Is Genetically Engineered Food the Food of the Future?

By John McQuaid, "Is This the Food of the Future?," March/April 2011

Super salmon, enviropigs, blemish-free apples—What does the new wave of genetically engineered foods mean for our health and our planet?

Should you be worried? No direct link has been made between human health and GE foods. Yet some studies have found that a diet of various genetically engineered foods can cause a range of health effects in lab animals. For instance: A 2008 Austrian study showed that mice fed GE corn from birth as part of a regular diet and repeatedly bred had declining fertility and fewer and smaller offspring in their third and fourth litters, compared with mice eating ordinary corn. Another 2008 study, done by scientists at the University of Verona, Italy, found signs of accelerated aging and reduced metabolic function in the livers of mice fed a diet of GE soybeans over 24 months. And a study done at Italy’s National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition found immune system irregularities in the digestive systems and bloodstreams of old and young mice fed a diet containing GE corn for either 30 or 90 days. Those included elevated levels of T and B white blood cells and other cells involved in inflammation or allergic responses.

Uncertainty about long-term public-health effects (as well as protests from both farmers and environmentalists) led to a more-than-decade-long de facto moratorium on any new GE products in Europe, until a GE potato was approved last year.

Opponents say genetic engineering is the latest dangerous development for an increasingly globalized and industrialized food system, where lax regulation and unintended consequences have become increasingly common problems. “The current generation of GMOs is not sufficiently safe to use in the food supply or even to release out of doors. It’s self-propagating contamination of the gene pool,” said Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology and a leading consumer advocate promoting healthier non-GMO choices.

Next: The Case of the Golden Rice and the Enviropig »

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner