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How can GMOs be safe if they arent natural?

Submitted by: Megan Raleigh


Expert response from Andrew Bartholomaeus

B.Pharm, PhD, Cert Ag (III)

Friday, 27/04/2018 18:38

Very little of our modern day food is "natural" in any meaningful sense. The few exceptions might include wild caught seafood, water, salt, macadamia nuts and a few spices and herbs which are still obtainable from the wild. All of our vegetables are "unnatural" in that they do not occur in the wild in the form in which we eat them and are extensively genetically modified from the naturally occurring wild ancestors of those plants. The human mediated transformation of food plants in particular has been quite dramatic over the past thousand years or so. Initially plants affected by the natural mutation of their genes which is constantly occurring, would be selected by farmers where those changes resulted in some desirable property. Perhaps the tomatoes were a little bigger or had smaller seeds, or the lettuce was crisper and formed more of a head than the wild weedy type that preceded it. 

Over the last 200 years or so chemical mutagens and radiation have been used to speed up the rate of mutation and make selection of better varieties quicker and more efficient. A large proportion of the so called "organic" food plants are derived by these mutation methods and are no more or less "natural" than those produced using gene technology. Equally the insertion of foreign genes into plant varieties has been happening throughout evolution. Genes from a type of virus called a retrovirus for example can, and have, insert themselves into a plants cells. The sweet potato is the result of a recombinant DNA event produced naturally by a bacterium called agrobacterium, the same bacteria and process used in modern GM techniques.

The bottom line is that very little of our food is natural and genetic modification in general is not a new food production technique. The GM technique itself does not create risk or danger. Like many technologies the techniques could be used deliberately to produce something dangerous, like chemistry being used to produce an explosive, but that there is not one example of GM food being less safe than the food that was modified due to some "accidental" consequence. In the U.S. over nine billion animals are raised for food every year. More than 90 percent of these animals are fed GM feed. Some of the most sensitive indicators of toxicity in animals are weight gained for each kg of food consumed and reproductive health. These are also the factors that determine the profitability of a farmers business and are watched very carefully. The fact that animal feed is almost exclusively GM grain, and has been for nearly 20 years, reflects the lack of any evidence of health effects from its consumption.