Genetically modified food is a growing sector of agriculture. Concerns over whether genetically modified organisms (GMO) are dangerous have emerged alongside their development. Consumers are worried about potential side effects and long-term health consequences of eating foods such as GMO soybeans.
The risks of GMO soybeans are low. Speak to a doctor if you are allergic to nuts as GMO soybeans may cause allergic reactions in people with nut allergies.
What Is Genetically Modified Food?
Genetic modification is a type of gene technology that changes the genetic structure of living things. To genetically modify an organism, you must combine the genes from different organisms. A January 2018 article published in GM Crops & Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain reports that genetic modification has been done for over 10,000 years.
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The first type of genetic modification occurred through artificial selection and selective breeding. Other foods, such as corn, bananas, broccoli and apples, have all been genetically modified through selective breeding so that humans can eat them.
Currently, genetic modification uses more advanced technology to create foods that are resistant to drought, diseases and pests. According to a review published in the September 2016 issue of Food Science and Human Wellness, the modification occurs through something called DNA recombinant technology, wherein genes are transferred from one organism to another.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also explains that genetically modified food can have an enhanced nutritional profile. This more advanced type of gene modification has created worry in the public regarding health effects.
The Flavr Savr tomato was the first GMO food approved by the FDA for human consumption. After that followed corn, potatoes, canola and Roundup Ready GMO soybeans from Monsanto. Since then, many fruits, vegetables and cereals have joined the ranks, including lettuce, rice, wheat, sugarcane, carrots and more.
How Safe Is GMO Soy?
The FDA explains that any genetically modified food has to meet the same safety standards as traditionally grown plants. Evaluating the safety of each GMO food, including GMO soybeans, is done through a multi-step process to ensure that the food is not toxic or allergenic.
The nutritional content of genetically modified food is also examined. Nutritional content includes the macronutrient profile of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients as compared to the traditionally grown version of the food.
Teams of scientists that specialize in chemistry, toxicology, nutrition and other areas perform tests and research the genetically modified food for safety. These tests were done before the approval of GMO soybeans as safe to eat for humans. Twelve such consultations have been performed on GMO soy alone.
In the case of GMO soybeans, there have been incidents of an allergic reaction. According to the September 2016 review published in Food Science and Human Wellness, GMO soybeans enriched with methionine, an amino acid from Brazil nuts, can cause allergic reactions in those with the nut allergy.
Are GMO Soybeans More Toxic?
GMO soybeans are no more toxic than traditionally bred soybeans. The long-term safety of eating GMO soy was evaluated by the FDA and found to be safe. A study on rats published in the November 2018 issue of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that GMO soybeans are as safe and nutritious as traditionally grown varieties.
The study was completed over 90 days and evaluated toxicity by looking for adverse effects in the rats fed GMO soybeans. No adverse effects were observed during the study. The soybeans in this study contained herbicide-tolerant proteins and were compared to a control group of conventionally grown soybeans.
The researchers examined the rats for eye disease, body weight and tissue disease as well as chemicals in the blood and urine. The rats fed with GMO soybeans did not develop any adverse effects.
How Are GMO Soybeans Used?
The United States produces 35 percent of the world's soybeans, according to a January 2018 review published in Nutrients. The largest consumers of soy in the Western world are vegetarians, and a growing trend toward vegetarianism means that soy is in higher demand.
Soybeans are high in protein and isoflavones, which may provide beneficial health effects. Other nutritional qualities of soy include unsaturated fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, calcium, iron and fiber. Soy fiber is fermentable by gut microbiota and so feeds good gut bacteria, improving intestinal health. Phytochemicals and plant sterols are also benefits of soy.
Soybean crops are used mostly for seeds, oil, and meal, according to the November 2018 Nutrients study. Standard products made with soybeans include:
- Soy flour
- Soy sprouts
- Roasted soybeans
- Baked soybeans
- Soy milk
- Soy sauce
Oil is also made from soybeans and accounts for 94 percent of human soybean consumption. Humans consume 2 percent of all commercially produced soy in the form of soy protein, and livestock animals are fed the remaining 98 percent as soy meal. Both GMO soy and traditionally grown soy go through the same heat processing. The USDA Economic Research Service states that 94 percent of all soy grown in the United States is genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant.
Read more: Is Soy Milk Bad for Men?
Why Is GMO Soy Important?
GMO soy is part of a broader necessity for access to more productive food crops to feed an ever-increasing world population. According to a November 2014 article published in the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, the world's population will reach approximately 9 billion people by 2049. Genetically modified food provides a way to help ensure that there is enough food production to meet these demands.
Sixty-six percent of all calories in the global diet is from maize, wheat, rice and soybeans. Increasing the production yield of soybeans can help fight world hunger. GMO soybeans help improve the yields of crops.
Crop yield is increasingly vital as undernourishment becomes a direct result of a growing population, says the September 2016 study published in Food Science and Human Wellness. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that currently 820 million people do not have enough to eat.
Resistance to pests and weeds in GMO soy means less use of pesticides and herbicides, which in turn reduces the health risks associated with pesticide and herbicide exposure such as cancer and endocrine system issues.
Herbicide-tolerant GMO soybeans allow for less toxic and more environmentally friendly herbicides use on the crops, improving human health. Insect-resistant GMO soybeans make up over 90 percent of all soy grown in the United States. This soy modification allows for a much less toxic insecticide to be used as well.
Moreover, GMO soybeans can be bred to increase the nutrient profile specifically. Some genetically modified food is produced to increase healthy attributes such as vitamins, unsaturated fatty acids and probiotics.
How to Avoid GMO Soy
If consuming GMO soybeans still concerns you, choose organic products. Any food certified as USDA organic cannot be made with genetically modified foods.
For example, if a dairy product is labeled as organic, the cows used to produce the milk cannot have been fed GMO soy. Tofu, soy milk and soy-based faux dairy products labeled as organic will also be free of GMO soybeans.
- GM Crops & Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain: "The Impact of Genetically Modified (GM) Crops in Modern Agriculture: A Review"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Questions & Answers on Food From Genetically Engineered Plants"
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: "Evaluation of the Safety of a Genetically Modified DAS-444Ø6-6 Soybean Meal and Hulls in a 90-Day Dietary Toxicity Study in Rats"
- USDA Economic Research Service: "Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S."
- Food Science and Human Wellness: "Genetically Modified Foods: A Critical Review of Their Promise and Problems"
- Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association: "Why We Need GMO Crops in Agriculture"
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019"
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Human Health Issues Related to Pesticides"
- Nutrients: "Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Diets"
- USDA: "Organic 101: Can GMOs Be Used in Organic Products?"