Genetically Modified Foods Position of AAEM – Evidence of Probable Harm of Transgenic (GMO) Crops and Food Products Safety Assessment and Guidelines – American Academy of Environmental Medicine

According to the World Health Organization, Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) are”organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that does not occur naturally.”1 This technology is also referred to as “genetic engineering”, “biotechnology”or “recombinant DNA technology” and consists of randomly inserting genetic fragments of DNA from one organism to another, usually from a different species.

For example, an artificial combination of genes that includes a gene to produce the pesticideCry1Ab protein (commonly known as Bt toxin), originally found in Bacillus thuringiensis, isinserted in to the DNA of corn randomly. Both the location of the transferred gene sequence inthe corn DNA and the consequences of the insertion differ with each insertion. The plant cellsthat have taken up the inserted gene are then grown in a lab using tissue culture and/or nutrientmedium that allows them to develop into plants that are used to grow GM food crops.2

Natural breeding processes have been safely utilized for the past several thousand years. Incontrast, “GE crop technology abrogates natural reproductive processes, selection occurs at thesingle cell level, the procedure is highly mutagenic and routinely breeches genera barriers, andthe technique has only been used commercially for 10 years.”3

Despite these differences, safety assessment of GM foods has been based on the idea of”substantial equivalence” such that “if a new food is found to be substantially equivalent incomposition and nutritional characteristics to an existing food, it can be regarded as safe as theconventional food.”4 However, several animal studies indicate serious health risks associatedwith GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging,dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.

There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation as defined by Hill’s Criteria in the areas of strength of association, consistency, specificity, biological gradient, and biological plausibility.5 The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animalstudies.2,6,7,8,9,10,11 Specificity of the association of GM foods and specific disease processes is also supported. Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation. 6,11

Animal studies also show altered structure and function of the liver, including altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging and possibly lead to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). 7,8,10 Changes in the kidney, pancreas and spleen have also been documented. 6,8,10 A recent 2008 study links GM corn with infertility, showing a significant decrease in offspring over time and significantly lower litter weight in mice fed GM corn.8 This study also found that over 400 genes were found to be expressed differently in the mice fed GM corn. These are genes known to control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation. Studies also show intestinal damage in animals fed GM foods, including proliferative cell growth9 and disruption of the intestinal immune system.6

Regarding biological gradient, one study, done by Kroghsbo, et al., has shown that rats fed transgenic Bt rice trended to a dose related response for Bt specific IgA. 11 Also, because of the mounting data, it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans.

In spite of this risk, the biotechnology industry claims that GM foods can feed the world through production of higher crop yields. However, a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed 12 academic studies and indicates otherwise: “The several thousand field trials over the last 20 years for genes aimed at increasing operational or intrinsic yield (of crops) indicate a significant undertaking. Yet none of these field trials have resulted in increased yield in commercialized major food/feed crops, with the exception of Bt corn.”12 However, it was further stated that this increase is largely due to traditional breeding improvements.

Therefore, because GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health and are without benefit, the AAEM believes that it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle, which is one of the main regulatory tools of the European Union environmental and health policy and serves as a foundation for several international agreements.13 The most commonly used definition is from the 1992 Rio Declaration that states: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”13

Another often used definition originated from an environmental meeting in the United States in1998 stating: “When an activity raises threats to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof (of the safety of the activity).”13

With the precautionary principle in mind, because GM foods have not been properly tested for human consumption, and because there is ample evidence of probable harm, the AAEM asks:

Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.

Physicians to consider the possible role of GM foods in the disease processes of the patients they treat and to document any changes in patient health when changing from GM food to non-GM food.

Our members, the medical community, and the independent scientific community togather case studies potentially related to GM food consumption and health effects, begin epidemiological research to investigate the role of GM foods on human health, and conduct safe methods of determining the effect of GM foods on human health.

For a moratorium on GM food, implementation of immediate long term independent safety testing, and labeling of GM foods, which is necessary for the health and safety ofconsumers.

(This statement was reviewed and approved by the Executive Committee of the AmericanAcademy of Environmental Medicine on May 8, 2009.)

Submitted by Amy Dean, D.O. and Jennifer Armstrong, M.D.

Bibliography: Genetically Modified Foods Position Paper AAEM

References:World Health Organization. (Internet).(2002). Foods derived from modern technology: 20questions on genetically modified foods. Available from:

Freese W, Schubert D. Safety testing and regulation of genetically engineered foods.Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews. Nov 2004. 21.

Society of Toxicology. The safety of genetically modified foods produced throughbiotechnology. Toxicol. Sci. 2003; 71:2-8.

