Genetically modified foods are rapidly entering our food chain, but many people have concerns about their safety. Dr Paul Willis investigates the science facts and myths behind this controversial topic.
DR PAUL WILLIS: Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are rapidly becoming part of our food chain. But are they safe?
GMOs are plants or animals that have had their genetic code manipulated through genetic engineering. A leading myth about GMOs is that rats fed on corn modified to be resistant to a weed killer go on to develop cancer. This stems from a paper published in 2012 by a French research group. But the project was so poorly conducted, including using rats predisposed to getting cancer, that the journal retracted the paper in 2013. Furthermore, no independent test has been able to replicate the study’s findings.
An internet meme doing the rounds suggests that GMOs are responsible for killing off the humble honey bee. While it’s true that honey bee numbers have been in steep decline across the Americas and Europe, this is not due to GM crops. The argument put forward is that some GMOs have a built-in insecticide called Bt toxin that’s killing the bees. But Bt toxin is considered to be bee safe, because it only kills insects that eats the plant. Not the bees, that pollinate them. In fact, many beekeepers spray their hives with Bt toxin to get rid of other pest species while leaving the bees alone.
Now, four fast facts about GMO safety.
A recent count reveals over 33,000 peer-reviewed papers have been published investigating the safety of GMOs. To date, no serious problem has been identified.
It’s a myth that oils, sugars and other extracts from GMOs are somehow different from those derived from non-GMO crops.
Despite early predictions that genetic engineering would produce uncontrollable monsters or dangerous side effects, to date none have been found.
And fears that GMO traits can escape into wild populations are unfounded. After more than 20 years of GMO technology, it’s never happened.
We’ve only considered the science and safety of GMOs, and the science is in: they’re safe. But there are other concerns about corporatisation of the food supply, and the political and social handling of the introduction of GMOs that do require further discussion. If you want to know more about GMO safety, go to our website where there are some links. And we’ll see you back here next week.