Clarification: When I write, I don't prepare or organize my ideas, I just write what I would say if I was talking to you in person, so sometimes my blogs end up a little messy. I don't even proof-read what I write before posting it so you may find grammatical mistakes and poorly written sentences. Sometimes I'll read my blogs a day or two after publishing them and I may re-write things that weren't too clear and any embarrassing grammatical mistake. Also, English is not my first language, so I apologize if reading my blogs become a struggle. Of course, if this is the case, I would imagine you wouldn't continue reading.

Sep 24, 2014

Let's talk about GMOs

Genetically modified food is a very controversial topic these days and it's often debated across the social networks and forums. Although, I'm not sure if debated is the proper term, because not that many seem to have anything good to say about GMOs, or at least that's what I've seen. For the most part, GMO related threads consist in criticism and warnings about the danger GMOs represent for consumers and the environment (and Monsanto is an evil corporation ran by Satan himself), that usually turn into big circle jerks where anyone with a different POV gets blasted away by the vast majority. There are times where these discussions are more balanced and rational, but these are not the norm.

But is it true? Is this anti-GMO sentiment justified? Are the masses right? Are they fighting for a noble cause that will benefit humanity or is this the product of the natural fear humans tend to develop against changes and new things? I'm not an expert on the matter but I'm very interested.

A couple of days ago I came across this study from the Journal of Animal Science on Reddit. It's a study done on 100 billion animals fed with GM and regular crops that shows there was no effect of GM crops on animal health. That's great news, in my opinion, and with a study of that magnitude, one should think that it must mean something. Maybe GMOs aren't as bad as they make it seem?

Someone mentioned the fact that this study doesn't have an accurate health baseline, since they were feeding the cows corn and not grass. The problem is that corn is grass since it's a Poacea, like all grasses, "it's just been selectively bred to accentuate traits favorable as a food crop".

But then, with further research someone else found out that the person in charge of the study used to work for Monsanto, AHA! Big red flag right there, how can we trust a study made by someone who used to work for the devil? There are obvious underlying interests that could have influenced the results and conclusion of the study, right? Maybe? It is a peer reviewed study, so what I just said above are only speculations. Sure, I think there are reasons to be concerned, but can a peer reviewed study be dismissed just because the person in change used to work for a company that is allegedly evil and corrupted? Notice the word allegedly. The truth is that I don't really know if Monsanto is that evil. It could be, but I do not know. Do you know?

So, let's talk about GMOs for a bit before we start our imaginary debate. There are a few things people seem to be unaware of when discussing (or talking shit) about GM foods.

 1. I agree that we might need further research on certain types of GMOs, especially those that have been developed recently, but I believe this is what usually happens before releasing these types of products to the public anyway.

2. The main issue about GMOs is that they can't be all put in the same category or thought of as the same thing. There are many types of GMOs and they all have very different techniques and affects the products differently. Has a new gene been added? has an existing gene been silenced or its activity been increased as in classic breeding? has the plant been "vaccinated" to fight viral diseases, or does it produce a toxin to kill corn borers, or a pheromone gas that drives away aphids? Having an absolute anti-GMO stand is like saying that alcohol and heroin are the same thing, because they are both drugs. If one GMOs is found to be bad, it doesn't make them all bad.

3. Another issue is that GMOs are not that new, we all have been consuming GM products for quite a while now and it doesn't seem to be affecting us the way the anti-GMO movement claims.

4. GMOs have been extensively tested and have never been found harmful to people. So far. 

As far as I know there have not been a single verifiable study showing that GMOs are bad for humans, but if you do know of such study, please, pass it along, I'd like to check it out. 

I'd like to end with a comment posted on the Reddit thread regarding GMOs:

"I have sat through various biology, biophysics, etc. courses and this inevitably ends up being brought up. The fact is there has never been proof of any kind that GMOs effect complex organisms in a negative way (unless we get into specifically designed organisms).

Because most of the organisms that are being genetically modified, are being modified with organisms we already eat, it's really not all that bad... There is just some corn proteins in your soy beans.

Further, animals digestive processes are designed to break down protein(s), by the time these proteins interact with the body, they are usually all relatively the same basic inert chemicals. The chances of these proteins (which are usually very similar to the non GMOs) then interacting with your body in some negative way is so close to zero it's mind blowing people are worried about it.

In fact, (I don't have stats on this), I would predict that a person is more likely to have their DNA damaged by the chemicals treating the modified organism (or livestock that eat it) or the preservatives in it. Even the sun, drinking water (even in the US), Cell Phone(s), and so on, have a higher probability of damaging your DNA or negatively impacting you than a GMO.

In other words, this is no surprise and I am sick of people claiming GMOs are the end of humanity, in some way or another. The fact is, without modifying organisms the world would have starved years ago. Almost all of your food has been modified and humanity is on average living longer and healthier lives.

I would like to mention that this does not mean there are not some issues with GMOs. However, the issues at present have more to do with us (humans) being unable to predict how the food chain will change. Every modification we make to an organism can happen naturally, we are just speeding it up. Sometimes this can have unintended consequences, such as producing corn pollen becoming toxic to some sort of fly. Since, GMOs have to undergo testing this usually does not occur, and when it does it is usually handled and/or the ecosystem can adapt.

