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Daily News Blog

25
Feb

Scientists Challenge Industry Consensus that GE Foods Are ‘Safe’

(Beyond Pesticides, February 25, 2015) The biotechnology industry behind genetically engineered (GE) foods have for years touted that their technology is safe, dismissing any attempts to challenge their science or regulate their material. However, 300 scientists, physicians and scholars assert there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GE foods and find that claims of safety are an “artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated” through various forums and media.

groceriesFoodSafetywebThe statement, published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe and entitled, “No scientific consensus on GMO safety,” cites a concerted effort by GE seed developers and some scientists, commentators and journalists to construct the claim that there is a “scientific consensus” on GE safety, and that debate on the topic is “over.” According to the 13-page statement, 300 independent scientists and researchers felt compelled to develop a document that offered a balanced account of the current state of dissent in this field, based on published evidence in the scientific literature, for both the interested public and the wider science community. They find that a claim of safety “”¦is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue.”

For years, the safety of GE food has been a hotly controversial topic that has been much debated around the world. According to the scientists, published results are contradictory, in part due to the range of different research methods employed, an inadequacy of available procedures, and differences in the analysis and interpretation of data. Further, rigorous assessment of GE safety has been hampered by the lack of funding independent of proprietary interests. Research for the public good has been further constrained by property rights issues, and by denial of access to research material for researchers unwilling to sign contractual agreements with industry, which confer unacceptable control over publication to the proprietary interests. In concluding, the scientists state that current scientific evidence “prevents conclusive claims of safety, or of lack of safety, of GE,” and that claims of consensus on the safety of GE “are not supported by an objective analysis of the scientific literature.”

Claims of Safety

In their review of the scientific literature the group finds that most studies concluding that GE foods are as safe and nutritious as non-GE foods were conducted by biotechnology companies or associates that are also responsible for commercializing GE crops. Additionally, no epidemiological studies in human populations have been carried out to establish whether there are any health effects associated with GE food consumption, and therefore claims that GE foods have been eaten for years in the US with no ill effects cannot be substantiated and have no scientific basis.

The paper also points out that while an EU research project has been cited internationally as providing evidence for GE crop and food safety, the report based on this project, ”˜A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research’, presents no data that could provide such evidence from long-term feeding studies in animals.

Similarly, another frequently cited claim that several hundred studies document the general safety and nutritional value of GE foods is also misleading. Examination of the studies listed reveals that many do not provide evidence of GE food safety and, in fact, some provide evidence of a lack of safety. Further, many of the studies were conducted over short periods compared with the animal’s total lifespan and thus, cannot detect long-term health effects.

Claims of Government and Scientific Organizational Endorsements

According to the authors, claims that there is a consensus among scientific and governmental bodies that GE foods are safe, or that they are no more risky than non-GE foods are false. Reports by the Royal Society of Canada and British Medical Association have noted that some GE foods could be of considerable harm. The positions of some prominent scientific  organizations have been misrepresented or opposed by members, further highlighting the lack of consensus among scientists. The authors further note that even the positions taken by other organizations on the potential benefits of GE have frequently been highly qualified, acknowledging data gaps and potential risks of GE technology. For instance, a statement by the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health acknowledged “a small potential for adverse events … due mainly to horizontal gene transfer, allergenicity, and toxicity,” and recommended that voluntary notification (labeling) of GE crops be made mandatory.

Environmental Impact

There is no consensus on environmental impacts of GE foods, and many concerns have been raised about increased herbicide use, potential health impacts and the rapid spread of herbicide-resistant weeds. The statement concludes, “”¦the totality of scientific research outcomes in the field of GE crop safety is nuanced; complex; often contradictory or inconclusive; confounded by researchers’ choices, assumptions, and funding sources; and, in general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered.”

With the recent approval of the Arctic ® apple – the first genetically engineered apple that does not brown after slicing or bruising, the expansion of GE crops without a full understanding of human and environmental health risks should provide pause for concern. Along with unknown long-term impact on public health, GE material introduced into the environment continues to threaten native pollinators and other beneficial organisms, propagate resistant weeds and insects, and contaminates non-GE and organic farms.

Currently in the U.S., GE foods are not required to be labeled and many consumers are unaware that the foods they are ingesting are GE material whose long-term health impacts are not fully understood. That is why it is important to eat organically and support organic agriculture. Not only does organic exclude GE material from production, but people who eat organically also have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies. For more information on the hazards associated with GE technology, visit the Genetic Engineering webpage; for more on the benefits of organic agriculture, see the  Organic Food program page.

Continue the conversation on GE labeling by attending the 33rd National Pesticide Forum, taking place this year in Orlando, FL, April 17-18th, 2015.Chef Hari Pulapaka, PhD, signatory to the 700 chefs’ letter in support of GE labeling will present his take on the issue. Early bird registration is in effect until March 15, so make your plans to register today!

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Center for Food Safety

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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