The internet is full of false information about genetically modified crops and derived food.
Unfortunately the average person — including many politicians — is unable to differentiate between the real science and the prolific pseudo-science that is designed to scare, not educate. This has resulted in genuine fear of GMOs.
However, world scientific bodies, world health authorities and world food safety authorities are not fooled by the pseudo-science.
The European Commission 2011 document, “A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research 2001-2010” (available on-line) said: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.”
The GMO issue has sparked passionate debate in Hawaii, but respected international scientific organizations have yet to confirm many people’s fears that GMOs are dangerous to humans.
Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat
In 2012 the American Association for the Advancement of Science said, “The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”
With regard to environmental issues, the National Academy of Sciences 2010 report-Impact of Genetically Engineered crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States (available on-line) said: “In general, the committee finds that genetic-engineering technology has produced substantial net environmental and economic benefits to U.S. farmers compared with non-GE crops in conventional agriculture.”
Unfortunately the present slate of anti-GMO bills, ballot measures and legislation are mainly based on fear generated from false information.
Many critics of GM crops continue to spread the myth that GM crops and derived food are not tested for safety.
The reality is GM crops are tested 10-50 times the level of crops bred with other methods. Three agencies regulate (or test) these crops.
The USDA, the EPA and the FDA all combine to examine both environmental and food safety considerations for all GM crops and derived food. It takes on average 8-10 years of testing and tens of millions of dollars before any GM crop can be grown commercially.
The next time someone says, “GM crops and food are not tested,” ask them the following question: What test(s) not already done would they like to see added to the evaluation process of GM crops and why?
Another myth about GM crop that is often relayed by critics is how organic farmers have had their crops “contaminated” by GM crops causing loss of certification or being sued by the companies that own the patents on the GM crops.
Both GM agriculture and organic agriculture have flourished in the past 20 years. In all that time there has not been a single example of an organic farmer losing certification for trace amount of GM in their organic fields.
Likewise, no organic farmer has ever been sued for trace amounts of GM showing up in their organic field.
The 2012 New York state court case Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association v Monsanto made it very clear these threats to organic agriculture were myths; the case was thrown out for complete lack of evidence of organic decertification or lawsuits against any of the 30,000 organic plaintiffs.
Yet we still hear people, even politicians, repeat this myth. This myth is so prevalent and powerful that some non-GM farmers have destroyed their own crops because they believed they might be sued for trace amounts of GM.
Hawaii is home to one of the most amazingly successful GM crop stories. In 1994 the Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV) arrived in the Puna region.
As predicted, this virus destroyed the vast majority of the papaya plants growing there. Fortunately research was well under way by scientists at Cornell University.
They used recombinant DNA technology to transfer a single gene from the pathogenic virus to papaya plants. These new genetically modified papayas were now immune to the devastation caused by the PRS virus. This one advance allowed the papaya industry to thrive once again in Hawaii.
Twenty years after its arrival, the PRS virus still destroys non-GM papayas in Puna. Farmers who choose to grow non-GM papayas must use repeated spraying of broad spectrum pesticides to kill the insect vectors that spread the virus. GM papayas protect themselves, thus allowing the farmers who grow the GM papayas (over 85 percent of Hawaiian papayas) to reduce insecticide use substantially.
This is an excellent example of the power of GM technology to help reduce insecticide use while maintaining yields — a win for the farmer and the environment. It is very important that public policy be based on the best information. Unfortunately the present slate of anti-GMO bills, ballot measures and legislation are mainly based on fear generated from false information.
When public policy is based on pseudo-science we get bad public policy.
The European Academies Science Advisory Council 2013 report-Planting the Future (available on-line) was clear when it said: “There is compelling evidence that GM crops can contribute to sustainable development goals with benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and the economy.” Good public policy should match global expert opinion with regard to GM crops and food.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Robert Wager has taught laboratory exercises in biochemistry and molecular biology at Vancouver Island University for 19 years. He got involved with GMO research in 2000 and takes part in seminars and writes articles on the topic.