Genetically modified foods are “as safe as conventional choices,” according to Timothy Griffin, associate professor at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program.
Tufts’ Griffin and 20 other scientists reviewed 900 research publications and concluded in their 398-page report that “genetically engineered crops are as safe as conventionally grown crops.” Their extensive two-year review found no apparent health risk or environmental impact from growing and consuming genetically modified crops.
Most Americans are familiar with the term “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs. Many producers now mark their products with a “GMO-free” label.
“Claiming that a food is made without GMOs doesn’t mean that particular food is healthy, and I think that’s where some consumers get hung up,” said Lindsey Stevenson, a nutrition and health education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
A genetically modified crop has been altered so that it will express a desirable trait. This can be done by moving genes from one organism to another or by changing genes already present in an organism. Genetic modification helps food growers and manufacturers by improving crop yields, reducing insecticide use or increasing the nutritional value of foods.
“I like to compare genetic modification of crops to vaccines for humans,” said Jill Scheidt, an MU agronomy specialist. “In many cases, altering the genes helps the crops fight off certain diseases and pests. Without GMOs, we wouldn’t be able to produce this volume of food that feeds the world.”
The top GMO crops produced in America include corn, soybean, wheat, potato, tomato, alfalfa, rapeseed and rice.
The research team that compiled this recent report also looked at the incidence in North America of many chronic conditions GMOs are often blamed for contributing to, such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, autism, food allergies and celiac disease. They then compared that data to the incidence of such conditions in Western Europe. The comparison found no significant difference in the prevalence of these chronic conditions in North America, where GMOs have been part of the diet since 1996, and Western Europe, where the use of genetically modified organisms is restricted.
“Consumers often see, and even specifically look for, products with a ‘GMO-free’ label. I’m really glad these scientists have done this review. It’s a controversial issue that I think Americans deserve reliable information on,” Stevenson said.