It’s not science fiction: Genetically modified (GM) food has been on the market for twenty-two years. Nonetheless, debates about safety for human consumption are far from settled. The World Health Organization has outlined the major concerns addressed in GM food safety testing, namely allergenicity, gene transfer within humans, and outcrossing between plants.
In the PBS documentary Harvest of Fear, Hugh Grant (Scottish CEO of Monsanto, not the English charmer from Four Weddings and a Funeral), states that extensive food safety testing has been done and the GMO issues we face in the 21st century are more about environmental impact than human health. Other experts, including Jane Rissler, PhD, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, argues that a lack of GM labeling in the US and in other countries makes it impossible to track food safety issues back to a GM food source.
Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that food allergies in US children nearly doubled between 1997 and 2011. No one can really say why allergies are on the rise in the US. Concerns about allergenicity make GM food safety testing a hot market these days, one that labs are scrambling to keep up with. Others are addressing allergies head on, like Soheila J. Maleki, PhD and her team at the USDA Agriculture Research Service, who are processing peanuts in a steam tabletop autoclave to reduce their allergenicity.
People are not only more conscious of what they eat these days, but also where their food comes from. GM food safety testing and allergen research will hopefully soon stem the tide of rising food allergies in the US.
[Photo credit: Gabriel Hess, CC BY 2.0]