Crops: Genetically engineered or genetically modified?

Gavin VandeWalle Columnist


Genetically engineered or genetically modified  crops are a hot topic in today’s news, despite over 15 years of safe consumption. Television personnel Dr. Oz and Oprah are just a few who have spoken out against genetically engineered crops – without actually understanding what GE crops are.  This slough of misinformation, opinions and rumors have circulated into the media while creating distrust in GE foods, despite what is actually known. The U.S. National Academy of Science, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all determined that foods produced using GE ingredients are safe.

Just what are GE crops? GE crops are simply produced through the introduction of DNA to give them certain traits that would otherwise not exist. Such technology allows crops to become resistant to certain herbicides and insects, while protecting them from viral diseases. More recently, GE technology has focused on traits that consumers value. Such as potatoes that do not produce acrylamide – a possible carcinogen that can form in certain foods during high-temperature – when fried. But that’s not all. According to Landes Bioscience – a peer-reviewed bioscience journal – GE crops have lowered agrichemical use, helped conserve soil and water resources, and increased harvests by reducing losses to insects. Additionally, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to meet food and agricultural needs of future generations without the use of available biotech engineering, notes “Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.” 

So what is all the fuss about GE crops? The Seralini study conducted by French researchers conducted a study which suggested that drinking water containing Roundup herbicide in addition to consuming GE corn caused tumors in rats. However, the researchers used a strain of rats that are known to be susceptible to developing tumors. Perhaps this study would have not been highly criticized by regulatory agencies and independent scientists if the study group used a rat strain with an acceptable survival rate. In contrast to criticized French study, a meta-analysis of several well-designed GE feeding studies that were publicly funded and long term were published prior to the Seralini study. It concluded no adverse effects have been reported, and GE crops are nutritionally equal to their conventional equivalents. 

Why not just label GE foods? What’s the big deal? Consumers have the right to know, right? Well, slapping some ink on a package is not simple. Labeling of products requires compliance testing, and tracking costs. In short, this means increased food cost. However, according to The Soy Connection, courts have found that consumer curiosity in the absence of health concern is insufficient to require labeling. Unfortunately, confusion and distrust in GE foods is the result of consumers trusting activists on the issue of GE safety more so than reputable health organizations and specialists in the field.