Biotechnology, News October 21, 2013

No Scientific Consensus on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms

by Jonathan Latham

Press release from ENSSER:

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.[1]

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.”

ENSSER
ENSSER

“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 ENSSER 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 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. [2, 3, 4, 5] Furthermore, GMO approvals are under legal challenge in Argentina and Brazil due to questions over the scientific basis of approvals. [6] 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.

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

Further statements of signatories:

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex University and formerly a member of the UK government’s GM Science Review Panel, said: “The main reason some multinationals prefer GM technologies over the many alternatives is that GM offers more lucrative ways to control intellectual property and global supply chains. To sideline open discussion of these issues, related interests are now trying to deny the many uncertainties and suppress scientific diversity. This undermines democratic debate – and science itself.”

Dr Arpad Pusztai, signatory to the statement and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said: “Testing GM food properly would serve the interest of the biotech industry, as well. As Dr Richard P. Feynman said: ‘For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.’ “

The document is now open for further signatures and all agreeing with the content are invited to sign the statement at: www.ensser.org

German/ English contact: Angelika Hilbeck [email protected] / Tel.: +49 30 20 654 857
French contact: Nicolas Defarge [email protected] / Tel.: +33 76 045 5677
Spanish contact: Rosa Binimelis [email protected] / Tel.: +34-65 223 2057

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Comments 2
  • Thanks to these experts for speaking up despite the intimidation practiced by the GM industry and its pro-GM warriors against those who disagree with them. There is now sufficient independent evidence from peer-reviewed and published research to conclude that some varieties of genetically manipulated soy, corn and canola harm experimental animals, and maybe also the people who unwittingly eat GM ingredients. The GM industry’s blanket opposition to the full and honest labelling of GM food products strongly suggests that they are hiding risks and hazards. Our regulators are pathetically weak and unscientific in their assessments of GM food ingredients, though they have no established record of safe use, as the ENSSER scientists confirm.

  • Excellent article, it is a shame all this falls on ears not en-tuned to reality. The “greed machine” sucks in every ignorant human around so even our “best and brightest” are very dim indeed. My brother in law was instrumental in testing Round Up in Louisiana in the 70’s. He got me gallons of the stuff when only “project numbers” were assigned. He was in charge of “weed control” in soybean crops and his job was to plant and kill weeds using herbicides wanting Louisiana license approval. He did this for 30 years. I got new chemicals all the time, some were great, others were not. He assured me Round Up was not able to harm other things because it became “inert” upon contact with the ground, it had to be on plant material to be effective. Well today we know that randomly approving people were tested for Glyphosate and ALL WERE FOUND TO HAVE ROUND UP IN THEIR SYSTEM. He spent 3 years testing glyphosate before he was “encouraged” to give his approval to license, since then we have been the Petri Dish of experimentation for the chemical industry. We may soon have a third eye to see more clearly.

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