Health Mythbusters: GMO's Edition

By: Jane An

Do GMO's Cause Cancer?

Learning the Facts:

What is a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)?

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NIH) (2004), a GMO is a plant, animal or microbe in which one or more changes have been made to the genome, typically through genetic engineering, in an attempt to alter the characteristics of the organism. They can be used for a variety of purposes, such as creating human insulin, producing fermented beverages, and developing pesticide resistance in crop plants.

More importantly, genetically modified organisms are extremely crucial to scientific advancements because they are used in the laboratory for understanding biological function and disease, according to Dr. Mike Smith at NIH (2024). 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that GMOs have been on the market since the 1990s and are an integral part of our food supply. Most GMO crops are used in food for animals, such as the cow or chicken. There are also some fresh fruits and vegetables available in GMO varieties, but most GMOs that people actually consume are found in packaged foods.

Such foods that are genetically modified are:

  • Corn
  • Soybeans
  • Cotton
  • Potato
  • Apple
  • Pink Pineapple

GMFs Link to Carcinogenesis:

Due to the fact that a genetically modified organism (GMO) is genetically engineered, or “not natural” humans carry the common misconception that GMOs may cause cancer or other adverse health effects. 

A French research team conducting animal research suggested that genetically modified foods (GMFs) are causally related to carcinogenesis. More specifically, GMO corn fed to rats caused them to develop giant tumors and die prematurely.

In a 2015 article by Emily Cassidy at The Environmental Working Group (EWG), Cassidy quotes a research study report concluding that, “glyphosate [a widely used herbicide] is definitely carcinogenic to animals in laboratory studies and that human exposure is linked to a higher risk of developing blood cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”



What The Research Says:

The article in which Emily Cassidy at EWG concludes glyphosate is definitely carcinogenic to animals can be easily debunked with a quick click to the cited research report. The 2017 report actually concluded that “Glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A). This report comes from the IARC Monographs On The Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2015). However, the NIH in 2017 says that the “IARC conclusion was not confirmed by the EU assessment or the recent joint WHO/FAO evaluation, both using additional evidence.”

The author’s biased and conclusive article that states glyphosate causes various forms of cancer alludes to the idea that GMOs are hazardous to consume. 

 

Additionally, the French report claiming that GMFs are causally associated with cancer development in rats used genetically tumor prone rats, a spurious construct and research protocol was followed, and the statistical approach used did not satisfy confounding factors. The foregoing factors skewed the results, rendering them non significant.

The study’s credibility was, in fact, shredded within 24 hours by scores of scientists. The lead author, Gilles-Eric Seralini, has reportedly been campaigning against GM crops since 1997. 

Many people that have cofactors, or predisposing influences that have a major influence in their lifestyle, have higher prevalence of cancer. Smoking and drinking alcohol are two major examples. Combining the two would increase the likelihood of cancer occurrence even more than if the factors were individual.

Summary:

To minimize cancer occurrence and maximize cancer prevention is to reduce major influences, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. Promoting moderation in food, which includes GMFs and alcohol consumption is indicated in most societies prone to developing cancers (NIH, 2017). 

Avoiding GMOs will neither stop, nor prevent, carcinogenesis. While there are many studies and people who will try to promote the myth that GMOs cause various forms of cancer, it is essential that people are aware of more recent research debunking these myths. 

It is easy to read a worldwide headline and believe that GMOs are causing cancer. With this panic, people are prone to take immediate action due to fear. The dangers of conducting biased studies with hidden agendas can wreak havoc on a food system that has been around for millennia. It is important that scientists are objective to provide a full, rational, and transparent account of any research evidence created to substantiate their views.

Research says that there is no evidence to conclude that GMOs cause cancer. Eating healthy foods and being more conscious about the decisions you make are what can contribute to the likelihood or minimization of developing cancers.