This is a pretty hot button issue of late, despite the fact the GMOs have existed for decades. A lot of people believe that GMOs are harmful to people. I understand the science behind the issue, so GMO safety is not a concern to me. However, most people do not have the scientific background that I have. I also realize that most people get their information from the internet. So I decided to see what exactly the internet was saying about GMO foods. I did a little Google search to see what exactly the average person, unfamiliar with ins and outs of how science works, would be presented with. The first website that pops up (other than wikipedia) is The Non-GMO Project. Here is a link to their website.
That page is titled GMO Facts, although ‘facts’ seem to be conspicuously missing. Under the section of Are GMOs Safe? the only argument offered is this:
Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.
That’s hardly proof of anything. “Other countries don’t do it so neither should we” isn’t an argument grounded in science or evidence. And sadly, the rest of the page presents not one single study or shred of evidence that indicates that GMOs cause harm to human beings.
So let’s continue our Google search. One of the next sites we come to on the first page is IRT or Institute for Responsible Technology. Sounds academic and learned, doesn’t it? Well, let’s take a look at their page, shall we? Big red flags here. The website mentions studies that show evidence that GMO consumption leads to harm in humans…but then fails to cite said studies. Furthermore, the “science” these people give is quackery at best. Take a look at this:
Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.
And then there’s this gem:
Numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in 1996. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise.
First of all, again, no studies or evidence cited for these two statements. Second of all, DNA from other plants and animals does not invade your own genome. It just doesn’t happen. And that seems to be a big fear with GMOs, that somehow the DNA from GMO foods will creep into your own DNA and wreck havoc. That’s completely untrue and unfounded, of course. As for the second statement, correlation does not imply causation. Enough said.
At this point, I can see that there is a veritable cornucopia of misinformation or opinion and fear masquerading as fact on the internet (shocking, I know). And, sadly, it’s also the most readily available of all the information. So now let’s take the scientific approach. The Genetic Literacy Project provides some good, solid information about the misinformation out there with regard to GMOs. I trust this site because it actually tells you who the advisers and writers are, and they’re all PhD’s in relevant fields and science writers, people who actually know a thing or two about the science surrounding GMOs, but perhaps more importantly people who are credentialed to interpret and evaluate a scientific study. What do they have to say?
Today they released an article about ten studies that ‘prove’ GMOs are harmful to humans. You can read the article here. A lot of what they had to say directly addresses some of the information presented by IRT and The Non-GMO Project. Remember the toxins found in fetal and maternal blood? Well, it turns out that this specific study was looking at a protein that is found in ALL pesticides–even ones used on “organic” foods, so it’s impossible to claim that this was because of GMOs. Moreover, humans lack the receptor for this protein, making it totally benign to us.
And what of the claims that the genes in GMOs can find their way into our DNA? Well, again, this is false, and not at all what studies have concluded. Numerous studies have found DNA in our plasma–the fluid outside of our cells. They didn’t find anything inside of cells or even remotely close to inside our own DNA. More importantly, though, is that DNA from ALL food makes it into our plasma. So if you eat an organic carrot, guess what? There will be carrot DNA in your plasma. But that doesn’t mean that there will be carrot genes in your own DNA.
And what of the “numerous health problems” that arose after GMOs were introduced, as claimed by IRT? Well, turns out that IRT isn’t really any sort of an institution at all. It’s just one guy that runs the website and calls it an institution. The red flags I mentioned also set off the alarms for the people at the GLP, too. Interestingly, The Celiac Disease Foundation has actually spoken out against claims like the ones IRT makes.
It seems clear to me that there is a lot of misunderstanding, misdirection, misinterpreting, and fear-mongering out there with regard to GMOs. A lot of the claims are unfounded, half-true, or outright false. That being said, I still believe that GMOs should be labelled. People have a right to not eat GMO foods if they don’t want to. It also seems clear to me that a lot of the fear that people have about GMOs is really misdirected anger at companies like Monsanto. Dislike for a company–justified or not–is not the same thing as evidence that their product is harmful to you, though.