In the heated debate over whether GMO foods pose a risk to human health, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine just released an extensive study showing genetically modified foods are in fact safe to eat.
The almost 400-page report reviewed more than 900 studies and data covering 20 years in order to come to its overall conclusion that GMO crops are as safe as non-modified crops. Still, they added that GMOs have not been the high-yield boon proponents make them out to be either. Some aspects of the study were heavily caveated and called for more research rather than claim conclusive results.
The world economy study focused on some of the biggest crops grown in the US, such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. And they looked at gene strains that make the crops resistant to insects and herbicides. Foods made from the crops seemed to pose no health risks, based on chemical analyses and animal feeding studies. But they also acknowledged the animal feeding studies were too small to be conclusive.
The study also looked at the rates of certain diseases which some have claimed are caused by diets that include GMO foods. They examined diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, kidney diseases, and autism and looked at incidence rates between North America, where GMOs have been in the food system since 1996, and Western Europe, where GMO crops are generally shunned and are not widely available. They found no significant evidence that GMO crops contributed to increased rates of disease in any they studied.
Environmental Impact of GMOs
They also looked at the environmental impact of GMOs and found that GMO crops did not have an outsize impact on the environment, as some detractors believe. For example, GMOs are not causing the decline of Monarch butterflies. However, the report caveated this and many of their findings around environmental impact and urged further study in order to make more certain conclusions. However, they did point out the fact that developing insect and herbicide resistant crops are resulting in more resistant weeds which in turn, leads growers to use stronger chemicals on their fields. The report called for more attention to help mitigate this problem.
The National Academies are non-profit, private institutions created by Congress to inform the public on issues related to science, technology, and medicine. They have released several reports related to GMOs over the years. The current one was written by a group of 20 members in academia. Though no one from crop biotechnology companies was included in the study, some of the members have developed genetically engineered crops and could have consulted with companies such as Monsanto and Dupont in the past.