In the case, of complex organisms such as humans, it is highly unlikely there will be negative side effects directly to our bodies (especially since GMOs do have testing). However, we could mess with our environment pretty horribly, even if this happens the environment could likely recover within a decade or so (yes, that's a long time, but in the scheme of things... not really)."

But wait! Before I finish this blog, I would like to provide you with a couple of things for you to check before starting with your argument against GMOs:

First, the Reddit thread about the article I talk about above. It's very interesting and full of information from all points of view. Make sure you check those comments that are not visible right away.

Second, a number of links to actual studies performed on GMOs, done by different people in different places and published in different journals. A kind Redditor named
jqs1337 from the thread above took the time and effort to put this list together (I'm aware that not all links work at the moment):

There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk than conventional food.

No reports of ill effects have been documented in the human population from GM food.

The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.

There is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods. Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.

No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of GM foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.

Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.

The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are no more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.

[W]ith the continuing accumulation of evidence of safety and efficiency, and the complete absence of any evidence of harm to the public or the environment, more and more consumers are becoming as comfortable with agricultural biotechnology as they are with medical biotechnology.,+and+the+complete+absence+of+any+evidence+of+harm+to+the+public+or+the+environment,+more+and+more+consumers+are+becoming+as+comfortable+with+agricultural+biotechnology+as+they+are+with+medical+biotechnology.&source=bl&ots=KaX3U-08il&sig=-jSUVJlcn1rRaidDCrw6Y0LgQ6M&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YUbvUabTDpDc9QTBxIHgCg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=ith%20the%20continuing%20accumulation%20of%20evidence%20of%20safety%20and%20efficiency%2C%20and%20the%20complete%20absence%20of%20any%20evidence%20of%20harm%20to%20the%20public%20or%20the%20environment%2C%20more%20and%20more%20consumers%20are%20becoming%20as%20comfortable%20with%20agricultural%20biotechnology%20as%20they%20are%20with%20medical%20biotechnology.&f=false

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that agricultural and food biotechnology techniques can enhance the quality, safety, nutritional value, and variety of food available for human consumption and increase the efficiency of food production, food processing, food distribution, and environmental and waste management.

The American Phytopathological Society (APS), which represents approximately 5,000 scientists who work with plant pathogens, the diseases they cause, and ways of controlling them, supports biotechnology as a means for improving plant health, food safety, and sustainable growth in plant productivity.

Far from presenting a threat to the public health, GM crops in many cases improve it. The ASCB vigorously supports research and development in the area of genetically engineered organisms, including the development of genetically modified (GM) crop plants.

The ASM is not aware of any acceptable evidence that food produced with biotechnology and subject to FDA oversight constitutes high risk or is unsafe. We are sufficiently convinced to assure the public that plant varieties and products created with biotechnology have the potential of improved nutrition, better taste and longer shelf-life.

The risks of unintended consequences of this type of gene transfer are comparable to the random mixing of genes that occurs during classical breeding… The ASPB believes strongly that, with continued responsible regulation and oversight, GE will bring many significant health and environmental benefits to the world and its people.

The development of GM crops has benefited farmers, consumers and the environment… Today, data shows that GM crops and foods are as safe as their conventional counterparts: millions of hectares worldwide have been cultivated with GM crops and billions of people have eaten GM foods without any documented harmful effect on human health or the environment.

Over the last decade, 8.5 million farmers have grown transgenic varieties of crops on more than 1 billion acres of farmland in 17 countries. These crops have been consumed by humans and animals in most countries. Transgenic crops on the market today are as safe to eat as their conventional counterparts, and likely more so given the greater regulatory scrutiny to which they are exposed.

Meat, milk and eggs from livestock and poultry consuming biotech feeds are safe for human consumption.

GMOs on the market today, having successfully passed all the tests and procedures necessary to authorization, are to be considered, on the basis of current knowledge, safe to use for human and animal consumption.

Scientific analysis indicates that the process of GM food production is unlikely to lead to hazards of a different nature than those already familiar to toxicologists. The level of safety of current GM foods to consumers appears to be equivalent to that of traditional foods.

Prepared by the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and the Third World Academy of Sciences:“Foods can be produced through the use of GM technology that are more nutritious, stable in storage, and in principle health promoting – bringing benefits to consumers in both industrialized and developing nations.

All criticisms against GMOs can be largely rejected on strictly scientific criteria.

Food derived from GM plants approved in the EU and the US poses no risks greater than those from the corresponding conventional food. On the contrary, in some cases food from GM plants appears to be superior with respect to health.

Currently available genetically modified crops – and foods derived from them – have been judged safe to eat, and the methods used to test them have been deemed appropriate.,+and+the+methods+used+to+test+them+have+been+deemed+appropriate.&source=bl&ots=y4cvsuvNvu&sig=H2HgJFdyC76iEvupKwQqUrjfxZE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wFLvUff7KpOE9QSCioH4DQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Currently%20available%20genetically%20modified%20crops%20-%20and%20foods%20derived%20from%20them%20-%20have%20been%20judged%20safe%20to%20eat%2C%20and%20the%20methods%20used%20to%20test%20them%20have%20been%20deemed%20appropriate.&f=false[22]


And third, a link to a list of dozens, if not hundreds of independent studies on GMOs:

I hope you have enough to at least give GMOs the benefit of the doubt. Sure, we should be careful but maybe GMOs aren't that bad, maybe some are even good, maybe?

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