GMOs—The Good, The Bad, and Why Everyone is Talking About Them (Part 2)

In our previous blog post we took a look at what GMO means and some of the basics of why it is a hot topic. Let’s continue the conversation in part #2 and take a closer look to some of the benefits and concerns in relation to GMO.

How GMOs can be Beneficial (The Good):

I always like to start with the positive side of the argument, so let’s take a look at some of the positive outcomes from this technology. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that the general medical consensus based on current available published research and data is that GMOs are safe. If you did not catch our discussion on this from part #1, you should check out the section on Consensus & Controversy for more information and resources.

When it comes to the benefits of GMOs and resulting GM crops, my personal favorite is the potential for added nutrient value. Let me give you some more in depth information on how this can be applied and real life examples.

A decrease in chemical consumption is one of the first benefits that comes to mind for many when they think of GM crops. That GMO strain of corn or soy that is resistant to a particular weed which is a common threat to the corn crop would reduce the amount of herbicide required when growing the corn. Using this GMO corn could then reduce the amount of chemical we ingest by eating the corn and products that GMO corn is used to make. In fact this real life GMO example resulted in a reduction in pesticide use for an estimated 19.1 million acres according to analysis from the Economic Research Service.3

This of course would have a financial and environmental impact as well. For example, the farm producing that GMO corn would no longer have to pay for the herbicide they usually purchase to control the weed growth, and that herbicide is no longer going into the soil and our water system.

As you might have guessed money is a driving force behind GMOs and GM crops with both corn and soybeans being GM crops currently approved for use in the US food market today. In case you are wondering, canola, sugar beets, papaya and squash are some other GM crops approved in the US as well. A tomato that would stay firm and ripe longer would provide a longer selling window and thus a higher potential profit for the farmer growing and selling that tomato. Or perhaps a fish that grows to full size in ½ the amount of time. All of these examples are actual GMOs that are either currently in use, previously sold, or recently approved.

As I mentioned, my favorite GMO example is a plant that is genetically modified to have an improved nutrient value. Perhaps I am biased as a dietitian, but I see wonderful potential for a food item engineered to meet the nutrient needs of a population. This is also a real life GMO example called Golden Rice which is not only a gold color, but was also genetically engineered to contain a high level of Beta-carotene, which is a precursor for vitamin A. This nutrient enhancement to rice and GMO is particularly helpful to fight night blindness caused by a vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Vitamin A deficiency can also lead to problems with growth, reproduction and most importantly for survival, the immune system and function.

I have to admit that I am open to GMOs in general for this potential impact on the nutrient quality of food. We fortify and enrich many of our foods to ensure that the general public gets the nutrition they need to thrive and have the opportunity for a healthy life. So why not just modify the plant using our scientific knowledge so the GM crop naturally contains the vitamins and minerals many need?

Even with potential benefits such as enhanced nutrient content, I certainly know that with any benefit there are potential drawbacks and concerns as well. So let’s take a look at some of the significant concerns that many consumers and the scientific and medical community have in regards to GMOs.

The Concern or Risk with GMOs (The Bad):

As we have discussed this is a controversial subject. Even a reduction in pesticide use does not sell many on the fact that we have altered the fabric of our ecosystem and changed the DNA of a plant. Especially when you talk about using something like DNA from a virus or bacteria incorporated into something we eat. Many consumers simply want to know what they are eating so they can make an informed choice, while others have more deep concerns with GMOs.

One concern that many consumers and some members of the medical and scientific community mention is the long term effects these GMOs could have on our health and environment. Whenever we mess with the natural order of nature there are inevitable consequences that we cannot fully understand until after we have made the alterations and observe what happens. This has certainly been the case with GMOs and resulting GM crops and a large reason why many are opposed to them.

We have in fact seen this happen in practice when GM crops are created to be resistant to an insect. If the insect in question no longer has its main food choice available there are obvious effects to the insect population, but also effects to other organism that interact with that insect and eventually to the entire ecosystem of the immediate geographic area and far beyond.

There are a number of people who are generally concerned on the effects something like the widespread use of GMOs and GM crops has on the diversity of our food system as well as the oversight that is in place for companies involved in the creation and distribution of GMOs and GM crops. The National Academy of Sciences for example pushes for more transparency, safety testing, and general regulation when discussing the development and consideration of new GMOs and use of GM crops.3

As I have mentioned, the main concern I often hear and hot topic in the media recently is in relation to labeling. There is a large general consensus among consumers and many organizations that mandatory labeling of GMOs, GM crops and ingredients derived from GMOs is helpful and desired. Transparency about GMOs and a way for consumers to make an informed decision may seem like a simple issue. However when you consider the complexity of our food system you may appreciate why mandatory labeling laws is not just a simple change to implement.

It should be noted that some countries already have labeling laws and regulations in place for GMOs. As I mentioned in part #1, the United States Congress also passed a bill this recent summer that was signed into law by President Obama that will develop a labeling standard in relation to GMOs. The details on how this will be eventually added to our food labels is now being discussed and developed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Why Our Community Cares:

One concern in relation to GMOs is the effect that the genetic modification has on allergens. This concern is especially important to Neocate families, who want to ensure that any food that their child is NOT allergic to is actually and always safe. It’s clear to see why families managing food allergies might be concerned, if genes from one food are being inserted into other foods.

The AMA indicates 2 separate examples when genetic modification has altered the allergy profile of a plant. The first was a gene from a Brazil nut that was added to a soybean to change the nutrient profile of the soybean. During the testing process of the GMO soybean it tested positive for Brazil nut proteins. This particular soybean was intended for use as an animal feed, and was never commercialized.1

The second example is in relation to a specific GMO corn that was genetically modified to contain a protein that acts as an insecticide. This GMO corn was approved for use in animal feeds but testing revealed allergenic attributes, and it was never approved for use in human food products. This particular GMO corn is no longer used commercially.1

In both of these cases, the allergen found in the GMO was in relation to a protein, and proteins are what the body responds to in a typical allergic reaction. Even though only a small number of natural proteins found in nature are common allergens, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) notes that “the potentially allergenicity of the newly introduced protein should be a key component of the safety assessment process” in their executive summary regarding GMOs.4

How Neocate Cares:

Here at Nutricia we understand that you may have questions about GMOs. We always try to do our best to answer the questions of our customers and the patients that use our products. We’re happy to be able to answer that Neocate does not use GMO ingredients. To be REALLY specific, Neocate ingredients are certified by suppliers to be non-genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology, compliant with EC regulations 1829/2003 & 1830/2003 (those are European regulations). Many of you that have contacted us for this information are happy to hear this fact about Neocate.

What do you think about GMOs? Share your thoughts and Neocate questions in the comments below.

–Kristin Crosby MS, RDN, LDN

References Cited:

  1. American Medical Association (AMA)
    AMA House of Delegates 2012 Annual Meeting: Council on Science and Public Health Report 2, Labeling of Bioengineered Foods
  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)
    Position of the American Dietetic Association: Agricultural and Food Biotechnology, 2006
  3. National Academy of Sciences
    Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, Executive Summary, 2016
  4. Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)
    Biotechnology and Food: Executive Summary
Published: 12/08/2016
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