Concern 1: Am I Eating Poison?
One of the main counterarguments against genetically modified food is that they can be toxic and act as a poison. By using a bacterium called Bacillus Thuringiensis, scientists have found a way to put insecticide into plants. This made plants into a type of poison to insect pests and gave farmers a way to lower their use of insecticide if not cut out the product entirely. These Bacillus Thuringiensis plants or BT plants were specifically designed with the digestive tract of insects in mind. Since humans and insects have different digestive tracks it is not poisonous to us. The term poison is also a matter of perspective. Take chocolate for example. To dogs, chocolate is poisonous and should not be consumed. Most of the human population does not have to think twice about whether this treat is poisonous to them. The same goes with BT plants. They are poisonous to insects but not to humans.
Concern 2: Will My DNA Change?
Another fear that some people have about genetically modified plants is that the genes in the plants we eat will transfer into and become a part of our DNA. In a report written by A. E. Young and A. L. Van Eenennaam titled Genetically Engineered Feed: Impact on Animals, they state that “As part of the natural digestive process, dietary DNA has been shown to move across the intestinal wall, but there is no evidence suggesting DNA or rDNA transfer from plants to animals” (1).
In Megan Morris’s article Will GMOs Hurt My Body, she says that “Depending on the degree of processing of their foods, a given person will ingest between 0.1 and 1 g of DNA each day; as such, DNA itself is regarded as safe by the FDA” (3). The International Life Sciences Institute studied the chemical characteristics, degradation susceptibility, allergenicity, and metabolic fate of both genetically modified food and non-genetically modified food to determine if genetically modified DNA was as safe to eat as normal DNA.
Through this study, they concluded that the two types of DNA were completely indistinguishable from each other. The researchers went further and tried to isolate the bar gene from rats that ate potatoes that contained the gene. Even though five generations of the rat had been fed the potatoes, they could not find the gene in them.
Concern 3: Will GMOs Hurt Future Generations?
This fear of plant genes affecting our own genes has also been discussed with future generations and our offspring in mind. In her article, Megan Morris stated that through data from credible research it has been concluded that “GMOs have been found to exhibit no toxicity, in one generation or across many” (3). These results came from 100s of tests that included plants like corn and potatoes that were fed to multiple generations of rats.
A group from the University of South Dakota tested this theory of genes affecting our offspring by feeding rats BT corn and watching what happened to the original generation and the following 3 generations of rats as well as the fertility of both the male and female rats. They compared observations and results to generations of rats that ate corn without the BT property. The study did not find any changes in litter size or any change in the health and development of the offspring during and after maturity. They also concluded that genetically modified food does not affect fertility in either males or females.
A similar study was conducted using potatoes with a bar gene instead of corn. For five generations, they tracked animal body weight development of the eye, thymus, and bones as well as general retardation. They studied mother animals that were split into two groups. One group was fed the genetically modified potatoes and the other was fed normal potatoes. They found no significant difference between the two groups after 5 generations had been observed. From this, they concluded that there was no build-up or inheritance of toxicity.
“Are GMOs Good or Bad? Genetic Engineering & Our Food.” Are GMOs Good or Bad? Genetic Engineering & Our Food, Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell , 30 Mar. 2017, www.youtube.com/user/Kurzgesagt.
Morris, Megan L. “Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them.” Science in the News, Harvard, 19 Jan. 2017, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/will-gmos-hurt-my-body/.
Young, A. E. and A. L. Van Eenennaam. “Genetically Engineered Feed: Impact on Animal Performance, Health and Products.” Journal of Animal Science, vol. 95, 2017 Supplement, p. 357. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2527/asasann.2017.733.