Are GMO crops less healthy than unmodified varieties? A group of Italian scientists decided to find out for themselves, conducting a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed studies on genetically engineered corn.
The results, a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports says, show that the GMO varieties have definite advantages over their nonmodified brethren.
"The results support the cultivation of GE maize, mainly due to enhanced grain quality and reduction of human exposure to mycotoxins," the paper's abstract says. "Furthermore, the reduction of the parasitoid of the target and the lack of consistent effects on other (nontarget organisms) are confirmed."
Among the conclusions from the analysis:
• Genetically engineered corn had 5.6 to 24.5 percent higher yield than similar nonengineered varieties.
• Genetically engineered corn had lower concentrations of mycotoxins (which are produced by fungus and are capable of causing disease and death in humans and animals), and of fumonisin and thricotecens (types of mycotoxins).
• Biomass decomposition was higher in genetically engineered corn.
• There were no consistent effects on other organisms that could have been affected by the crops.
The paper calls genetically engineered crops "the fastest adopted crop technology in the world, noting that 1.7 million hectares were planted in 1996, the first year of commercialization, and 185.1 million hectares were planted in 2016.
The GE trials in major crops, including soybeans, corn, canola and cotton, include herbicide tolerance, which account for 53 percent of GE plantings, insect resistance, making up 14 percent, and crops with a combination of herbicide resistance and insect resistance, making up 33 percent.
Richard Glynn, executive director of the Bioscience Association of North Dakota, says he's not surprised at all by the results of any study that shows GMOs are safe.
"There's no scientific fact showing that genetically modified organisms affect anyone that consumes them, or animals," he says.
Glynn says his group believes more education and outreach is needed to convince people of the efficacy of bioscience. One of their main focuses right now is on labeling laws. They want people to understand that pretty much all living things have been genetically modified, whether by nature or by science utilizing natural principles, he says.
"We're trying to say, hey, all this food labeling law is going to do is scare people," he says.
Glynn hopes recent studies and analysis of GMOs start to put to rest the confusion and misinformation that spreads about biotechnology. He applauds the work of groups like CommonGround, which works to educate people about modern agriculture, and says more such efforts must be undertaken so that people understand the science behind genetic engineering.
"These studies are based on scientific fact," Glynn says. "They are done based on scientific principles and protocols."
The researchers in the Italian paper indicated their study should not be the last word on the safety of genetic modification. Of 6,006 peer-reviewed studies available, the scientists found only 76 appropriate for meta-analysis.
"This selection suggests there is a need for more field research with a wider geographic coverage and having appropriate comparators and field design allowing robust statistical analyses," the paper said.
To read the study, visit https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-21284-2#Sec1.