gmoLast month, we asked whether you thought Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) should be banned in Europe. Most of your comments argued that, yes, GMOs posed a public health-risk and should be banned immediately. Not everybody, however, was quite so hostile. Sacha, for example, left a comment arguing that:

[...] If you eat, let’s say, a chicken, you don’t incorporate the animal’s DNA into yours! And the industrial food we eat has already been genetically modified by cross fertilisation without being labeled as GMO…

But what can really be dangerous is the chemicals ingested with food, like pesticides or additives, which may change your OWN genes, in addition to their carcinogenic properties, or their effects on reproduction. Surprisingly, GMO opponents totally overlook these aspects…

Indeed, a recent study suggests that some GM crops might even have health benefits and be good for the environment, because they use less pesticides and allow natural insect predators to thrive. So, are GM foods really a danger to public health?

On its website, the World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies two potential public health risks from GM foods:

  1. The potential to provoke alergic reactions (“allergenicity”)
  2. The possibility that genes could be transferred from food into cells in the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract (“gene transfer”). In other words, whilst eating a chicken won’t turn you into a chicken, might there be a risk that individual genes will be incorporated?

The WHO points out that GM foods are all tested for allergenicity (whilst most foods developed through traditional methods are not), and that “no allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market“. In terms of gene transfer, the WHO doesn’t dismiss the possibility completely, but advises that the probability of transfer is low. The WHO concludes that:

GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.

In our last post on GMOs, this is essentially what the two MEPs we interviewed told us: there are reasons to be cautious about GMOs, but health risks are not chief among them. Nevertheless, in the comments, health concerns seemed to be the number one reason you distrusted GMOs.

Last month, Debating Europe attended an event organised by our partner think-tank, Friends of Europe, on the rise of the bio-based economy. We spoke to Dutch social democrat MEP Judith Merkies and asked her to react to some of your comments. We began with a comment from Vicente, who suggested a problem with GMOs that was unrelated to potential health risks:

Genetically modified food is only a problem because behind them are Dow Chemical and other big corporations that could tie-up farmers to them. If genetically modified foods did not have patents and were free for all, I would not have a problem at all.

We put this comment to Judith Merkies MEP for her response. She answered that the real problem was not so much one of patents, but rather the problem of feeding the rapidly growing population of Earth (predicted to eventually reach, and perhaps even exceed, nine billion people). However, she questioned whether we really need GMOs to accomplish this, or whether simply changing our diets so they include less meat might make GMOs irrevelant.

Ultimately, though, isn’t it best to let consumers themselves choose which approach they prefer? Kali, for example, argued that:

Everything should be appropriately labeled so we can choose; until then, stick to organics, and fight to keep organic food standards tough.

Would this solve the problem, by letting people themselves decide whether they supported GMOs in the supermarkets? Judith Merkies MEP agreed, and argued that: “We must be critical and not believe all the dreams that we are usually exposed to by all kinds of advertorials about nano or bio or everything new.”

What do YOU think? Do people understand the science behind GMOs? And do we need GMOs to meet the challenges of a growing population? Or would cutting down on our consumption of meat make GMOs uneccessary? Perhaps, through strict food-labelling, it should be down to individual consumers to decide what they prefer? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: Creative Commons – John Leach

29 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Wojciech Witkowski

    i think EU should avoid genetically modified products and do not listen to Monsanto and other giant companies who have interests in forcing GM food in Europe!

  2. Samo Košmrlj

    Definitely we should cut down the consumption of meat, and we could drastically increase the amount of food available to people. Another big bonus would be a big decrease of the usage of growth hormones and antibiotics and other chemicals, used in production of food for animals. A very important aspect of the meat production is, that all the medicines, consumed by animals, are then transferred to human bodies, and those medicines mimic the chemical properties of human hormones, or they block the normal functions of human body. Thats one of the reasons for increasing number of deformed children.

  3. Karl Haro von Mogel

    Genetic engineering is not going to solve all of the world’s, or the EU’s production problems, nor will social and political campaigns to reduce meat consumption. These issues need to stop being thought of in an either-or battle of the silver bullets. The EU needs a whole range of tools and approaches to meeting its food needs and environmental goals, and genetic engineering is one such useful tool. Bt maize and cotton, for instance, has a higher yield and requires fewer insecticides to grow. Drought tolerance and other environmental stress tolerances are near on the horizon, which will become more important as the Earth continues to warm.
    Finally, Europe is experiencing a ‘brain drain’ to other countries with its restrictive policies on this technology. When public and political sentiments change, EU countries may be playing catch-up while paying companies in other countries for the technologies being developed there – that could have been developed in the EU. Something to think about.

  4. Carmela M. Asero

    No. And especially not GMO with royalties and licences. We want to be free to share a seed or plant something without abiding to and paying Monsanto and Co.

