Answering Questions About GMOs

Answering Questions About GMOs

The strategy here is also clear – whenever you deal with one misconception about GMOs, opponents just slide over to another point which becomes the “real” reason they are against GMOs. The experience is identical to arguing with those who reject the claims of anthropogenic global warming, when forced to give ground on one factual claim (OK, maybe the Earth is warming), they just retreat to another (but do we know that this is bad?).

For some being anti-GMO is an unshakable ideology. The ideology comes first, and the arguments are only used to justify the ideology (Vandana Shiva comes to mind). For many, however, they are anti-GMO or are concerned about GMOs because they have heard the arguments, which give them reason for concern. It is for those people I write, to correct the misinformation so they can better assess the real issues.

Here are the questions I was recently sent with my answers:

1. Allergies. If I am allergic to, for example, corn, and a corn gene is used to modify strawberries which I dearly love does this not put me at risk for an allergic reaction if I eat them?

Allergies is a common concern in the public regarding GMOs. However, there has never been an allergic reaction to an approved GMO. As part of the approval process, they screen for proteins that are potentially allergenic and toxic. Most food allergens are proteins, and proteins that can cause allergies tend to have amino acid sequences in common. These sequences may allow the protein to survive digestion in the stomach, for example, so that it is intact enough to cause an allergy.

There have been allergic reactions to hybrids, however. If anything, GMOs are safer because they are so carefully screened. Scientists are also working on using GM technology to make food that are allergenic, like peanuts, less so.

2. Have interactions between different genes been studied at all?

Yes, but of course with thousands of genes the potential interactions are astronomical. Resulting organisms are tested for their net properties. Imagine, now, not just inserting one gene but mixing in hundreds of genes through hybridization, or subjecting plants to stimulated mutations hoping to get lucky.

This is a common tactic to “just ask questions” that seem superficially reasonable. Our scientific knowledge can never be 100% complete, so there will always be some unknown to point to as a source of fear or uncertainty.

3. Related to no. 1 above, but also in general, the resistance on the part of the food industry to labeling of GMO foods is baffling and troubling. Apart from the fact that it may put people with allergies at risk for an unpleasant or maybe even hazardous reaction, it seems to suggest the existence of something the industry does not want us to know. Otherwise, why NOT label it?

Two main reasons – the anti-GMO lobby has already demonized GMOs. Labeling is part of their plan to destroy support for the technology. It may not work, but that’s their plan. Second, it means having to track the source of all ingredients, which can be burdensome.

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