In September 2000, the trademarked genetically modified corn variety known as StarLink was found in corn tortillas, although it was only approved for animal feed at the time. The discovery led to more than 30 cases of varying human health reactions, with at least seven of those consistent with symptoms common in severe food allergies. The situation brought attention to issues with GMO foods, namely food allergies, which are dramatically on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 1997 and 2007 food allergies in the U.S. increased nearly 20 percent, with peanut allergies nearly tripling during that same period, which also corresponds directly to the rise in the four most commonly planted GMO seeds in the U.S.: Corn, soy, canola and cotton. Is there a connection between genetically modified foods and food allergies?
Among the growing concerns about genetically modified foods entering the U.S. food supply (More than 70 percent of processed foods already contain GMOs in the U.S. says the California Department of Food and Agriculture) is the way altered seeds affect the human body. Proteins are the most common part of a food that can cause an allergic reaction and are also most commonly altered through genetic modification, increasing the potential for triggering an allergic reaction. While a genetically modified protein may not always result in food allergy, individuals with pre-existing food sensitivities are of a particularly high risk for more severe reactions.
A study conducted by the York Laboratory in 1999 found a link connecting an increase in GMO soy imports to the UK to a 50 percent increase in the nation's soy allergies. And according to Jeffrey Smith, a leading authority on genetically modified foods, soybeans and peanuts have at least one common protein that can trigger reactions to both, which may correlate to rising peanut allergies mirroring the rise in genetically modified soy. In addition to the risks presented by GMO seeds, some farmers exposed to pesticides including Bt (B. thuringiensis ) often used in GMO crops, developed skin sensitivities and other allergic symptoms after exposure.
While more research is still needed on the human health risks of consuming genetically modified foods, individuals with sensitivities can decrease their risks by avoiding the most common GMO crops, and by avoiding conventionally raised animal products (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish), who are commonly fed genetically modified seeds and grains.
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