eating GMOs is based on little scientific evidence
Well to combat that argument, there have been no studies published proving that GMOs are bad for the human body. In fact, every published study (all 2000+ of them) have concluded that there are no known health risks to humans. So actually, the harmful risks of eating GMOs proposed by anti-GMO activist are the ones based on little to no scientific evidence. We cannot deem something as “unsafe” until proven so. If we do, that is like saying chia seeds [or insert any other new health crazed food] has not been proven safe so that means they must be harmful to human health and we should not eat them. That is just impractical and a little ridiculous.
8. GMOs run the risk of creating “superbugs” or “super weeds”
The one thing I am concerned about with GMOs is the creation of “superbugs” and “super weeds”. Just like how the use of antibiotics is creating antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans; GMOs have the potential of creating superbugs and super weeds. And by ‘super,’ I just mean that random mutations were passed on so that that the pathogens would have the ability to infect the plants. If you create something to combat bacteria (antibiotics); the bacteria will mutate and adapt to survive them. Similarly, if you create a plant that is resistant to pests; the pests will eventually mutate and adapt to survive. Again, Darwinism. We are speeding up evolution that will occur naturally. That begs the question… does that mean that we shouldn’t prescribe antibiotics to patients with life threatening diseases because it has the potential of creating antibiotic resistant bacteria? While GMOs may create superweeds; I believe the benefits outweigh the risks. I would rather feed starving children in third world countries than stop the production of GMO crops because it might create a superbug.
Again I stress the importance of evidence based medicine. We cannot deem something as safe or unsafe until we have the research to back it up. So far, the published literature out there suggests that GMOs are not a threat to human health. In fact, they could be the solution, or at least a huge step forward to feeding the world and ridding it of starvation.