GMO Answers conducted a national survey to identify, for the first time, the top questions consumers have about GMOs. We’ve compiled the top 10 questions and reached out to scientists, farmers, doctors and other experts to provide answers. You can also find these answers on our Top 10 GMO Questions Pinboard and our GMO Answers website. Here’s a quick recap of each week:
In brief: In the United States, livestock have been consuming feed made from GM crops for almost twenty years. More than two-thirds of GM corn and half of GM soybeans are used for livestock feed. In that time, GMOs have never been detected in the milk, meat or eggs derived from animals fed GM feed.
Alison Van Eenennaam, extension specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology at the University of California, Davis, explains, “Genetically engineered crops are digested by animals in the same way as conventional crops. Evidence to date strongly suggests that feeding livestock with genetically engineered crops is equivalent to feeding unmodified feed sources in terms of nutrient composition, digestibility and feeding value.”
In brief: GMOs are not believed to have much, if any, impact on honey bee populations. EPA et al recognize the bee populations may be challenged by a number of factors including pests and parasites, microbial disease, inadequate diet and loss of genetic diversity, as explained by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst and author, in this post. Additionally, in May 2013 the USDA and EPA released a comprehensive scientific study on the many factors that contribute to CCD – none of which are GMOs.
There are also a variety of factors impacting monarch butterfly populations, such as deforestation, parasitism, and ebbing populations of their host milkweed plants. There are claims that GMOs and herbicides … are contributing to the decline in milkweed – a primary food source for monarch larvae (caterpillars)— and that the butterflies have been harmed by eating pollen from GM Bt corn.
In brief: I have argued that “when it comes to safeguarding your health and nutrition, we support the mandatory labeling of food, including GMO food, if it raises a safety or health concern.”
“We also support mandatory labeling of GMO food if there is a change to the food’s composition, nutritional profile, taste or smell, or any other characteristic that would make it different from its conventional counterpart.”
“We cannot support the mandatory labeling of GMO food just because the food in the market was produced using genetic engineering, for example, in wine, yogurt or bread made with GM yeast, vegetable oil made from GM soybeans, or cereal sweetened with GM sugar. These foods are as safe and nutritious as their non-GMO counterparts as determined by recognized authorities around the world.”
In brief: Overall, pesticide applications have decreased, largely due to the adoption of insect-resistant crops, particularly in cotton (Agricultural economist Graham Brookes discusses in this post.) … Graham also describes the benefit of herbicide-tolerant GM technology, stating that the “volume of herbicide used in GM corn crops decreased by 193 million kg from 1996 to 2011. That’s more than a 10 percent reduction.”
In brief: This might surprise you, but long-term health studies have been conducted on GMOs. Aside from the fact that GM foods have a long, safe track record (17 years in the marketplace), GM crops are repeatedly and extensively tested for consumer and environmental safety, and those tests are reviewed in the U.S. by the Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration, and similar organizations internationally. Tests are conducted by both industry experts and independent organizations. This link lists 1,785 GMO safety studies, including long-term studies, many of which you can download, and this link will take you to a list of 610 more.
In brief: The coexistence of multiple production methods – organic, conventional and GM – is not a new concept. Farmers have been producing different types of crops next to one another before and since GM seeds were first introduced in 1996, and they work hard every day managing their farms to ensure each crop meets the appropriate marketing requirements.
Mary Mertz farms with a combination of seed types—conventional and GM—and does so next door to an organic farm. Mary states,
“Organic and conventional farmers are all in the food production business together. We need to work together and respect each other’s farming practices. This entails communication, heightened awareness of weather conditions and being solution-oriented to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.”
In brief: While the cost of food is impacted by various factors (the price of oil affects transportation costs; temperature changes can cause drought; etc.), GMOs play an important role in keeping those prices as low as possible. It’s estimated that corn-based products would be priced 6 percent higher and soybean-based products would be 10 percent higher if GM crops were not grown, according to a 2010 study by Graham Brookes et al.
In brief: For this question, we reached out to Brian Scott, an Indiana farmer who grows corn and soybeans, to talk about his experience purchasing seed for his farm. He explains that “none of the seed companies force farmers like me to buy any particular product…I can buy any seed from any vendor I choose from one year to the next.”…
Jillian Etress, a high school agriculture teacher and family farmer from South Alabama, also offers her perspective in this post, where she explains that on her farm, they “choose to use or not use GMOs based on the needs of our farm.”
In brief: Lisa Katic, RD, shared her perspective on this question and explains that
“No commercially available crops contain allergens that have been created by genetically engineering a seed/plant. And the rigorous testing process ensures that will never happen.”
In brief: This is an extremely important question. Numerous questions similar to this and related topics have been submitted to GMO Answers, including questions about reports claiming that glyphosate causes breast cancer and about a Séralini study (now retracted) claiming GMOs caused cancer in rats, among others….
We know that consumers have concerns, so we reached out to Dr. Kevin Folta, University of Florida interim chairman and associate professor, Horticultural Sciences Department, for an answer.
“The short answer is no, there is absolutely zero reputable evidence that GMO foods cause cancer.”
Find complete answers from our independent experts to all ten consumer questions here at Top 10 Consumer Questions About GMOs Answered!