5 Myths About GMOs That You Probably Believed Were True

Flickr / MaxiuB
Flickr / MaxiuB

Ah, Genetically Modified Organisms: Chances are, you probably have an opinion on these. Chances are, it’s probably also a negative one, according to a recent poll that found that a majority of the American public thinks GMOs are unsafe to eat. Lots of people want it banned in North America to boot.

Why the bad rap? A lot of people are worried that GMOs are the bane of modern food. They’ve been genetically engineered into a ‘frankenfood,’ how could they not be? Turns out, most of the reasons why people are afraid of GMOs are completely unfounded. Let’s take a look at 5 common myths.

1. GMOs cause tumors in animals

Anyone who’s googled ‘Why GMOs are bad’ will know about this one. As the story goes, a study was once published in 2012 that found that rats fed Monsanto GM products developed huge crazy tumors all over their bodies, blah, blah, blah. Needless to say, everyone flipped the fuck out. Every anti-GMO group on the planet was citing this one, and they still do today. So what’s the problem with it?

First off, it was one study. Secondly, the scientific journal that published it later retracted it due to poor study design. And thirdly, the rats used in the study are a kind of rat that has a whopping 70-80% chance of naturally developing cancer in the course of their lifetimes. This study has been rejected and criticized so heavily by the scientific community that it’s really not even worth talking about anymore. So let’s stop talking about it.

2. They cause negative health effects in humans

But who really cares whether or not GMOs cause cancer in rats? We want to know if GMOs hurt us. Do they make us sick? Do they mess around with our DNA? Will they kill me along with everyone I’ve ever known and loved?

Well, luckily they don’t do any of those things. Not just gonna take my word for it? Alright, fine. Take the word from the World Health Organization, The American Medical Association, The Royal Society of Medicine, The European Commission, along with hundreds of other independent research institutions…I could go on and on with this. Over 2000 independent studies that have examined this issue all arrive at the same conclusion: There is absolutely, positively, no reason to believe that GMOs will hurt you.

3. GMOs are less healthy than eating Organic

Now some of you may be thinking: “Surely organic food – the holy grail of all foods – must be healthier, right?” Sorry organic lovers, the answer is ‘no’ again.

Now before you guys infuriatingly shout at the screen, let me just admit that there are valid reasons to eat organic, but eating them because you think they’re more nutritious is not one of them. Tons of studies have shown that there is virtually no nutritional difference between organic foods and GMOs. None. They’re not any better or worse for you than GM crops, so if you’re paying more for organic because you think it’s healthier, then you may want to reconsider.

4. GMOs create a buildup of ‘toxins’ in your body

Oh boy, where to begin with this one. I guess let’s start by defining the term ‘toxins’ – oh wait, that’s right, we can’t. Why? Because ‘toxins’ is an unbelievably vague, overused term that is completely devoid of any real scientific meaning. Please, for the love of God, stop saying this word.

But let’s give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that this ‘buildup of toxins’ is referring to the supposed buildup of GMO pesticides in our bodies when we eat them. First of all, it is true that some pesticides have been determined to be ‘probably carcinogenic’, as the World Health Organization was reported stating here.

Hold on though; this doesn’t mean that we’re all dying a slow, silent death from eating pesticides. It all depends on how much we consume. Fucking water can kill you if you drink too much of it, and so can literally anything else. There’s a difference between being in the middle of a field that’s sprayed with pesticides, and eating a GM apple that has some trace amounts of pesticide residue on it. So how much pesticides are we consuming when we eat GMOs? Turns out, it’s way, way below the threshold at which it becomes harmful to humans. So no, eating small amounts of leftover pesticides on GMOs probably won’t kill you either. Notice a common trend here?

5. Organic food is better for the environment than GMOs

I’m not going to say that this is completely untrue, but it’s probably a lot less true than most people think. While there’s some evidence to suggest that GMOs can cause problems with the environment in terms of pesticide runoff, lack of genetic diversity, etc., there are still bigger environmental issues out there; namely, the destruction of natural habitats for agricultural production.

We’ve all heard about how we’re cutting down the rainforests, and how this is threatening countless species worldwide. So I think all of us can agree that trying to preserve as many natural habitats as possible is really important, right? “Yes, of course!” Awesome! Now hold that thought for a second.

One of the main reasons why the vast majority of modern agriculture involves using GMOs is because GMO farms tend to yield around 20% more crops than organic fields. That means that organic farms would require 20% more land to produce the same amount of crops. That means that we’d need to cut down and destroy 20% more natural habitats than we already do if we were to switch over to organic farming as our primary source of food. So if we want to feed a constantly growing global population, while also minimizing our destruction of natural ecosystems, organic farms are not the way to go.

Let’s stop freaking out about this

Europe has banned GMOs to some extent, and a lot of people want them banned here in North America too. These drastic actions aren’t based on scientific facts; they’re based on misinformed public pressure. There’s no evidence to suggest GMOs hurt you, and there’s no evidence to suggest organic food is better for you either. It’s understandable that people are wary of corporate greed in this industry, and it’s also understandable that people are wary of an emerging science that modifies the food we eat. But the potential benefits of genetically inserting desired traits into our food, especially in a world that keeps getting hotter and more densely populated, are immense.

Perhaps there are some hidden, unknown long-term negative effects of GMOs on our health; it’ll be a while before we know with 100% certainty. But to outright ban GMOs on the premise of a big (and I mean big) ‘what if’ could be a travesty. Let’s cut GMOs some slack, and give them a shot to prove their worth. And who knows? Maybe something crazy will happen and we’ll all actually end up liking them. TC mark


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