No scientific consensus on safety of genetically modified organisms

Oct 21, 2013

There is no scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods and crops, according to a statement released today by an international group of more than 90 scientists, academics and physicians.

The statement comes in response to recent claims from the GM industry and some scientists, journalists, and commentators that there is a "scientific consensus" that GM foods and crops were generally found safe for human and animal health and the environment. The statement calls these claims "misleading", adding, "This claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist."

"Such claims may place human and environmental health at undue risk and create an atmosphere of complacency," states Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, chairperson of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and one of the signatories. "The statement draws attention to the diversity of opinion over GMOs in the scientific community and the often contradictory or inconclusive findings of studies on GMO safety. These include toxic effects on laboratory animals fed GM foods, increased pesticide use from GM crop cultivation, and the unexpected impacts of Bt insecticidal crops on beneficial and non-target organisms," Dr Hilbeck continues.

In spite of this nuanced and complex picture, a group of like-minded people makes sweeping claims that GM crops and foods are safe. In reality, many unanswered questions remain and in some cases there is serious cause for concern.

Prof C. Vyvyan Howard, a medically qualified toxicopathologist based at the University of Ulster and a signatory to the statement, said: "A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic. It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects. But as the US has no GMO labeling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis."

The signatories to the statement call for the compliance to the precautionary approach to GM crops and foods internationally agreed upon in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and UN's Codex Alimentarius.

Commenting on the statement, one of the signatories, Prof Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel (UNEP) and Co-President of The Club of Rome, said: "The future of food and agriculture is one of the great challenges of humankind of the 21st century. The claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is misleading and misrepresents diverse and inconclusive scientific evidence. The full range of scientific research needs to be taken into account, in open, transparent and honest debates which involve the broader society, when decisions of global concern are being made. This is a responsibility of scientists and science."

Another signatory to the statement, Prof Brian Wynne, associate director and co-principal investigator from 2002-2012 of the UK ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, Cesagen, Lancaster University, said: "It is misleading and irresponsible for anyone to claim that there is a consensus on these important issues. Many salient questions remain open, while more are being discovered and reported by independent scientists in the international scientific literature. Indeed answering of some key public interest questions based on such research have been left neglected for years by the huge imbalance in research funding, against thorough biosafety research and in favour of the commercial-scientific promotion of the technology."

This statement is released by ENSSER the week after the World Food Prize was awarded to employees of the GM seed giants Monsanto and Syngenta. This award has provoked outrage worldwide and stands in stark contrast to recent rulings in several countries restricting or banning the field release or commercialisation of certain GM crops. These include 9 countries in Europe and Mexico, but also developing countries like Bangladesh, Philippines, India where an indefinite moratorium on field release trials was recommended by the Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court unless certain conditions are met including proper safety testing. Furthermore, GMO approvals are under legal challenge in Argentina and Brazil due to questions over the scientific basis of approvals. Most if not all of them underline the lack of proof of safety and insufficient testing.

Signatories of the statement include prominent and respected scientists, including Dr Hans Herren, a former winner of the World Food Prize and this year's Alternative Nobel Prize laureate, and Dr Pushpa Bhargava, known as the father of modern biotechnology in India.

Explore further: Critical consumers do often buy genetically modified food

More information: On court ruling in Mexico: www.foodfirst.org/en/GMO+corn+banned+in+Mexico
On court ruling in the Philippines: www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/328272/scitech/science/ca-upholds-ruling-stopping-genetically-modified-eggplant-field-trials
On recommendations in India: www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/agriculture/global-scientists-back-10year-moratorium-on-field-trials-of-bt-food-crops/article4658619.ece
On recommendations in Balgladesh:
www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/15090-high-court-bars-gm-eggplant-s-release-in-bangladesh
On recommendations in Argentina and Brazil: www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/15099

Provided by European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

3.4 /5 (14 votes)
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User comments : 8

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joe_olden_1
1.3 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2013
There is a scientific consensus that the genetically modified foods currently being produced are safe. This is supported by multiple groups.

"The American Medical Association, the National Academies of Sciences and the Royal Society of Medicine have stated that no adverse health effects on the human population related to GM food have been reported and/or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature to date"

"The European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation has supported GMO safety."

You can read the Wikipedia article on
Genetically_modified_food_controversies#Scientific_publishing
(I tried to post a link, but the website got mad.)

