Potential adverse health effects of genetically modified crops

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. May-Jun 2003;6(3):211-25. doi: 10.1080/10937400306469.


Genetically modified crops have the potential to eliminate hunger and starvation in millions of people, especially in developing countries because the genetic modification can produce large amounts of foods that are more nutritious. Large quantities are produced because genetically modified crops are more resistant to pests and drought. They also contain greater amounts of nutrients, such as proteins and vitamins. However, there are concerns about the safety of genetically modified crops. The concerns are that they may contain allergenic substances due to introduction of new genes into crops. Another concern is that genetic engineering often involves the use of antibiotic-resistance genes as "selectable markers" and this could lead to production of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains that are resistant to available antibiotics. This would create a serious public health problem. The genetically modified crops might contain other toxic substances (such as enhanced amounts of heavy metals) and the crops might not be "substantially equivalent" in genome, proteome, and metabolome compared with unmodified crops. Another concern is that genetically modified crops may be less nutritious; for example, they might contain lower amounts of phytoestrogens, which protect against heart disease and cancer. The review of available literature indicates that the genetically modified crops available in the market that are intended for human consumption are generally safe; their consumption is not associated with serious health problems. However, because of potential for exposure of a large segment of human population to genetically modified foods, more research is needed to ensure that the genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Resistance
  • Food Contamination
  • Food, Genetically Modified / adverse effects*
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / adverse effects*
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety


  • Metals, Heavy