Are You Afraid of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

November 4, 2014   56 Comments

I have chosen to be silent on this issue for a variety of reasons.

Fear of GMO

I like to remain peaceful and friendly. The topic of GMOs tends to make people frustrated, fearful, and argumentative. I hope we can remain respectful of each other’s opinions.

Another reason my lips have been sealed is that I am a trained biologist in the field of genetics. I have actually genetically modified bacteria in a laboratory as part of my job. Obviously, if I thought it was an evil thing to do, I wouldn’t have done it.

There may be a bunch of political and economic reasons to be against GMOs but I want to talk about food safety and whether the label “Non-GMO” is important to your health.

Probably all of the food you eat is genetically modified.

Almost all of the animals and plants used for food have been genetically modified by humans. We chose to breed apples that are bigger, cows that produce more milk, and wheat that produces many pounds per acre. Selective breeding has been going on since before recorded history.

But, this wouldn't be the "FrankenFoods" that everyone is afraid of (or we would all starve to death).

Genetically modified organisms (as defined by the labels on food), are plants or animals that have their genome altered by a modern technology (versus selective breeding). These techniques started in the 1970’s – much after the start of recorded history.

The reasons for using molecular techniques in crops are varied. Reducing pesticide use, increasing yield, drought resistance, and adding nutrients (such as adding vitamin A to rice) are all reasons scientists add or delete genes.

What do these genetic changes mean to your health? I would argue that since the genetic material moves through your gut (acid, acid, acid) - it would never make it into your cells (altering you). You digest it into wee particles that cannot hurt you.

From Scientific American:

….people have consumed as many as trillions of meals containing genetically modified ingredients over the past few decades. Not a single verified case of illness has ever been attributed to the genetic alterations.

Of course, maybe there have been unverified cases but I think there are much more SCARY and pressing issues than GMO’s in our food system.

What do I think is cause for concern? E. Coli tainted food is a big fear of mine. I cook my meat to the correct temperatures and stay away from steam tables at cut-rate buffets. I wash my vegetables, my cutting boards, and my hands.

Yes, I am afraid of antibiotic resistant E. Coli (10-20 thousand cases per year) and if you are not taking precautions against this potentially deadly bacterium – you should (CDC recommendations for prevention of E. Coli infection).

I do agree that genetically altering a plant or animal sounds like "playing God". But, the results are nothing to fear.

What do you think of GMOs? Do you avoid them?

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Around six months ago I began eating only organic/natural foods,nothing with GMO's Since than my diabetes and blood pressure have become within healthy range. I don't think it is just GMOs but I can't help but think that GMOs were part of the problem.

Good morning, Lisa,

Would love your take on what the genetically modified plants are doing in the field. Lots of reports on that, which also has to do with our eating in the future!! Thank you for thinking on this.


Very well said.

I think you have presented a balanced approach to where we find ourselves in food production. We have to survive lots of marketing and make the best choices for ourselves, so keep it realistic and simple.

Thank you for a reasonable and measured response to the GMO question. If it were not for Generically Modified food in the U.S., we would not be able to feed our population. And you correctly point out the consumption of genetically modified foods have never been linked to any illness, I think that the mass marketing machine has generated an unfounded hysteria, based on bad science and terms like "Franken food" I agree that antibiotic resistant e.coli and other foodborne pathogens present a much greater threat to our current food supply.And to answer your question, no I do not avoid products that are produced from GMO's and believe that it is unrealistic to think you can avoid GMO's in the US.

I appreciate your non-partisan opinion. However, to say that we would not be able to feed our population without GMO's is a reach. There is documented proof by those against GMO's that shows crop production of GMO's is not higher than non-GMO's and in some cases, significantly less.

I would also argue that as a society, we did not have the level of food allergies 50 years ago, that we have today. I am a school teacher and in EVERY class I have, I have one student or another who has some kind of food allergy (peanuts, berries, shellfish, etc). Something has drastically changed in our food supply.

Lastly, proponents of GMO's always say that GMO's are safe and there is nothing to worry about, yet want to restrict my rights to know if my food is made with GMO's. If your product is as safe as you say it is, allow labeling and allow the consumer to make that decision.

It is awfully arrogant of man to think we can do a better job than Mother Nature.

I second everything Phillip said. However for me it's _mostly_ not a fear of GMOs, but a fear of the pesticides they allow, like with the new "agent orange" crops. Hard to tell which factor causes what, honestly, but it's pretty clear that at least a lot of the pesticides are awful for the earth and for us, so I stick to organic when I can.

