Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?

Depending on who you ask, you'll find wildly varying opinions on genetically modified foods. So, are they safe to consume or not?
Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?

Last update: 30 January, 2020

The sale of genetically modified foods has been stirring up quite a bit of controversy. The main issue causing this controversy is the fact that people generally don’t have a lot of knowledge on the subject. Are these foods of high-quality and are they safe to eat? What should you know about them?

All of these products are certainly healthy enough. Nevertheless, some people might be worried about its origins when it comes to their beliefs about their benefits. What are they, actually? A genetically-modified product is one that someone has modified genetically. In other words, someone has altered its genetic material in a way that doesn’t occur naturally.

Whole grain rice in a sack.

Experts carry this process out through biotechnology. These techniques allow for genetic manipulation of the item in question. They can, for example, reduce, increase, or modify the quantities of specific nutrients in the food. Alternatively, they could add beneficial properties for the prevention of diseases to the foods.

Legislation on genetically-modified foods

In Europe, regulations 1829/2003 and R641/2004 govern these types of foods. Specifically, they cover genetically modified food for human consumption as well as animal feed. When an organization wants to start selling a genetically-modified product, they need to guarantee that it:

  • It’s safe and has no negative impact on health.
  • It doesn’t induce the consumer to error.
  • It’s no different from the foods the company intends for it to substitute. Specifically, its normal consumption shouldn’t have a negative impact on the consumer from a nutritional standpoint.

These are conditions that all European food manufacturers need to meet. However, the sellers also need to submit them through another procedure before they can begin. The phases of this second process are as follows:

  • The company submits the request.
  • EFSA evaluates the product’s risk level.
  • The proposal is submitted to the European Commission.
  • Member states take a vote.
  • The Commission authorizes and subsequently observes the product.

Once the item has gone through all of these phases, the government authorizes its sale among member states. In accordance with EU Directive 2015/415, individual countries can prohibit or allow its cultivation. Spain not only soundly permits these products, but they’re also one of their main exporters within Europe.

A woman wary of genetically modified foods checking labels.

Labeling

According to Regulation (CW), Number 1830/2003, foods containing more than 0.9 percent of genetically modified organisms need to have a special label. This label must read, “This product contains genetically modified organisms.” Alternatively, you could see labels saying, “This product contains genetically modified [name(s) of the organism(s)].”

The regulation makes it clear that not all products involving genetically modified foods need to have this labeling. Those products that companies manufacture with the help of genetically modified auxiliary technology don’t need to meet this requirement. Products people make from animals fed with genetically modified feed are also excluded from this regulation.

Genetically modified foods: are they safe?

All foods of which the European Union permits the sale of, need approval. Experts submit them to tests that guarantee they’re safe to eat. The environmental organization Greenpeace is one of the most ardent opponents of these types of products. They set forth their arguments against genetically modified foods in this document.

Nutritional value

People can apply genetic manipulation techniques in order to modify these foods. They can reduce, increase, or modify the number of specific nutrients in foods. Some examples are:

  • Golden rice: this product has seven distinct types of vegetables that give it a higher content of beta-carotene and iron. These are good for the prevention and management of anemia and blindness. Diseases such as these are endemic conditions in some parts of the world. Companies aren’t selling this product anywhere in the world yet, but some intend to start doing so soon.
  • Multinutrient Corn: researchers from the University of Lleida developed this variant of corn. It has almost 170 more beta-carotene than conventional corn. Aside from that, it also contains more vitamins C and B9. This corn is the only genetically-modified plant capable of strengthening its content with three different vitamins at the same time. A portion of about 200 grams of this rice has all the vitamin A that a person needs in one day.

Current developments

The European Union has approved various genetically-modified foods for sale already. Currently, companies can sell 29 different types of corn, for example. Aside from that, they’ve approved one genetically-modified potato, one sugar beet, and three colzas. Eight different types of cotton and seven different types of soybeans are also on this list. In the United States, on the other hand, the authorities are more lenient with this type of product. They even allow the consumption of genetically-modified salmon.

Finally, we have to consider the consumers. Most of them are a little hesitant about these types of products, for various reasons. The media and ecological groups have confused us too. Others might not be sure because of the labeling. There are also people who are hesitant to eat these products for ethical reasons, especially those reasons related to animals.

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  • Directiva 2001/18/CE del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo, de 12 de marzo de 2001, sobre la liberación intencional en el medio ambiente de organismos modificados genéticamente y por la que se deroga la Directiva 90/220/CEE del Consejo
  • REGLAMENTO (CE) No 1829/2003 DEL PARLAMENTO EUROPEO Y DEL CONSEJO de 22 de septiembre de 2003 sobre alimentos y piensos modificados genéticamente.
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  • DIRECTIVA (UE) 2015/412 DEL PARLAMENTO EUROPEO Y DEL CONSEJO de 11 de marzo de 2015 por la que se modifica la Directiva 2001/18/CE en lo que respecta a la posibilidad de que los Estados miembros restrinjan o prohíban el cultivo de organismos modificados genéticamente (OMG) en su territorio.
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