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Genetically engineered food is safe, so what?

Staff Columnist

Published: Monday, January 20, 2014

Updated: Monday, January 20, 2014 21:01

Late last year, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring labeling for genetically modified products. This was hailed by many as the first major victory for the anti-GMO movement. What many have forgotten is that GMOs have helped to increase crop yields in agriculturally poor areas. If not for blind faith in mad scientists or corporate villain-hood, it wouldn’t have been possible.

It has been a crusade like none other. Libertarians, left-wing environmentalists and the religious right all united against a common foe, GMOs. As a libertarian Republican, I am well-versed in neglecting the poor, the elderly and children alike, but never have I managed to do so much harm with so few facts.

Then again, are facts really important? No, because if one understands how the world really works, then it’s easy to be on the right side of history. As long as corporations are evil, evidence is secondary. For example, GMOs can’t be safe or effective, because if they were, surely, those greedy corporations would have jacked up the price of their life-saving products.

Does it not matter that malnourished children worldwide suffer from vitamin A deficiency, and that a product like Golden Rice could have saved a child’s sight or even their life, or does it not matter that according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, golden rice is as effective as pure beta-carotene supplements at providing vitamin A? Does it not matter that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe, as demonstrated by an overview of 10 years of research published by the Critical Review in Biotechnology? The study’s abstract states, “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops.” The famous study finding Monsanto’s Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize caused tumors and death in mice has since been retracted by the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal.

Worse than the lack of scientific evidence suggesting GMOs are harmful is the lack scientific literacy among opponents of the crops. This has a negative impact on how people and governments deal with GMOs. In a way, just about everything we eat is genetically modified. Over thousands of years, people have bred plants and animals. This selective breeding has led to greater crop yields, better tasting food, and an all-around increase in quality and length of life. GMOs created in the label aren’t significantly different. Except, that genetic manipulation has given scientists and breeders more options. That’s what makes attacks on GMOs particular aggravating.

Any organism could be modified for better or for worse, but instead of looking for those modifications that are harmful, the entire process has been attacked. That would be like demonizing organic food because it’s sometimes contaminated with salmonella. Why not instead look for those instances where a specific GMO is harmful. People have let their fear cloud their judgment. This has caused governments to initiate bans on perfectly healthy products like Golden Rice.

Connecticut’s labeling law is no better. It’s not a win for freedom of information or consumer protection, and it’s not rooted in science. Instead, the law was an appeal to the lowest common denominator.   

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1 comments Log in to Comment

Tue Jan 21 2014 17:37
Dr. Jerry Silbert, M.D.I'm wondering what is the harm Mr. Keener is talking about. What GMO labeling advocates are simply asking is that food with genetically engineered ingredients be labeled as such. The most conservative position is to say that there is considerable uncertainty about the health effects of genetically engineered food on humans. There seems to be evidence of harm in other mammalian species. Without GMO labeling it would be very difficult to do the long term studies necessary to determine whether there are adverse health effects.I suggest that those interested take a look at the following source: is a summary of their findings:1. Genetic engineering as used in crop development is not precise or predictable and has not been shown to be safe. The technique can result in the unexpected production of toxins or allergens in food that are unlikely to be spotted in current regulatory checks.2. GM crops, including some that are already in our food and animal feed supply, have shown clear signs of toxicity in animal feeding trials - notably disturbances in liver and kidney function and immune responses.3. GM proponents have dismissed these statistically significant findings as "not biologically relevant/significant", based on scientifically indefensible arguments.4. Certain EU-commissioned animal feeding trials with GM foods and crops are often claimed by GM proponents to show they are safe. In fact, examination of these studies shows significant differences between the GM-fed and control animals that give cause for concern.5. GM foods have not been properly tested in humans, but the few studies that have been carried out in humans give cause for concern.6. The US FDA does not require mandatory safety testing of GM crops, and does not even assess the safety of GM crops but only "deregulates" them, based on assurances from biotech companies that they are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GM counterparts. This is like claiming that a cow with BSE is substantially equivalent to a cow that does not have BSE and is thus safe to eat! Claims of substantial equivalence cannot be justified on scientific grounds.7. The regulatory regime for GM foods is weakest in the US, where GM foods do not even have to be assessed for safety or labelled in the marketplace, but in most regions of the world regulations are inadequate to protect people's health from the potential adverse effects of GM foods.8. In the EU, where the regulatory system is often claimed to be strict, minimal pre-market testing is required for a GMO and the tests are commissioned by the same companies that stand to profit from the GMO if it is approved - a clear conflict of interest.9. No long-term toxicological testing of GMOs on animals or testing on humans is required by any regulatory agency in the world.10. Biotech companies have used patent claims and intellectual property protection laws to restrict access of independent researchers to GM crops for research purposes. As a result, limited research has been conducted on GM foods and crops by scientists who are independent of the GM industry. Scientists whose work has raised concerns about the safety of GMOs have been attacked and discredited in orchestrated campaigns by GM crop promoters.11. Most GM crops (over 75%) are engineered to tolerate applications of herbicides. Where such GM crops have been adopted, they have led to massive increases in herbicide use.12. Roundup, the herbicide that over 50% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate, is not safe or benign as has been claimed but has been found to cause malformations (birth defects), reproductive problems, DNA damage, and cancer in test animals. Human epidemiological studies have found an association between Roundup exposure and miscarriage, birth defects, neurological development problems, DNA damage, and certain types of cancer.13. A public health crisis has erupted in GM soy-producing regions of South America, where people exposed to spraying with Roundup and other agrochemicals sprayed on the crop report escalating rates of birth defects and cancer.14. A large number of studies indicate that Roundup is associated with increased crop diseases, especially infection with Fusarium, a fungus that causes wilt disease in soy and can have toxic effects on humans and livestock.15. Bt insecticidal GM crops do not sustainably reduce pesticide use but change the way in which pesticides are used: from sprayed on, to built in.16. Bt technology is proving unsustainable as pests evolve resistance to the toxin and secondary pest infestations are becoming common.17. GM proponents claim that the Bt toxin engineered into GM plants is safe because the natural form of Bt, long used as a spray by conventional and organic farmers, has a history of safe use. But the GM forms of Bt toxins are different from the natural...

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