With the advancement of any new form of science, there is always a dramatic pushback from society as a whole for fear that there could be unforeseen consequences to the future of humanity if we continue on our path. This opposition has never been more frantic than in the case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Do a web search on why GMOs are bad and you will quickly find yourself inundated with articles saying that a bite of a GMO apple will give you cancer, eating animals that have consumed GMOs means you are Satan-incarnate and the only way you can be a decent and healthy person is by giving Whole Foods your entire paycheck for half a bag of organic non-GMO groceries. There is an entire industry built on pushing non-GMO foods, and it is quickly becoming more profitable than the genetically modified versions. Farmers are starting to turn to non-GMO crops, and not because of ideology. While the driving force currently behind the non-GMO trend is business, the ideologies that started it still have a strong influence on the consumer culture.
A great deal of research and studies have been performed trying to prove the horrible consequences that are supposed to come with eating GMO foods (including a trillion-meal study conducted on 100 billion animals over 18 years) with indiscernible difference between non-GMO and GMO food crops, there is still a great deal of skepticism. So while we pretty much know for sure that GMO foods don’t directly pose any danger to consumers, there are some ripple-effect dangers we should all be aware of.
Could Potentially Lead to Food Allergies
Nearly any food could theoretically be an allergen, but 90% of food allergies come from peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish. So far, the only thing on this list that comes in a genetically modified variety is soy. It’s important to note that if you have an allergy to ordinary soy, you’ll also have an allergy to genetically modified soy, as they are compositionally the same. However, when grafting DNA of one known allergen with another, the result could be that there is an increase in the allergic reactions to those who believe they are not allergic to the food. For example, scientists at the University of Nebraska attempted to increase the nutritional value of soybeans by grafting in brazil nut DNA, resulting in a soybean that could produce life-threatening allergic reactions in consumers sensitive to brazil nuts. While thorough testing alerted the researchers to the dangers of this process, the experiment displayed the possibility of transferring allergens from one species to another in genetic modification.
The good news about this is that through elaborate testing, we can eliminate the possibility of an increase in allergens due to GMO foods. In fact, the Allergen Online database currently does not list any allergens that result from GMOs.
Can Spawn Super Weeds
The primary reason behind GMO crops is to yield stronger plants that can withstand blights and herbicide use that would ordinarily harm or kill regular plants. One example is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops that can be treated with Roundup weed killer without suffering any adverse side-effects. While one downside that many farmers complain about is that the crops are then sterile, meaning they have to purchase new seed from Monsanto every year, the other downside is that we are seeing a sharp rise in cases of herbicide-resistant weeds throughout the country. This means that more and more herbicides have to be used to counteract these resistant weeds, and thus more crops must be genetically modified to resist these herbicides.
While GMOs do seem to have some part to play in this rise of herbicide-resistant weeds, it’s important to note that this growth of stronger weeds is simply natural selection. It’s much like how shorter dandelions tend to survive the blades of the lawn mowers, resulting in the next wave of dandelions to all have shorter stalks. With herbicides, a simple solution that was commonplace before GMOs was to use different herbicides every year so that this resistance was less likely to take hold. Which brings us to final GMO-related threat:
The Biggest Threat of GMOs are the Pesticides
One of the most common theories behind rising health problems and a significant spike in food allergies is the heavy use of pesticides on crops. One reason to prove this theory is the fact that cultures which never use pesticides, such as the Amish, also have nearly nonexistent cases of allergies and much lower instances of cancer. The reason behind this is because the more chemicals the body is exposed to, the harder it has to work to identify good molecules and bad molecules. Eventually, the body reaches a tipping point, confusing good with bad, resulting in allergic reactions. More alarmingly, glyphosate, the active ingredient in herbicides like Roundup, has been a main suspect in birth defects and cancers near spraying areas and genetic malformations in wildlife, particularly amphibians.
So while GMOs themselves are not the cause for diseases, tumors, cancers, and allergies, they are linked to heavier pesticide usage, which has been connected to all of these problems.
GMOs are feared as the Frankenstein’s monster of the modern age. However, much like Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t to blame, GMOs are not to blame for the wide range of health problems to which they are attributed. Instead, blame the injudicious use of pesticides, made possible through the genetic modification of crops to handle the chemicals. These pesticides leach into streams, rivers, lakes and eventually our drinking water. They are in the air we breathe. If you want to avoid the problems to which GMOs are attributed, buy organic.