Genetic modification and pesticide use are two distinct issues. (In fact, genetic modification has led to less use of pesticides in some types cases.) If you wish to avoid pesticides,educate yourself, you can reduce pesticide expose in those fruits and vegetables that the chemical can get into the flesh through buying organic and wash your fruits and vegetables before consumption.

I'm not afraid of GMO food ingredients. But I am afraid of what the modification is. Roundup ready corn seed doesn't sound like something I want my body to have to figure out how to digest. Added hormones, pesticides, herbicides and who knows what else are not meant to be in everything we eat. Not to mention, the gmo seed is proprietary to the big business that created it. Thereby making it illegal for the farmer to save some of "his"seed to plant next year. This just makes big business bigger and the small farmer smaller.

I also agree that all foods with GMO's should be labeled. Let the consumer decide.

Yes, could you comment on what you think of Round-up ready corn and BT modified corn?

Cross breeding is different from gene-splicing.

I do wonder whether genetic modification is causing the foods we eat to trigger the food allergy phenomenon today. One of my children has a life-threatening peanut allergy, the other child has oral allergy syndrome and reacts to many foods. We adopted both children, so they do not share genes, but something in their environments or birth parents' genes has set them up for this. Could it be the foods we have 'created' through science?

I wholeheartedly agree with Margaret about the "big business" (Monsanto, Cargill, ADM controlling our food supply through their "patented" GMO creations, even to the point of suing family farms whose fields are accidently pollinated by neighboring GMO crops. I am also concerned about the effect these crops have on the rest of the environment. Some studies suggest that plants that have been genetically engineered pesticides may be the reason for the die-off of our honeybees - which could have a devastating effect on our food supply.

So many people are getting Cancer and Thyroid disease today that because GMO's are ingested by everyone I feel it is possible it could be one of the causes.

No. Not afraid of GMO foods. I also don't worry about buying "organic" foods.

I'm not bothered by other people's opinions on that topic, even if their opinion is not mine. Everyone has the right to believe how they wish and buy foods that meet their personal needs.

Also, the profit-motivated engineering of crops to produce sterile seeds so that farmers need to buy new every year is IMO, a recipe for potential disaster and possible famine

I'm more concerned with the type of pesticides used vs GMO's. I do wonder if it's the pesticides or gmo's or maybe even something else that we are doing different with the production of our foods that is contributing to the influx of allergies and/or food sensitivities. I'm 37 & I don't ever recall hearing of anyone close to me having gluten sensitivies or peanut allergies. Maybe they did exist then as well but it wasn't as sensationalized to a point to where my school would forbid nuts & products containing nuts.

As a few others have already mentioned,I do agree GMO's should be labeled for those that may want to know. As simeone said before if there is nothing wrong with GMO's why be so defensive in not labeling it as such?

Never really thought about whether or not I am geting GMO's in my diet. I suppose I am because I use a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables when I cook my food the old-fashioned way (takes time) and use as little processed food (takes no time) as possible in my diet.

I think genetically modified foods should be labeled so that people can make the decision to buy them or not without having to thoroughly research a company. If there is nothing wrong with them, they shouldn't have a problem with people knowing. I never thought about gmos in relation to the rise in food allergies until I read some of the previous comments. Does anyone know if there is a higher percentage of people with allergies or is just a higher number? The population has grown exponentially even in the last half century. I'm most concerned about how the body digests gmos vs. non-modified food and the decline in the honey bee population.

Personally, my issue with GMO is less of a nutrition one and more of an environmental one. GMO can be a good thing and there are several products created that are beneficial. However, the typical use of GMOs in the US tend to be less towards increasing health benefits and more towards increasing crop yields.

Please watch this movie, OMG GMOs, and then tell us what you think. We are avoiding GMOs whenever possible as a result of research shown in this movie as well as the economic implications created by GMO seed for poor countries:…

I will be watching for your review. I checked it out from our local library.

We try to eat as local and organic as possible. As for GMOs the only thing I'm afraid of are the fact that they are coated with pesticides and herbicides. :(

Well said, Lisa, you said (much more articulately) a lot of what I have been thinking about GMOs, which is why I have also stayed silent on the topic

Thank you for this sane, evidenced based blog on GMO's. I am a left wing democrat. I am a liberal. I also believe in science. I am all about the environment and doing what is best but I can't find any peer reviewed/scientific method studied research to proof GMO's are the big bad food of our time. Everything I find is based on fear mongering and politics.

