Brain and Body

2-Year Analysis of Nearly 900 Journal Articles Concludes That GMOs Are Safe

May 19, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Fresh vegetables at a farmer's market
Photo credit: NatalieMaynor/flickr (CC by 2.0)

In fact, there’s evidence that genetically-engineered crops have benefitted human health.

Genetic engineering (GE) — the process by which humans change the DNA or proteins in an organism to express a new trait — was developed back in the 1970s. As the practice continued to become more commonplace, controversy over the topic heightened.

Since the 80s, biologists have used GE to modify characteristics in plants for traits like longer shelf life, higher vitamin content, and resistance to diseases, but some are convinced that the technique does more harm than good.

Arguments against genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) claim that they cause long-term health problems in humans, including accelerated aging, infertility, immune system disorders, digestive disorders, and even autism.

However, a two-year analysis investigated nearly 900 journal articles on the past 30 years of genetically-engineered crops, and argues that there’s no scientific evidence that GE crops are unsafe to eat or harm the environment.

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20 scientists commissioned by the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine worked on the 400-page report, investigating journal articles, expert testimony, and public submissions to come to its conclusions. The committee consisted of experts in biochemistry, plant biology, food science, and crop and soil science.

According to a release on the National Academies’ website, "The committee carefully searched all available research studies for persuasive evidence of adverse health effects directly attributable to consumption of foods derived from GE crops but found none."

In fact, the researchers actually found evidence that GE crops had benefitted human health by increasing vitamin levels in developing countries and reducing insecticide poisonings.

Concerning the effects on the environment, the researchers concluded that “the use of insect-resistant or herbicide-resistant crops did not reduce the overall diversity of plant and insect life on farms, and sometimes insect-resistant crops resulted in increased insect diversity,” according to the press release.

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The team found no conclusive evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between GE crops and environmental problems, but the researchers do admit that assessing long-term environmental changes is complex by nature, making it difficult to reach definitive conclusions.

Concerning farmers and crop yields, the researchers report that the “evidence indicates that GE soybean, cotton, and maize have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers who have adopted these crops, but outcomes have varied depending on pest abundance, farming practices, and agricultural infrastructure.”

However, while insect-resistant GE crops have lowered crop loss due to plant pests, the researchers found no substantiated evidence that GE crops had changed how fast yields were increasing each year. While the research suggests that GE crops don’t harm our health or the environment, it appears that we’re still a ways off from perfecting the technology to maximize production.

Wayne Parrott, a University of Georgia professor of crop and soil sciences, who wasn’t involved in the research, told Genetic Expert News Service, "The inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is the GE crops are pretty much just crops. They are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim."

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