There is often a negative connotation surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When people hear modified, they think GMOs are all developed in factories and pumped with chemicals when it is quite the opposite. As the obsession with eating “clean” has grown, so have the lies about the pros and cons of GMOs. Let’s dive into the myths and truths about genetically modified foods.
First, it is important to understand what a GMO is. GMOs are defined as foods in which the genetic makeup has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. It is simply selecting a singular positive gene from one plant, such as the ability to grow in harsh conditions, and inserting it into a plant that does not possess the said gene. Currently, most GMOs are fruits and vegetables that are thoroughly regulated by the FDA. Additionally, GMOs are held to the same safety standards and requirements as non-GMO foods. Now that we have that crucial background information, let’s look at a few common myths surrounding GMOs.
Myth #1: GMOs increase the risk of allergic reactions.
Many people fear that GMOs can increase the risk of an allergic reaction, but these concerns have no evidence to support them. An allergic reaction will only happen if the gene being put into a food organism changes the production of an allergen. In simpler terms, the risk of an allergic reaction would only increase if a gene that causes an allergen is taken out of a crop and put into a GMO. For example, if scientists were to combine a gene from a nut and put it into a soybean, there is a slight chance a person with a nut allergy could have a reaction. However, the World Health Organization discourages this and scientists will stop a GMO’s launch if it is found the food will cause allergic reactions.
Myth #2: GMOs cause cancer.
There have been concerns that GMOs carry increased levels of potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances, thus, eating GMOs would cause cancer. This idea is false. The American Cancer Society studied this claim and reported that no available GMO foods affect the risk of cancer. GMOs neither increase nor decrease the risk of cancer developing in the body. It is true that in the past few decades cancer rates have increased dramatically but this is no fault of GMOs.
Myth #3: GMOs cause changes in human DNA.
All food DNA, whether genetically modified or not, can survive after ingestion as far as the human gut. Most of the hysteria surrounding this myth stems from that fact. However, most fail to also recognize the fact that most, if not all, the DNA in our food either gets destroyed in the cooking process or broken down before it reaches the large intestine. However, there are exceptions to this as occasionally our food’s DNA can enter the bloodstream, but there is no evidence that this has any impact on our genetic makeup. This means that GMOs can not and do not alter human DNA.
Myth #4: GMOs are toxic to human body organs.
Back in 2009, some scientists suggested the possibility that GMOs could impact the liver, kidney, and pancreas. There was not enough evidence to support this claim and further studies were called for. In these further studies, it was discovered that, in comparison to non-GMOs, GMO crops could even reduce toxicity in the body. This is due to the decreased exposure to plant-produced toxins, like fungi, and pesticides used to grow non-GMO foods.
We’ve talked about the myths, now let’s examine the truths about GMOs. The United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina grow 90% of the planet’s GMOs because most other countries have rejected them. Several of these nations around the world that reject GMOs have millions starving. These countries are missing out on the increased production of food and the many other benefits of GMOs. Among these benefits is the increased farmer and consumer safety associated with GMOs as growing them does not require pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Most GMOs do not require the use of pesticides, so the farmer and consumer safety is greatly increased. GMOs are more resilient to harsh growing conditions than non-GMO foods are. This has already increased the production of soy, corn, and cotton by 20-30%. Countries that reject GMOs are also skipping out on crops that boost your health, like Golden Rice, which is packed with more vitamin A and other important nutrients than spinach.
In addition to the numerous health benefits, GMOs possess great environmental benefits. GMOs have a much longer shelf life which reduces waste which is a serious growing problem in our world. Furthermore, GMOs can thrive in harsh climates, such as droughts or salty soil. With the declining state of the climate, GMOs might be the key to ensuring all people are fed and healthy in an uncertain environmental future.
Genetically modified organisms are not dirty, poisonous foods here to destroy our health. They do not give you cancer or change your DNA. They are a clean, healthy solution to growing environmental and social issues in our world which is why it is important to know the myths and truths about genetically modified organisms.
Photo Credit: Healthline.com