Genetic modification has been around for decades.

Anytime one rosebush is modified or grafted with another a new type of rose is born.

I have no fear of GMO. Half the world is starving and I am sure they would be grateful for any kind of food modified or not. In fact, genetics may help to feed starving populations now and in the near future.

There is no substantial, reliable or valid scientific research proving GMO is a bad thing.

GMO is helping to prevent the use of pesticides and herbicides. Depleted soil and processed food is more responsible for disease than anything else in my opinion. Most people are deficient in many vitamins especially vitamin D3 and magnesium which is a problem because of bad nutrition, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption that deplete the body of vital nutrients.

Thanks for thoughtful response on GMOs. If anyone is interested there is a lot more information here:

I agree with the pro-labeling crowd and am against GMOs as of today. Mostly I distrust corporate America looking out for our best interests as evidenced by tax loopholes for the wealthy, bailouts for banks, crippling student debt, starving children, poor healthcare, etc., etc., etc. 60 developed countries can't all be wrong.

Good topic but so huge and insidious it would be hard to flesh it all out. I do look at cross hybridization and even gene-splicing as positive for improved end-products but not to include herbicides or pesticides, killing bees, worms, etc. I put my trust in Mother Nature before profit hungry corporations any day. :)

I try to avoid GMOs as much as possible. I know the science but am still not convinced of their safety. I also think herbicides are not applied as judiciously if the crop is herbicide resistant. As a Registered Dietitian, mom, and consumer, I think food should be labeled so that everyone can make an informed decision. Honestly, if today it was discovered that GMOs prevented cancer or diabetes, tomorrow every GMO food or food product would be labeled, no fuss required.

What a great discussion on GMOs. The question, 'why are there so many autoimmune diseases now' - with more and more being diagnosed yearly - should be discussed because the list is continuing to grow. You can check it out on this link. I was diagnosed with 3 of them about 5 years ago and I know many others that have been diagnosed as well.…

People today do not use the term GMO to mean "natural plant selection to produce sweeter corn" they use it to mean "insert fish gene into corn".

And, you say that the acid in your stomach will kill all the GMO, but then go on to say you are afraid of E.Coli, which is NOT destroyed by the (acid, acid, acid) in your stomach. It is not "digested into wee particles that cannot hurt you".

So.. if one thing can make it through the digestive process what makes you think that the other could not as well?

Bacteria are living things - and like viruses - they cross the mucus membranes (think mouth) and infect us. The genetic material in plants is not alive and ends up in our stomachs where it is dissolved.

Our food system is a mess and hardly resembles natural or healthy. You can make healthy choices, without information you cannot make informed choices. Food industry leaders state it be a significant financial hardship to label products with content and will pass along the cost to consumers. Interestingly Organic products not only label products with USDA & NON GMO they pay a very high premium for the "right" to label a product stating ingredients it does not have. Reforms which required calories, fat and sodium content labeled did not send the food industry into a tailspin, just additional alpha. I hope your spin on this travesty is not due to add sponsorship. Cancer, deadly allergies, antibiotic resistant bacteria are at alarming rates. We are being told antibiotic resistance is not due to the heavy dosing of antibiotics given to livestock; so animals survive the deplorable conditions they are forced to exist in. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicide usage has significantly increased since the introduction of GMO; not lessened. If we are doing a great job with GMO why is more than 1/2 of the world still starving. If we are what we eat I suggest we eat food that is real not modified, processed or sprayed. If consumers agree with you that GMO's are not a health risk they can continue to consume it. We should at the very least have the right to that not our GOD given right. As for me and my family we eat real food.

I echo the sentiments of some above: gene splicing or even simple grafting a la Luther Burbank style versus pesticides incorporated, these are two different issues. I also would like to hear your views on this, as well as the "terminator" type behavior of the Monsanto seeds. I believe the latter is detrimental to our society and health.

Any post that is sponsored is labelled as such via FTC guidelines. I was not paid to write about GMOs today - I merely wanted to share my opinion as many readers have asked me for it.

Thanks for this post Lisa, I too am a trained molecular biologist and don't understand the panic about GMOs, but like you don't like to say too much as it is such a divisive topic.

