The number of scientists, physicians and legal experts who have signed the group statement “No scientific consensus on GMO [genetically modified organism] safety” hit 231 in its first week online, according to the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER).
The group, which "brings together independent scientific expertise to develop public-good knowledge for the critical assessment of existing and emerging technologies" posted the petition online on Oct. 21 and got nearly 100 signatures its first day.
One signatory is Dr Belinda Martineau, former member of the Michelmore Lab at the UC Davis Genome Center, University of California, who helped commercialize the world’s first GM whole food, the Flavr Savr tomato, in 1994.
“I wholeheartedly support this thorough, thoughtful and professional statement describing the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of genetically engineered (GM/GE) crops and other GM/GE organisms (also referred to as GMOs)," she wrote. "Society's debate over how best to utilize the powerful technology of genetic engineering is clearly not over. For its supporters to assume it is, is little more than wishful thinking.”
The petition was posted 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," the organization stated.
The original ENSSER statement reads:
"As scientists, physicians, academics, and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal, social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a 'scientific consensus' on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is 'over.'
"We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigor and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
Science and society do not proceed on the basis of a constructed consensus, as current knowledge is always open to well-founded challenge and disagreement. We endorse the need for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public discussion on GM product safety and urge GM proponents to do the same."
Another signatory, Dr Judy Carman, director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, Adelaide, and adjunct associate professor, health and the environment, Flinders University, South Australia, said: “Of the hundreds of different GM crops that have been approved for human and animal consumption somewhere in the world, few have been thoroughly safety tested. So it is not possible to have a consensus that they are all safe to eat – at least, not a consensus based on hard scientific evidence derived from experimental data.”
“Given the scientific evidence at hand, sweeping claims that GM crops are substantially equivalent to, and as safe as, non-GM crops are not justifiable," said Prof Elena Alvarez-Buyllla, coordinator of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics of Plant Development and Evolution, Institute of Ecology, UNAM, Mexico.
"We must be especially cautious in the case of proposed release of a GM crop in the center of genetic origin for that crop. An example is the planting of GM maize in Mexico. Mexico is the center of genetic origin for maize. GM genes can irreversibly contaminate the numerous native varieties which form the genetic reservoir for all future breeding of maize varieties. In addition, maize is a staple food crop for the Mexican people. So GMO releases can threaten the genetic diversity on which food security depends, both within Mexico and globally. Such decisions with broad implications for society should not be made by a narrow group of self-selected experts, many of whom have commercial interests in GM technology, but must also involve the millions of people who will be most affected."
"Twenty years ago, the international academic associations of ecologists and molecular biologists met at the International Council for Science. The two groups agreed that their fields of expertise were complementary and that they needed to cooperate in order to assess the ecological impacts of GM crops in a systematic way. However, many molecular biologists involved in GM crop development today persistently ignore their own blind spots and the science emerging from the complementary environmental segments of the science community, turning the application of GM technology into a social risk.”
The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) brings together independent scientific expertise to develop public-good knowledge for the critical assessment of existing and emerging technologies