Are there food safety concerns unique to GMOs? The answer to this question from a scientific standpoint is no.
Since genetically modified (GM) crops were first commercialised in the 1990s there have been misconceptions in the public domain about the impact of these foods on the health of humans and animals alike.
These misconceptions have contributed to the negative perceptions associated with GMOs.
It is important for the public to understand that the safety of food obtained from GM crops is just a part of a much bigger picture of food safety.
Foods contain hundreds of different chemical compounds and may be contaminated with natural toxicants and allergens, artificial chemicals, and disease-causing organisms; these are the sources of most of the risks we face when we eat food.
Therefore, how we handle food during production, processing, distribution, and preparation is what can significantly impact its safety, and not necessarily the breeding techniques applied during crop development.
However, when genetic engineering was first applied as a breeding tool to develop GMOs, the global community understandably adopted a cautionary approach due to the novelty of the technology.
The approach requires rigorous food safety evaluation during the development stage to ensure that the new varieties released are as safe as the conventional ones in the market.
So, what are the health safety concerns associated with GMOs that are the subject of safety assessment as carried out by regulatory authorities around the world?
In conducting a safety assessment of GMOs, the aim is to reduce the potential of introducing or transferring toxic compounds, anti-nutrients, or allergenic elements from one species to another, or unintended elevation of levels of pre-existing toxins, or causing nutrient excesses, deficits, or imbalances.
The possibility of other unintended effects occurring that may have health implications is also checked.
Unexpected and unintended effects may occur with all methods of breeding and when they do, breeders methodically eliminate these individual crops during the development process before commercial release of the new varieties.