More on GMOs and Health

As part of a recent (and very long) post on Zambian agriculture I did a quick survey of the literature on GMOs’ effects on health.

Now we can add The American Association for the Advancement of Science to the list of those mainly in support of GMOs.

Foods containing ingredients from genetically modified (GM) crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques, the AAAS Board of Directors has concluded. Legally mandating labels on GM foods could therefore “mislead and falsely alarm consumers,” the Board said in a statement approved 20 October.

In the United States, in fact, each new GM crop must be subjected to rigorous analysis and testing in order to receive regulatory approval, AAAS noted. It must be shown to be the same as the parent crop from which it was derived and if a new protein trait has been added, the protein must be shown to be neither toxic nor allergenic. “As a result and contrary to popular misconceptions,” AAAS reported, “GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever.”

Moreover, the AAAS Board said, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and “every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

The European Commission (EU) recently concluded, based on more than 130 studies covering 25 years of research involving at least 500 independent research groups, that genetic modification technologies “are not per se more risky than…conventional plant breeding technologies.” Occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals can cause health problems have not stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny, AAAS said.

Below is the excerpt  from my own post, which catalogues some of the position statements mentioned in the AAAS press release above:

For instance, a recent Stanford School of Medicine study titled Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives and published in the September 2012 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, systematically reviewed existing medical literature, but found that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”[34] The authors, however, were quick to note that more long-term research is required to reach a definitive conclusion on GMO health outcomes.

The Stanford study echoed previous research on the cautiously optimistic nature of GMOs. “The development of…GMOs offers the potential for…improved nutritional value that can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development,” a 2005 World Health Organization report concluded. But the report acknowledged the possibility for long-term unintended health consequences, “Many genes used in GMOs have not been in the food supply before,” it continued.[35] As far back as 2000, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Department recognized the potential for certain GMOs to “improve the health of many low-income communities,” but ultimately recommended “a case-by-case approach” to GMO health assessment.[36] In 2004 the National Academy of Sciences released their position on GMOs, writing simply that, “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population,” but recommending “an appropriate safety assessment” based on the particular type of genetic modification in question.[37] Finally, in June of this year the American Medical Association released their position, recommending mandatory GMO premarket safety checks on the basis of the “potential for adverse [health outcomes],” but dismissing mandatory labeling, instead noting that over the twenty years since they were first consumed, “…no overt consequences on human health [from GMOs] have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”[38]

[34] Crystal Smith-Spangler et al., “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?A Systematic Review,” Annals of Internal Medicine 157, no. 5 (September 4, 2012): 348–366.

[35] World Health Organization Food Safety Department, “Modern Food Biotechnology, Human Health and Development: An Evidence-Based Study”, June 2005.

[36] World Health Organization Food and Agriculture Organization, “Press Release: FAO Stresses Potential of Biotechnology But Calls For Caution”, March 15, 2000.

[37] National Academy of Science, “Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects”, 2004, http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10977&page=8.

[38] American Medical Association, “Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health (A-12): Labeling of Bioengineered Foods”, June 19, 2012.

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One thought on “More on GMOs and Health

  1. Pingback: Are GMOs Better for the Environment? | Sightly Tilted

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