GMO foods have a long, safe track record (17 years in the marketplace). From their introduction in 1996 until now, scientists have found, through repeated and extensive testing, that GMO foods are no more risky than comparable non-GMO foods, nor do they differ in nutritional value.
Currently approved GM crops developed through specific genetic additions or subtractions are as safe as conventional and organic crops developed via random genetic shuffling. Most people do not realize that plant breeders have been randomly altering and admixing plant genomes for centuries. Techniques using chemicals and radiation to break plant DNA and induce mutations have been used to develop many conventional and organic crops. Whether using traditional approaches or genetic engineering, the goal of plant scientists is to develop crops with new and agriculturally useful traits. Humans have been changing plant genomes for generations – we just have new, more precise, tools.
Regulatory and food safety focus should be on the resulting trait(s), not the specific modification or plant breeding process by which the genetic changes were made. Because they have different traits, GMO foods are carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, Arctic Apples are non-browning GMO fruits that have been developed by “turning off” a gene, rather than adding any genes to the apple genome. Whether a trait occurs naturally, is chemically or radiation induced, or is purposely incorporated via genetic engineering, inherent risks are the same.
Given that we’ve been genetically modifying plants for millennia, using one approach or another, we should frame this question in terms of relative risks… how “sure” can we expect to be when it comes to long-term health impacts of GMO foods? Like most things in life (except death and taxes, as the saying goes…), 100% certainty is not possible or reasonable to require. However, safe use of GMO foods since 1996, coupled with our knowledge of human and plant physiology, points to long-term safe use of genetic engineering as a plant breeding tool set in agriculture.