The Cooper Institute
 

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH

 
 
 

GMOs: The Facts May Surprise You

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, Sep 10, 2015

No one would deny that the world’s population is soaring. There are currently ~7 billion people on the planet who need to eat every day. Although estimates vary, many experts feel that number will grow to ~9 billion over the next several decades. Factor in droughts, floods, over-farmed land, viruses, fungi, and bugs who love to eat plants and it’s easy to see that we have a big problem with food supply on our hands that is not going to go away.

In recent years, genetically modified organisms (commonly referred to as GMOs or GMs), have received much attention from the lay public as well as the media. If you visit an ‘anti-GMO’ website, you may wind up being convinced that GMOs are very unsafe and about the worst thing ever invented on the planet. Let’s remember though, that anyone can have a website and say pretty much whatever they want to. So, I’ll try to be as objective as possible and present all sides of the GMO issue. First, a definition: A GMO is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. With regard to food, a gene from one plant is added to another plant. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, and are also used to produce goods other than food. We’ll just focus on the GMOs that are food-related in this article.

One purpose of developing GM plants is to make them more resistant to bugs. A plant that is more bug-resistant will not need to be sprayed nearly as often with potentially harmful pesticides. Another purpose of developing GM plants is to increase their nutritional quality. For example, vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of childhood blindness and death in third-world countries. Golden rice is rice that has been genetically modified so that it contains vitamin A. Additional purposes for developing GM plants are to make them more drought-resistant and to delay spoilage. This GM thing is starting to sound pretty good to me, how about you?

Many people are surprised to learn that GM crops have been used in the United States for over 20 years. In fact, nearly 100 GM plants have been approved in the U.S. for use in agriculture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) all share oversight of GMs. Nearly all of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. and most of the soybeans grown outside of the U.S. has been GM for years. Additionally, a significant proportion of carrots and tomatoes grown in the U.S. are GM.

Despite public perception, the scientific consensus for the safety of GMs is overwhelming. A recent poll of American non-scientists showed that only 33% agreed with the statement that GMOs were safe. By contrast, when scientists answered the same poll, 88% agreed with the same statement!

Anti-GM activists often point to a study in France, which found that rats fed GM corn were more likely to die prematurely than a control group of rats. Now, the rest of the story: The strain of rats used in the study is prone to cancer; ~80% of them routinely develop tumors anyway! Additionally, the ‘study’ was never published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. The American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention1 state “There is no proof at this time that the genetically modified foods that are now on the market are harmful to human health or that they would either increase or decrease cancer risk because of the added genes.” The ACS does go on to say that the safety of GMs should continue to be assessed, which of course makes perfect sense.

So, at the current time there is a big difference between scientists and the lay public regarding the perceived safety of GMs. This is unfortunate given that millions of people are literally starving to death each year. The best advice for the public when it comes to health guidelines is to pay much more attention to organizations that are evidence-based and much less to organizations/individuals that are opinion-based.

To learn more about nutrition, physical activity, healthy eating and risk of chronic disease, take our Nutrition for Health and Fitness (NHF) and/or Personal Trainer Education (PTE) courses. You need not be a health and fitness professional to take these courses; the general public is always welcome to attend any of our courses!

 

Reference

1) American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.  CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.  January/February 2012.