Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?

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Since the 1970s, genetically modified organisms (GMO) have been a hot topic. It’s one of the biggest controversies in the food industry. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to avoid GM foods these days.

In the United States, there’s been a lot of backlash against genetically modified ingredients. So you might be wondering if GMO foods are safe for human consumption.

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Scientific studies on the topic are scarce. However, the genetic modification of foods is not natural. This should raise a red flag, starting with these five reasons why genetically modified foods may not be safe.

What Are Genetically Modified (GM) Foods?

GM foods are a product of genetic engineering. Genes or DNA are changed in a way that’s not natural to the organism. In many cases, genes from one species are inserted into another. The goal is to increase production. Genetic modification does this by increasing tolerance to pesticides, diseases, or certain weather conditions, like frostbite.

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Most genetically engineered foods are plants. But those crops are often made into feed for animals, so it can also impact meat.[ref]Food, Genetically Modified. World Health Organization.[/ref]

Reasons Why Genetically Modified Foods Are Unsafe

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1. Increased Tumor Risk

Increased Tumor Risk

In 2014, researchers followed up on a past study to see if GMOs are safe to eat. The experiment, which was re-published in the Environmental Sciences Europe, was extended to two years. It followed the health of rats that were fed genetically-modified corn during this time.

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Tumor development was significant. Females developed five times more tumors than males, with 93 percent being mammary tumors. The researchers stressed that even non-cancerous tumors are dangerous, as they can secrete hormones or toxins. Tumors may also cause hemorrhaging or obstruct hormones.[ref]Séralini, Gilles-Eric, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois. “Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.” Environmental Sciences Europe 26, no. 1 (2014): 14.[/ref]

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2. Organ Dysfunction

Organ Dysfunction

The effect of pesticides is another reason why GM foods are not safe. According to the 2014 study in Environmental Sciences Europe, pesticide residues in a genetically-modified feed are linked to poor kidney and liver function. The researchers also noted problems in the brain’s pituitary gland, especially in the female rats.[ref] [ref]Séralini, Gilles-Eric, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois. “Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.” Environmental Sciences Europe 26, no. 1 (2014): 14.[/ref]

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3. Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal Imbalance

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The pituitary issues also mean bad news for hormones. Specifically, problems with sex hormones and the endocrine problems were observed. In females, these were also associated with the mammary tumors.[ref]Séralini, Gilles-Eric, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois. “Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.” Environmental Sciences Europe 26, no. 1 (2014): 14.[/ref]

Genetically-modified foods might also be unsafe for pregnant mothers. A 2011 Canadian study in Reproductive Toxicology found that 3-methylphosphinicopropionic acid and Cry1Ab protein were capable of crossing through the placenta. These compounds are metabolites of glycophosphate, a powerful herbicide that’s used in GM foods.[ref]Aris, Aziz, and Samuel Leblanc. “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada.” Reproductive Toxicology 31, no. 4 (2011): 528-533.[/ref]

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4. Unpredictable Outcomes

Unpredictable Outcomes

Genetic modification is done with a goal in mind. Examples include longer shelf life or resistance to frostbite. And while a certain trait might be achieved, the rest of the process is concerning.

Think about it: Genes are forced into cells. It disregards everything else that’s naturally happening in the organism.

On the other hand, if genes changed on their own, the entire organism goes through natural adaptation. The genes are ‘ready’ to be modified. It’s also usually a natural response to the organism’s current needs, ensuring the healthiest outcome.

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5. Allergic Reactions

Allergic Reactions

If you’re prone to food allergies, GM foods may not be safe to eat. Some genetically modified ingredients might contain proteins from foods that you’re allergic to.[ref]Genetically Modified Foods. University of Utah.[/ref] What’s worse is that it might cause an allergic reaction so mild, that you barely notice it. This can still be harmful to your body – especially if it’s repeated.

You might also think that you’re allergic to the GM food. For example, most genetically modified ingredients are made with a soy product. The soy plant happens to be one of the most common food allergies.[ref]Soy Allergy. Food Allergy Research & Education.[/ref] And if a GM vegetable has a soy gene, you may have an allergic reaction to that vegetable.

This can lead to rashes, hives, coughing, sneezing, and itchiness. In rare cases, it can turn into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition.[ref]Symptoms. Food Allergy Research & Education.[/ref]

Final Note

There’s still a lot of debate over GM foods. And while the controversy continues, there are ways that you can limit your GMO intake.

Start by avoiding processed foods. Aside from the sugar, salt, preservatives, and additives, they’re also full of GMOs. In fact, about 70 percent of all processed foods in the country have at least one genetically modified ingredient.[ref]Genetically Modified Foods. University of Utah.[/ref]

Buy organic whenever possible. Genetic engineering is banned from organic farming, so you’ll limit your exposure.[ref]Organic 101: Can GMOs Be Used in Organic Products? U.S. Department of Agriculture.[/ref] Go to farmer’s markets and ask about their practices.