Hill, AB. The environment and disease: association or causation? Proceeding of the RoyalSociety of Medicine 1965; 58:295-300.

Finamore A, Roselli M, Britti S, et al. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON 810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. J Agric. Food Chem. 2008; 56(23):11533-11539.

Malatesta M, Boraldi F, Annovi G, et al. A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean:effects on liver ageing. Histochem Cell Biol. 2008; 130:967-977.

Velimirov A, Binter C, Zentek J. Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Report-Federal Ministry of Health, Family and Youth.2008.

Smith, JM. Genetic Roulette. Fairfield: Yes Books.2007. p.10

Ewen S, Pustzai A. Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine.Lancet. 354:1353-1354.

Kilic A, Aday M. A three generational study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats:biochemical and histopathological investigation. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2008; 46(3):1164-1170.

Kroghsbo S, Madsen C, Poulsen M, et al. Immunotoxicological studies of genetically modifiedrice expression PHA-E lectin or Bt toxin in Wistar rats. Toxicology. 2008; 245:24-34.

Gurain-Sherman,D. 2009. Failure to yield: evaluating the performance of genetically engineered crops. Cambridge (MA): Union of Concerned Scientists.

Lofstedt R. The precautionary principle: risk, regulation and politics. Merton College, Oxford.2002.
Additional Educational Resources:
The Science Behind It – 
By Bridget ErlikhDiana Reeves and No Gmo in GMO Free USA

This page shall be used to list links to scientific studies that a) document the fallacies in scientific studies which find that GMOs are safe, or b) studies which identified dangerous health and environmental impacts of GMOs.


1) A prospective observational study of the clinical toxicology of glyphosate-containing herbicides in adults with acute self-poisoning.

2) Glyphosate biomonitoring for farmers and their families: results from the Farm Family Exposure Study.

3) Exposure to pesticides as risk factor for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia: pooled analysis of two Swedish case-control studies.

4) Pesticide exposure as risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma including histopathological subgroup analysis.

5) Rhinitis associated with pesticide use among private pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study.

6) Effects on aquatic and human health due to large scale bioenergy crop expansion.

7) Cancer incidence among glyphosate-exposed pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study.

8) Prepubertal exposure to commercial formulation of the herbicide glyphosate alters testosterone levels and testicular morphology.

9) Biomonitoring of genotoxic risk in agricultural workers from five colombian regions: association to occupational exposure to glyphosate.

10) Cytogenetic damage and induction of pro-oxidant state in human lymphocytes exposed in vitro to gliphosate, vinclozolin, atrazine, and DPX-E9636.

11) Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity.

12) Genotoxicity of AMPA, the environmental metabolite of glyphosate, assessed by the Comet assay and cytogenetic tests.

13) [Acute glyphosate-surfactant poisoning with neurological sequels and fatal outcome].

14) Parkinsonism after glycine-derivate exposure.

15) Aseptic meningitis in association with glyphosate-surfactant herbicide poisoning.

1) Association of financial or professional conflict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products


GM Potatoes are “unfit for human consumption”

3) Health risks of genetically modified foods.

 5) Effect of the herbicide glyphosate on enzymatic activity in pregnant rats and their fetuses. 

6) Pesticide Roundup Provokes Cell Division Dysfunction at the Level of CDK1/Cyclin B Activation

7) Exposure to pesticides as risk factor for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia: pooled analysis of two Swedish case-control studies.

8) Why GM Food is Dangerous: New report by GM engineers

9) Fine structural changes in the ileum of mice fed on delta-endotoxin-treated potatoes and transgenic potatoes.

10) Genotoxic effects of the herbicide Roundup(®) in the fish Corydoras paleatus (Jenyns 1842) after short-term, environmentally low concentration exposure. 

11) Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine

12) Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean.­12441651

13) Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean.­15718213

14) Reversibility of hepatocyte nuclear modifications in mice fed on genetically modified soybean.

15) New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity.

16) Evaluation of stress- and immune-response biomarkers in Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L., fed different levels of genetically modified maize (Bt maize), compared with its near-isogenic parental line and a commercial suprex maize.

17) Can a genetically-modified organism-containing diet influence embryo development? A preliminary study on pre-implantation mouse embryos.

18) Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice

19) Pancreatic response of rats fed genetically modified soybean

20) Immunotoxicological studies of genetically modified rice expressing PHA-E lectin or Bt toxin in Wistar rats.

21) Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice.

22) A three generation study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: Biochemical and histopathological investigation.

23) A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean: effects on liver ageing.