  5. Kurt Koenig

    Well, even mother nature itself modifies food genetically. It can be a chance for poor countries. If potatoes can grow without being eaten by insects…

  6. Eusebio Manuel Vestias Pecurto

    Queremos ser livres de semear sementes e plantar e forçar as grandes multinacionáis a não aumentar a sua produção os alimentos geneticamente modificados

  7. CESARO

    NO !

    GMO are making problems about economy, biodiversity, public health, environment and freedom

    About economy
    => GMO seeds are supposed to be more expensive and more efficient than organic seeds. Reality is different !
    India is a famous case about that ! Indian government promoted GMO to farmers and Mosanto reduced prices to be more attractive. Then farmers discovered that GMO seeds were not as efficient as expected and, because it is more profitable, Mosanto increased price of GMO seeds. Because of exclusive rights of GMO and bad efficiency of GMO, farmers were not able to pay. Several Indian regions are stricken !

    About biodiversity
    => GMO pollens contaminate organic plants.
    Mexico is a good example. This country banned GMO in order to preserve richness of their corn crops. Researchers from Mexico university proved that Mexico fields were contamined by American corn pollen. This contamination can reduce yields and biotechnology companies can demand to pay royalties.
    => Generalized use of the same GMO doesn’t promote diversity of agriculture.
    Evolutionnisme is saying that diversity is the best response to find an adapted species to resist in a hostil environment

    About public health
    => GMO are dangerous for next generations.
    Several laboratories showed that the rate of malformations is more important in animal groups eating GMO. This risk is real for humans too.
    => We creat monsters with GMO
    We created tuna 10 times bigger than a normal one ! Some GMO can produce their own pesticide againt insect. An American team of researchers found a new species of this insect which can resist to the pesticide. And now, we want find a pesticide more powerful !?

    About environment
    => Farmers are using more pesticide in GMO fields.
    Experiments showed that. Indeed, because farmers know that GMO can resist to the poison, they release more pesticide on the field than before

    About freedom
    => biopiracy from biotechnology companies
    India (again) is a good example. A big company submited a patent about a tree species in order to get royalties from Indian people who were using that as a fertilizer. Indian organizations needed to find 300 years-old texts to prove that Indian farmers used this tree essence before the patent of this company

    If you want I can continue… Now how can we feed the world ? Reduce size of fields, promote three-yearly crops, combine different species by biological ways (not artificially as GMO)…

    Thanks if you were able to read me until there.

    Have a good night !

  8. Nikolai Holmov

    Quite honestly my objection to them is moral.

    If GMO goes ahead in Europe it must be clearly labeled so I can avoid it.

    Simple!

  9. Greece B+ Hub

    No GMO! We should do exactly the opposite. More organic – biological food, more local and smaller production to assure a healthier way of life. Think that with all the cancers & other illnesses on the rise that we now know that the best medicine is prevention & many things can be prevented with a healthier diet & lifestyle.

  10. Ray Winter

    For 10000 years, the people of the world have eaten grains from tall stemmed wheat. In the last 20 years Monsanto developed short stemmed grain and we have also seen in that time-frame a substantial increase in people suffering from the effects of gluten in their diet and a substantial increase in their waist sizes. Clearly there needs to be much more analysis before we pay a company for grain seed that may well be the root cause of damage to people’s health.

  11. Eric David Bosne

    I’m ok to take the risk of eating GMO if this means that everybody will have food. But by know we waste 1/3 of all food that is produced. Until we manage to reduce this waste and organise ourselves do distribute the food effectively, I say no to GMO.

  12. Kostas

    I don’t trust anything genetically modified

  13. Tatjana Pocrnic

    no, defnitely not! Take my country for instance, there are numerous agricultural possibilities of ecological planting and meat production, I am only afraid what our corrupt politicians could do to get personal gain from big GMO producers….

  14. Vencislav Milushev

    Good and useful food is the organic food which is grown in a natular way- mixture of good soil, sun and water without the intervention of the dangerous genetic engineering which main goal is the high profits of the monopoly of these foods.GMO is a time bomb in the body that causes serious diseases and uvreyda human body…!!!

  15. Guy WEETS

    GMO in general and more particularly Monsanto maize may be the new thalidomide, it will strike us and our children in the coming 20 years perhaps. In the mean time billions € profit will be made

  16. Christos Mouzeviris

    if you are what you eat, then what will it become of us, if we start eating lab foods? we have already a high number of cancer and other diseases, that may be linked to our diet… manufactured diet, with preservatives, canned, machine made, full of unnatural ingredients.. E111, E124, E130 and so on.. keep our food real natural healthy and tasty..We do not have to produce fake meat, we only need to change our diet to “feed the world” and solve the food crisis.. We do not need to eat meat everyday, so stop the expansion of fast foods chains like McDonalds that promote meat eating, burgers and easy eating… We are becoming lazy in our eating habits because of these food chains and we binge eat.. Go back to eating meat a couple of times a week, once a week eat fish and then salads vegetables and other foods.. and so there is no need for “lab” foods at all…who knows what their consequences be on our health in the future? have we tested them?

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