Are there hazards for the consumer when eating food from genetically modified plants?

On the basis of existing scientific literature this report examines the potential risks for people who consume products of genetically modified (GM) plants. Taken into account are toxicity, the potential of causing cancer and food allergies, and the effects of consuming foreign DNA, including the DNA of antibiotic resistance genes. The report reaches the conclusion that in consuming food derived from GM plants approved in the EU and in the USA, the risk is in no way higher than in the consumption of food from conventionally grown plants. On the contrary, in some cases food from GM plants appears to be superior in respect to health.

Probably no discovery in plant sciences has had, in so short a time, such far reaching consequences on agriculture as the method reported in 1983 for the genetic modification of plants by means of gene technology. Only 20 years later, genetically modified varieties were grown on 55% of the global cultivation area of the soy bean, 11% of maize, 21% of cotton and 16% of rape seed, whereby the overall increase amounted to 12% in 2002 and to even 15%. in 2003. This clearly demonstrates that in agriculture the application of gene technology has been very successful economically. So far the genetic modifications focussed primarily on the generation of herbicide tolerant varieties for minimising harvest losses due to weeds, and the generation of insect resistant varieties to decrease losses from insect damage. More recent developments deal with protection against viral and fungal infections, the enhancement of tolerance towards dryness and salinity, the formation of male sterile plants for the generation of productive hybrids and the improvement of the nutritional quality of crop plants, e.g. by the modification of the fatty acid composition in oil seeds.

The campaigns of opponents of Green Biotechnology, such as for instance Greenpeace, have led to great anxiety among large parts of the population, by implying that food from genetically modified organisms (GMO) is a health hazard. “Organic” products are advertised as free from GMO, suggesting that they are especially healthy. The slightest trace of GMO resulting from the distribution of pollen in “organic” cultures, is termed genetic pollution and in some countries is regarded as a reason for damage claims.