Unfortunately Lisa, When you bring up the topic GMO's you can be sure it will turn into a heated discussion because people are scared. Cancer/Thyroid disease, Diabetis and many other diseases are showing up in quantity these days and people want answers. Please do not take it personally. :)

There is a more-than-significant difference between cross-breeding animals and infusing plants with bacteria/pesticide/etc. The use of pesticides by non-organic farmers will NEVER stop. And, what goes ON the soil goes INTO the soil.

As for poor countries, they now DECRY the use of GMO seeds, saying they have ruined their soilk, which is does for years. And riddle me this, please - why have so many European countries BANNED THE USE OF GMO ingredients?

You say it's a personal decision. Well, I think it needs to be an intelligent, informed decision with all the truth out there. Bacteria in a lab is one thing. Not telling me what's in the food I eat is quite another.

I stand with FOODBABE and all the realistic people who are willing to make drastic and dramatic changes in their eating habits.

At the very least, Snack Girl, surely you agree we have the right to know what is in our food.

Thumbs up to Montissa....we should ALWAYS have the right to know what we are buying and eating!

You are brain washed to believe GMO is safe. Or are in denial???

Honestly don't even pay attention. When there is real scientific proof that it is a problem then I might.

I've been hearing that altered wheat causes bloat and stomach problems even gluten sensitivity I use wheat flats and tortillas but am wondering if they really do cause weight gain and health problems

Thank you - this is one of the many reason i love Snack Girl. Somebody who understands that Genetically Enginered or Alterd is more important! THANK YOU!

Also, I would like to comment on a part of this that I particularly find Monsanto is arresting farmers for the age-old tradition of seed washing and reusing the next generation of seeds.

What world is this acceptable in?…

Sorry, this information got under my skin more than any of the health issues. Not many people know about it however.

I agree with you completely. Happy to hear a qualified opinion and not just jump on the bandwagon naysayers.

I wonder if it would be possible to genetically modify a peanut so people would no long be allergic to them?

I avoid GMO's like the plague! I am a very active (and I thought healthy) 47 year old that has been diagnosed with 3 different types of cancer in the past 10 years. I changed my diet almost 3 yrs ago to vegetarian. I do my very best to buy all organic, non-GMO foods for myself and my family. My belief is that there are so many people finding they have either allergies, digestive problems, cancers, or other unexplained ailments that have been caused by something environmental. I don't live withy head in the sand! I know there are lots of different reasons for health problems, not just the GMO's in our food, but I am doing what I can to ensure the health and well being of my family, as I know many other people do.

In the U.S. we don't demand PROOF that foods are safe BEFORE we ingest them. In contrast, Europe has adopted more of a Precautionary Principle that says show me scientific evidence that something is safe BEFORE you sneak it into food I make for myself or my family. Unfortunately, in the U.S. companies won't even let us KNOW and CHOOSE for ourselves. Instead, companies like Monsanto have spent tens of millions to prevent labeling (yes, Business Week Oct. 20-26, 2014, page 31, reported Monsanto and Dupont spent $46 million just to defeat a ballot measure in 2012 in California, for example, that would have require food labeling--just to let us KNOW and CHOOSE for ourselves). Why don't we require testing FIRST, and only when and if science finds long term use is probably safe, accept specific GMOs? Why are companies afraid of labeling? And are we really worried about not having enough food in the U.S.? Doesn't this entire website because most of us indulge in too much food? I'd like to know for sure via scientific testing, long-term, that GMOs as well as other first additives and various chemicals in plastics, etc., are NOT linked to rises in autism, or other health issues before they're inside of us. No one can really say they aren't because we don't have the science! Unfortunately, some science has found chemicals that we were given were harmful such a BHA, and Europe on the basis of largely U.S. science forbade it's use (while the U.S. continued to allow it in plastics, etc.). It's a bit crazy. I'm not anti-tech, but I am for the Precautionary Principle.

I appreciate your perspective on the issue based on your background, but must agree with some other posts. If it's completely safe, why the fight to keep them hush hush? If we were all educated with factual information to show they are safe, it shouldn't matter one way or another if it's labeled as such. I find it increasingly difficult to believe the number of autoimmune diseases, food allergies/sensitivities nowadays are not related to the food/chemicals/pesticides we are being exposed to. I understand our population has increased substantially, but 20-30 years ago, cancer was a dreaded disease, but one few people battled. In the last 10 years, I can say it's affected a vast majority of people I know. I don't believe that's coincidence.

