What Elle Magazine Got Wrong In Its Shoddy Takedown Of Genetically Modified Corn

A Slate investigation finds no merit in one writer's claim that she's allergic to genetically modified corn.
Chipped Corn
A freshly chipped corn kernel. Courtesy Monsanto

Genetically modified food has all the ingredients to scare the pants off us: Chemicals! Technology! Big ag! The uncertainty of modern development! Like it or not, most of what we eat in the U.S. has been touched (or tainted, depending on your viewpoint) by genetic engineering.

Especially when it comes to corn. As much as 88 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. But is that as bad as anti-GMO activists make it out to be?

Over at Slate, Jon Entine has a scathing critique of Elle magazine’s nail-biting feature on genetically modified corn (categorized in the “hair and beauty” section, because, uh, sickness makes you ugly?), in which writer Caitlin Shetterly explores a diagnosis that her years of sickness were the result of an allergy to genetically modified corn.

The problem, Entine points out, is that the science to back up that claim just doesn’t exist. “There has not been one study that links the genetically engineered corn or any approved genetically modified food on the market to allergies,” one of his sources, plant geneticist Pamela Ronald, told him.

“I quickly discovered that blaming GMO foods for any kind of health problem is controversial in the medical and biotech worlds,” Shetterly wrote in her piece, though her piece does little to explain why, beyond the notion that powerful agricultural corporations like Monsanto are preventing research into unknown allergens that might arise from genetic engineering.

Entine goes on:

Since GMOs were introduced into the food supply almost 20 years ago, there has not been one documented case of any health problem in humans—not even so much as a sniffle—linked to GMOs. The American Medical Association, whose physician members would have long ago picked up on a GMO-allergy connection, definitively rejects such speculation. “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature,” it has stated. That scientific consensus has been endorsed by every major science oversight bodyin the world.

He also reached out to many of the scientists interviewed in Shetterly’s piece, who claimed the piece mischaracterized their statements.

Food scientist Richard Goodman, for example, told Entine “The risks from GM foods are infinitesimally small,” though no such viewpoints made it into Elle’s pages. “It’s all ‘what if, what if, what if’ doomsday scenarios. It’s like worrying that we might be hit by an asteroid.”

While there’s certainly a complex story to be told on the subject of GMOs, Elle seems to have passed right by it into conspiracy theory territory.

The full takedown is worth a read. The original feature is here.