The Health Effects of GMO Foods

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Vermont is poised to become the first state to require labels on genetically modified food, but will these "frankenfruits" actually hurt the people who eat them?

Probably not, experts say.

Swapping genes in and out in a lab may sound a little different than cross-breeding crops for hundreds of years, but according to Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietician at University Hospitals in Cleveland, there’s no evidence that people are harmed by eating a bug-proof ear of corn or a non-browning apple.

"As far as having real research to show that it’s harmful, we simply don’t have it,” Cimperman said.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make in talking about this issue is making it ‘good versus evil,'" Cimperman added. "One of the things that bothers me is the fear-mongering."

Petitions have shown up on Change.org asking for companies to get rid of GMOs -- or genetically modified organisms -- in foods from apples to Girl Scout Cookies, often citing safety concerns. Even golden rice, a genetically modified crop developed to get extra vitamin A to people lacking it in their diets, has been protested.

Cimperman said the only immediate concern is that people with food allergies may accidentally eat a “safe” food without realizing one of its ingredients has been spliced with the genes of an allergen.

For instance, in the 1990s, an engineered soybean made people with Brazil nut allergies have allergic reactions because they didn’t realize the bean’s genetic material included a gene from the Brazil nut, she said. Once researchers confirmed the allergen was passed on in the genetic engineering process, the company halted production, she said.

“The potential to cause allergies can, in fact, be tested, and it can be limited,” Cimperman said. “That maybe calms fears a little bit.”

For Cimperman, the biggest concern is whether human tampering will have an environmental effect, strengthening weeds and insects that evolve to beat the genetic engineering.

“Everything in the environment is cause and effect. You can’t make a change without seeing that ripple effect,” she said.

When genetically engineered salmon was deemed safe for the environment in late 2012, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, told ABC News he had been disappointed with Food and Drug Administration decisions on genetically modified food since 1992, when the federal agency determined it is equivalent to any other food.

He introduced federal legislation related to genetically modified food and labeling in every Congress since 1997, but it has never passed.

Cimperman said she has no problem with the labeling of genetically modified food because “transparency is a good thing.”

"My only concern is that you don’t have to make this an issue that incites fear in the consumer," she said. "As consumers, we really need to educate ourselves on the topic and make informed decisions."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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