Do GMOs pose any risk to consumers?

Miniature food - Raspberries and Blackberries by PetitPlat - Stephanie Kilgast, on FlickrAny risk to consumers from eating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is extremely small – if not immeasurably so.  We are fortunate to have very strong food safety regulations. The rules governing this area are very stringent and carefully designed to safeguard us from harm.

In the early days of GMOs, many people became very worried about the dangers of the actual genetic engineering technique, of the genes that might be moved and of the addition of ‘marker genes’. In addition to a specific gene being moved into an organism’s DNA, ‘marker genes’ are also moved. These additional genes help to identify which plants (mostly), fungi or animals (rarely) have been successfully changed. New ‘marker genes’ now exist that are mostly considered completely harmless, thus allaying these early fears. Furthermore, technology has improved, meaning it now much easier to precisely identify genetically modified organisms.

The GMOs in our food chain are very well tested, and the genetic changes we make often allow us to use much less pesticide or herbicide in the growing of the crop, leading to environmental benefits.  For other crops, like ‘golden rice’ which has extra vitamins, the GM technology is deliberately used to reduce malnutrition and the serious long-term health consequences of poor nutrition in developing countries.

Now we worry much less about possible health risks; the concerns surrounding GMOs are mostly commercial: people worry about how the big biotech companies might monopolise seed supplies or have too much influence.

Answer by Dr Tilly Collins

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Image Source: PetitPlat – Stephanie on Flickr

Article by Tilly Collins

January 20, 2014

Dr Tilly Collins is in the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College London, UK, and also works at Harper Adams University as an Entomologist (creepy crawly specialist). She supports Queens Park Rangers football club.

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