Everywhere I go, non-libertarians and libertarians (“Big” and “little l”) alike all like to pester me about my discomfort with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). I see the posts all the time on The Skeptical Libertarian Facebook Page about how they feel GMOs are beneficial to people, how they are backed by science, and how they have helped the hungry. Reason Magazine recently published an article titled The Top 5 Lies about Biotech Crops, supporting GMOs and the supposed health benefits they are supposed to have.
I’m proud to say I will contest every one you who say GMO’s are healthy.
Not solely because they are able to feed hungry populations, or because I want people to starve, but because the evidence the GMO-supporters have is equally (if not more) inconclusive about the long-term effects of GM foods in a human’s diet. Here’s my reasoning:
Most of the studies on the health effects of GMO’s have been short term. Since short term is relative to many people, I will just go ahead and say that the studies that have been performed have only lasted for a time frame of about 90 days and have all been conducted on mice (although at least one short-term study showed there would be problems with GM foods). How long is that for a mouse? 90 days for us is the aged equivalent of about 15 years in mice.
To my knowledge, including a vast amount of time spent on a Google Scholar search, only a very small amount of long-term studies (2 or more years) have been done. One, in which a team from France analyzed 200 rats for 2 years, was attacked by a large audience in the scientific community (for reasons I will discuss later). Another, a study on the effects of the liver in female rats, showed differences in the liver cells of rats (specifically the nuclei and mitochondria), and called for more in-depth research of the long-term effects of GM foods on animals. Since GMOs have only been around since the mid-1990s there’s still a lot more to examine, but the few cases mentioned in this paragraph make some compelling cases.
So what? What does it mean that only a handful of studies have come out with negative effects of GM foods, and what difference does it make over how long the studies last? For the same reasons many chronic diseases take years to develop and become a threat to our health. Not just 15 years (we are back to human years), but double or triple that. Like rats and other organisms, chronic diseases are more prominent, more developed, and more of a risk in the elderly compared to all of us able-bodied college students. This should alarm most people, not because both of the studies are calling for more research, but because hardly any has been done at all, and we are labeling these foods as safe!
Now, back to that study that was deemed unworthy of scientific conclusion. The criticisms of the study are highlighted in this article. The article states that the study has unclear objectives, unspecified methods of how the food was stored, a difference in statistical methods, and a lack of following international protocol. What sticks out to me more is that the study is criticized for not using enough rats, even though many of the experiments that reported GMOs to be sage used the same amount of rats in each group. The claims against the article are somewhat plausible to me, but don’t fully debunk the study entirely. Yes, it may have been done a lot better, but should it be entirely thrown in the fire pit, or looked at as a strong possibility that these foods may actually be harmful in long-term settings?
GMOs are a hot button issue. There are estimates that over 75% of some of the foods we eat contain GMOs, and growing. Although I hate going down this road, the fact that there have been many short-term, and hardly any long-term studies quite frankly alarms me, because it makes me feel like I am a test subject in a grand, unplanned and unknowing experiment. Let me clarify, I don’t think there is some gigantic government plot to infect us with disease, kill many of us off, and have a state of panic that would leave us to conform to the government savior like the scenario in V for Vendetta. I simply feel that the untested and unknown effects of GM foods in our diets may have many unforeseen and unintended consequences. I encourage all of you to take what I have to say in account, before coming to the conclusion about inconclusive evidence on GMOs.
On a side note (and really, I hate going down this road), try looking for independent studies of GMOs. Government and corporations (like Monsanto) sponsor many of the GMO studies (Why? Check out this article from the Scientific American), and as a libertarian, I am be skeptical of these. Not because of a conspiracy, but because many of the results may have been adjusted to create specific conclusions. It sometimes happens in science. Please consider some of these articles and studies:Published in