There are rare scientists who don't agree with the consensus. They join groups like the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, a group formed for the purpose of opposing things like GMO's. They then falsely claim there is no consensus, but fail to admit that they are only a small fringe group.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (8) Oct 21, 2013
I don't know what we're supposed to expect.

We (the U.S.) get more production from corn now than ever, and I think maybe several percent of that gain or so is probably (or at least by implication) due to savings on not having as many insect larva eating the corn.

But, I hate the idea of eating this stuff. I think the corn we planted is GM too. It grows great, produces the most beautiful ears you ever saw, and insects don't go near it. It even tastes good. Yet it's got a poison gene in it, and when you ingest it you are ingesting the same poisonous enzymes that kill the insects, or which protect it from Roundup or whatever else it's been modified to do.

I could see taking a corn gene from an existing corn, and rigging the corn by manipulating it's own DNA to produce an extra ear or two per stalk, but putting a poison producing gene in the food?

It seems unthinkable that this is what we eat now every day.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (8) Oct 21, 2013
Leaded gasoline was proclaimed to be safe by it's inventors and the U.S. government, even though it was already known not to be safe by people who didn't have a special interest in promoting it.

It seems to me that a generation or two from now, somebody is finally going to admit this is the wrong way to go.

I think GM foods which aren't based on manipulating toxins could have a legitimate place, but GM foods which thrive via the production of a poison to kill insects aren't my idea of a "great" use of the technology because it's probably accumulating in our tissues somewhere, or causing nerve damage or some other problem.

Diabetes on the rise?

Any correlation to BT corn?

Neuropathy (which I have) is that correlated to BT Corn?

Who is going to be accountable for this, and if the fears of the "bad" GM are even a couple percent founded, how is the damage done on the personal level and societal and ecological damage ever supposed to be repaired?
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (8) Oct 21, 2013
Let's suppose that is discovered on some future date that BT corn, when consumed over the course of someone's lifetime, correlates to a 5% increase in the probability that person will develop some form of Neuropathy or other nerve problems. Further, let's say this actually isn't proven objectively for like another 20 or 30 years.

Who the hell is supposed to fix that?

A check for a million dollars to everyone who got screwed over by it?

I guess if you're the guy making millions and billions of dollars off this food monopoly you don't much care, because you figure you're going to be dead by the time any provable long term negative consequences are discovered.
alfie_null
not rated yet Oct 22, 2013
Potential for abuse is what concerns me.

What if it were possible, for instance, to caffeinate corn? As a food manufacturer, you now have a way to help ensure your customers keep coming back for more. Nothing in labeling requirements that says you have to mention the caffeine either.

The more wide spread the employment of GM, the greater the temptation to use it in ways that aren't in the consumer's best interest. After all, he doesn't make the decision regarding GM use, and he can only vote with his purchasing dollars if there are alternatives to buy.

Above and beyond simple labeling requirements (which we don't even have), there needs to be a whole lot of openness regarding all GM tweaks that are components of food, and what the effects of those tweaks are.
Sn0wflak3
1 / 5 (8) Oct 22, 2013
"There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.[4][5][6][7][8][9]"

No one argued that all GMOs are 100% safe, but no one argued that all conventional foods are 100% safe.....

Statement is just as misleading as the one it tries to counter.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
1 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2013
As joe_olden notes, there is an overwhelming consensus: It's even in the encyclopedias. "There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.[4][5][6][7][8][9]" [ http://en.wikiped...ied_food ]

This openly stupid but also known to be effective "insert doubt" strategy is used in science issues gone political ever since the tobacco industry developed it.

@Franklins: "And multiple groups don't support this view." You can't support or not support the statistical fact of a consensus, it's what it is.

You can say that it is a political issue, so fringe scientists benefits. Well, duh!
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
1.5 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2013
@Lurker2358: "I don't know what we're supposed to expect." A formed consensus tells everyone else exactly what is expected. Precision gene modification (GMO) are seen as at least as safe as the old bumbling gene sweep method (artificial selection), see above.

The reason it is expected to be safer is precisely because you don't do a hatchet job, like nature.

@Sn0wflak3: "Statement is just as misleading as the one it tries to counter."

Your dissemination is, naturally, entirely irrelevant and just as misleading as all dissemination. We are comparing what is known.

See also above, GMOs are likely safer.

@alfie_null: The possibility to do such stuff has always been there, and gene modification isn't the cheapest way. See for example how producers in Europe falsify oils or in China powder milk.

I think you describe a red herring. But if not, I would be interested in problem potential.

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