People concerned about the planet, public interest groups, and religious organizations hold that GM foods can cause allergies, make your body resist antibiotics, or even lead to cancer. Independent scientists without a stake on either side see pitfalls to these high-profit, high-tech products.
Top concerns about GMOs include:
- The rise of superweeds: Crops built to withstand herbicides could breed with each other and transfer their genes to weeds. These “superweeds” would also beat the herbicides. On the other hand, GM fans say this is nothing new. “Even nonchemical technologies create superweeds,” Bradford says.
- Health problems: The process often mixes or adds proteins that don’t exist in the original plant. GMO foes fear these will create new allergic reactions. They also worry that foods made to resist disease and viruses will linger in your system after you eat them, and that could make antibiotics less effective. But no studies confirm this claim.
- "Frankenfood" fears: The long-term effects of adding new genes to common crops are still unclear. While the industry and health leaders cite hundreds of studies to support its safety, not to mention 20 years of animal data, experts like Krimsky say studies that show bad effects on animals -- like harm to the kidneys, liver, heart, or other organs -- should carry more weight. “The prominent scientists who say the controversy surrounding GMOs has been resolved are dismissing at least 23 studies showing ill effects,” he says. “It has to be a balancing act that weighs the benefits of GMOs against the risks, and that is driven by science, not political pressure or profits.”
The FDA’s only litmus test for safety is based on a policy that says GM foods are close enough to natural foods that they don’t need regulation. “The question is, how can they make that determination?” Krimsky says.
The Right to Know
Whether they think of them as Frankenfoods or a way to feed the world, both sides agree consumers have a right to know what's on their plates. Countries that require labels for GM foods include China, Australia, and the European Union. But the U.S. doesn't make food companies mark products with GM ingredients. So it’s no surprise many Americans don’t realize they’re eating them.