Are GMOs Bad? Experts Pick Sides
The debate over genetically modified organisms brings together a number of pressing socioeconomic trends, from the populist backlash against globalization, science and the media, to fears of resource wars caused by climate change and population growth, to our cultural shift in favor of so-called natural and organic foods. But while there are vocal supporters on both sides of this important issue, roughly 58% of Americans don’t know enough about it to generate a truly informed opinion, according to the results of a recent study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Most of our bodies know GMOs quite well, however. Genetically engineered crops have quietly assumed a dominant position in the U.S. agricultural landscape since their debut in 1996. And as you can see from the following table, over 90% of the country’s top three crops – which collectively account for more than $90 billion in annual production, according to the USDA – are now genetically modified.
|Top U.S. Crops||% Genetically Modified - 2000||% Genetically Modified - 2016|
Source: United States Department of Agriculture
Congress thinks we deserve to know whether our food is conceived in a laboratory or by Mother Nature, at least to a certain extent. A July 2016 law will require food packaging to feature either a label disclosing GMO ingredients or an electronic code that consumers can scan with their smartphones to get the same information. But is that enough?
Is the trend toward increased use of GMOs something that we should be more concerned about and, perhaps, fighting harder? Or is it a sign of societal development that will help stave off hunger around the globe while leading to greater prosperity in the farming industry? We at WalletHub care because food and health care represent two of the average American’s biggest spending categories. But we aren’t agricultural scientists or food-safety professionals, so we’ll let the experts fill you in.
We posed the fundamental question – Are GMOs Bad? – to a panel of leading experts with the qualifications needed to speak on the matter. You can check out their bios and responses below. And if you’d like to join the debate, feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.
No, GMOs Are Good
- "GM uses micro-organisms to make important food and medical products like insulin and chymosin (the cheese-clotting enzyme), which are then generally cheaper, more consistent and purer."
Joe M. Regenstein, Ph.D - Professor Emeritus of Food Science at Cornell University
- "No one has ever gotten ill by eating food from crops that were designed with inserted genes. This is a tremendous use of science, with little human side effects."
Dan Curry – Director of Seed Services at Oregon State University
- "Approximately, 28,000 children die from starvation and malnutrition every day. Since its discovery in 1996, GMC’s have been contributing to food security in many counties around the world."
Sabry G. Elias, Ph.D – Associate Professor of Seed Science & Technology at Oregon State University
- "It is right to have worries about new technologies, which is why the safety assessment of genetically engineered foods is rigorous; in fact, far more rigorous than that of conventional foods. By safety I include both safety for human health, and for environmental health. With the right safeguards in place, GMOs can play a key role in feeding the world and saving the planet."
John R. Krebs, Ph.D – Professor in the Department of Zoology at University of Oxford
- "With the global population poised to increase by an additional 2-3 billion people by 2050, agricultural scientists are continuing to develop and refine technologies to ensure that we can feed the population, while reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment. The latest generation of gene editing tools has arrived at a time, and in a way, that offers the great promise of allowing even the poorest countries to develop local solutions to feeding their people."
Troy L. Ott, Ph.D – Professor of Reproductive Physiology and Associate Director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at the Center for Reproductive Biology and Health at College of Agricultural Sciences Penn State
Yes, GMOs Are Bad
- "There have been many documented adverse GMO impacts on livestock and people (e.g., rBGH, Starlink), as well as the toxic inputs which GMOs are designed to resist (e.g., Roundup, 2,4-D). In fact, the World Health Organization recently concluded that glyphosate (Roundup) is a probable human carcinogen, while many European countries have blocked approval of some Bt corn due to concerns about fostering antibiotic resistant bacteria."
John E. Peck – Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies at Madison College & Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders
- "GMOs, such as common commodities corn and soybean, carry toxics and spark allergies and other more serious, negative effects on animal and human health. In addition to the usual health and environmental effects of monocrops, GMOs by their nature refract and sharpen these effects by creating organisms that are single purpose, not multifunctional, and reducing their adaptability."
Cynthia Pansing – CEO and Principal Partner, Changing Tastes
- "There is absolutely no safety testing required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any GM plant and none has been done for most of the GM products on the market. While nothing can be “proven safe,” one can demonstrate potential harm by studying toxicity in animals. This is the basis of the FDA drug approval process, and if there is any indication of toxicity at a therapeutic amount, the drug candidate fails. In the case of some GM crops and definitely with regard to the chemicals required to produce most of them, there is extensive animal data showing that they are toxic at current human exposure levels."
David Schubert – Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Image: ANNECORDON / iStock.
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