Thank you for this very rational approach to this topic. While I am not "afraid" of GMO's, I do believe that it is the people's right to know what their food consists of. Therefore, labeling them would at least give individuals the choice when they purchase.

My dad is obsessed with avoiding GMO to the point of yelling at me to put back a bag of greenhouse grown non-GMO (it was LABELED as non-GMO and non-pesticide) bellpeppers just because it doesn't have "Organic" label on it, and then he proceeds to rail at me about how all bellpeppers that are not green are automatically genetically modified (which is true as you said, because selective breeding can be seen as a form of genetically modified organism, but i'm pretty sure he was thinking of the current definition of GMO). He has some really strange ideas in his freakin head. I bought the damned bell peppers anyway.

That said, I do buy organic when I can for certain things, particularly meats and eggs (mainly to avoid the antibiotics and hormones in them). I also go to farmer's market a lot to get my fresh fruits and veggies when I can. However one thing i realized about farmer's market is that you don't actually know if these farmers are using pesticide and/or hormones or not. The idea of buying from small farms it to support local produce and small farmers and also to eat cleanly/organically without the organic label (because it cost a lot to get that USDA approved Organic label and most small farmers don't have the money for that), HOWEVER i realized that unless you grill every farmer, YOU CAN NEVER KNOW IF THEY RAISE THEIR CROPS/ANIMALS ORGANICALLY OR NOT. For example the one farmer who sell eggs, i asked him if his eggs are organic and he said no. No explanation, just no. Since he wasn't willing to explain, that kind of rang some alarm bells in my head and I realized that just because he's a small farmer doesn't mean he's not cooping his chicken up and feeding them hormones and antibiotics the same way that big farms/business do.

That said, I now buy my eggs from costco that are guaranteed to be organic.

In any case, i don't really bother with buying organic for some produce, while i do buy organics for others. Prices easily double for anything that's labeled organic, and I see no reason to buy, say, organic avocados or organic bananas since 1) they're not commonly GMOs and 2) you peel the skin so you there won't be pesticides anyway (unless the pesticide really burrows deep).

All things in moderation, in my head this applies to all things including the fanaticism over GMO/organic as well!

Side note, I started eating much healthier since about 2 years ago (such as eating organic, and cooking for myself), and then 1.5 years ago I developed acute asthma. Otherwise I'm healthy (but i'm also relatively young). So in my case, eating healthy/organic really did nothing for my health sadly, so that argument that eating organic helps with allergies/health problems doesn't really hold for everyone...

To get an opinion from the other side of the tracks try going to We can all have our own opinions but in the end if we destroy our food supply no one will be able to go back and undo what untested things did to our livelyhood.

The problems with GMO food:

1) These scientists remove the portion of a gene from on living thing, say a bacterium, and insert it in another, say a sugar beet. Unsettling.

2) The industry is desperate to conceal the extent to which they are in the food we eat. Suspicious.

3) Due to government subsidy policies, most soy and corn grown in the US is GMO. Most of it used to create some of those unpronounceable substances in processed food. The problem is not the presence of some GMO food in your diet; it is the extent of that presence and the inability, through the secretive action of the food industry, of the consumer to gauge his or her exposure.

Conclusion: the ingestion of GMO food is unavoidable. All one can hope for is to reduce exposure.

Jeanine, I actually get Food Babe e-mail and I agree with you. Thanks

Foods that are GMO free can be labelled - I just assume everything has foodstuffs that have been modified and had some exposure to pesticides, fungicides, mildicides or herbicides unless I'm told they are not. I see no advantage to labelling food as containing GMOs, just raises the cost for everyone - especially the poor - which would reduce their chances for good nutrition. Yes, genetic modification is used to increase crop yields in some way at lower cost - otherwise there would be no market for it. Increased yield keep food costs low - just look at the price premium for organic products to see how much. Without some clear linkage to health or environmental problems, it would be a grave wrong to reduce the worlds food supply out of fear or the profit concerns of organic growers.

To Laurie:

I'm happy that you're doing better, but this kind of "evidence" is not helpful to the discussion. There could be a dozen reasons why your diabetes and blood pressure are improved. Scientific testing is the only way to reliable way of establishing what is safe and what is not, and so far not a single study has shown GMOs to be harmful in any way.

I've read enough about GM & GMOs to know I don't choose to be in the US Study of its safety. There is no oversight on food safety anymore; its a terrible joke on us. Corporations bribe, aka lobby, our elected officials to do anything they want to improve their profits. Many people know it and work to make changes.

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