According to a new study conducted by the advisory group National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, controversial genetically modified crops are not actually all that controversial. While the study found that they pose no health or environmental threats as some have claimed, the technology may not have actually increased crop yields significantly, as others have claimed.
Tuesday’s report was released as the federal government reviews its regulation of biotech crops. Large packaged food companies such as General Mills and Campbell Soup are beginning to label GMO products in compliance with a new Vermont law. According to the report, however, new techniques have blurred the lines between genetic engineering and traditional plant breeding, making the existing system of regulating crops unsustainable and incorrect.
Both pro and anti GMO parties have used this analysis to bolster their arguments. The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which represents companies that sell genetically modified seeds, interpreted the study favorably and said it showed “that agricultural biotechnology has many demonstrated benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment.’’
Genetically modified organism detractors however, such as Michael Hansen, a senior scientist Consumers Union, pointed to the lack of yield increase the study revealed. In a statement he said:
“Despite industry claims, these crops are clearly not the answer to world hunger.”
According to the report, GMOs and the foods made from them do not appear to pose health or environmental risks. This is based on a chemical analyses of the foods and on animal feeding studies, though it admits that many animal feedings studies have been too small to provide scientifically accurate conclusions. A number of other organizations, however, have also done studies which have concluded that these foods are safe to eat.
While relaying that GMOs are safe, the report is also in favor of greater transparency from the food industry over all, and suggests that modern techniques like DNA sequencing be used to analyze the molecular structure of food more closely and ensure that it is safe to eat.
Wayne Parrott, a professor of crop and soil sciences at the University of Georgia spoke of the implications of the report in a statement:
“The inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is the G.E. crops are pretty much just crops. They are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”
[New York Times] Featured image: Stephen Melkisethian (Flickr)
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