Genetically Modified Foods: Good or Bad?

A new report claims that genetically modified foods (or organisms) can damage your health and even cause cancer, but some experts say they’re an inexpensive and healthy way to put dinner on your table. We’re going to be discussing both sides of the issue on our show today. This GMO debate got so hot, our expert guests couldn’t even be on our stage at the same time to discuss their points of view.

Modifying the genetic structure of food is not a new concept. For centuries, farmers have improved our food supply by cross-breeding different types of plants or animals  to come up with new organisms that would taste better, yield more, and grow in more difficult conditions. The result is thousands of different crops that feed billions of people.

These practices were once limited to combining the traits of organisms only within the same species. Today, due to advances in biotechnology, that is no longer the case. Scientists can now genetically engineer different species so that they share the same genetic material. For example, they can breed corn with a built-in pesticide that can kill bugs or survive chemical sprays. Or they can move the gene from a fish that lives in cold water into a tomato so it can survive in cold weather. This new technology has the potential to revolutionize how we produce food to feed a growing population – but at what cost?

These advancements have concerned consumers and activists. Though the intentions may be for good, the effects of these foods are controversial. Is this new form of genetic modification safe?

A new French study says no. Why? This is what they found: NK603 is a type of corn that has been genetically modified to be tolerant of a commonly used herbicide, which would eliminate surrounding weeds, but it would also be present in small quantities in the foods we eat. The scientists fed rats NK603 that contained levels of the herbicide. They found the rats eventually developed massive tumors after seven months and died earlier than animals fed a “regular” diet.

However, scientists who are in support of genetically modified foods say the research is flawed – even accusing the authors of going on a “statistical fishing trip” and selecting numbers that suited their study while throwing out the unsuitable data. The opposing scientists also claimed the authors used a breed of rats who were bred to develop tumors as they aged anyway. The authors failed to mention the amount of food given in the article, which is important since high amounts of food, GMO or normal, can increase the risk of tumors. Not to mention, they also had a very small control group (fed non-GMO food) of 20 rats that also developed tumors.

Despite the results of the contested study, more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of genetically modified foods on humans. Until that happens, many European countries, like Russia and the UK, have already banned certain types of GMOs for human consumption.

Amidst this controversy, California voters will decide if food companies should label genetically modified food products. Proposition 37 will be on the ballot on November 6 this year. If passed, California will “require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.” Furthermore, those companies will be prohibited from labeling or advertising such food as “natural.”

Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Medical Association support voluntary labels, while recognizing that “there currently is no evidence that there are material differences or safety concerns in available bioengineered foods.” Read this statement provided by the FDA.

I will be keeping an eye on this California proposition in November to see what happens. Find out what foods to avoid for your safety until more research comes out.