Blue-ribbon panel discounts perils of modified crops

A detailed study by one of the top scientific organizations in the United States concludes that there is no substantiated evidence of  risks to human health from current commercially available genetically engineered crops. The study also did not find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the genetically engineered crops.

The study and its report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has relevance for Costa Rica where genetically engineered crops have been banned locally. There also is a bill in the legislature to extend the ban to the entire country.

The panel contains professor-level members from major universities in the United States, The Netherlands and México and one member from industry.

The panel also concluded that regulatory efforts should be directed at specific agricultural products despite how they are produced. The report said that due to advanced technology, there is little difference between genetically modified organisms and those bred conventionally.

The report does not cover all genetically modified crops. It noted that the only engineered characteristics that have been put into widespread commercial use are those that allow a crop to withstand the application of a herbicide or to be toxic to insect pests. It noted that some potentially beneficial modified varieties are in development.

These include rice with increased beta-carotene content to help prevent blindness and death caused by vitamin A deficiencies in some developing nations.

There is some evidence that insect-resistant modified crops have had benefits to human health by reducing insecticide poisonings, it said.

“The committee carefully searched all available research studies for persuasive evidence of adverse health effects directly attributable to consumption of foods derived from GE crops but found none,” said a summary of the findings.

The report and its summary were released Tuesday, the same day that the University of Guelph said that by tweaking a plant’s genetic profile, researchers doubled the plant’s growth and increased seed production by more than 400 per cent. “An almost entirely accidental discovery by researchers could

transform food and biofuel production and
increase carbon capture on farmland,” the university said. The process involved the use of an enzyme from corn on a laboratory plant.

The National Academies panel said that gene flow from a modified species into wild relatives has happened but there have been no examples of diverse effects.

Environmental activists in Costa Rica worry about the pollution of the genetic pool of corn by imported modified varieties.

The committee also said it found that in many locations some weeds had evolved resistance to glyphosate, the herbicide to which most modified crops were engineered to resist. It said that proper weed management could delay resistance.

“Overall, the committee found no conclusive evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between GE crops and environmental problems,” the report summary said. “However, the complex nature of assessing long-term environmental changes often made it difficult to reach definitive conclusions.”

The committee also said that based on its findings the mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is not justified to protect public health. But it also said that this issue involves social and economic choices that go beyond technical assessments of health or environmental safety. Ultimately, it involves value choices that technical assessments alone cannot answer, it added.

The summary of the research reports is HERE! The site also contains a link to the full report and a list of panel members.

Gene splicing

Gene splicing

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