Pioneering New Technology

Are GMOs Safe?

Non-GMO labels, trending hashtags, confusing articles — there’s a lot of noise out there about GMO safety. Emotions are high, and public opinion is heavily split. In fact, it’s not exactly clear what the public believes.
In a survey of more than 10,000 people across 10 countries, we found that roughly half the population thinks genetically modified foods don’t have any long term health effects and that they can benefit the environment. But at the same time, 72 percent of people avoid buying genetically modified foods, and 62 percent think they should be banned. Why the discrepancy? It’s likely lingering doubts about health risks play a big role.
It certainly makes sense to be cautious. When it comes to your family’s health, you want to be absolutely sure you’re making the best choices. We, of all people, believe it’s important to know where your food comes from. So, when you keep hearing buzz that GMOs aren’t safe, it’s natural to wonder: What are the risks?
We’ll break it down simply here: Over and over again, GMOs have been proven to be safe for humans, animals and the environment. Every major scientific body that has reviewed the safety of genetically modified foods has come to that same conclusion. Let’s talk about what they found.

But First… What Are GMOs Anyway?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, is a term commonly used to describe crops produced through a plant breeding technique that uses a specific type of genetic engineering. Essentially, plant breeders take the gene for a specific trait in one plant or microbe and insert it into the cells of a crop plant. And no, not just for fun. The goal is to add “desirable traits” to a crop. “Desirable traits” like what, you ask? Well, like better nutrition; longer shelf life; resistance to pests, diseases and herbicides; faster growth… some pretty good stuff.
illustration for each step in the process
In reality, pretty much all of the foods we eat have been genetically modified. Farmers have been genetically modifying plants for more than 9,000 years. Our ancestors would select and replant the seeds from the best plants, steadily altering the genetic material of crops over time. Later, plant breeders started crossing related plant species to introduce more genetic diversity and make better crops. Today, we’re simply using modern tools and technology to modify crops more efficiently and precisely.

Do GMOs Cause Health Problems?

No.

Let’s go back for a second… to a time when we thought Beanie Babies would make us millionaires and the Macarena was the height of cool. We’re talking the 1990s. That’s when genetically modified crops first hit the market, and since then, not a single food safety or health issue associated with GM crops use has been confirmed. That means all of the bad things you’ve seen about GMOs on Facebook aren’t true — and aren’t supported by two decades of historical evidence or by credible scientists.

Even though a genetically modified crop is virtually identical to a similar non-modified crop, all GMOs nevertheless go through rigorous safety testing at every stage — from research planning to field-testing to food and environment safety assessment — before going on the market.

Experts Weigh In

At GMOAnswers.com, a wide range of experts tackle reader questions about GMOs and other modern farming topics. Here are some highlights from what they’ve said about GMO safety.

How can you be sure that GMO foods won't affect human health long-term?

Answered by Denneal Jamison-McClung, Ph.D., Associate Director, UC Davis Biotechnology Program
“From their introduction in 1996 until now, scientists have found, through repeated and extensive testing, that GM foods are no more risky than comparable non-GM foods, nor do they differ in nutritional value. Currently approved GM crops developed through specific genetic additions or subtractions are as safe as conventional and organic crops developed via random genetic shuffling. Most people do not realize that plant breeders have been randomly altering and admixing plant genomes for centuries.”

Read her full answer here.

Why are GMO companies against labeling GMO foods?

Answered by Cathleen Enright, Former Executive Director of the Council for Biotechnology Information
“These foods are as safe and nutritious as their non-GMO counterparts as determined by recognized authorities around the world including the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Their safety has also been affirmed globally by food safety regulatory authorities including in the European Union, which comes as a surprise to some who mistakenly believe that GMOs are banned by the European Union. Why then, should GM foods deserve a special label?”

Read her full answer here.

What are the effects of GMOs on the human body? Has GMO foods led to an increase in the development of allergies among certain groups of people?

Answered by Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, LD, FADA
“The Food and Drug Administration has set forth guidelines related to the use of GMOs, and in those documents they reference the science that indicates food developed through biotechnology are digested in the same manner as other foods and therefore provide the same nutrition, or in some cases more nutrition (if the goal of the biotechnology was to enhance nutrient content). The science also indicates that these foods are safe for consumption and that they are not contributors to increased allergies.”

Read her full answer here.

Do GMOs affect pregnant women or their babies?

Answered by Robert Murray, MD, Professor of Human Nutrition at Ohio State University
“Based on long-term and multi-generational (two to five generations) studies in animals, there has been no additional risk shown to mother, fetus, or pregnancy outcome from GM dietary exposure. Since 1983, GM crops have been introduced into the food supply, including corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, potatoes, eggplants, strawberries, apples, papaya, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cantaloupe, and even one animal species, a type of salmon. To date, there has not been evidence shown of human health risks tied to GM food exposure.”

Read her full answer here.

GMOs are actually one of the world’s most researched agriculture products and have been deemed safe by virtually every major independent institute. To name a few: UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. National Academies of Science. As a matter of fact, the U.S. National Academies of Science reviewed more than 900 studies over 20 years and determined that genetically modified crops are safe to eat and have not caused increases in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney disease, autism or allergies.

