This is an article by Lynne Hayes that appeared in Growing Georgia recently. She reports on a substantial new paper synthesizing current knowledge on GMO foods. I cannot improve on Lynne Hayes’ writing, so I present it here for your edification.
An extensive 388-page report just released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes that genetically engineered crops are safe for humans and animals to eat. The report utilized evidence accumulated over the past two decades, which included almost 900 research and other publications on the development, use and effects of genetically engineered characteristics in maize (corn), soybean and cotton. The committee of more than 50 scientists involved in developing the report found no evidence that food made from GE crops caused any increases in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney disease, autism or allergies. They also found that "the use of insect-resistant or herbicide-resistant crops did not reduce the overall diversity of plant and insect life on farms," and that "GE soybean, cotton and maize have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers who have adopted these crops." "We dug deeply into the literature to take a fresh look at the data on GE and conventionally bred crops," said committee chair Fred Gould, university distinguished professor of entomology and co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University.
Quieting the critics?
Growing America asked Dr. Kevin Folta, professor and chair of the UF/IFAS horticultural sciences department, and a globally recognized expert on GMOs, how the news might impact GMO critics. "GE crop technologies are no more risky than traditionally bred crops," says Dr. Folta. "Of course, many critics and many consumers will never be swayed because their decisions aren’t based on data…"
Importance to farmers
For farmers, the freedom to use GE seeds has had significant benefits, from saving on fuel and labor costs to time spent tilling to the ability to decrease insecticide use because GE crops have been found to be more pest-resistant, especially in the Midwest. The cost savings is also felt at the other end of the supply chain by resulting in stabilized prices for consumers…
The report did uncover some negative findings — apparently, GE crops so far have had little effect on reducing weeds; in fact, there was an increase in the number of herbicide-resistant weeds found. However, artificially manipulating the genetic material in seeds allows GE plants to be more tolerant of herbicide sprays, so farmers can spray and kill weeds while not harming the crops. His report also found no significant difference between the crop yields of GE plants vs. traditionally bred plants.
Global not national implications
USA Today reported that groups opposed to genetically engineered crops criticized the report for arriving at "watered-down scientific conclusions due to agricultural industry influence."
… Dr. Folta countered…, saying, "It’s easy to complain on a full stomach."
"Scientists are looking at solutions to a global food crisis, and identifying ways to address global food insecurity while remaining cognizant of environmental impact. It’s not about serving well-fed Americans that have other options at the grocery store."
Those well-fed Americans represent a large group of skeptics when it comes to GMO products. A 2015 survey conducted by NPD Group, a market research firm, found that 57 percent of Americans were concerned that genetically modified foods posed a health hazard. "It’s interesting how Americans compartmentalize their safety concerns," says Dr. Folta. "…We horticulture scientists deeply understand the genetic engineering process and safety is always a top concern. In many ways GE crops are the safest on the planet, and definitely THE most well understood."
To read more about the report, visit this website set up by the NAS, or download the full report at: www.nap.edu/catalog/23395/genetically-engineered-crops-experiences -and-prospects.
Editor’s note: The article was edited for length. To read the entire piece, go to growinggeorgia.com.