As the world population grows, so also the debate on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods grows. Many – scientists and health experts alike – have weighed in on the issue of GMOs. Is it positive or negative health-wise? The debate rages on both sides of the divide.
While many are aware of what GMO foods mean, there are several others who have either never heard of it or do not understand any of it at all. It is for this second class of persons that an explanation of GMO foods becomes necessary.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), GMOs are organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been changed in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods.
David Perlmutter, MD, a board-certified neurologist and fellow of the American College of Nutrition, is of the view that GMOs are “toxic”. He totally kicks against it and even declares that it “compromises soil quality”.
“Genetic modification of agricultural seeds isn’t in the interest of the planet or its inhabitants,” he said.
“GM crops are associated with increased use of chemicals like glyphosate that are toxic to the environment and to humans. These chemicals not only contaminate our food and water supplies, but they also compromise soil quality and are actually associated with increased disease susceptibility in crops.
“This ultimately leads to an increase in the use of pesticides and further disrupts ecosystems. And yet, despite these drawbacks, we haven’t seen increased yield potential of GM crops, although that has always been one of the promises of GM seeds.
“Fortunately, there are innovative alternatives to the issue of food insecurity that are not dependent on using GM crops,” the Florida-based American celebrity doctor and author noted.
In 2014, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed 57 percent of Americans declared genetically modified foods generally unsafe to eat. Opinions like this have forced companies to even make non-GMO versions of their products. For example, Abbott, the company that produces Similac baby formula, has created a non-GMO version in order to calm parents who will just not entertain the idea of GMOs for fear of the unknown.
However, Dr. Sarah Evanega, an International Professor of Plant Breeding & Genetics and a Senior Associate Director of International Programs of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University shared her opinion on the worldwide debate. She says some very interesting things regarding GMOs, even going as far as citing bodies and health groups that back her claims.
“Genetically modified organism (GMO) food is safe. In that respect, my stance mirrors the position taken by the National Academies of Sciences and the majority of the world’s scientific community,” the doctor said.
“I eat GMO foods, as do my three young children, because I’m confident in the safety of these products. They can also lessen the environmental impact of agriculture in general.
“Genetic engineering is a tool that can help us breed crops that resist drought, diseases, and insect pests, which means that farmers achieve higher yields from the crops they grow to feed their families and generate extra income.
“I know many of the scientists who are using genetic engineering to breed improved crops, and I’ve witnessed their dedication to making the world a better place. I support GMO food because I’ve seen first-hand how it can improve people’s lives. For farmers, access to GMOs is a matter of social and environmental justice,” Evanega said amongst other things.
The debate regarding GMOs foods certainly cuts both ways as seen in the arguments above. It will be noteworthy to state what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has to say about it all. Does the world health body go for or against GMOs?
Interestingly the WHO confirms that all genetically-modified products circulating in the international market have passed safety assessments conducted by national authorities. The body submits that environmental and human health risk assessment is adopted in reaching this finality. The food safety assessment, it says, is mostly based on Codex documents.
The body, however, points out that different GMOs include different genes which are inserted in different ways. This means that GM foods and their safety should be assessed individually. This simply means that the safety of all GM foods cannot be generalised.
In all, the organisation insists that GMOs do not pose any likely health risks to humans. “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved,” WHO said while responding to questions sent to it by persons and groups regarding the issue.
It is the world body’s assertion that continuous application of safety assessments based on the Codex Alimentarius principles and, where appropriate, adequate post market monitoring, should form the fulcrum for certifying GM foods safety.
While the WHO assures consumers of GM foods’ safety, many persons and groups do not feel assured. Among their arguments is the claim that anything that isn’t natural is not natural and therefore doesn’t cut it. Many even call for GMO foods to be indicated on such products so consumers can know which from which. Some countries have started responding to these calls while others are still far behind.
How did we get to this point—where GMO foods are seen as most vital in today’s world? Is it the spike in world population; concerns by farmers regarding the devastating effects of pests on crops and the resulting effect on their purses? Be sure to read the second part of this article where we iron out other key areas that pertaining to this high interest generating food safety topic.