On Thursday July 24, 2014, The Huffington Post published a blog titled Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs) Have NOT Been Proven Safe. The title alone made me question the author’s integrity. Personally, I was expecting the author to cite some academic sources to make such a claim; after reading the blog, it was clear that the author’s title did not reflect the true narrative of her logic. Her main argument for making this bold claim is that just because GMO’s are safe for animal use does not mean it is safe for humans. She then compares GMO’s to artificial sweeteners, and warns us that these are similar cases.
Animal studies have value in that if something demonstrates harm in animals, it will also likely cause harm in humans. Although some animal studies have found harm from a GMO diet, these hotly debated studies are not the point of this article. The point is, if an animal study does not find harm with a particular substance, it could still cause harm in humans.
Firstly, GM foods are not molecularly similar to artificial sweeteners at all. There have been instances where toxic elements are apparently found in artificial sugar, like chlorine, toxic elements that are not found in GM foods.
In a juvenile sense, this claim is easily understood by readers. However, toxicity in GM foods are thoroughly tested in labs beyond just animal testing. Moreover, it is illegal, and impossible to do lengthy studies on humans, period. The article does reference a scholarly article which states that epidemiology studies are more effective then animal studies to determine toxicology in humans, but if you look at the date it was published in 2004, and there has been a decade of research since then to help further investigate and mimic human testing, without the use of people as subjects.
To help illustrate this point, I would like to reference a scholarly article from Critical Reviews in Toxicology titled, Toxicological evaluation of proteins introduced into food crops.
This [study] focuses on the toxicological evaluation of proteins introduced into GM crops to impart desired traits. In many cases, introduced proteins can be shown to have a history of safe use. Where modifications have been made to proteins, experience has shown that it is highly unlikely that modification of amino acid sequences can make a non-toxic protein toxic.
Basically, the authors are performing a scientific experiment to test whether the proteins produced by GM crops can potentially be toxic, even if the protein becomes denatured, which means losing function due to excess heat like or pH changes. Through a series of experiments, the results concluded there were no toxic features in the protein, regardless of animal testing.
- The introduced protein was structurally/functionally similar to a family of related proteins that have a (History of safe use) in food, based on bioinformatics analysis and literature review.
- The introduced protein was readily digested in vitro with simulated digestive fluids regardless of heat, pH and incubation.
Anti-GMO activists claim that the research has not been done, and there is no proof of safety, however the mentioned experiment is just one of the 2,000 peer reviewed scientific papers that has supported genetic modification safety.
But regardless of amount of scientific research that supports GMO safety, the FDA and the EPA must approve before any GMO hits the market:
The developer produces a safety assessment, which includes the identification of distinguishing attributes of new genetic traits, whether any new material in food made from the GE plant could be toxic or allergenic when eaten, and a comparison of the levels of nutrients in the GE plant to traditionally bred plants.
FDA scientists evaluate the safety assessment and also review relevant data and information that are publicly available in published scientific literature and the agency’s own records.
The consultation is complete only when FDA’s team of scientists are satisfied with the developer’s safety assessment and have no further questions regarding safety or other regulatory issues.
I chose to write a response for this blog for two reasons. One: The Huffington Post attracts a lot of attention from young adults, like me, due to their influence on social media; I don’t want my peers to be lectured on a controversial topic that uses false claims. Two: I am biology major; I see science as a tool to help make this world a better place because it is the closest thing we have to fact. Part of the nature of a scientist is to question fact, and to find creative procedures to further test fact. I encourage future readers to do the same when they read “science” about GMO’s.