How Safe is Genetically Modified Food?

gmo foodsIf you eat processed food (just about anything that comes in a package or from a chain), you eat quite a bit of genetically modified (GMO) soy, corn, and sugar. But what does that actually mean for your health? Two recent studies found some potentially alarming answers.

Higher Levels of Pesticides

One study found that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GMO soy contains more pesticides than non-GMO soy.1 Researchers in Norway and the UK compared 31 samples from three kinds of Iowa-grown soybeans: 10 varieties of Roundup Ready GMO soy, 10 varieties of non-GMO but conventionally grown soy, and 11 varieties of organic soy.1 The samples were tested for pesticide residue levels and nutritional composition.
High levels of Roundup pesticide residues were found on all the GMO soy samples but none of the conventionally grown or organic soy. Specifically, the researchers found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and AMPA, the primary chemical that glyphosate breaks down into as it degrades. Monsanto specifically engineers its GMO soy to tolerate glyphosate as a pesticide.

Pesticides’ Harmful Effects

The average glyphosate and AMPA levels in the GMO soy were still below the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit, but according to the researchers, were at a level that Monsanto itself called extreme in 1999. The health and environmental effects of these pesticides at relatively low levels are controversial, but the study authors note the following disturbing findings from other studies:
A 2013 study found that chronic exposure to very low levels of glyphosate was harmful to beneficial gut bacteria, like Lactobacillus, in poultry, while pathogenic bacteria tended to remain highly resistant to it, suggesting that glyphosate can shift the balance of gut flora. Gut flora, it is being discovered, is highly important for overall health and longevity.2 Glyphosate is also associated with an increased risk of cancer.2

GMO soy is less nutritious

Using the same soybean samples, the researchers also looked at nutritional quality differences between GMO, conventionally grown, and organic soy. Here’s what they found:
• Organic soy contained significantly more protein and a higher amount of essential amino acids than the other two groups.
• Organic soy had significantly less saturated and omega-6 fats, but the same amount of omega-3 fats. (Research suggests that Americans consume too much omega-6 compared to omega-3, and that this is not healthy.)
• The organic soy had significantly more zinc than conventional and GMO soy.
Other nutritional quality differences were relatively small.

Should you avoid GMO foods?

Bcause of the potential dangers of GMO foods, countries around the world are instituting significant restrictions or outright bans on their production and sale. Meanwhile, in the United States, where the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale, Americans are increasingly taking matters into their own hands and choosing to avoid or at least reduce their consumption of GMO foods.

1. Food Chem. 2014 Jun 15;153:207-15.
2. Curr Microbiol. 2013 Apr;66(4):350-8.

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UHN Staff

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