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  • Writer's pictureKate Killion

GMOs for Kids? American Academy of Pediatrics Releases New Report

Adult and child hands opening a bag of onions

On December 11, 2023, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a clinical report titled, “Use of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)-Containing Food Products in Children.” While the AAP, a major organization of pediatricians, previously acknowledged the potential benefit of organic foods, they have never released a formal position regarding GMOs and GMO-based foods.

We read the (lengthy!) report so you don't have to. Here is everything you need to know:

What are GMOs and How are Children Exposed?

GMO foods are genetically engineered to have desired traits. In other words, scientists tweak the plant's DNA so that they have more nutrients or can withstand pesticide application. Ten crops in the United States can be genetically engineered: Alfalfa, apples, canola, corn, cottonseed, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, yellow squash and zucchini, and sugar beets.

Most highly processed foods marketed to children in the United States contain GMO corn and soy. Though present only in small amounts, GMO-based ingredients (e.g., corn syrup) are also common in infant formulas.

GMOs may not be harmful- but what about the pesticides?

According to the AAP, the altered DNA present in GMOs is unlikely to harm children. Rather, the potential harm comes from herbicide exposure. While GMO foods have different uses in different countries, many GMO foods in the US are engineered to tolerate glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide.

The AAP highlights that various national and international organizations consider glyphosate to be potentially carcinogenic (AKA could increase risk of cancer) in high amounts among adults. Several studies also suggest risk of glyphosate exposure during pregnancy. However, there is very little evidence regarding the harms (or lack thereof) of glyphosate among children. More studies are needed to determine how glyphosate exposure impacts kids.

Furthermore, though glyphosate residues can be found on foods highly marketed to children, the amount of glyphosate is typically within "safe limits" set by the US government. However, it is unclear whether children who eat a lot of processed foods (think "picky eaters") consume too much glyphosate.

Parents should also note that, while not acknowledged by the AAP in their report, a food is not necessarily "healthy" just because it is organic. Furthermore, even organic farmers use pesticides- just not synthetic pesticides. Plus, organic food is expensive! If you're looking to improve your child's health via nutrition, the most important thing you can do is offer a variety of minimally processed foods from all food groups.

Deciding what to serve your kids is hard work, but support from our registered dietitian can help. To book an appointment, request a session online, call (833) 516-0454, or email! And good news- we accept health insurance!

Non-GMO labels are confusing!

Those looking to avoid GMO-based foods or conventional pesticides may be confused by the array of food labels. Since January 1, 2022, food packages with greater than 5% of genetically modified ingredients must be labeled as “bioengineered.” Companies may also voluntarily receive third-party verification as a “non-GMO” food, though this label is not regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

However, consumer confusion often occurs when trying to differentiate between non-GMO versus USDA Organic foods. To clear things up: all USDA-certified organic foods are non-GMO, but not all non-GMO foods are organic. For example, all bananas are “non-GMO” because genetically modified bananas simply do not exist in our food supply. These bananas, however, can be grown using organic or conventional farming methods.

The Bottom Line

GMO-based foods may have glyphosate residues, which could be harmful to children. However, more research is needed to clarify the impact of GMO-based foods on child health. Concerned parents may wish to purchase non-GMO or organic foods to limit their child’s exposure to pesticide residue.

Regardless, all families would benefit from consuming a healthier diet overall. As the AAP states, the most significant dietary causes of poor child health are the absence of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats-- most of which are inherently non-GMO. So, if the GMO versus non-GMO debate leaves your head spinning, providing your family with a balanced diet of whole, minimally processed foods will help them feel their best.

Want to continue the conversation? Request a session with our registered dietitian online, call (833) 516-0454, or email!

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