Fact Check: No, genetically modified food does not alter genetics


Biochemist working in farming hospital lab testing a GMO vegetable. Food, upon digestion, has no effect on a person’s genetic makeup.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The first genetically modified food in the world was a tomato, produced in 1994 through genetic engineering. The produce was made available following evaluation studies that proved it to be as safe as other tomatoes that are bred naturally.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that the production of the genetically modified (GM) tomato was preceded by the genetic engineering of other foods including squash, soybeans, cotton, corn, pawpaws, potatoes, and canola.

Fast forward, now GM foods continue to elicit debate and misinformation about their safety. One such debate claims that genetically modified food alters genetics.

In an Instagram post two weeks ago, a user wrote: “GMO food like the type Bill Gates is pushing to manufacture in factories WILL alter your genetics...”

This claim is, however, false.

According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), human genes are made from “building blocks called DNA, which determines what an organism is like, its appearance, how it survives, and how it behaves in its environment.”  Food is not known to change the sequence of a person’s DNA.

Royal Society says that eating GM food will not affect a person’s genes. The Society argues that the DNA in cooked or processed foods usually has been destroyed or degraded and the genes fragmented.

The food, upon digestion, has no effect on a person’s genetic makeup.

“Most of the food we eat contains genes, although in cooked or processed foods, most of the DNA has been destroyed or degraded and the genes are fragmented. Our digestive system breaks them down without any effect on our genetic makeup. Our own genes are made by our bodies from the building blocks that we obtain from digesting any food. This is true of food from GM and non-GM sources.

“Humans have always eaten DNA from plants and animals. Most plants or animal cells contain about 30,000 genes, and most GM crops contain additional one to 10 genes in their cells. We all eat DNA in our diets, mainly from fresh food and the composition of DNA in GM food is the same as that in non-GM food,” says the Royal Society.

It adds: “Processing food by cooking leads to the partial or complete breakdown of the DNA molecules, whatever their origin. Likewise, most DNA that is eaten is broken down by our digestive systems but small quantities of fragmented DNA can pass into the bloodstream and organs without having any known effect.”

The claim that genetically modified food could alter genetics is, therefore, False.

- This fact check was produced by Nation with support from Code for Africa’s Pesa Check, International Fact-Checking Network, and African Fact-Checking Alliance Network.