A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that the genetically engineered (GE) crops and every genetically modified organism (GMO) derived from them are safe. The research gathered and compared a great amount of data to reach the final conclusion.
The team from the organization analyzed the implications the GE crops could have on human health, the agriculture, and the economic outcomes of this longtime used engineered food. The engineered modifications in the food are mostly for them to develop strains that can resist insects and herbicides so that growers can use more of them without harming the crops themselves, as reported by Los Angeles Times.
“While recognizing the inherent difficulty of detecting subtle or long-term effects in health or the environment,” researchers wrote in the report. “The study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.”
In addition, related to the economic outcomes from the modified food, the team found that GE crops had favorable economic outcomes for producers in early years of adoption, but enduring and widespread gains will depend on institutional support and access to profitable local and global markets, especially for resource-poor farmers, the reported added.
The study was designed to address the most important questions regarding the so-called “Frankenfood”, however, this kind of study which found the viability of the engineered crops is not the first and probably will not be the last to the still growing concerns about the crops.
For the National Academies’ report, researchers reviewed already existing studies from the last 20 years, about the time the engineered food started its presence in the market. Nearly a thousand papers and other publications were analyzed by the team. In addition, they also heard about the subject from 80 speakers at three public meetings, 15 webinars and reviewed more than 700 comments and documents submitted by the public, as reported by Forbes.
The team focused its examination in the large amount of data from the most commonly used GE crops, with one or both of these traits: soybeans, cotton, and corn. For the final conclusion, researchers even compared societies that had banned the genetically modified crops with the U.S., where some states are considering to add labels to food resulted from GM crops.
What did the team specifically find?
The findings related to human health were gathered from epidemiological time-series data from the U.S. and Canada, where GE crops and their food have been present for more than 20. Data from the United Kingdom and Western Europe, where the GE food is not so frequently present and the government has many regulations on them, was also collected to compare those different societies in which the consumption of the food was different.
Differences among the population’s health problems were not found by the committee, which means that the introduction of the GE crops in the U.S. did not make any substantial difference in the health of their consumers.
This puts to rest some of the beliefs which stated that the GE food could impact negatively the human health or lead to higher incidence of specific health problems such as cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal tract illness, kidney disease and allergies.
When it came for the presence of GE crops in the agricultural environment, the team analyzed areas where the biological technology could have some important consequences like in the crop yield, abundance and diversity of insects, weed species distribution, insecticide and herbicide use and insect and weed resistance.
Although the report said that there is not conclusive evidence of any cause and effect relationship between the GE crops and environmental problems, the committee did recognize that weed and insect resistance related to the modified crops is increasing and more attention should be put on this subject.
However, the data as well showed that the insect resistant and herbicide tolerant GE traits had a positive impact on crop yield. The insect-resistant varieties of maize and cotton were actually contributing to a reduction in crop losses while herbicide-tolerant crops contributed to greater yield where weed control was improved.
A lot of criticism
After the study was published, many U.S. citizens questioned the study’s influence, even though this is the largest one ever to see the public. Organizations like the Food and Water Watch (FWW) issued a statement commenting over the possible conflicts of interest the methodology could have had.
“Under the Influence: The National Research Council and GMOs charts the millions of dollars in donations that pour into the organization from biotech companies like Monsanto, documents the one-sided panels of scientists the NRC enlists to carry out its GMO studies and describes the revolving door of its staff directors who shuffle in and out of industry groups,” the organization stated on its website.
According to the statement, the organization also provided the National Research Council details about the conflicts of interest among the scientists involved in the latest study. More than a half of them have worked in the development or promotion of the GE crops or have industry ties, like consulting for the technology-related companies or taking research funding, the FWW said.
In addition, there was also a reminding about the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires to engaged balance committees of researchers to avoid conflicts of interest and disclose conflicts if it is necessary. The committee have failed in this subject, the FWW added.