The use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in foods remains a controversial subject. The concerns about modifying genetic material in foods surrounds the uncertainty about the medical implications of consuming foods that have had their DNA changed in a laboratory. One such concern is whether or not there is a link between GMOs and cancer. To understand such a potential connection, it first helps to understand GMOs and why they spark such controversy.
What are GMOs and why are they used?
GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically changed, but many people associate GMOs with foods, namely corn and other grain products. Genes from one species are inserted into another to create a desired trait. This is known as gene splicing. Plants may be modified to be more resistant to drought or harsh conditions. Other genes may be altered to make plants more resilient and resistant to pesticides or certain diseases.
Most commonly altered foods
Certain foods are subject to genetic modification more so than others. Soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, papaya, zucchini, and other squashes are some of the more commonly modified crops. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications also lists alfalfa, chicory, eggplant, flax, potato, rice, sugar beet, and tobacco on its list of GM crops.
Concerns about GMOs
The risks associated with consuming GMOs are largely unknown. According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, researchers have not conclusively confirmed if GMOs increase a person's risk of developing cancer or other diseases. Some experts say the benefits of eating whole grains and vegetables -- even GMO varieties -- outweigh the concerns about GMOs, while others are not so sure.
According to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, French researchers discovered that rats fed genetically engineered corn or those exposed to the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup over a long period suffered premature death and developed mammary tumors while also suffering from kidney and liver damage. Researchers fed rats GM corn or gave them water laced with Roundup at levels allowed in the United States. The research found that even limited exposure to these products produced mammary tumors and led to severe liver and kidney damage, which occurred in as little as four months in males and seven months in females.
Fifty percent of the male rats and 70 percent of the females died earlier than the rats in the control group. The corn studied was Monsanto's NK603 seed, a variety developed to live through heavy dosings of pesticide. Roundup is a pesticide that plants can consume at levels many toxicologists say could cause harm to humans.
More research is necessary to confirm or debunk any suspected link between GMOs and cancer, and even then it may be difficult to weed out risks between brands, foods and types of modification. People concerned about GMOs can eat organic foods or GMO-free foods.