Are GMOs Harmful?

I recently polled my Facebook followers with the question: “Are GMOs harmful to my health?” The results shocked me. Twenty-seven people said “no” and two people said “yes”. I expected more people to say “yes”, so I began thinking, why did more people say they are not worried about genetically modified organism (GMO) foods, yet it’s a hot media topic?

As I pondered that thought, I looked at the demographic of the people who responded to my question. I saw that most of them were either directly involved in agriculture (i.e. career, family) or know someone who is. They are closer to the farm gate than those who said no. But as we look at the people living in the United States, we see fewer people living that lifestyle.

Perhaps people away from the farm gate believe GMOs are harmful to their health because they haven’t been given sufficient information about them. A GMO is short for, genetically modified organism. Genetically modified (GM) foods are derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) have been modified to possess a gene from a different organism. The main questions is, does this process cause GM foods to have adverse health effects?

A lot of research has been done to determine how GMOs impact human health. In 2016, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released their report Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, which examines many components of genetically engineered crops. Over 20 years of data was reviewed, including nearly 900 studies and tests and European and North American health data.

The findings on human health effects are as follows, “overall finding on purported adverse effects on human health of foods derived from GE crops: On the basis of detailed examination of comparisons of currently commercialized GE and non-GE foods in compositional analysis, acute and chronic animal-toxicity tests, long-term data on health of livestock fed GE foods, and human epidemiological data, the committee found no differences that implicate a higher risk to human health from GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.”

For clarification, the acronyms GM and GE (genetic engineering) are frequently used interchangeably, although they are slightly different in meaning. GM refers to a range of methods such as selection, hybridization and induced mutation that are used to alter the genetic composition of domesticated plants and animals. GE is one type of GM that involves the intentional introduction of a targeted change in a plant, animal or microbial gene sequence to achieve a specific result. In other words, GE is an extension of GM.

As you can see from the years of research, genetically modifying a plant is nothing new. Humans have been doing it for over 10,000 years, for good reasons. Farmers face many challenges during a growing season. One of the most devastating challenges is having enough rainfall to raise a crop. A dry year can inhibit many of the developmental processes in a crop and cause the harvest to be significantly reduced. So, some crops are modified to be more tolerant to drought stress, thus, reducing crop shortages and keeping food prices more consistent.

Another reason the agriculture industry modifies food is to protect the food supply. Pests can cause detrimental effects to crops. To protect them, insect-resistant traits are inserted into plants’ genetics to keep insects from feeding on them. Having these traits in crops help farmers produce the maximum amount per acre. As a result, farmers produce more food without using more soil.

The scientific world has proven that GMOs are a necessity and safe for consumption. If you still need more reassurance, get to know someone close to the farm gate. Maybe you have a neighbor whose family used to farm or a friend who works for an agriculture company. Whatever it may be, start a dialogue. The more we can talk about these topics the more we can learn and make educated decisions.

BrooklynneSlabaughediteditBrooklynne Dalton is a Purdue graduate (Boiler Up!) with a passion for the food and fiber industry. She's living in rural Illinois working for Dow AgroSciences as a field sales representative. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and step-daughter, going to exercise classes and traveling.