Clean Slate

On health and safety, GM foods’ record speaks for itself.

Opinion by Paul Koehler, Monsanto Scientific and Community Affairs

Genetically engineered foods, also known as biotech foods, were first commercialized in the mid-1990s, well over a decade ago. Since that time, people have eaten billions of servings of food containing one or more biotech ingredients, and there has not been a single substantiated instance of illness or harm associated with the research and technology that went into developing those foods – not one.

It’s an incredible record that speaks to biotech’s high level of safety. One reason for this tremendous accomplishment is that biotech crops are the most extensively studied and strictly regulated foods in the world. Before any biotech food crop is approved for commercialization, it must successfully pass rigorous testing for potential health hazards. Any crop that fails to meet federal standards for food safety is not allowed to even go to market.

You could not ask for a better health and safety record, nor can you say the same thing about other types of foods.

In conventional plant breeding (as opposed to genetic engineering), a variety of methods are used to find new plant varieties that might have a trait or characteristic that’s useful to us, such as improved taste or longer shelf life. According to Pamela Ronald, professor of plant pathology at the University of California-Davis, one example of conventional breeding is to dip a seed into a carcinogenic solution, which can force various mutations that breeders will examine to identify any that might be desirable. Exposing plants to radiation to force mutations is another conventional breeding method. Unlike biotech crops, these new seeds do not undergo the same high level of federal review prior to being commercialized. They can even be certified organic.

Nevertheless, opponents of biotech crops continue to describe them as “untested” and “unsafe.”  This is simply untrue.

“Evidence” often cited by biotech opponents typically fail to meet acceptable standards of quality for credible scientific research. One example is a study by Arpad Pusztai, where genetically modified (GM) potato was fed to rats. The results indicated that there was damage to the stomach lining of rats. Based on his study, Pusztai claimed that GM foods in general are unsafe. However, he did not use a commercially approved GM food in his study. Rather, he created a GM potato that expressed a protein toxin, derived from a toxic plant. Pusztai’s potato was not approved for consumption by any government agency – a big difference from the biotech foods that we eat today, all of which successfully met federal safety standards and were approved for commercialization.

There is a large body of documented scientific testing that shows currently authorized GM crops are safe.  Today, 25 Nobel Prize recipients and more than 3,400 prominent scientists have expressed their support for plant biotechnology as a powerful and safe way to improve agriculture and the environment.

The international scientific community, including the American Medical Association, US National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the European Commission, have all examined the health and environmental safety of biotech crops and concluded that biotech crops pose no more risk than crops produced through traditional crop breeding methods.

For additional information, you can visit the following websites.

Food & Drug Administration, “Are Bioengineered Foods Safe?”, FDA website  

 College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources, “Use of Biotechnology in Agriculture – Benefits and Risks”, CTAHR Website

Office of the United States Trade Representative, “Agricultural Biotechnology: Food Safety and Environmental Benefits” (includes links to other resources such as the World Health Organization and United Nations websites), USTR Website

American Medical Association, “Report 10 of the Council on Scientific Affairs, Genetically Modified Crops and Foods”, AMA Website

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