Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods – A Review

Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods

Authors: Artemis Dona (a); Ioannis S. Arvanitoyannis (b)


(a) Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Medical SchoolUniversity of AthensAthensGreece

(b) School of Agricultural Sciences, Dept. of Agriculture Ichthyology and Aquatic Environment, University of ThessalyHellasGreece

DOI: 10.1080/10408390701855993

Publication Frequency: 10 issues per year

Published in: Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Volume 49, Issue 2 February 2009 , pages 164 – 175

Subjects: Food Engineering; Food Microbiology; Nutraceuticals & Functional Foods; Nutrition; Processing;


As genetically modified (GM) foods are starting to intrude in our diet concerns have been expressed regarding GM food safety. These concerns as well as the limitations of the procedures followed in the evaluation of their safety are presented. Animal toxicity studies with certain GM foods have shown that they may toxically affect several organs and systems. The review of these studies should not be conducted separately for each GM food, but according to the effects exerted on certain organs it may help us create a better picture of the possible health effects on human beings. The results of most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects and may alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters. However, many years of research with animals and clinical trials are required for this assessment. The use of recombinant GH or its expression in animals should be re-examined since it has been shown that it increases IGF-1 which may promote cancer.

Keywords: Allergenicity; antibiotic resistance; food safety; genetically modified; health risks; recombinant growth hormone; toxicity



From the review of the toxicity studies concerning GM foods one might see that although toxicity can be assessed, the duration of exposure is too short in order to fully evaluate any potential disruptions in biochemical parameters and to evidence possible signs of pathology within the limited subchronic exposure of animals. Moreover, a larger number of animals should be used in the toxicity tests. The toxicity tests should comply with the guidelines for toxicity testing of drugs. It should be emphasized that since these GM foods are going to be consumed by every human being they should be tested even more thoroughly than drugs and more experiments are required in order to study the possible toxicity and make any conclusions. Tests to determine how a GM food affects mutagenesis and carcinogenesis should be conducted as well. Finally, post marketing surveillance should be part of the overall safety strategy for allergies, especially of high-risk groups such as infants and individuals in “atopic” families. Evaluation of protein allergenicity in man should also include studies in individuals not only with a history of allergy but with immunodeficiency as well. The use of recombinant GH in animals, such as cows or the expression of GH in animals such as salmon should be re-examined since it may promote cancer. The results of most of the rather few studies conducted with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters the significance of which remains unknown. The above results indicate that many GM food have some common toxic effects. Therefore, further studies should be conducted in order to elucidate the mechanism dominating this action. Small amounts of ingested DNA may not be broken down under digestive processes and there is a possibility that this DNA may either enter the bloodstream or be excreted, especially in individuals with abnormal digestion as a result of chronic gastrointestinal disease or with immunodeficiency.

Although intensive scientific effort is currently in progress to thoroughly understand and forecast possible consequences on humans, animals, and the environment, it is anticipated that many years of careful, independent research with animals and clinical trials will be needed in order to accomplish this assessment.


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