- According to a comprehensive study by the U.S. science advisory board, genetically modified (GM) crops pose no apparent risk to human health and are as safe for consumption as traditionally bred crops.
- No correlation was found between the consumption of GM crops and various health conditions such as cancer, kidney disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, celiac disease, food allergies, or autism.
- Despite the absence of health risks, genetically engineered crops have not significantly boosted crop yields as initially expected, and concerns about potential contamination from herbicide-resistant crops persist.
- While current usage of GM crops is often limited to varieties engineered for insect and herbicide resistance, it was suggested that future regulatory focus should be on the functionality and attributes of crops rather than their development techniques.
- The report was generally received as a sensible, fact-based assessment that dispels many fears surrounding genetically modified crops, despite criticism from some quarters.
An extensive study conducted by a panel of the U.S. science advisory board has concluded that genetically modified (GM) crops carry no apparent risk to human health.
Safety Comparison Between Genetically Engineered and Traditionally Bred Crops
The panel, convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, determined that crops produced using genetic engineering methods are as safe for consumption as those developed through traditional plant-breeding techniques.
The panel’s investigation revealed no correlation between the consumption of GM crops and various health conditions such as cancer, kidney disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, celiac disease, food allergies or autism.
Evaluating Health Risks in Different Populations
“We compared the health patterns in the U.S. and Canada to those in the U.K. [United Kingdom] and the E.U. [European Union], where genetically engineered foods haven’t achieved the same level of consumption,” explained panel chairman Fred Gould, a professor of agriculture at North Carolina State University. “Our study found no difference [in health risks] between these populations.”
As such, panel member Michael Rodemeyer, a retired food and biotechnology expert from the University of Virginia, concluded that there’s no need for safety-labeling GM products in supermarkets.
The Scope of Genetically Engineered Crops
The expert team discovered that genetically engineered crops grow on approximately 12% of the world’s total cropland. The hefty 388-page report sought to clarify public and policy confusion surrounding the topic.
“People have various claims about genetically engineered crops, ranging from the ability to feed the world in 2050 to health concerns such as sterility or cancer,” said Gould. “These mixed messages underscored the need for a comprehensive, evidence-based study.”
Insight from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Joan Salge Blake, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, remarked that the report illustrates how conventional breeding and genetically enhanced food could potentially create sustainable food systems worldwide. She pointed out the tangelo, a crossbreed between a tangerine and grapefruit, as an example of successful genetic manipulation predating modern laboratory techniques.
Challenges and Potential Risks
On the downside, the report discovered that genetically engineered (GE) crops have not significantly boosted crop yields, contrary to initial expectations. While crops engineered for insect and herbicide resistance appear beneficial for farmers, the panel found no evidence from USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] data to support that genetic engineering has increased U.S. crop yields overall.
Suspicions about the potential risks involved with herbicide-resistant GE crops have also arisen. There is a concern that these crops could lead to more herbicide application, which could in turn infiltrate the soil and groundwater.
Promising Developments and Future Focus
The panel, in their extensive review of studies, expert opinions, and public comments, found evidence that GM crops could offer extensive benefits. For instance, insect-resistant crops appear to reduce insecticide poisoning in humans, as these crops require fewer hazardous pesticides for protection.
Emerging genetically engineered crops, such as “Golden Rice,” which is tailored to have a higher beta-carotene content, could help combat vision loss and blindness in developing nations.
However, most farmers have limited their GM crop usage to varieties engineered for insect and herbicide resistance. The majority of genetically engineered crop production falls under corn, soybean, and cotton, even though 12 genetically modified crops have been approved for commercial use in the United States, as per Gould.
The panel suggested that, in the future, the focus of crop regulations should be on plant characteristics rather than development techniques. It was noted that advanced scientific approaches like gene editing have blurred the lines between engineered and naturally developed crops. Gould likens the situation to the overlapping functions of cellphones and laptop computers.
Reaction to the Report
Despite criticism from some quarters opposed to genetically engineered foods, the report was received positively in general as a sensible, facts-based assessment that debunks many fears about GM crops.
The report’s funding came from various sources, including the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the New Venture Fund, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Academy, and was subjected to external review.
For further details on genetically modified foods, you can visit the World Health Organization.