On GMOs

GMOs

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.

 

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6 thoughts on “On GMOs

  1. I find that one of the biggest problems is people assume the information they are getting is from scientists. Most of it comes from people with no background in any science, let alone genetic engineering or biochemistry.
    And, while I do kinda want to see GMO’s be labelled just so I can see peoples reactions as they go through the grocery store, I’m also worried about the possible effect it could have if the government starts caving to this sort of thing. Labelling food isn’t so hard, though it is a waste of money, but it does set a precedent.

    1. As great a tool as the internet is, the anonymity and lack of oversight makes it very easy for people and organizations like IRT to falsely present themselves as scientists or other credible sources. I don’t really know what the solution to that is. There are ways to vet people and websites, but I doubt that the average person would know them.

      I agree, most people probably don’t realize the extent to which the food they already eat is genetically modified. I also find it ridiculous that people latch onto “organic” blindly, even though there are no regulations defining what exactly “organic” is or how products are marketed. Companies can simply slap the word onto a label and onto a shelf it goes. Of course, these are the same people who think GMOs will kill them, but think nothing of shoving a Cheeto in their face. GMO’s = bad, chemicals and food coloring = okay, apparently.

  2. This, for some reason, reminds me of the people who freak out if something you use is used for something dangerous. I got this yesterday when I mentioned that my electronic cigarette needed fixing. They said that I was smoking antifreeze since Propylene Glycol is used in antifreeze. It’s annoying as hell.

    1. We as a society tend to misplace the “danger” label entirely too much. We try to mitigate risk where we really can’t, and then we downplay the risk to things that really are harmful. Case in point: scientifically speaking, salt and sugar are much more harmful to your body than GMOs. And yet people think nothing of gobbling down supersized fries and a 64 oz soda. Absolutely baffling.

      1. I’d comment on that, but I just had a medium tater tot from sonic, a burger, and a soda. I will say that I accept the risks, though. I know it’ll kill me, but god damn it’s good enough to be worth it.

      2. As long as someone is aware of the risks that they’re taking then it’s no skin off my back. It just bugs me that we tend to label the wrong things as ‘dangerous.’

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