MYTH: GMOs can cause a variety of health problems, such as cancer.
TRUTH: The concern that gene splicing and drastically altering the food chain is “playing God” is not the most unreasonable one, but is mostly based in the campaigns of anti-GMO alarmists who have the emotion of fear on their side. Genetically modified organisms have a little thing called ‘science’ on their side.
Thousands of studies, many of these independent, have been conducted in order to evaluate whether genetically modified foods are safe for consumption. The majority of these find that they pose no true threat posed to human health.
The largest-ever comprehensive study of GMOs and food, conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science, found that GM feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GM feed.
Pouring through data on livestock productivity and health from before and after the introduction genetically engineered animal feed, researchers saw that over 100 billion animals experienced no real change in health trends over that period of time.
Dr. Steven Novella, who examines this research, perfectly summarizes the results of the data collected over several decades on the subject of GMO safety:
“We now have a large set of data, both experimental and observational, showing that genetically modified feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. There does not appear to be any health risk to the animals, and it is even less likely that there could be any health effect on humans who eat those animals.
In order to maintain the position that GMOs are not adequately tested, or that they are harmful or risky, you have to either highly selectively cherry pick a few outliers of low scientific quality, or you have to simply deny the science.”
MYTH: GM crops are not sustainable.
TRUTH: According to GMO Answers, more than half of consumers surveyed believed that GM crops are “worse for the environment”. In reality, GMOs contribute to our sustainable food supply in many ways.
- GM crops contribute to a 37 percent decrease in pesticide application due to specific proteins which repel and often kill insects that come into contact with them.
- Can be grown using a practical technique known as conservation tillage. This allows crop residue to be left in the fields and used the next growing season as mulch, protecting the soil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- GM crops conserve large quantities of water due to drought tolerance built into their genes. This will become especially important in areas of the country which face heavy drought, such as California.
- Also reduces water pollution through precise application of nutrients. Scientists are working on GM crops which will better absorb fertilizers and reduce nitrogen runoff.
- GM crops are very biodiverse, meaning that they can grow without taking anything away from the ecosystem.
MYTH: The research on GMOs has been primarily funded by so-called “Big Ag”.
TRUTH: For one, we should mention that the term “Big Agriculture” was created simply to associate modern agriculture with corporate imagery, but that’s a story for another day. Aside from that, the notion that large biotech companies fund research is an over-exaggeration. Yes, they fund research on the subject, just like any company would do. But there are thousands of independent, peer-reviewed safety studies that support GMO safety.
And if that isn’t good enough for you, the World Health Organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and dozens of other distinguished medical and scientific groups worldwide approve of GMO use as well.
MYTH: If GMOs are harmless, there’s no reason to oppose GMO labeling laws.
TRUTH: If you opposed GMO use but couldn’t pursue an outright ban on them, what would be your next course of action? Most likely, you would demonize it and disassociate it from its health qualities. The best way of accomplishing this is to advocate for GMO labeling laws that indicate when a product contains GM products.
What it comes down to is a sense of perceived safety. Psychologically, if you perceive a product to be safer than another, you’re more likely to choose the safer option. By labeling GM products, you imply to potential consumers that genetically modified foods are deserving of such labels because they may be detrimental to one’s health.
It’s a Catch-22: Consumers believe that if the agriculture industry fights against labeling laws, they must have something to hide. But as soon as the agriculture industry is forced to label genetically modified foods, the public believes that the label is necessary to distinguish bad from good.
Either way, the industry suffers from the debate when it is simply trying to develop new methods for feeding a rapidly expanding population.
MYTH: Pesticides are harmful when applied to produce and consumed.
TRUTH: The residue left over on produce after pesticides have been sprayed on them exists in tiny amounts and is harmless for consumption.
Dr. Bruce Ames, from the University of California, Berkley has studied pesticides in our food supply for years. Almost all produce contains levels of toxic chemicals, but he says that they are in such low amounts that they are indistinguishable from the toxic chemicals naturally found in products such as peanut butter or raw mushrooms.
Just like any substance, too much can harm you. You drink way too much water, it can kill you. You eat apples for every meal of the day, eventually you’ll feel the negative effects of such a diet. The same holds true for chemicals found in pesticides. In great amounts, yes they can be harmful. But Ag professionals now know how to limit pesticide use to gain great results while negating harmful impact.
These chemicals are a useful tool in protecting crops from deterioration and insect predation. Without them, we would not be able to produce food on the scale necessary to feed our country and the rest of the world. If farmers were able to grow food without them, that would be ideal, but that doesn’t mean that they are dangerous. Don’t confuse chemical application for sinister intentions.
MYTH: “Organic” foods are safer than non-organic or “conventional” foods.
TRUTH: “Organic” produce is no safer or better than non-organic produce. The organic label refers to USDA standards, but ‘organic’ does not mean ‘all-natural’. All produce likely contains small traces of pesticides, regardless of the method. It is unavoidable in order to ensure growth.
Organic produce may contain smaller amounts of pesticides than non-organic, but all produce must not exceed government safety thresholds.
In fact, organic food is no more nutritious than non-organic food. Research from the past 50 years of scientific articles on these foods finds that there is no significant difference in their nutritional content or safety.
Not only does organic food provide no real benefit vs conventional foods, organic production methods produce significantly lower yields. Organic techniques require more inputs to produce less food then conventional methods. Meaning it is organic food, not conventional food, that is unsustainable.
MYTH: Modern agriculture practices are cruel to animals.
TRUTH: Those who clamor for cage-free living environments for animals demand agricultural overhaul without considering the harmful effects they have on the animals themselves. In cage-free systems, these animals are more exposed to a greater risk of disease, as well as predatory attacks, cannibalism, parasites, and bone breaks.
Animal agriculture opponents see animals living in close proximity, and they view that as a negative. In reality, these measures are taken to ensure greater health of the animals. And why not? Farmers and ranchers have a vested interest in keeping their animals as healthy as possible in order to make a better product for consumers.