What are your questions about GMOs?
GMO Answers and the Council for Biotechnology Information are helping to answer those questions. They have commissioned a new national survey which identifies, for the first time, the top 10 questions consumers have about GMOs and to open up the conversation on biotechnology's role in agriculture.
Below, in this blog, will cover the top three questions on cancer, allergies and farmer’s choice.
The survey was nation-wide and random by telephone. It surveyed 1,006 American adults ages 18 and older. Participants were given a list of common questions about GMOs and were asked which ones they would be "most interested in having answered."
Dr. Kevin Folta, interim chair and associate professor at the University of Florida's horticultural sciences department, answered the first question: Do GMOs cause cancer?
"The short answer is no, there is absolutely zero reputable evidence that GMO foods cause cancer. Cancer is a name applied to a spectrum of diseases where cells proliferate abnormally. There is no way that the subtle and well-understood alterations of a plant's genes can cause cancer," Folta explained. "There is nothing about the Bt protein (used in insect resistance and also in organic pest control), the EPSPS enzyme (which confers herbicide resistance simply by substituting for the native enzyme in the plant) or the process itself that would induce the genetic changes in human cells that would lead to cancer. It is just not plausible.
"Some of the confusion comes from reports where the Bt protein or glyphosate (the herbicide used on some biotech crops) is applied to cell lines in a petri dish, and the cells show changes associated with stress and perhaps abnormal proliferation," Folta said. "However, cells in a dish do not behave like cells in the body. Through years of careful evaluation, there is no reliable evidence that GM (genetically modified) foods cause the same changes in a living organism."
Lisa Katic, a registered dietician, shared her perspective for the second question: Are GMOs causing an increase in allergies?
"No commercially available crops contain allergens that have been created by genetically engineering a seed/plant, and the rigorous testing process ensures that will never happen," she explained.
According to Katic, food allergies are mainly caused by eight major foods — milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish — and account for about 90% of reported food allergies in the U.S.
"First, it is important to note that only one of these eight major allergens listed above is a potential product of biotechnology, and that is soy. Of the remaining seven allergens listed, none is commercially available in genetically modified varieties," Katic explained.
She noted that if a person is allergic to a non-GM plant, he or she will also be allergic to the plant's GMO counterpart, "but GMOs do not introduce any new allergens. In fact, researchers, academics and companies are working on new GMOs that have the potential to help people in this area — for example, peanuts with very low allergen levels that have the potential to eliminate life-threatening allergies to peanuts."
The third week showcased the question: Are big companies forcing farmers to grow GMOs? Indiana corn and soybean farmer Brian Scott addressed this question by talking about his own experience purchasing seed for his farm.
"None of the seed companies force farmers like me to buy any particular product. ... Salespeople might push the latest and greatest, but since every farm operates a little bit differently from the next one, seed choice is very important," Scott explained.
He added that seed companies that sell GM seeds also have many non-GMO varieties.
"I can buy any seed from any vendor I choose from one year to the next. Just because I bought Monsanto, Pioneer or Syngenta seeds one year doesn't mean I have to buy seed from any one of them the following year," he explained.
Scott noted that farmers do sign technology use agreements in relation to patented products but said nothing in the contracts sets a requirement for future purchases or even purchases of other products during the growing season.
To follow the dialogue on the other questions or to view more information on GMOs, visit GMOAnswers.com.