GMO Feeds are Safe for Animals, Meat Safe for Humans

macdonaldDr. Ruth MacDonald, Professor and Chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over the past year, there has been resurgence in discussion about the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the food supply. Stuck in the middle are consumers trying to figure out whether they should be concerned about GMO food and if so, why.

People want to know that food is safe and wholesome and many don’t really understand what a GMO is and how it gets into their food. I don’t have room here to explain GMO technology, but www.gmoanswers.com is a great resource. For consumers, the important message is that GMO-derived foods and food ingredients taste, look and provide the same nutritional value as non-GMO foods. This has been well documented by the agency responsible for the safety of food: the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There is substantial scientific evidence that food and food ingredients derived from GMO technology are safe for human and animal consumption. The key words in that statement are ‘substantial’ and ‘scientific evidence’. The way science works is that many people carry out research to address a question or problem. These researchers will ask slightly different questions, use different approaches, study designs and models. Their results are then submitted for review by their peers and, if found worthy, published in journals – generating scientific evidence. One study is never considered definitive and a premise of science is that results must be repeated before concepts or ideas are widely accepted. Hence, in order for scientists to come to consensus on an issue, the body of scientific evidence is collected from a wide range of sources and evaluated for consistent results. This was the process used by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Science in the Public Interest that led each of these organizations to conclude that GMO food and food ingredients are safe for humans and animals based on substantial scientific evidence.

An additional tool that is used to demonstrate safety is through practice. GMO products have been in the US food supply since 1996 – hence we have years of practice that have shown no negative impact on animal or human health. Farm animals, the most carefully monitored animals on the planet, have been raised on GMO corn and soybeans over several generations and there is no evidence of negative effects on growth, reproduction or disease. And there has been no documented case of human illness or allergen associated with GMO foods.

A concern that I have heard raised by consumers is that GMO technology puts foreign DNA into food and that DNA will affect their body when eaten. My first response to this is to remind that all food has DNA – any living material, plant and animal, contains DNA. We eat carrot DNA and strawberry DNA and don’t worry that we will grow carrot noses or strawberry hair, so why would it be that GMO DNA is somehow handled differently? It is not – the DNA in food is broken down to elemental parts through the digestive process and cannot be transferred from the intestine to cells within the body. This is true for human digestion as well as animals. There is no evidence that DNA from food is taken up into the animal – so meat from animals fed GMO grain will not be different from meat from animals fed non-GMO grain – and it would be virtually impossible to distinguish these meat products even with the most sophisticated technologies. So consuming meat, milk and eggs from animals fed GMO grain is completely safe for humans.

Consumers that wish to avoid GMO foods—including if they would like to purchase beef from cattle that were not fed GMO’s—may purchase Organic or Non-GMO labeled foods.

We are fortunate to live in the US where we have the safest, most abundant and varied food supply in the world. We also have a healthy and open system of debate around technology and agriculture. With these gifts, we have the responsibility to ensure our food supply is well managed and can be sustained. Given the challenges ahead, we need all the tools we can get in our toolbox – but we must also use these tools carefully. GMO is one tool that has great potential to advance our food system when used thoughtfully and with oversight. We should not allow fear of scientific technology keep us from using the tools that will help us meet the challenges we face to produce enough safe and wholesome food for ourselves and our future generations.

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