National Academies Report Pronounces GMOs Safe … With Qualifications

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

May 18, 2016

"An extensive study" by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released May 17, which generally pronounced genetically engineered (GMO) crops safe, undoubtedly will fortify pro-GMO forces but dissuade no one in the anti-GMO movement.

The report "found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops," it summed.

"However," the report added, "evolved resistance to current GE characteristics in crops is a major agricultural problem." And the sentence before that one acknowledged "the inherent difficulty of detecting subtle or long-term effects on health or the environment."

The report was the result of an apparent year-plus-long study by a committee of more than 50 "experts" that compared disease reports from the U.S. and Canada – where GMO crops are common -- with those from the United Kingdom and western Europe, where GMO crops are not widely available. Long story short: there were no significant differences in health problems, especially any that could be linked to GMOs.

"After two decades of production, some groups and individuals remain critical of the technology based on their concerns about possible adverse effects on human health, the environment, and ethical considerations. At the same time, others are concerned that the technology is not reaching its potential to improve human health and the environment because of stringent regulations and reduced public funding to develop products offering more benefits to society. While the debate about these and other questions related to the genetic engineering techniques of the first 20 years goes on, emerging genetic-engineering technologies are adding new complexities to the conversation."

It acknowledges "some members of the public are skeptical of the literature on GE crops because of concerns that many experiments and results have been conducted or influenced by the industries that are profiting from these crops."

The report "indicates where there are uncertainties about the economic, agronomic, health, safety, or other impacts of GE crops and food, and makes recommendations to fill gaps in safety assessments, increase regulatory clarity, and improve innovations in and access to GE technology."

On the positive side, the report noted that the insertion of insect-resistant genes in corn not only protected that specific crop but "in some Midwestern states … the European corn borer has become so uncommon since the introduction of Bt maize [a common GMO strain of corn] that the [continued] presence of the Bt toxin" in genetically engineered seed is no longer necessary.

On the other hand, "In areas where planting of HR [herbicide-resistant] crops led to heavy reliance on glyphosate, some weeds evolved resistance and present a major agronomic problem. Sustainable use of Bt and HR crops will require use of integrated pest-management strategies."

And perhaps most importantly: "There have been claims that GE crops have had adverse effects on human health. Many reviews have indicated that foods from GE crops are as safe as foods from non-GE crops, but the committee reexamined the original studies of this subject. … The large number of experimental studies provided reasonable evidence that animals were not harmed by eating food derived from GE crops. … The committee also examined epidemiological data on incidence of cancers and other human-health problems over time and found no substantiated evidence that foods from GE crops were less safe than foods from non-GE crops."

And it did recommend: "Not having government regulation of GE crops would be problematic for safety, trade, and other reasons and would erode public trust."

The 420-page report can be bought, read online or downloaded for free at www.nasonline.org.

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