All in all, GMOs are safe. Scientists says so. And now you’re armed with the science yourself the next time an alarming Facebook meme pops up!

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Jo
July 28, 2019 - 01:04 PM

If GMO foods were found to be toxic, would the results be published? The tobacco industry told us for so many years that tobacco was safe! How are we supposed to trust scientists when not all information is disclosed?

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Farm Meets Table Team
August 08, 2019 - 08:59 PM

Thank you for your question, Jo. There are extensive processes and standards in place to ensure transparency in GMO safety research.

GMOs and other agricultural technologies go through a long period of testing before they ever make it to market. In fact, GMOs are among the most tested foods you can buy. Any adverse outcomes found during safety testing must be reported to regulators. It’s illegal to withhold this information. And if a product in development is found to be toxic, it never makes it to market.

All food in the supermarket is regulated to ensure that it is safe for us to consume, and surveillance continues after a product is released. Regulatory agencies such as the USDA have their own research arm and publish their findings. Government agencies also fund academic scientists, who are completely independent of industry.

Agriculture industry scientists do publish peer-reviewed papers as well, including research into GMO safety. However, some industry findings may not be published unless there is some significant incremental advance in knowledge that can be contributed to the scientific community. This is not an effort to hide safety information — it’s a function of the different roles of industry and academic scientists. While an academic scientists primary role is to perform research and publish results, an industry scientist’s role is to find solutions that are safe and effective. Industry scientists may have to delay publishing in order to protect intellectual property before patents are issued.

Finally, remember industry scientists buy food at the grocery store just like everyone else. And just like everyone else, they want a safe and sustainable food supply. Their families eat the food they helped develop — and that’s the ultimate incentive to make safety their top priority.

Here’s some more information: https://gmoanswers.com/ask/one-reasons-skepticism-assertions-gmo-safety-any-negative-results-safety-trials-can-simply-go

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Rob
July 21, 2019 - 01:07 PM

What about allergenicity, gene transfer and outcrossing? Do you consider that okay?

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Farm Meets Table Team
July 25, 2019 - 02:39 PM

Hi Rob,

Thank you for your great question. Research has shown that GMO foods do not appear to be more allergenic than their conventionally bred counterparts, and there is no evidence that GMO foods cause people to develop new allergies. Here is some information on this research: https://gmoanswers.com/studies/study-allergenicity-genetically-modified-foods-genetically-engineered-crops

Before developing a new genetically engineered crop, researchers check more than 1,950 genes to see if there is any match between the desired genetic trait to be introduced and a known allergen. Then, throughout the crop development process, they conduct rigorous research to ensure the new crop will not cause allergies. You can learn more here: https://gmoanswers.com/sites/default/files/GMO-Testing-Allergies-Infographic_0.pdf

Cross pollination is a natural process, and it is possible for some GMO crops to cross-pollinate with closely related species. When developing genetically-engineered crops, researchers assess the potential impact the added genetic traits could have on related, sexually compatible plant species. If there is a risk of negative environmental impact, researchers don’t develop the new crop. You can learn more here:
https://gmoanswers.com/ask/how-can-companies-producing-gmo-plants-confirm-their-plants-will-not-affect-non-gmo-plants

In an extensive study published in 2016, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine assessed the benefits, risks, and effects of genetically engineered crops. The study committee found no substantiated evidence that available GMO crops posed a greater risk to health than conventional crops or contributed to environmental problems. The full study and a short summary are available here: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23395/genetically-engineered-crops-experiences-and-prospects

Thanks again for your question,
The Farm Meets Table Team

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Chantal Ochoa
June 04, 2019 - 12:00 AM

IS GMO safe to eat and is this website useful to answer if it is safe or not safe

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Bernard
May 20, 2019 - 08:33 AM

Would you feed gmos to your own kids and loved ones?

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Farm Meets Table Team
May 20, 2019 - 08:59 AM

Hi Bernard -

Without question - and ourselves, and our pets, and those who struggle to have access to safe, nutritious food.

-Farm Meets Table Team

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Karlee
May 13, 2019 - 02:59 PM

When was this first published?

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Farm Meets Table Team
May 13, 2019 - 03:10 PM

Hi Karlee,

This article was first published on October 11th, 2018.

Thank you for your interest!
The Farm Meets Table Team

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MICHAEL VANORE
March 11, 2019 - 02:55 AM

Hi.I have seen Farms,methods,etc. Are gmo spliced into food pesticide genes safe to eat,compared to any sprayed with synthetic pesticides,which make me sick,not imagination.Nothings better than no chemicals at all,even sulphites (Used in Organics.)a lot of workers and plucking.

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Farm Meets Table Team
March 11, 2019 - 10:10 AM

Hi Michael -

Your question about safety is really the most important one to ask on this topic. Before any of these products are made public they must go through hundreds of tests to ensure safety for humans and the environment and then be approved by government regulators in countries around the world. Be sure to check out what the world's leading experts say on safety by clicking through some of the links in the next to last paragraph. - Farm Meets Table team

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