24) Reduced fitness of Daphnia magna fed a Bt-transgenic maize variety.

25) Demographic responses of Daphnia magna fed transgenic Bt-maize

26) A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health

27) Glyphosate and Glyphosate-Resistant Crop Interactions with Rhizosphere Microorganisms

28) Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements

29) Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide

30) The teratogenic potential of the herbicide glyphosate-Roundup in Wistar rats.

31) Integrative assessment of multiple pesticides as risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among men

32) Embryonic cell cycle for risk assessment of pesticides at the molecular level.

33) Formulated glyphosate activates the DNA-response checkpoint of the cell cycle leading to the prevention of G2/M transition.

34) Glyphosate-based pesticides affect cell cycle regulation.

35) glyphosate-based pesticide impinges on transcription.

36) Comparative effects of the Roundup and glyphosate on mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation.

37) [Cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of human cells exposed in vitro to glyphosate].

38) Differential effects of glyphosate and roundup on human placental cells and aromatase.

39) Pre- and postnatal toxicity of the commercial glyphosate formulation in Wistar rats.

40) Effects of the herbicide Roundup on the epididymal region of drakes Anas platyrhynchos.

41) Time- and dose-dependent effects of roundup on human embryonic and placental cells.

42) Detection of cytogenetic and DNA damage in peripheral erythrocytes of goldfish (Carassius auratus) exposed to a glyphosate formulation using the micronucleus test and the comet assay.

43) Hepatoma tissue culture (HTC) cells as a model for investigating the effects of low concentrations of herbicide on cell structure and function.

44) Pesticide exposure as risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma including histopathological subgroup analysis.

45) Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines.

46) Glyphosate formulations induce apoptosis and necrosis in human umbilical, embryonic, and placental cells.

47) Genotoxicity of AMPA, the environmental metabolite of glyphosate, assessed by the Comet assay and cytogenetic tests.

48) Prepubertal exposure to commercial formulation of the herbicide glyphosate alters testosterone levels and testicular morphology.

49) Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling

50) Glyphosate impairs male offspring reproductive development by disrupting gonadotropin expression.

51) A glyphosate-based herbicide induces necrosis and apoptosis in mature rat testicular cells in vitro, and testosterone decrease at lower levels.

52) Cytotoxic and DNA-damaging properties of glyphosate and Roundup in human-derived buccal epithelial cells.

53) Glyphosate induced cell death through apoptotic and autophagic mechanisms.

54) Exposure to glyphosate- and/or Mn/Zn-ethylene-bis-dithiocarbamate-containing pesticides leads to degeneration of γ-aminobutyric acid and dopamine neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans.

55) Impact of Bt Corn on Rhizospheric and Soil Eubacterial Communities and on Beneficial Mycorrhizal Symbiosis in Experimental Microcosms


Morandin, Lora A., and Mark L. Winston. 2005. WILD BEE ABUNDANCE AND SEED Ecological Applications 15:871–881.

57) Longer resistance of some DNA traits from BT176 maize to gastric juice from gastrointestinal affected patients.

58) Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada.

59) Glyphosphate pollution is so omnipresent in the US that the frequency of detection ranged from 60 to 100% in both air and rain.

60) Russian scientists prove GMO soy causes serious health risks in animals. Third generation sterility observed.

61) Rats being fed genetically modified food eat more and grow fatter than those on a non-GM diet.

62) When testing for glyphosate contamination in an urban population, a German university found significant contamination in all urine samples with levels 5 to 20 times above the legal limit for drinking water.

 63.  Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems.

64. Does Cry1Ab protein affect learning performances of the honey bee Apis mellifera L. (Hymenoptera, Apidae)?

65. Effects of Activated Bt Transgene Products (Cry1Ab, Cry3Bb) on Immature Stages of the Ladybird Adalia bipunctata in Laboratory Ecotoxicity Testing

66. Quantification of toxins in a Cry1Ac + CpTI cotton cultivar and its potential effects on the honey bee Apis mellifera L.

67. Occurrence of maize detritus and a transgenic insecticidal protein (Cry1Ab) within the stream network of an agricultural landscape.

68. Decline of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico: is the migratory phenomenon at risk?

69. Evidence of reduced arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonization in multiple lines of Bt maize 

70. A controversy re-visited: Is the coccinellid Adalia bipunctata adversely affected by Bt toxins?

71. Effects of short-term feeding of Bt MON810 maize on growth performance, organ morphology and function

72. Genetic damage in soybean workers exposed to pesticides: evaluation with the comet and buccal micronucleus cytome assays.





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