Why There Are No Long Term GMO Studies on Humans

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Why there are no long term GMO studies on humans
Layla Katiraee | January 13, 2016 | Genetic Literacy Project

A very common question or criticism of GMOs is that they are not properly tested, particularly on humans. The spouse and I had a discussion about this a while back and he asked why GMOs weren’t tested like drugs since they’re regulated by the FDA. I’ve read comments such as “I won’t believe GMOs are safe until they’re tested for 5 years on humans and we examine long-term impact”, so I thought we should explore this point.

The regulation of GMOs is based on the principle of “substantial equivalence”, meaning that the nutritional content of the GE crop and the non-GE crop that it originated from is the same. In the past, I’ve reviewed papers that have done comparisons between crops generated by transgenesis (the method used to make GMOs) vs crops generated by traditional cross breeding and mutagenesis. The transgenic crops had far fewer unintended consequences than the crops generated by traditional breeding methods. What remains to be demonstrated is that the protein introduced poses no greater risk to human health than non-GE crops, which is why studies on allergenicity and animal feeding studies are performed.

So “why don’t we do clinical trials on GMOs the same way we do for drugs?” Drugs are designed to cause a change in the human body: that’s the whole point behind them. Since drugs are altering something in humans, it’s important to know the side-effects that they may cause and whether or not they’re causing the anticipated effect (i.e. is it better than placebo). In contrast, GMOs are designed to be equivalent to their non-GE counterparts: they aren’t drugs or nutritional supplements. GE crops which ARE designed to impact human health, such as vitamin-A enriched rice, should be tested in humans to determine if the desired outcome is achieved (i.e that the rice actually delivers vitamin-A to the body). But such studies are not the same as looking for unknown long-term effects.

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Photo of Keith Edmisten, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDr. Keith EdmistenProfessor of Crop Science & Extension Cotton Specialist (919) 515-4069 keith_edmisten@ncsu.eduCrop and Soil Sciences - NC State University
Updated on Jan 17, 2016
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