February 15, 2011

The Unproven Dangers of GMOs

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To the Editor:

Re: “Rejecting Genetically Modified Foods,” Opinion, Feb. 15

The recent article “Rejecting Genetically Modified Foods” is so filled with misinformation and half-truths that I am unable to ignore it. So please, bear with the (I’m sure) boring science talk. The peace of mind will be worth it.

The author makes two main points in the article: The first is that roundup ready GMOs allow the plants to be sprayed with more pesticides. The implication is that the increased amount of pesticides sprayed on the plants while they are growing is detrimental to the health of people eating food made from those plants. Fortunately, our friends in the agricultural industry are in the business of staying in business, not that of having to shell out fat bank in class-action suits. That being said, conventionally grown food goes through a tremendous amount of inspection and cleaning to ensure that it is free of, among other things, pesticide residue before it is sold for consumption. From a strictly nutritional point of view, the amount of pesticide sprayed on (using the author’s example) corn during it’s maturation in the field has about as significant an effect on the consumer as whether the field was irrigated with potable or non-potable water.

Moving on, because I’m sure you want to get back to your terrace salad and I want my cup of tea, the author discusses the 2009 Vendômois et al study, which concluded that certain GM corn caused liver and kidney damage. If that were a reliable source, I would be in total agreement with her that people should not be eating the three varieties of GM corn in question, however, The French High Council of Biotechnologies Scientific Committee determined that the study “presents no admissible scientific element likely to ascribe any haematological, hepatic or renal toxicity to the three re-analysed GMOs.” Additionally, a review by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand came to a similar conclusion (at least, according to Wikipedia; I haven’t seen the source document for the FSANZ decision, but it doesn’t seem too far off). Furthermore, besides no approved-for-food GMO ever having been proven to be harmful to people, the same corn in the 2009 Vendômois et al study (the one the author brings up in the article), is potentially good for people (especially expectant mothers), as it reduces the incidence of certain toxic molds that can cause neurological disorders, which grow on non Bt corn that has been damaged by insects and improperly stored, as discussed by Prof. Bruce Chassy, food microbiology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne, and Prof. Drew Kershen, agricultural law, University of Oklahoma College of Law, in their 2004 article “Bt corn can reduce serious birth defects by limiting toxic mold.”

Now, because I’m sure most of you stopped reading half-way through that last paragraph and my tea is getting cold, I’m going to cut it short here, but I want to leave the three of you still reading with a reminder that, whenever you read anything pushing a position, think about what the work is saying: If it’s some poor, misinformed person writing about the un-proven (read; “non-existent”) dangers of some food that has been tested countless times by numerous governments and other regulatory bodies, read the article with a discerning eye.

Kian Magana ’10