There has been a lot of controversy in the news lately regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), Genetically Engineered (GE) or Genetically Modified (GM) foods. With election season, and especially in Washington where Initiative 522 (requiring GM foods to be labeled) is a hot debate with many differing opinions and emotions tied to it, more and more people are starting to consider the impact that GM foods might have on our health and on the environment.
While there are differing opinions on how GM foods affect farms, consumers and the environment as a whole, there is not a lot of information available about how GM foods can affect our health. There have been vague claims and pretty severe accusations regarding GM foods causing cancer to GM foods being more healthy than non-GM foods. We have gathered some information to help set some of these matters straight.
In all reality, there is limited objective information on how GM foods affect our health, and what effects long term they can have on our bodies. Because the GM foods are starting to come out into the spotlight, more and more researchers are turning toward studying the effects of GM foods on the human body. GM foods tend to be in a majority of foods and food products (especially containing corn and soy) that we eat; if these foods are being consumed every day, this may have a long-term impact on our health that we’re currently unaware of.
So what do the large health organizations have to say about our current understanding of the impact on GM foods and our health? The World Health Organization (WHO) and the FDA both agree that GM foods are safe for human consumption and do not pose any adverse health effects. But what does that mean? Currently the WHO bases their safety assessment on 6 things:
- Direct health effects – e.g. acute toxicity
- Tendencies to provoke an allergic reaction (allergenicity)
- Specific components in the gene or food thought to have nutritional or toxic properties
- The stability of the inserted gene in the food
- Nutritional effects associated with genetic modification
- Any unintended effects which could result from gene insertion.
Currently, for each of these categories, GM foods pass the tests. There has been no reported toxicity so far or severe transfer of allergic components to foods that may cause harm to individuals ingesting the foods. A majority of the foods that have shown that gene transfer is stable and that nutritional content does not decrease with GM foods. There is some concern still with the possible gene transfer from GM foods to cells in our body or to the bacteria in the GI tract that may adversely affect humans, but the probability of this transfer is reported as low.
So does this mean that all GM foods are safe for consumption? Not necessarily. This specific criteria looks at acute (quick) reactions to eating GM foods. We can safely say that eating genetically modified foods will not cause any adverse acute health outcomes. For example, we will not be poisoned, exposed to toxicity or have a deathly allergic reaction from eating these foods (unless we already have an allergy to the traditional version of the food). But what about the long-term effects? That is something we just don’t know yet. More and more studies though are looking at the effects of what long-term consumption of these types of foods can have on our bodies. Unfortunately most studies that are produced by industry affiliates are only done for 90 days, which is often not enough time to tell if certain conditions (such as cancer) are formed by eating GM foods. One study, published in 2012, studied rats for 2 years that were fed a diet that consisted of GM foods and compared them to non-GM foods; the study found that mice fed GM foods were more likely to develop tumors or have chronic kidney disease than those that were not.
Though it’s hard to say with certainty that GM foods can have a long term effect on our health, hopefully future research can look into this question for the millions of concerned consumers. But what can we do about it now if the science and literature does not provide us with the answers that we need to make educated decisions about our health? For starters, we can always request the right to choose. If you are concerned about the potential health impacts of GM foods, then you have a right to exclude those foods from your diet. Look for labeling on foods that say “GM free” or “GE free.” If you live in Washington state or other states with these issues up in the political scene, go out and vote for clearer labeling. Don’t forget that the choice is yours.
If you are concerned that the foods you eat may be affecting your health, the doctors at Aria Integrative medicine are there to answer your questions and help guide you through the transition to eating a healthier, balanced diet. Call our office today for a free 10 minute consultation!