For many parents, it seems obvious that feeding their children foods knows as Genetically Modified Organisms is a bad idea. Since the release of the documentary Food Inc., GMO foods have become a highly inflammatory and emotional topic. Specifically, anti-GMO activists have focused on multi-national corporations such as Monsanto, which produce these products for-profit.
I asked Toyo Garber, a public relations assistant at the Non-GMO Project, about some of these issues, including results of a 2015 Pew poll that showed 37 percent of the American general public believed it was not safe to eat GMOs, while 88 percent of the American Association for the Advancement of Science scientists believed they were safe.
Garber told me that "there is a false notion that there is scientific consensus that GMOs are safe…There was a joint statement published in Environmental Sciences Europe in 2015 signed by more than 300 independent researchers stating that there is not scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs."
I also reached out to author and blogger Kavin Senapathy for her perspective. "There is absolutely a scientific consensus that GMOs are safe… [Garber] cited Environmental Sciences Europe, which is hardly a reputable journal, and the referenced statement is a propaganda piece that doesn't present original data. The authors of the paper are stakeholders, many with a financial incentive to publicly oppose GMOs," she said.
I looked into the claim that ESE is not a reputable journal. It is considered a peer-reviewed journal, but it has been heavily criticized in the past for some of its publications. Namely, it republished a now famously retracted study which claimed GMO-fed rats developed tumors compared with non-GMO fed ones. The study's findings were found to be essentially useless because the rats the researchers used were rats bred specifically to grow tumors. Additionally, a number of scientists pointed out that the data was improperly calculated and faulty.
It's not just about the consensus. The real question is whether modified foods have been shown to cause harm in adults and children. Two months ago, a major force in science, the prestigious National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a 408 page report on Genetically Modified foods. Over 900 peer-reviewed studies were considered and the panel concluded that GM foods are safe to be eaten by humans.
Jon Entine, author and founder of the Genetic Literacy Project has written: "every major international science body in the world has reviewed multiple independent studies—in some cases numbering in the hundreds—in coming to the consensus conclusion that GMO crops are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods." He points out a review by an Italian team which looked at 1,783 studies on GM foods (A huge number!) and "couldn't find a single credible example demonstrating that GM foods pose any harm to humans or animals."
In fact, after almost 30 years of widespread use (such as corn and soy beans), GM foods have never, even once, been linked to disease or any harm in humans.
Garber raises concerns about how GMOs have been studied."At this point, there have not been long term feeding studies that replicate the level of genetically engineered foods that we're seeing in the general population. What we know is that GMOs are present in 75 to 89 percent of conventional processed foods, so many children are eating them at every meal," she said.
A question that may follow this assertion is what time frame constitutes "long term"? Standards in the research world tend to consider anything longer than 90 days "long term." But for some activists, this is not long enough. Layla Parker-Katiraee, PhD, in this article outlines why there are no long term studies of GMO in humans. Amongst them is the fact that no food (including organics) is ever really studied in the long term. It would be incredibly difficult to design a good experiment that would show a type of food— and not myriad other factors such as genetics, environment, and other foods–caused differences between the study and control groups.
The question remains why anti-GMO activists are so adamant that modified foods are harmful to humans. We must remember that essentially our entire food supply has been modified by humans over millennia. The bananas and carrots we eat today, never existed naturally until humans began to mix their genes up by selectively breeding them. There is no evidence at all to suggest that eating a fruit whose genes have been modified to be say, more drought tolerant, is in any way more harmful to children than more traditional varietals.
In my next installment, I will take a closer look at the anti-GMO movement and its concerns about GMO farming practices.