Although the science has shown that genetically modified (GMO) foods are generally safe, there are some potential areas of concern, particularly in plants genetically modified with pesticide use in mind, as pesticides are well known to pose a risk to human health. (See our section on pesticides in our chemicals and toxins area.) Although most studies have found even these products to be safe, a few rat and mice studies have found higher rates of tumors, hormonal abnormalities and other issues, including kidney and liver problems, in rats fed exclusively GM Roundup-tolerant com. (Curry, 2013)
For example, the Italian government’s National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition published a study in 2008 comparing mice given feed containing GM com and regular com. The two types were grown at the same time in two neighboring fields in Landriano, Italy. Everything about the mice was also the same, except that one group was fed a genetically-modified com feed, some starting as pups, and others starting later in life. GMO-fed mice had altered levels of immune T and B cells in their guts, their spleens, and their blood. They also had elevated cytokines (an inflammation trigger) in their blood. Their allergy and inflammatory systems were revved up. The effect was statistically significant in the mice that didn’t start the GM crops diet until they were older, but it was most pronounced in those who started as pups. (Finamore et aI., 2008)
Dr. Alan Greene notes that GM crops have been increasing at the same time that “food allergies have increased rapidly,” adding, “I’m concerned that GMO foods may be one of the reasons” (Greene, 2009, p. 103) Such a link, however, is tenuous at best; there are many other factors explaining the rise in allergies, and these factors have also been growing more prevalent in recent years, and would seem to explain the rise in allergies much better than GMO crops do. It’s also not clear that even the most worrisome GMO crops are any worse than traditional varieties. After all, ordinary crops, too, are typically grown with the heavy use of harmful pesticides, and we’ve been exposed to these in minute doses for many decades now.
Ways of avoiding GMO foods
If you’re concerned about the safety of genetically modified crops, the best way to handle this is to buy organic whenever possible, which will eliminate both problems. Better yet, grow some of your own vegetables in your own garden. Dr. Green adds that, “You can reduce GM foods by cutting down on foods that contain corn syrup, high fructose com syrup, com meal, dextrose, maltodextrin, com oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, unspecified vegetable oil, soybean oil, soy protein, soy lecithin, or textured vegetable protein.” (ibid, p. 104)
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