Independently funded studies on the safety of GM food

The Genera Project was started last summer to create an easily-searchable catalog of peer-reviewed scientific studies dealing with the risk, benefits, and safety analysis of genetically modified plants. The project isn't done yet — for instance, the "easily searchable" part isn't yet active and they aren't done cataloging the 600+ studies in the database. I thought it was worth pointing this resource out to you folks, though, especially because at least 126 of the studies currently in the database are free from questionable funding — either from big corporations or blatantly anti-GMO activist groups. Definitely a project to keep an eye on.


  1. Could you please post links to studies with clinical relevance to people. 

    I haven’t found any which are very reassuring, especially when one considers that billions are exposed for generations. The bulk of GENERA are basic research studies and livestock production studies with little to no clinical relevance to safety in people–the few studies with clinical implications raise concerns about liver and pancreatic function. 

    I would appreciate a link to  feeding trials which fulfill the following criteria:1. blinded2. statistically balanced and statistically powered3. containing a materials and methods section4. containing comprehensive hematology, biochemistry and histopathology for ALL the N’s -both experimental and control groups5. containing metabolic function data collected serially to enable assessment of metabolic trends.Thanks. 

  2. In practice, “GMO” is synonymous with “pesticide-resistant.”  The real concern isn’t so much whether pesticide-resistant crops are themselves unhealthy for me.  A more significant question is what the impact will be, both on me and on the environment more broadly, of the pesticides that are going to be used and the practice of their use (e.g. carryover effectively restricting farmers to growing only Roundup Ready crops, with a resulting loss of crop diversity increasing the risk of diseases ravaging nation-wide crop monocultures), particularly when weighed against the alternatives. 

    1.  But isn’t there also the terminator gene in the mix? I know, I know, it’s not about killer robots, but making the next-generation seeds sterile. But I see that as a greater long-term existential threat than pesticides. If, at some point, the self-reproducing grains are wiped out by the competition, we’ll be in real trouble.

      1. No, the terminator seeds never went to market because it was the Outrage Of The Week 20 years ago.  Really activists should be demanding the use of technologies like that. 

    2.  That’s actually not true. For starters, Roundup is an herbicide, not a pesticide. Also, one of the more widespread genetically modified crops is bt corn (I believe we grow about a hundred million acres’ worth in the US). And in my opinion, this type of modification – adding the ability to produce a toxin – is one that calls for more extensive studies than many others. Genetic engineering for drought resistance or shorter stalks or what have you seems less likely to have the potential for serious trouble. Your point about Roundup Ready is a good one, though. We would like to know not just what the effects of the modification alone are, but also what changes are likely to result from its widespread adoption. In the case of Roundup Ready, it may be that the higher levels of glyphosate herbicides that end up in food and soil will ultimately cause problems. There have recently been proposals to increase the allowable limits (of glyphosate) in animal feed to levels that I personally find alarming.

      1. An herbicide is indeed a type of pesticide.  Weeds are pests in crop fields, and herbicides are the pesticides used to kill them.  At least, that’s how farmers use the terms.   
        Glyphosate is actually one of the best herbicides developed so far, because it’s not harmful to animals or insects at the concentrations used in farming, and it degrades within hours to a form of phosphate that the plants can use as fertilizer. The herbicides that were used before Round-Up was developed, and which will be used again once significant numbers of weeds become resistant to it, are not so benign.

  3. Part of the problem is that each study (and each person arguing for or against) tends to put boundaries around what they are willing to consider, and those boundaries are all different. So even a database of independent studies must be carefully critiqued to explore what they looked at and what they didn’t look at. These are complex systems (eco-systems, socio-economic systems, human health, etc). See for example, this analysis:

  4. GENERA may not have had time to look at all the studies yet, but they have had time to add editorial notes. Things like how one “is hardly ever cited by those who don’t like genetically engineered crops”, or how one reflects “one of the most overhyped safety issues” which you can be assured is not important, or noting problems with methodology for the few studies that did suggest concerns.

    Which I imagine is all true, seeing as how most problems with GM crops are very hypothetical, but is not really the same thing as letting the studies speak for themselves. Would they be as eager to point out flaws in a study showing safety, if some concern was under-investigated, or a study came up that legitimately did find a risk?  They really doesn’t make it sound like they would.

    This is especially disheartening because most of the risks from GM do seem to be unsupported, if we are careful to avoid things like allergens and damage from the pesticides themselves. I think a fair review would show just that – but while this might be a review to watch, I’m not sure I could confidently tell anyone this is it.

  5. Thank you for highlighting this. This debate seems constant, and usually low on facts. I find the only certainty is the need for more research

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