Friday, August 09, 2013

Can GMO corn cause allergies? Don’t believe Elle’s scary story. - Slate Magazine


Shetterly's narrative is emotionally compelling, but only that; it just doesn't withstand the critical scrutiny of science. Let's start with her central premise: Genetically modified foods, or more specifically genetic modified corn, can cause allergic reactions. Is that even possible? Can the process of genetic modification create allergies?
"Not likely," said Pamela Ronald, an internationally respected plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis and a pioneer in developing sustainable agricultural solutions. "After 16 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no documented adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops."

But what about the undeniable fact that the rise in autoimmune disorders tracks GMO consumption? The rise in such problems, including allergies, started long before GMOs were introduced. Incidences of these same conditions across U.K., Europe and in other countries where there is no consumption of GM foods match U.S. trends. To put this claim in perspective, the upward slope also tracks with the cumulative wins of the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick, the GDP of China, and indeed the increased consumption of organic foods over a similar period of time. In other words, the alarming connection that Shetterly alludes to in her piece is completely random.

Then there's the question of whether Shetterly's quoted sources stand by their quotes. Let's put ourselves in her shoes as she set out to make sense of her illness and recovery. She could have presented a broad range of opinions. She could have carefully portrayed the measured views of physicians and scientists whose research in this field has been vetted by the medical community. But that's not what happened.
Shetterly quotes a few experts who assert that genetically modified foods are safe, but the majority of her sources seem sympathetic to her plight and Mansmann's GMO-corn allergy theory. I talked to or exchanged emails with almost all of them. The feedback was consistent: Her article was variously described as "ridiculous" and "absurd." To a person, the sources I reached complained that Shetterly had misused their statements. 

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