The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to wreck its reputation by taking ideological, unscientific stances on important public health issues. Its latest faux pas: a fatuous report attacking crop biotechnology and pesticides.
Once a trusted institution that disseminated science-based guidance to pediatricians and parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has devolved into an activist group that parrots agitprop from NGOs like Greenpeace.
Early this month, the AAP published a clinical report titled Use of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)-Containing Food Products in Children. Nearly every claim in the document is speculation, a half-truth, or just an outright lie. It wrongly implies that biotech crops and the pesticides used with them pose potentially serious risks to children’s health, leaving parents misinformed and unnecessarily fearful that their kids are in harm’s way.
If the AAP is truly “dedicated to the health of all children,” as it claims to be, it has an obligation to retract this report and give parents science-based information about agriculture and food safety.
Follow (some) of the science
Rina Raphael, wellness editor at The Messenger, penned an excellent story unraveling the key mistakes in the AAP report. In particular, Raphael noted the AAP’s use of cherry-picked studies to justify its specious claims about genetic engineering and misguided recommendations that parents opt for organic and non-GMO foods when possible.  But the report deserves much more criticism.
The most notable aspect of the report is that very little of it is dedicated to the safety of crop biotechnology itself. Citing the National Academies of Science (NAS), the AAP concedes that there is “a lack of substantiated evidence of a difference in risk to human health between conventional and genetically engineered crops.”
That concession about risk aside, the report only discusses insect-resistant Bt plants, which are bred to produce their own insecticides and thus reduce the amount of pesticide farmers must utilize. The Academy briefly complained that NAS did not “examine the hazards potentially arising from using Bt endotoxins in GMO corn.” The implication is that the safety of Bt crops hasn’t been sufficiently studied, but that’s blatantly false.
There’s an abundance of evidence confirming that Bt proteins “have been used and consumed safely for decades,” as a 2015 review found. This includes 50 years of use in organic agriculture. Recent reviews by regulators worldwide have reached the same conclusion: Bt crops pose essentially no risk to human health. AAP also failed to mention another well-known NAS paper about pesticide safety, which concluded that “99.99% (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.”
The real target: pesticides
Instead of biotech crops, the bulk of the text is about pesticides, the weedkiller glyphosate in particular. The AAP uncritically cited the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) 2015 monograph that classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” However, the authors ignored the myriad criticisms leveled at IARC in the intervening years. Here are just a few pertinent details AAP left out :
IARC’s probably carcinogenic finding was based on studies looking at “mostly agricultural” exposures. The WHO sub-agency found no cancer risk associated with glyphosate residues in food—that is, the only exposure relevant to the vast majority of consumers, including children. Subsequent research has confirmed this result. “...[E]xposures to glyphosate from food are well below the amount that can be ingested daily over a lifetime with a reasonable certainty of no harm,” a 2021 review concluded.
But even IARC’s very limited finding is groundless because the monograph authors excluded high-quality evidence that showed no association between glyphosate exposure and cancer in agricultural workers. This is especially odd given that one of the scientists who produced the monograph co-authored that research.
IARC also overlooked data from rodent studies that showed no increased cancer risk, though it included data from the same research that supported its probably carcinogenic finding.
Finally, 17 regulatory and scientific agencies have conducted far more extensive reviews of glyphosate’s safety; every one of them disagrees with IARC’s determination.
Go organic…if you can
The most shameful aspect of the AAP report was its recommendations to parents and health care providers:
"Families who wish to minimize GMO products can do so … Schools and hospitals dedicated to the care of children can consider avoiding serving GMO foods to minimize glyphosate exposure when alternatives are available and affordable. [my emphasis]."
There is, of course, no nutritional or safety benefit in avoiding foods derived from biotech crops. But what is a busy parent with limited bandwidth to research food safety supposed to make of this AAP guidance? There’s “toxic herbicides in food products” that line the shelves of your supermarket. Avoid them—if you can afford a 20 percent bigger grocery bill? Absurd.
AAP has lost its way
The AAP has been among the most vocal medical associations complaining about America’s increasing skepticism of science, warning in 2019 “that the US healthcare system is entering into a crisis of trust.” The Academy has ginned up all sorts of strategies to reverse that trend. But apparently, no one at AAP has considered an important possibility: its ideological stances on everything from gun violence and climate change to transgender medicine and agriculture are fueling the public’s distrust.
Just a thought. From a parent who no longer trusts the AAP.
 The Unbiased Science podcast also recorded a detailed episode about the AAP report. It’s well worth a listen.
 The errors and omissions in IARC’s monographs are extensive. I’ve only highlighted some of the most egregious for brevity’s sake. See our archive if you want to learn more.