Are genetically modified organism (GMO) foods safe? Information that is being spread widely on the Internet draws that into question, especially e-mails and videos about a recent report published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.
“The first-ever lifetime feeding study evaluating the health risks of genetically engineered foods was published online on Sept. 19, and the results are troubling, to say the least,” states an e-mail being circulated widely. “It found that rats fed a type of genetically engineered corn that is prevalent in the U.S. food supply for two years developed massive mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage and other serious health problems.”
The e-mail tells recipients to forward the link and info to every person they know. “Even if you don’t care about yourself, PLEASE do it for the future of our children,” said the e-mail that claims the new study joins a list of more than 30 other animal studies showing toxic or allergenic problems with genetically engineered foods.
The website www.naturalnews.com claims, “Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors.” The website also published a recent article stating, “Russia has now officially banned all imports of genetically modified corn, citing concerns from a recent study by French researchers showing rats grew massive cancer tumors when fed a lifetime of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn. Russia’s consumer protection group, Rospotrebnadzor, said it was halting all imports of GM corn while the country’s Institute of Nutrition will be evaluating the results of the study.”
However, the study counters hundreds of other studies that show the safety of GMO foods, said Dr. Nancy Reichert, professor and head of the Department of Biological Sciences, Mississippi State University (MSU). Reichert said the study was so poorly designed that some scientists are questioning why it was even published.
“Hundreds of safety studies have been done, and nothing shows what this particular study shows,” Reichert said. “There is a very good, reputable website sponsored by the Council for Biotechnology Information, www.whybiotech.com. They are slamming the study saying there are many flaws. The rats they used have a tendency to form tumors. Rats forming tumors is no big deal in that strain of rats. The control rats who were not fed GMO corn or herbicide in water also developed tumors. Male rats given the highest doses of GMO corn and the herbicides in the water did as well as the controls.”
There are concerns the study was not designed objectively.
“There is a thought they altered the experimental design to get the results they wanted,” she said. “I am pro-GM because I know (and practice) the science behind it and know the regulatory organizational structure that oversees its commercialization. Scientists are consumers ourselves. We would never want to see anything go into the marketplace that isn’t safe.”
As for the e-mail being circulated, Reichert said that is how anti-GMO organizations operate.
“It’s hysteria,” she said. “They tell you that you aren’t being told the truth, and then these conspiracy theories all come out. Our FDA that oversees food and feed says these are as safe as non-GM plants, and the FDA has the right and responsibility to pull anything from the market if there are any fears that any part of the product is not safe.”
For years Europe has been reluctant to allow the use or import of GMO foods. There was even some suspicion that the issue was being used to enact trade barriers. Reichert said that as studies in the EU have been published showing no problems, the types and amounts of GM crops imported and used in Europe have increased.
The study could have a big impact on U.S. producers and the economy. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that the government will press for a Europe-wide ban on the GMO corn if the conclusions in the study are confirmed. The European Commission has requested that the independent European Food Safety Agency assess the study.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn. According to the USDA, corn exports make the largest net contribution to the U.S. agricultural trade balance of all the agricultural commodities. Reichert said a GMO ban by the EU would have a huge negative impact on the U.S. ag economy.
Dr. Byron Williams, MSU assistant extension-research professor of muscle foods, said he personally does not have any concerns about GMO foods.
“If you really look back at food that is GMO, all our food sources, animals, plants, have been genetically modified over the years through selective breeding,” Williams said. “Is that not genetically modified? You are choosing the superior individuals and mating those. I’m a food scientist. We would not be able to feed this nation if we did not make modifications to improve yields.”
Another source said while the research published in Food and Chemical Toxicology is inconclusive, it should not be ignored. “I do have some concerns about health risks with GMO foods,” he said.
Research sponsored by Monsanto has shown no adverse impacts. On its website, Monsanto said, “There have been no substantiated incidents of food allergy or toxicity due to commercialized biotech crops during the first decade of their commercial adoption by millions of farmers in countries with more than half the world’s population.”
Robyn O’Brien, author and founder of the AllergyKids Foundation, says in her book, “The Unhealthy Truth,” the food we’re eating today is markedly different from the food our parents ate, or even the food that many of us enjoyed as children. O’Brien said genetic engineering is achieved by changing the protein sequence in a gene to give a crop a specific trait; some varieties of GM corn, for instance, have been altered to produce pesticides in plant tissues so that the crop itself doesn’t have to be sprayed.
O’Brien said the body of a child with food allergies may recognize these foreign proteins as “invaders,” launching an inflammatory attack that manifests as an allergic — sometimes deadly anaphylactic — reaction.
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